Land dispute in Muttur Claims and counter-claims over State land

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By 2017-10-08

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

The Muttur People's Forum (MPF), a local community- based organization had lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission office in Trincomalee and a complaint with Muttur Police following an alleged attack by the Civil Security Division (CSD) on farmers on 2 September over a 108-acre paddy land.

Muttur farmers who had fled the area during the war had tried to claim the land after the war ended. However, the CSD had been cultivating the land saying that they had 'captured' the land from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) control.

It is an ongoing dispute between the farmers and the CSD since 2009. However, on 30 September, the clash saw about seven people being hospitalized, while one of them was seriously injured.

Heated argument

MPF convener Mohamed Jihad told Ceylon Today that a heated argument had ensued over the 108-acre paddy land that they claim belong to 47 Tamil and Muslim farmer families and the CSD had assaulted them with poles. The villagers had been protesting that they have been denied their right to farming by the people of the adjoining village in the Seruwila Division and the CSD.

He also claimed that the 108-acre land at Othupadukaadu Kandam in the Muttur GS Division, in the Kanguveli Grama Niladhari Division, was handed over to the farmers when the Mahaweli Development Project was initiated in 1959.

Muttur at one point became the centre of fierce clashes between the troops and the LTTE and people abandoned the area. It became a ghost town till people gradually started returning after 2009. Upon returning they found that their lands had been acquired by the Army.

According to Jihad, they had lodged several complaints with the higher-ups against the taking over of private lands, but they have fallen on deaf ears.

In 2011 and again on 27 January 2017, the Kallaaru CSD wrote to Seruwila Divisional Secretariat, requesting them to give the land for cultivation as they had been cultivating it for several years.

However, Seruwila Assistant Secretary Subha Sadhagaranon on 13 February 2017 had responded to the CSD in a letter notifying that the Land Use Planning Committee has decided to wait till the Divisional Secretariat takes a decision.

However, they also notified that since there were no discussions on the matter so far, the CSD could go ahead with cultivating the land on temporary basis till a final solution is reached.

Private land

On hearing that the CSD was permitted to cultivate the land, the farmers then submitted a letter to the District Secretariat Trincomalee, pointing out that it is a private land owned by nearly 46 families of Muttur.

On 22 September 2017, GA of Trincomalee N.A.A. Pushpakumara issued a letter to the Seruwila PS urging them to immediately release the land as it is a private land. The GA pointed out in the circular that there are deeds and government permits issued to the people and quickly take measures to return the land to its owners. The GA stated the letter issued to the CSD by the Seruwila PS is null and void. This letter was copied to the Director General of the CSD Colombo, PS Secretariat Muttur and Commandant CSD of Kallaaru.

On 30 September, the farmers gathered at the paddy land to celebrate the reclaiming of the land, when the CSD pounced on them. "We explained and tried to show the GA's letter which they tore into pieces. They used obscene words and attacked us with poles."

CSD's response to Ceylon Today

Spokesperson for CSD Major L.M.V.S. Vajira Kumaratunga told the writer that the CSD had been asking for the land from the Seruwila PS as they were
cultivating it for several years.
He said in February they received a letter from the AGA stating that they could cultivate the land temporarily till a solution was reached and that is why the clash erupted. The Major stressed that the AGA of Neelapola gave them the land. "We were digging a well and the fund for this was allocated from the government," he noted.
"We are cultivating the State land and it is the Muttur villagers who are encroaching on a State land," he stated.

He added that he was not informed about the Trincomalee GA's letter. "No one requested the land from us officially."

But later on the Major who spoke to another CSD official over the phone came back to state that the higher-ups had told them not to cultivate the land till a solution is reached.

However, the CDS officials have urged the GA Trincomalee to give them 10 acres of State land for farming.

He said that when the clash broke out, they were unaware of the Trincomalee GA's decision to hand over the land to the farmers. He also noted that many claimed it to be their land. "The government should give us some land here," adding that they have been stationed there for a long time. "Lately we have asked the Seruwila PS at least to give us 10 acres of State land."

He said they have temporarily stopped farming, waiting for a favourable response.

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