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 policy guidelines, criteria for participation, transparency, accountability, promotion of in-situ redevelopment and upgrading, elimination and minimising involuntary resettlement as well as adequate compensation prior to and during land acquisition and resettlement processes is evident when looking at the experience of communities forcible relocated.