Supreme Court settles question of Land Powers

Friday, 27 September 2013 04:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Land powers vested with the centre, can be bequeathed to PCs for use
  • CJ and two judges issue separately reasoned judgments
  • Rulings overturn previous Sarath N Silva, Shirani B. Judgments
  • Comprehensively settles land question under 13A: Lawyer Gomin
By Dharisha Bastians The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka resolved the hotly contested question of land powers under the 13th Amendment yesterday with a ruling that state land was vested in the central government and not provincial councils, five days after the Northern Province polled overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy for the region. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Mohan Peiris and comprising Justices K. Sripavan and Eva Wanasundera concluded in three separately reasoned judgments that state land is vested with the people – or the central government – to be bequeathed or divested to the provincial councils at their request and according to law.  In their ruling the three judges interpreted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the Ninth Schedule listing the powers to the council and Appendix II setting out special provisions. The judgments overturn at least two previous judgments by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva in the Lanka Marine Services case in 2006 and by impeached Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in the Land Ownership Bill case in 2003, both of which held that land powers were vested with provincial councils. The Supreme Court ruling pertains to a case filed originally in the Kandy High Court by a petitioner who was evicted for squatting on state land. When the Provincial High Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on alienation of state land because it was a subject with the central government, the petitioner took the issue to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal which held with the Silva and Bandaranayake judgments and concluded that land was the purview of the provincial council. The Plantation Ministry took the matter to Supreme Court to appeal against the Appeals Court judgment resulting in yesterday’s verdict. Attorney at Law Gomin Dayasri appeared on behalf of the Ministry, while M.A. Sumanthiran, the TNA National List MP appeared as counsel for the petitioner. “The judgment comprehensively settles the question of land powers under the 13th Amendment,” Dayasri told Daily FT yesterday. He said the Supreme Court ruling also vindicates former President J.R. Jayewardene who has been accused of surrendering land powers to the provinces under 13A. However, Counsel for the Petitioner and TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran told Daily FT that the only question before the Supreme Court was whether the Provincial High Court had jurisdiction to rule on matters pertaining to the alienation of land, Sumanthiran said. “The power to alienate state land remains with the President, there is no question about that,” Sumanthiran said. But since land was a power devolved to the provincial councils, the President can only do so within and with regard to a province with consultation with the PCs, he explained. “The issue before the Supreme Court was not so much land powers under 13A but the jurisdiction of the provincial high court over land issues,” Sumanthiran said. State land accounts for about 80 percent of all land in the island. Land and police powers devolved to the Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment on a provisional basis have never been granted to the provinces since the system came into being in 1988. Land has become a hot button issue in the former conflict zones due to acquisition by the state.