SC directs to look into resettlement of the displaced

Palaly High Security Zone Case

By S.S.Selvanayagam

The Supreme Court last Monday directed that immediate steps be taken to interview the persons who had indicated their willingness to re-settle in their properties located within the “Palaly High Security Zone” on the conditions that had been laid down by Court in order to be satisfied of their bona fides.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, Justices Nihal Jayasinghe and N.E.Dissanayake however directed that interviews be carried out by the District Secretary or his representative and the representatives of the Security Forces as may be nominated by the Secretary Defence.

The court was of the view that this matter resulting in the alleged infringement of Petitioners’ fundamental rights and causing considerable financial and economic loss to the State be resolved by efforts being made to resettle the persons displaced, subject to the conditions that had been specified by court.

The Deputy Solicitor General agreed to furnish the said list to the Secretary Defence and also to communicate with the District Secretary.

The names of the claimants could be published in the office of the Grama Sevaka and any disputed claims be referred for appropriate legal action. Thereafter the Secretary Defence and the District Secretary would indicate to court the areas in which re-settlement could commence and the names of the persons who would be accorded such facility.

Since economic activity has to take place afresh necessary facilities should be made available to the persons who are being re-settled in order to ensure optimum returns, the court directed.

Mavai Senathirajah, the Parliamentarian representing the Jaffna District, filed his application alleging an infringement of his fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 12(1), 12(2), 14(1)(g) and 14(1)(h) of the Constitution by being prevented from taking possession and living on his property which he was forced to vacate due to military activity in 1992.

Petitioner wrote to the respective authorities including the then President requesting permission to return to his property. The alleged infringement is in reference to document dated 5.11.2003 sent on behalf of the Commander of the Army which states that his request cannot be accommodated since the house is located within the “Palaly High Security Zone.”

Petitioner pleaded that such a High Security Zone had not been established under any law or any operative Emergency Regulation. Several applications have also been filed on the same basis.

Considering the implications of these applications, the court adjourned hearing the matters on several occasions to facilitate resolution of the alleged infringement by the persons being permitted to re-settle on their lands. Administrative relief was thus granted to some of the petitioners and those proceedings were terminated.

When the matter came up on 18.7.2005, Counsel Appathurai Vinayagamoorthy, Counsel for one of the petitioners, submitted that the security limit be restricted to the area occupied by the Forces in 1990, in order to bring about a settlement of the matter.

The court then directed the State to obtain instructions from the Security Forces and the District Secretary Jaffna K.Ganesh, on the proposal that was made. Subsequently, the court directed that a Report be submitted by Mr Ganesh as to the number of persons who have been displaced in the manner complained of by the petitioner.

This action was taken since the petitioner Mavai Senathirajah has specifically pleaded that he filed the application not only on his behalf but on behalf of others similarly circumstanced. Several adjournments were granted to the Divisional Secretary to submit his Report.

The Report dated 20.3.2006 of the District Secretary addressed to the Chief Justice, indicated that the District Secretary had discussions with the petitioners and that they are not agreeable to any settlement on the basis of alternative land being provided or compensation being paid.

The court observed that in any event such a process is not feasible since according to District Secretary at present 20,365 families have been displaced, out of whom 1,679 families consisting of 6,386 persons are living in 50 welfare centres maintained by the State. Others are living with friends and some have left the country.

The Report states that the “High Security Zone” in Valikamam North Division is located in an area described by him as being of fertile red soil most productive in the North, in terms of yield and income. The Report also states that to the north of the Zone is the sea area where there was a very lucrative fishing industry carried on. About 60% of the population displaced had been farmers and about 30% have been engaged in the fishing industry.

The Report further states that for the past 15 years, these persons have been deprived of their livelihood and are forced to live on dry rations provided by the State. The cost of providing dry rations is stated by the District Secretary as being Rs 36 million per month. Thus, apart from the matter of displacement, the State has been incurred a huge expenditure of Rs 36 million per month for the past 15 years to provide dry rations to the persons who have been displaced, the court noted.

In addition to the matters stated in the Report, it has been also noted that the Kankesanthurai Cement Factory, being the largest cement plant in Sri Lanka, is also within the Zone and has been abandoned for the past 15 years, resulting in a tremendous economic loss to the country as a whole. Considering the matters stated in the Report, when the case came up on 27.3.2006, the court requested the counsel to ascertain from the petitioners and persons who have been displaced whether any of them are agreeable to re-settle within the area on a written assurance given by them that:

i) they would submit themselves for interview by the District Secretary and the representatives of the Security Forces to establish their identity, claims to the particular portion of land and other relevant particulars;

ii) that they would form into Citizens Committees and ensure that the Security Forces are in no way imperiled in the area due to any armed or terrorist activity;

iii) engage in agricultural and other activities as may be agreed upon between the persons re-settling and the relevant authorities; and

iv) not claim the dry rations provided by the State.

When the matter came up last Monday, counsel submitted that 7,456 families had indicated that they were prepared to resettle on the conditions that had been indicated by court. Counsel also submitted that they had tendered their requests in writing containing the assurances referred to, to the respective District Secretaries. The persons who have indicated their willingness are from 33 Grama Sevaka Divisions.

In these circumstances, the court was of the view that this matter be resolved by efforts being made to resettle the persons displaced, subject to the conditions that had been specified by court.

TULF Jaffna District Parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah and a displaced resident V.Rajadurai in their petitions cited Defence Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, Army Commander Lt.Gen. Lionel Balagalle, Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General Parami Kulatunga and the Attorney General as respondents.

President’s Counsel K.Kanag Iswaran with M.A.Sumanthiran instructed by Mohan Balendra appeared for Mavai Senathirajah. A.Vinayagamoorthy appeared for Rajadurai. Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando appeared for the Attorney General.
[Source: Daily Mirror]

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