by Dr.M. A. Mohammed Saleem and Arjuna Hulugalle
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) national list Parliamentarian M.A.Sumanthiran wrote an opinion piece on the issue of devolving land powers that was carried in my blog on February 25th under the heading”Principal reasons for TNA position on devolution of Land powers”. Mr.Sumanthiran with direct experience in land issues as a lawyer,litigant and land owner outlined the TNA rationale in arguing for land powers to the unit of devolution.
Stand in Silver ~ Statue of Mahathma Gandhi inJaffna Peninsula, North of Sri Lanka – pic by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
There has been an informed response to Mr.Sumanthiran’s article from Dr.M. A. Mohammed Saleem and Mr.Arjuna Hulugalle representing the Mahatma Gandhi Centre that advocated grass roots power sharing and democracy.
While being sympathetic to idea of the periphery taking control of land powers messrs. Saleem and Hulugalle argue that the time is not ripe for devolving such powers to Provincial councils and instead suggest another model to enable the people to have greater control of land and other natural resources necessary for development
Here is the article Friends-DBS Jeyaraj
Peoples control of land will be more effective through Village Peoples Councils
by Dr.M. A. Mohammed Saleem and Arjuna Hulugalle
Recently a number of articles drew attention to the merit and demerit of the periphery taking control of land. Articulating TNA position why land powers must be devolved, Mr. M.A.Sumanthiran, M.P reasoned “…decisions over land must be made at a unit of governance that is close to the people and by decision makers who understand the specific needs of the people in the area…”.
He strengthened his argument by “… to expect decision makers situated in Colombo who have little or no understanding of norms and customs to make decisions relating to land is meaningless”. Mr. Sumanthiran has even found it inappropriate resettling people few kilometers away from their villages of origin because of variations and/or adjustments ensued to their lifestyles, and cited as an example”… government’s resettlement of persons from areas in Mullaitivu in an area called Kombavil…” which are in the same district.
Like many others, we understand Mr. Sumanthiran’s frustration with centralized decisions, and consequences of self serving policy pronouncements without proper consultation or consideration of people’s sensitivities which had plunged this country into a prolonged war. In post independent Sri Lanka, governance has been skewed in pursuit of power. It influenced the electoral process and also skill and infrastructure development decisions.
The urban-focused development push sidelined villages where majority of citizens live, and the areas with concentration of the minority communities suffered even more. Therefore, the new focus for rebuilding this country after the war should be that anyone, regardless of wherever he/she comes from, can pursue development goals in an environment of peace, security and mutual trust ‘guaranteed’ by the goodwill of all communities. According to Mahatma Gandhi, this can only happen when decisions “…begin at the bottom … it follows therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs…” so that every village will be independent of its neighbour for its own vital wants by growing its own food.
The Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Sri Lanka has recognized that, for uniform development, people should take charge of their destiny and control the politico-economic environment of their own immediate localities.
As Mr. Sumanthiran, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre (MGC) also advocates that only the people of an area are qualified to determine priorities and the course of actions to pursue for managing natural resources within their localities. The MGC even went further recommending to the LLRC ‘Peoples Councils ’in every village, and for these councils to become the fundamental layer of governance from which other layers of governance to emerge.
Stand alone village empowerment and development arrangements are particularly relevant in the post-war resettlement areas where every village has become a development priority and should be assisted in parallel to build back. In such an arrangement, people of every village can manage the natural resources to the best of their ability.
Utilization of any land and other natural resources that are designated public property: grazing lands or communal forests, water bodies etc for common use, can be decided by the village or the villages which share common boarders with those resources based on agreed national guidelines applicable across the country. Such an arrangement will ensure even greater control and benefits Mr.Sumanthiran envisages for the people from the land resources.
With all merits in TNA arguments for land devolution, given the legacy that worked to separate Elam from the rest of Sri Lanka, there will always be suspicion and hesitance for securing a popular agreement. Unfortunately, little has been done to get rid of the mistrust and to build confidence between different communities through the political parties that represent them. Also, past experience from allowing one group to manage the affairs of the provinces does not give credence that devolved land powers will be used impartially in the best interest and benefit of all the people in the respective provinces.
We recall the time when LTTE was put in trust to administer the merged north-east. There was blatant misuse of powers which led to unilateral determination to differentiate Tamil and Muslim communities by redefining eligibility for government positions, redrawing boundaries between the Muslim and Tamil villages and renaming Muslim villages to reflect a different character. Overnight, Muslim villages: Pudawaikadu became Senthoor, Jebal Nagar as Veloor and Sinnthottam as Barathipuram. This is fresh in the minds of people but, in the natural process of reconciliation wounds between communities may be healed.
Until then, it will be wise to avoid anything that can arouse suspicion and we believe land devolution is one such issue. Land and other natural resources are important for development, and people’s control of these, as Mr. Sumanthiran desires, will be more effective through village Peoples Councils. This neither needs major debates nor will raise suspicion. Villages are already defined, and Peoples Councils can immediately be put into practice without anyone raising eyebrows.
What do you say Mr. Sumanthiran?