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Land purchase for Tata’s project leaves ex-residents perturbed

Meera Srinivasan
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Soldiers on the construction site at Slave Island.— PHOTO: Meera Srinivasan
Soldiers on the construction site at Slave Island.— PHOTO: Meera Srinivasan

“That was once my home,” said M.F. Nazruddin, pointing to a patch of land that is fully bare but for a small, blue van that stands nearby.

His is among the nearly-570 families that saw their homes getting bulldozed for the promise of development in suburban Colombo, where Tata Housing, in partnership with the Urban Development Authority here, is developing a “mixed use township”.

Under defence ministry

The Urban Development Authority (UDA) functions under Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence and Urban Development and has been involved in much of the government’s post-war development claim. Amid growing criticism on the army’s involvement in civil matters, the UDA has been playing a major role in the country’s “beautification”, building new roads, laying pavements, developing parks and homes.

As per the Tata Housing project coming up at investment of over $400 million, residents of Java Lane in Slave Island — one of the oldest Malay Muslim settlements in Sri Lanka — were promised compensation by way of a new home or cash for parting with their old home and land.

“But there has been no consultation with residents or information on compensation,” said Aslam Othman, propaganda secretary of a federation of masjid s in the area.

Residents were informed that they could opt either for a new home in one of the residential towers of the project — with the area corresponding to the size of their original home — or for monetary compensation based on the size of the home and land they held.

Those who opted for a new home were being compensated for the rent they would pay elsewhere during the period of construction. The sum ranged from LKR 10,000-LKR 40,000 ($77-$308 approximately), but some residents said they found the compensation inadequate.

Dutch connection

The situation of those who opted for full monetary compensation is worse, according to residents, for they have not been consulted or given copies of documents they signed.

Parting with an old home is never easy, said Mr. Othman. “Every wall has a memory and every home carries so much history.

Most of the settlers in the area migrated from Southeast Asia many generations ago. “It is said that the Dutch brought slaves from different parts here and hence the locality got its name,” Mr. Othman said, giving a little history of Slave Island which over the years became a popular destination for Malay cuisine in Colombo.

A sole mosque in the middle of an empty plot is all there is in the once vibrant locality.

Asked about residents’ concern over the lack of information about compensation, Sandeep Ahuja, Head – International Business, Tata Housing told The Hindu via e-mail that though the company was not directly involved in the negotiation between the UDA and the tenants, they were sure that proper valuations were conducted and discussed with the tenants by UDA before finalising on the amount to be given for full settlement. The allocation of houses was also left to the UDA, he said.

Not consulted

A report published by the Colombo-based think tank Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) on urban evictions in April 2014 said that contrary to claims of consultation made by the UDA, none of the affected communities have been consulted about the design of the resettlement sites.

Denying the charges, Weerasena Adhikari, Senior Consultant, Planning and Operations, UDA, said a thorough process was on to estimate the size of land held by residents.

“A majority of them had very small plots less than six perches,” he told The Hindu . Very few people had opted for monetary compensation, he said. “We have not determined the amount yet, how can they be concerned already?

We will not victimise anyone,” Mr. Adhikari said, adding that if not for the new project the residents would have had to continue living there “without any facilities”.

However, pointing to the lack of transparency, residents said access to information at every stage was a major problem. “We cannot ask many questions to someone in army uniform. We may even get into trouble for speaking to you,” said a resident who requested anonymity.


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