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What happens if State Land is Privatized & Farmers are given title deed ownership

Interlinked to the MCC US Government grant of $480m are some crucial topics that the ruling government, the judiciary and citizens cannot ignore. 84% of Sri Lanka’s land belongs to the state. What happens if this 84% state land is privatized? Will the Govt be able to impose tax and gain revenue. Will the bulk money given at purchase of land be sufficient to run a country? Confounding matters is the removal of restrictions prohibiting foreigners to purchase land & property. A Government is only trustee or custodian of the land for a term of office and an overruling principle is the inalienability of land with sovereignty. WITHOUT land no country is sovereign. So if a country’s land is privatized its sovereignty is questioned. That is one aspect that policy makers need to seriously ponder. Sri Lanka managed to salvage itself from 4 attempts by the previous government to privatize State land. Is the distribution of title deeds to farmers an alternative to privatizing state land?

That Sri Lanka lacks a sound and secure land policy is a fact. That Sri Lanka has been depending on proposals and reports given by foreign private contractors is also a fact. How far these proposals gel with the country and its people’s needs or wants is a different question altogether. What these foreign proposals continuously recommend is to view land as a commodity and open up for foreign investments.

Leaving aside the controversies surrounding the proposed MCC economic corridor and the numerous pink dots in a map circulating drawing fear of US bases being set up across the country, let us take the subject of farmers being given freehold title deeds.

Farmers holding LDO permits given title ownership

The previous government was on a hurricane attempt to dish out 1million deeds to farmers. Why were they in such a hurry to hand over deeds to those holding only permits under Land Development Ordinance of 1935?

Permit holders of the LDO could not fragment land, mortgage the land, dispose of it without the GA’s permission but the land could be passed on to a nominated successor so long as he/she continued the livelihood given to the original allottee.

LDO permits were intended to ensure no State land would be alienated to any other person than citizens of Sri Lanka. But now foreigners can purchase any land and any property. All restrictions upon foreigners was removed by the previous government ahead of attempts to privatize land, ahead of signing ACSA, ahead of launching preconditions given by MCC teams regularly arriving in Sri Lanka since 2015.

Sri Lanka from being known as the Granary of the East has become a country now importing rice and most foods that could easily be grown in Sri Lanka for local consumption. The pride that our ancestors brought to our island in developing agriculture has virtually collapsed. The farmers today are engulfed in poverty & debt. These are sad realities that we have to face. But is giving a title deed to a farmer in poverty & debt the solution?

A farmer holding a LDO permit is in a plot of land that does not belong to him. The land he and his family had been living for generations belong to the State of Sri Lanka.

However, the LDO permit enabled the farmer to have a livelihood, he had a roof over his head, he had a place for his family to live. He had security in the form that as a member of the farmer community, they could make appeals to a government and obtain some form of concessions. The state banks would also assist whenever possible.

Now imagine this farmer getting 100% title ownership to the land.

His links to the government immediately ceases.

He becomes a private owner fending for himself. The government has nothing to do with him and no obligations to him. He is one his own.

Will a bank give a loan to a farmer without consistent monthly income?

What is the collateral security the bank will demand – obviously the land.

What happens when the farmer cannot repay the loan? The Bank confiscates the land and eventually puts it to auction. How many can afford such land up for auction? With foreigners able to purchase land, will it not be them who will come forward and grab the land? (was this the plan all along)

What happens next to the farmer?

He loses the land his family had been living for generations

He has no means of livelihood

He has no place to live

He has lost the land he had been previously living under lease

His family doesn’t have a place to live or a means of indirect livelihood

He and his entire family are displaced.

So if 1 million such farmers are to be given title ownership to land – wont this 1million eventually end up without land, without a job and without a place to live?

With their dependents we are looking at a minimum of 4million people who are likely to be displaced, without home and livelihood.

What is a government who doesn’t have any state land because all 84% of state land under its custodianship was privatized going to do about the scenario?

How will a government provide a place to live for this 4milion displaced people?

When 84% state land is privatized – a government has no land under its jurisdiction.

We are living in an island – there is only the sea around us… where will these 4million displaced people without any livelihood, without any money and without any place to live go to and as citizens of Sri Lanka how will the Sri Lankan Government look after them?

Shenali D Waduge



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