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The largest number of Action Points in the plan prepared to take forward the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission relate to land issues. This is understandable for confusion about land is the largest single cause of uncertainty and hence anxiety in the North.

As I have noted in other contexts, there are four distinct problems, namely

  • Different claims for the same land based on initial ownership and also on long term occupation
  • Loss of title deeds
  • Title deeds never having been given, because land usage was based on permits that could be renewed – but where the problems at a) and b) above prevented claims based on continuous usage
  • Acquisitions by the state for either security purposes or development

All these problems can be resolved easily, if there is sufficient will and recognition that due process must be followed. With regard to the first problem, the present legal position with regard to prescription needs to be changed, since clearly it would be unfair to deprive people of land they had owned if they had vacated it because they had been forced to, or had left because of threats to their security. At the same time those in long term occupation cannot be simply thrown out because of the earlier claim based on ownership, they should be provided with some form of compensation. This could necessitate acquisition by the State, but all such acquisitions should follow due process with proper compensation.

With regard to the second and third problems, mechanisms to establish ownership, or long term usage, are needed, which was what was planned through the recent circular. That has been challenged in the Courts largely because of the role given in sorting out problems to the military. I believe the Ministry of Lands has realized that that role was inappropriate, and the circular will be changed, but action has been held up because the matter is now sub judice. Understandably enough those who challenged the circular will not withdraw their cases until they have seen the revised circular, but preparation of that has been delayed.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2012
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