The Making of a World Class City: Displacement and Land Acquisition in Colombo

The Making of a World Class City: Displacement and Land Acquisition in Colombo

CPA’s January 2017 report ‘The Making of a World Class City: Displacement and Land Acquisition in Colombo’ explores the process of making Colombo a world class city, begun post-war under the Rajapaksa regime and its continuity under the yahapalanaya government. The previous government’s Urban Regeneration Programme (URP), which is being continued by the present Government, aims to beautify the city and create a slum-free capital. This has, resulted in large scale eviction and relocation of the working class poor away from the city center. The rushed evictions under the previous regime paid scant regard to the rights of affected persons and to the practical impact of evictions on their lives including lack of access to services, loss of shared community, increase in physical and material vulnerability, disruption of education and loss or reduction in livelihood options. The continued lack of transparency and accountability is an overriding concern. The difficulties of obtaining information and in the language of the person affected and misinformation in attempts to prejudice the rights and interest of the affected family, continue to be the main areas of dispute with the Urban Development Authority. On the substantive questions involved there is a clear lack of state policy that accounts for and seeks to serve the interests of those affected. The lack of such policies compound problems arising out of a state-centric understanding of eminent domain, an expanding ‘public purpose’ in state acquisitions of land and the entrenched vulnerabilities of affected persons. This report also highlights the urgent need for the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy to be updated and enshrined in law. The need for national and provincial...
Living it down: Life after relocation in Colombo’s high rises

Living it down: Life after relocation in Colombo’s high rises

‘Living it down: Life after relocation in Colombo’s high rises’ is a report by CPA in November 2016 based on findings of a survey conducted with 1222 households in Colombo forcibly relocated by the Rajapaksa regime. The findings of this survey question many narratives created around the working class poor of Colombo living in “underserved settlements”. That the affected communities live in slums and shanties, in unhygienic, unsanitary flood prone environments surrounded by drug dealers are narratives that serve the purpose of a Government looking to “liberate” commercially valuable property in Colombo by relocating communities to high-rise complexes built by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in the North of Colombo since 2010. This survey builds on CPA’s work since 2013 on evictions in Colombo under the previous regime. The three complexes selected for this survey were Mihindusenpura, Sirisara Uyana and Methsara Uyana, all located in Dematagoda (Colombo North). The three complexes were selected because residents were moved there prior to November 2014 which meant that they had been living in the buildings for more than one and half years. The findings of this survey raises many concerns about the future of those living in the UDA high-rise complexes and demands a complete review of the URP. In less than three years of occupation, we see a considerable deterioration in the quality of life, income mismatch leading to debt, high expression of desire to move, disconnect with the built environment. Unfortunately, even under the yahapalanaya Government and new management of the UDA we see no concrete effort on the part of the UDA to address the critical issues arising from...
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...
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