“A Retired Government Agent”
The government seems to be in a mighty hurry to grant outright ownership to those who have their land holdings under the Land Development Ordinance of 1935.
The introduction and the implementation of the Land Development Ordinance 1935 was one of the most important welfare measures taken before independence. It was a very effective rural development strategy followed during pre and post independent period.
. The initial objectives of the Land Development Ordinance were (a) protecting peasant farmers as a group (b) alleviating land hunger among the poorest of the poor (c) relieving population pressure of the villagers in the wet zone of the country, (d) increasing food production particularly paddy (e) developing the scarcely populated dry zone.
The land alienation was done under different types of schemes such as major settlement schemes, village expansion schemes, highland settlement schemes, middle class schemes, and youth settlement schemes and regularization of encroachments. The land alienated originally was crown land. Latterly with suitable crown land not being available land from other sources such as estates were acquired and alienated under this Ordinance.
Under the Ordinance the allottee could not fragment the land, mortgage the land or dispose of it without Government Agent’s permission. The tenure was liable to cancellation for any default. The allottee’s land was a protected holding.
Selection of allottees was done at a land Kachcheri by the Government Agent or his representative. Landless peasants from the area with large families were given preference and on selection were issued a permit. The land could be passed on, only to a nominated successor by the allottee. This prevented fragmentation of peasant holdings.
When the permit holder had fulfilled the requirements stipulated in the permit he was entitled to receive a grant of his allotment.
The grantee was able to freely dispose of his allotment without the consent of the Government. However, The LDO requires peasant holder to obtain the prior consent of the Government Agent before disposal. The restriction has been designed to prevent the passing of land intended for the peasantry to the richer classes or high income groups.
The LDO as amended ensures that no State land shall be alienated to any person other than citizens of Sri Lanka and declaring that any alienation made in contravention of this provision shall be invalid.
If the government proceeds to give the ownership of the allotments to the permit holders it will negatively affect millions of peasants. The original purpose of the Land Development Ordinance will be negated. With the current trend of consumerism, the tendency will be for them to part with their small holdings for a pittance. The net result will be the rise of a generation of poverty stricken landless population in rural areas. Where there was no litigation under the L.D Ordinance there will be a plethora of legal cases in the event permit holders become the owners of their peasant holdings.
Before the baby is thrown away with the bath water an open discussion should be carried out in consultation with those concerned with the welfare of the peasants.