Displaced Sampur residents file fundamental rights petition against demarcation of heavy industries zone in their lands

A number of residents of Sampur, in the Trincomalee District filed a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition in the Supreme Court on Friday 15 June 2012, challenging the demarcation of a Special Zone for Heavy Industries (SZHI) through Gazette Extraordinary No. 1758/26 issued on 17 May 2012.

The Gazette attempts to demarcate a SZHI within the provisions of Section 22A of the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka Law, No.4 of 1978. Seven Petitioners who filed the FR application have stated that the area demarcated by the Board of Investment comprises private property belonging to the Petitioners and others that have been owned by their families for decades.

The Petitioners also state they were displaced from their land on numerous occasions due to the hostilities in the area but that on previous occasions were able to return to their property, rebuild their lives and re-cultivate their lands.

In 2006 the Petitioners and others from the area were displaced from Sampur and have been living in displacement camps. Although hostilities in the area ended in 2007, the Petitioners continue to be displaced and live in transitional sites for over five years. This is as a result of being prevented from entering their property by government officials and the military including personnel from the Sri Lanka Navy and Sri Lanka Army.

The Petition provides a background to recent developments associated with the land. The area was demarcated a High Security Zone (HSZ) in 2007 which was challenged by several Petitioners in SC FR 218/2007 and SC FR 219/2007. In the judgement in SC FR 218/2007, the Supreme Court held that ‘

‘…The purpose of the regulation is manifest in its content. It is to ensure adequate security to the Trincomalee harbour by declaring a High Security Zone in Muttur East, Sampur area and it is not intended to deprive any person of his place of residence or occupation’.

And in SC FR 219/2007 the court held:
‘..Deputy Solicitor General submits that steps are being taken for the resettlement of affected persons with due compliance of the internationally operative best practices for such process’.

With Emergency lapsing in 2011, the Petitioners hold that there is no legally operative HSZ in the area but they continue to be prevented from entering their property by government officials and the military. The Petitioners also state that they are aware of an agreement to construct a Coal Power Plant in an area in Sampur but have come to learn that the area identified for the construction does not include their private property. Further, on 21 October 2011, Minister Basil Rakapakse had stated the following in Parliament:

‘Any land which is not necessary and which will not be acquired for the construction of the power plant will be given back to these people and they will be resettled…..any land which will not be required for the Indian-Sri Lanka power plant will be handed over to the people. Last time also we have allowed the farmers to cultivate. This time also we have decided to allow them to cultivate all the paddy lands and allow them to go to the Kovil and this time also we will allow them to do all the religious activities. So, we will never unnecessarily keep anybody out of their own lands. We will guarantee that.’

Regardless of these assurances, the Petitioners and others from the Sampur area are prevented from entering and using their property. The Petitioners have filed the present case alleging the violation of their Fundamental Rights under Article 12(1), 12(2), 14(1)(g) and 14(1)(h) of the Constitution. Courtesy: Ceylon Today