‘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 the URP, whether they be related to the buildings, resident issues or even the provision of documents and information residents are entitled to, in their language of preference. The yahapalanaya government is continuing the URP activities, with another 15,000 – 20,000 apartments being built at present. It is therefore crucial to learn from the lessons and experiences of those already relocated to ensure that communities relocated in the months to come will be spared the negative experiences of the families already living in the high-rise apartments.
While those living in the three survey sites were relocated under a militarised UDA and faced harassment, intimidation and threats in the relocation process, the current Government must not assume that those relocated in the future will fair better. The very involuntary nature of the relocations, the lack of consultation and entitlements to the affected communities will deeply affect them post relocation, even in the absence of military involvement. There are a lot of changes that needs to take place in the URP process and the Government must seriously reconsider high-rise apartment complexes as their solution to providing better living conditions for the working class poor. It is also long overdue for this Government to deliver on their promise to legislate the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy.
Policy makers and the UDA must move away from an approach that views people, especially the working class poor, as impediments to adding social and economic value to the city to one that acknowledges them not only as partners but, in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, as sovereign.