Care for the people

Monday, 28 July 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Colombo is about to undergo even more change with the latest plans for the Government in what could have deep impact for its citizens. A redevelopment and mixed development project on eight acres of land in Slave Island will enable the Urban Development Authority (UDA) under the all-powerful Defence Ministry to acquire private lands in underdeveloped or underserved areas of Colombo City. The Gazette notification, reported in the media, has the project labelled as a pioneer concept for urban renewal and is to be undertaken by a private company which will get tax concessions of ten years running into millions of rupees for project related work. Details of the project have been Gazetted by Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. The project estimated to cost around $ 429.5 million including a foreign direct investment of $ 130 million is to be undertaken by a company going by the name of One-Colombo Project. But details of the company, who its partners are and its Board of Directors have not been mentioned in the Gazette notification. The Gazette, however, states that the redevelopment of the area will “bring significant changes in the landscape of Colombo city through a higher standard of living associated with better quality of life to the habitants whilst the establishment of the Mixed Development Project will importantly contribute to the economic development of the country.” The project is described as a “pioneer concept for urban renewal” enabling the Urban Development Authority to acquire private lands in under developed/underserved areas of Colombo City and provide a better housing/commercial area with amenities to the habitants on a part of the said area. The “underserved” areas mentioned in the project pertain to vast slums in Slave Island, raising concerns over their welfare. The Government’s track record in providing compensation and care for poor people moved out of their homes is uninspiring. One example is the eviction of slum dwellers in Slave Island to make way for a massive apartment block and hotel by TATA. Residents had turned to the Supreme Court in desperation when the UDA had attempted to remove them. Chief among the concerns is that the alternative accommodations provided by the UDA are inadequate with rent money not meeting market prices. Moreover, the compensation afforded to them is minimal. Also the responsibility of providing new houses have been given to the company with residents having no knowledge of the standard of housing they will be given. Nor is this limited to Colombo. The Sri Lanka Nature Group and the People’s Alliance for Right to Land conducted a study of 25 projects, the results of which were released in June 2012. It found that throughout Sri Lanka, a total of 36,611 hectares have been acquired through “illegal means”. “About 26,561 hectares have been seized by government institutions, while 10,050 hectares have been awarded to the private sector,” it states. The Monaragala District was the most affected. Colombo’s poor have been left out of policy discussions on how “beautification” programs will affect them. Yet they are the ones that will pay the most. By continuing to propagate procedures without transparency, the Government continues to prove their commitment to inclusive development is only limited to handouts.