| Ceylon Today Editorial

( August 12, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In recent times, the media has highlighted many cases of land grabs by politically powerful persons in Sri Lanka, with the lands ranging from those owned by individuals to State lands including river and reservoir bunds, flood plains, sanctuaries, among other areas coming under the greedy grasp of such persons. No matter the exposure, the plunder goes on with impunity as the offenders know for certain the law cannot catch up with them due to their high political connections.

Many citizens of the country have lost the little land that belonged to them due to unscrupulous actions of scheming persons who register fraudulent deeds with the Land Registry, obliterating all earlier records relating to such lands. These lands are then sold to third parties who bring pressure on the legal owner to vacate the land, claiming ownership, making his life a nightmare, pushing him to run behind lawyers trying to obtain copies of the original deed from the Land Registry, only to find that all records relating to the land are missing. What’s found instead is the newly registered deed.

Very few people have the knowledge and resources to resort to litigation, which may drag on for years.
Depending on how powerful these fraudsters are, sometimes the legal owner mysteriously disappears and his dependents living on the land are edged out using strong-arm tactics. Often, the legal owner is intimidated into accepting a small sum of money for his land, and if he resists, they are implicated in some crime and harassed to prevent him from seeking relief for the injustice they have been subjected to.

Recently, there were media reports that hundreds of acres of the Rajangana Reservoir reservation and tank bund had been cleared, purportedly for agricultural purposes by persons with political backing. Despite the concerns expressed by around 40,000 farmers there, about silt accumulating in the reservoir and the water being polluted by agro-chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, no action appears to have been taken to stop the encroachment. Inquiries have revealed that the persons involved are politically powerful and the activity has been going on for a long time, with the irrigation authorities under whose purview this matter falls made to ‘look the other way’ by politicians.

Then there is also the case of a powerful person who was reported to be constructing a mansion in an ecologically sensitive area, which would have been considered a grave crime under the several laws relating to the environment, if so done by any other citizen of the country. He would have been dragged to court and slammed with the maximum punishment permissible under the law, and perhaps his property would be acquired by the State for being in violation of the planning regulations and so on. But done by the high and the mighty, the offence is ignored with the authorities looking askance, despite the fact that it causes irreversible damage to the environment, and misery to others.

Cases such as these are reported in the media on a daily basis, with the public unaware of whether justice is being meted out under the country’s laws in respect of these offences, or the rules and regulations are twisted to give an altogether different interpretation, letting the offender escape. More often than not, these cases are swept under the carpet, to be forgotten, unless the media or the environmental organizations are alert, to rake it up and ask for justice.

Why should there be one law for the high and the mighty, and another for the normal citizen? After all the high and the mighty derive power only when elected to office by the voter, who is made to look very important, with everyone concerned about his welfare when an election comes around. The voter is however quickly forgotten once the political representative is elected to power.
All this makes one ask: Is this country the domain of crooked politicians and their cohorts only? Surely there seems to be something amiss in governance.