A note on Land Encroachment
Looked at by itself land encroachment is a purely human problem and has nothing to do with ethnicity. Those living on encroached lands are usually very poor, often earning their bare subsistence through menial work or chena (slash & burn) cultivation. Without the family or social back-up of established farmers, their sons and daughters have to find their living as early as their teens. Young couples themselves, lacking in means of educational advancement, start life on encroached land - often crown forest reserves. Despite laws against encroachment, the problem assumed such a magnitude that the land ministry issued a general order in 1978 to regularise all encroachments. This benefitted persons from all communities living on encroached lands. Thus far it was non-discriminatory.
Again the discriminatory aspect entered through the manner in which the security forces and the administrative machinery favoured one particular community. Let us look at some of these.
In the early 60s when Mc Heyzer was GA/Trincomalee, land along the Kandy Road from the 4th Mile Post (China Bay Junction) to Monkey Bridge was designated a middle class scheme. There was a rush among government officers to acquire lands which were given generously. But the area lacking the infrastructure of town life, the owners did not go into occupation and the lands were neglected. Most of it was encroached by Sinhalese over a number of years. The owners showed no interest in taking legal action.Following the violence of 1977, 284 families of Tamil victims, of Indian origin settled in Kappalthurai, partly on land under a middle class cultivation scheme which had fallen into some neglect. This land is roughly between the 5th Mile Post and Cottiar Bay. These people had a unique problem. Although many of them were registered citizens, persons of Indian origin are alone required to produce proof of citizenship. Most of these people had lost everything including their documents. Sympathetic land officials could have acted differently and defended their action. But officialdom in Trincomalee dominated by a particular kind of Sinhalese used these victims disability, maintained that they were all non-citizens and refused to regularise their encroachments. As described in 2.3, these people were herded into refugee camps during June/July 1983 and many were forcibly deported to the hill country. Subsequently many of them returned. Their children were attending the Kappalthurai school which also had a Sinhalese stream and was opened in 1981. During June 1990 these people were driven out again. Presently, as the result of pressure mounted through the land ministry of the North-East provincial administration, agreement has reportedly been reached in re-accomodating 419 Tamil familes who fled the area- of both Indian and local origin.We have encountered Palampottaru stage 1 as Pattinipuram in 2.2.5. These are lands between the part of Kandy Road, from Monkey Bridge to Thambalakamam and the railway tracks. These lands were alienated to people of Thambalakamam in the 60s. A few built houses there. Most owners stayed in Thambalakamam and did cultivation on these lands during the winter rains. As security deteriorated these lands came in for neglect and subsequently some of it is said to have been encroached upon. The main encroachment took place in Palampottaru Stage 2 which is on the side of the road opposite stage 1. The land Kacheri for allocations to stage 2 was held about 1973 and allottees were chosen from all three communities. Owing to a complaint about the method of selection, those selected were not given possession of the lands. But the matter remained suspended without the selections being cancelled. In due course, particularly in the late 70s or the early 80s, Sinhalese squatters came into occupation. [See 2.1].
The Trincomalee District boundary begins a few miles north-east of Aluth Oya along the (Kandy) Habarana - Trinco Road. Lands along the road were being encroached by Sinhalese who did chena cultivation. During the latter 80s they abandoned these lands owing to Tamil militant activity. They have returned recently after army positions along the road were strengthened.
Sinhalese encroachment along the Allai - Kantalai Road ceased when a number of Tamil militant groups operated in the mid 80s and when later the IPKF was present. After June 1990 the Sri Lankan armys position has been sufficiently strengthened for Sinhalese encroachment to resume. Sources in Trincomalee believe that they receive material inducement from the state as well as from interested organisations in the South. Ministerial circles in the late 60s and early 70s, we reliably understand, had discussed the colonisation of this area as a means of sundering the continuity of Tamil speaking areas.
Currently, as we have argued [2.2-4], despite the later land ministry circular of October 1989 forbidding regularisation of encroachments after this date, Sinhalese encroachments continue with the circular easily circumvented [See 2.2.3]. Tamils are of course in no position to encroach, leave alone reoccupy their own lands.
As Appendix II suggests, encroachments seem to do comparatively little to alter the demographic balance as those encroaching are often from around that area. The really significant changes have come through the big colonisation schemes. On the other hand regularisation of encroachments does nothing to solve key long term problems. Its chief merit is that it costs the state nothing. Encroachers as a class continue to be poor and deprived with poor education and no social mobility as also their children are likely to be. As experience increasingly shows, in a competitive environment, small land holders lack the ability for profitable capital intensive farming and are likely to sell their lands for a modest price if some entrepreneur with money comes along.
Again the environmental aspects have hardly been gone into. The North-East still has a large proportion of the countrys diminishing forest reserves. These are down from 8O% to 2O% of the land area in 1OO years. Should these be further impaired simply for the joy of making some of its districts Sinhalese majority areas? Conservation of wild-life is again both a moral as well as an ecological issue so far largely ignored. The point where the Allai-Kantalai road crosses the Mahaveli river is one from which the herd and family lives of wild elephants can be regularly observed. How long will this last? As mentioned earlier colonisation and land settlement has been virtually an affair of political gerrymandering with nothing else taken into account. The associated social problems and the need for viable employment seem to require very different solutions [See also 8.2].
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