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Urban Development Authority a law unto itself!

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 15 November 2017 00:07

By Tassie Seneviratne

The Urban Development Authority (UDA) is seen as a law unto itself, leaving surveyors in a quandary and the public in the lurch. 

Gazette notifications regarding land coming under the control of the UDA and the laws and regulations being imposed by it continuously are plentiful and confusing. Surveyors lament that UDA regulations in regard to land division plans are often confusing and impracticable. Clarifications sought by the surveyors on various issues have gone unanswered they say. Surveyors also find some directions by the UDA are unlawful and that they cannot comply with these. Much of the harassment of applicants for approval of their survey plans can be avoided if UDA officers visit the site of the land in question in the first instance without giving general directions, most of which do not apply to the land in question. Then more directions are given after the visit – dragging the matter further and causing more expenses to the applicants.

People sell land generally to raise urgently needed finances. UDA officers never say in one go what all the requirements to be shown in the survey plans are, and surveyors cannot keep changing the survey plans to the whims of UDA officials. The result is that applicants seeking approval for their land divisions find themselves up against these delays and exorbitant expenses, defeating the purpose of the sale.  There have been instances when by the confluence of events plans have been approved taking shortcuts, without the earlier insisted survey plans. Who greased the palm of the officer who thus approved the plan is anybody’s guess. 

I also discussed this problem with several lawyers who attend to notarial work. They don’t seem to get involved in the procedure to obtain approval of the relevant authority, but tell their clients to resort to the well-known ‘ways and means’ to obtain approval and they only write deeds.  Some of them introduce their clients to land sale mudalalis who know the ways and means only too well.  

During my discussion with the lawyers on the topic of survey plan approvals, I also ran into a briefing on the valuation of land for purposes of stamp duty.  Valuation officers tend to value the land high and then manipulate a ‘commission’ to reduce the value and thereby the stamp duty. A case in point as revealed to me was to reduce the value from Rs. 23 million to Rs. 13 million, making a huge difference in the stamp fees, for a commission of Rs. 100,000, which is far less than the stamp duty on Rs. 23 million. A very senior and respected lawyer lamented: “The country has gone to the dogs. I do not know what to do.”  All this has led to another absurd situation. Land prices, especially for residential purposes, have been inflated by land sale mudalalis and only those with easy and ill-gotten money can afford to buy land at such exorbitant prices. Any purchase by a deserving person who is given the piece of land at a reasonable price is looked at as dodging stamp duty and is arbitrarily fined by the Income Tax Department (ITD). This is a hell of a how-do-you-do. If the inflated value is entered in the deed purely to pay stamp duty and satisfy the ITD, how is the seller to account for the difference in his accounts? Surely it is for the ITD to find the means to verify the genuineness of the transactions actually involved without imposing arbitrary fines. Otherwise only those with easy money, with money laundering to boot, can buy a piece of land on which to build a house, and honest people with hard-earned money are effectively deprived of it even when they find sellers with scruples who care more for people in their neighbourhood than for money.

People who sell property in desperate need of finances have no time to obtain redress from institutions such as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) as the matter will drag on longer. Unscrupulous public officers exploit this situation and fleece the people to satiate their greed.  

In the early 1970s, I served as an authorised officer in the then Bribery Commissioner’s Department with Ian Wickramanayake, who was aptly called ‘Iron Man’, as the Commissioner. During this period BCD sleuths were engaged to get into actual situations to intercept organised bribe-takers and tremors ran through all public services. CIABOC must use its ingenuity to intercept these broad allegations and recover the country from the ‘dogs’. 

(The writer is a retired Senior Superintendent of Police and human rights activist).

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