High Rise

High Rise

Let me begin with this apartment, where a grocery store and six people are all crammed into 400 square feet in the Methsara Uyana high-rise. The people fit themselves around the groceries, which occupy all of the living room and most of the kitchen. Sleeping arrangements are flexible, and visitors and wet laundry must both be relegated to the corridor – there is room for neither in the apartment. Neela Kalyani used to own a successful grocery store, established with savings accumulated over years working in the Middle East as a maid. But her relocation to a high-rise apartment block by the urban authorities has gutted her business, entrenched her in debt and left her family floundering. The building is in fact crowded with small businesses like hers; seemingly every floor has its own grocery store in a living room. Kalyani’s former business was registered, and she says she was entitled to another apartment on relocation. But despite repeated queries it hasn’t materialised and Kalyani suspects it never will. At a time when she expected to be planning for her retirement, Kalyani is contemplating returning to domestic work in Dubai. Her hands twist anxiously in her lap. “I am 51 now. I do not think I could do the hard labour I used to, but what choice do I have?” She is separated from her husband (“We never quarrelled, but what to do, he is a gambler”) and does not want to leave her children in his care. But there is no one else. “We have faced so much injustice, and now for the next generation, this will be an inherited injustice,”...
Evicted And Homeless

Evicted And Homeless

On 8th May 2010, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) demolished 20 homes that were occupied by 33 families on Mews Street in Kompannyaveediya, Colombo 2. Families were informed verbally a month prior to the demolition that they will have to vacate their homes and served the same in writing only 3 days prior to the demolition. Contrary to the UDA’s claims at that time, the residents of Mews Street were not illegal occupants of state land but had deeds to the land but at no point was the Land Acquisition Act followed. Their homes eventually made way for the expansion of the school for children of military officers. Residents were not given any information regarding alternative accommodation or compensation. Thus when the UDA authorities arrived with bulldozers accompanied by armed soldiers, residents resisted but in vain. The eviction took place in broad daylight, with hundreds of army and police personnel present to keep the media away. One of the few videos of that afternoon shows the despair and destruction experienced by the families. Some families did not even have enough time to gather documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates or even children’s school books. Residents were left destitute, with many of their belongings destroyed, and for 3-4 days were housed and provided daily meals at the mosque by the Federation of Kompannaveediya Masjids, until they found alternative accommodation with relatives or elsewhere. None of them were compensated for the loss of their homes, possession or businesses. They were offered alternative housing in a temporary resettlement scheme in Thotalanga—“rows of single-room wooden shelters” that reminded two commentators of “Zone 1...
Myth vs Reality

Myth vs Reality

The ambitious Urban Regeneration Project (URP) launched by the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development aims to transform Colombo into a world-class destination for tourism and investment. Central to this eliminating “shanties, slums and other dilapidated housing from the city of Colombo by resettlement of the families presently living under unhygienic and poor environmental conditions in such housing in new housing schemes of internationally recognized standards and in doing so to make the City of Colombo the most attractive city in South Asia”. Underlying this apparently laudable goal are however many myths and following are some of the key ones. Myth 1:All houses in Colombo’s low-incomes communities are slums or shanties A 2001 survey carried out by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and Sevanatha Urban Resource Center identified a total of 77,612 families living in 1,614 low-income settlements in the city but found it “difficult to categorise all the identified low-income settlements as being slums.” Furthermore, according to the Census of Population and Housing 2011 of the Department of Census and Statistics, out of the 555,926 housing units in the Colombo District, only 7979 housing units fall under the category of “hut/shanty”. Of this, 3691 housing units come under the Colombo DS Division.In Slave Island for instance, many households that were evicted had homes that were more than 2 floors, tiled, painted and fully furnished and had improved over time, with water and electricity. When we visited the low-income community on the northern side of Castle Street (Borella) before its recent demolition, there were a number of homes that were well-built—many with more than one floor—neatly painted and furnished...
Evicted Under The World Bank’s Watch

Evicted Under The World Bank’s Watch

This is the story of 91 families from St. Sebastian South Canal in Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. In late 2013, they found out that they were going to lose their homes due to the rehabilitation of the St. Sebastian canal under the World Bank funded Metro Colombo Urban Development Project. The families had not wanted to move away to the new housing being given to them. Their new homes were in newly built high-rise apartments in the outskirts of Colombo and the families had instead asked for housing closer to their original homes so that their livelihoods and children’s schooling would not be disrupted. They had made clear their opposition to the proposed location at awareness sessions held in January 2014 by the then Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, the authority handling all development work in Sri Lanka after the Urban Development Authority was brought under the Ministry of Defence in 2010. The community had continued their opposition to relocation and even voiced their concerns at the site office located in the community, which was also functioning as a grievance redress mechanism. However, they suffered the same fate as thousands of other people who were forcibly evicted from their homes by the Urban Development Authority since 2010. In September 2014, the 91 families shifted to Methsara Uyana, an 11 storey apartment complex with 718 apartments, officially declared open on October 27 2014 by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. read...
Forced Evictions in Colombo: High-rise Living

Forced Evictions in Colombo: High-rise Living

The Centre for Policy Alternatives’ second report on forced evictions in Sri Lanka’s capital city looks at evictions that took place under the previous Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, where as part of its beautification agenda they aimed to create a slum free Colombo by 2020. The report discusses life after relocation to the high-rise buildings as well as the struggles of those still awaiting housing. The rush to relocate communities to high-rise apartments was not done with the uplifting of people’s lives foremost in mind, but with the intention of freeing up property with high commercial value. What made the Urban Regeneration Project of the Urban Development Authority more problematic was the means used to acquire land. Military force, intimidation and harassment were used to evict people from their homes and the process did not follow Sri Lanka’s laws related to land acquisition. Communities were relocated to high-rise buildings in Dematagoda and Wanathamulla where today they face many hardships. Residents are forced to pay Rs 1 million for the apartments over a period of 20 – 30 years. They are yet to be given deeds to their apartments and there are restrictions on selling, renting and mortgaging the apartments, which means that a source of financial security has been taken away from them. The lack of space is a serious issue faced by most people. The ‘one apartment per house’ policy means that today in some apartments there are up to 14 people or more and that some families have been forced to live on rent, elsewhere, simply due to lack of space. The report also looks...