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 at other issues faced by communities such as disenfranchisement, impact on livelihoods, debt, breakdown down of community life, as well as the role of the World Bank in involuntary resettlements in Colombo.
The task in front of the new Government and the new Minister for urban development is certainly a challenging one and one that needs to be addressed urgently. It is necessary that all projects and activities under the URP are halted until a full review is done and the experiences, thus far, taken stock of. Unfortunately, we are yet to see this being done and instead have only seen a continuation of URP activities.