by Nirmala Kannangara
Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Minister Douglas Devananda has been accused of unlawful occupation at Sridhar Cinema at 45, Stanley Road, Jaffna since 1996 which belongs to R. Mahendraraviraj. Sridhar Cinema, which was one of the leading cinema halls in Jaffna had to shut down in 1991 during the height of the war and was later used by a private firm as its stores.
“Once this private company vacated my building, I deployed a few security guards to look after my property since I was residing in England. It was then that Devananda occupied the building after chasing away my security guards at gun point. Since then I have been deprived of any access to my paternal property,” said Mahendraraviraj.
According to him, Minister Devananda is neither paying him a rent nor is willing to vacate the premises for him to start the cinema hall once again.
“I have been deprived of an income by Devananda over the past 16 years. When I knew that Devananda is forcibly staying at my premises I asked him to pay Rs.1 lakh per month but he said that he does not have money but could pay only Rs. 5,000 which is a pittance considering the location,” said Mahendraraviraj.
Mahendraraviraj who is presently residing in Australia has meanwhile sent letters to all government officials including the former President Chandrika Kumaratunge while she was in office and later to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to get Devananda removed from the building but to no avail.
“At least the former President had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my letter and had ordered her secretary to take prompt action although it did not work out.
I am surprised as to why President Rajapaksa and his brother the Defence Secretary is silent though my grievances have been told to them. Since Devananda is a member of Rajapaksa cabinet and because I being a Tamil and want to open the cinema to provide entertainment to the people who have undergone untold hardships during the war, it is the responsibility of the present government to help me out to get this building back from Devananda,” said Mahendraraviraj.
According to him, more than 25 letters have been sent to Minister Devananda requesting him to vacate the building and has made over 1,000 telephone calls.
“Whenever I called on his personal mobile he promises to vacate the building at the earliest – like a typical politician. But it never happens. When I called him on Wednesday August 8, he said that he cannot vacate the building because he has a lot of work to be carried out for the election,” said Mahendraraviraj. According to Mahendraraviraj, all his attempts to file legal action against Devananda have not worked out since Jaffna lawyers are frightened to appear against him knowing what the consequences would be.
“I wanted to file a case against Devanada, but the Jaffna lawyers are frightened of their lives. A friend of mine told that I can file a fundamental rights case in Colombo but so far failed to come across a brave lawyer who can bring Devananda to courts which would be my last resort. As we all know this is a government that came into power to serve the people but is engulfed with corruption and are only interested in increasing their bank balances but nothing else. I do not expect any favours from this government,” said Mahendraraviraj.
However Minister Douglas Devananda refuted the allegations saying that he has paid rent to one of the partners of this cinema.
“True, I occupied this building as no one was using it during the war. But I paid a rent to a person who claimed to be one of the partners of this hall. It was in 2009 or 2010 that I came to know that I have paid the rent to the wrong person. Since then I stopped paying rent as I am waiting for the legal owner to come,” said Devananda.
However Devananda does not know as to whom he paid the rent or how much. “I have to speak to my party office people,” he said. Devananda further said that he has promised Mahndraraviraj to return the building before the end of this year as he needs time to find a replacement.
“I have never cheated any person. I never told him that I cannot vacate the building due to election work. There are no elections in the Northern Province. I never occupied this building forcibly because no one was occupying it.
Earlier in 1985 the ground floor was occupied by the LTTE and the upper floor by the EPRLF without any rental. Why is the owner accusing me for not paying him money when he did not receive money from the LTTE and EPRLF as well,” queried Devananda.
COURTESY:THE SUNDAY LEADER