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Govt. must rehabilitate people who lose land to development projects: Experts

2013 Jul 16

By Uditha Jayasinghe

The Sri Lankan Government must rehabilitate poor people displaced due to land acquisition if it hopes to promote sustainable development, social experts said yesterday.

Experts speaking at the inaugural sessions of a World Bank seminar on land acquisition pointed out that everywhere in Asia, the race for economic growth was being challenged by the need to acquire land to develop infrastructure. They insisted that in the past it was accepted that poor people had to sacrifice their land so that development could be achieved for the benefit of the entire population.  “However, this idea is now antiquated. More and more people are not willing to accept it as they are more educated and are aware of their rights. Instead of the old win-lose relationship, they now demand a win-win relationship and all governments have a responsibility to not just compensate these people but also actively rehabilitate them and integrate them into the development process,” World Bank South Asia Region Social Development Specialist Chaohua Zhang told the gathering.   He insisted that projects which resulted in one section of the community becoming poorer was not “real development” and would ultimately undermine social justice.   In South Asia, the infrastructure development, especially investment in urban infrastructure, transport and road sector development projects, is growing rapidly. Under this context, land acquisition and resettlement has become big challenge for both development partners and client government agencies.  Laws, policies, and practices of land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation in the country also need to be reviewed Asian Development Bank Project Implementation Unit Head Ashan Tayyab noted.  Since the end of a three decade war in 2009, Sri Lanka’s Government has pushed ahead with massive development projects estimated to cost around US$ 8 billion. Such development, especially in urban areas, has increased displacement of poor communities.  Over 400 low income families in Colombo have lodged a lawsuit at the Supreme Court against a multi-million dollar housing project, while in the north, nearly 1,500 land owners filed cases against the Government for taking over 6,000 acres of land to increase military barracks.  In rural areas, the vast majority of acquisitions are carried out for road widening, and water supply and irrigation projects. Smaller parcels are taken over for schools, playgrounds or sports grounds.

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