Optimum use of land
The decision by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa to vest all State lands in the Lands
Commissioner General is a prudent move particularly given the
history of the extent of abuse of State land in this country.
The Presidential move hopefully would put a halt to the
indiscriminate doling out of State land at the whim and fancy of
those under whose purview these lands fall. It would also put a
stop to the leasing of State land for unproductive purposes at a
time the Government is striving to preserve every inch of land
for its ambitious food production drive.
Hence it is a timely move by the President to ensure that
State land is not left in the hands of various persons to do as
they please. We saw how under a past UNP Government, Ministers
doled out land to their henchmen as if it were their personal
property. One often heard how Ministers purchased State land for
a song and then resold them at massive profit.
There was also the notorious case where a former Minister
unscrupulously exchanged vast extents of barren land he owned
for fertile property. Following a lengthy Presidential
Commission of Inquiry the ex-Minister developed a bout of
conscience and ‘donated’ the ill acquired land towards a
While some of the land so appropriated were resold at
exorbitant prices yet others were left idle and not put to any
productive purpose. Not only that, State land was
misappropriated to such an extent even some members of the
Fourth Estate too were beneficiaries.
There were others too who received State land almost for
gratis at ridiculously low prices as quid pro quos or for
‘services rendered’. All this took place due to the fact that
the Ministers arrogated to themselves the power to decide on the
appropriation of land under them with no central authority to
They were the sole arbiters in this regard. This opened the
doors for blatant abuse. Such was the extent of land abuse
during that era that State land were bartered away in cavalier
fashion to businessmen and party supporters.
The Government should take steps to inquire into all these
‘land grabs’ and revest all ill gotten land in the State. Today
there are vast extents of State land under different Ministries
and these could have only increased with the rise in the number
Hence there is an urgent need to keep tabs on all these lands
particularly given the current need for more and more land for
food production. For example the Department of Railways has vast
acres of property that could be put into productive use. Some of
these lands are lying idle.
What is needed is a tight leash exercised by a central
authority to ensure that State land under any Ministry is not
doled out haphazardly. There is a need to evaluate the advantage
in cost benefit terms before any such land is alienated for
whatever purpose. Moreover such land needs to be reserved for
food production rather than divesting them for commercial
purposes, given the fast dwindling land space in the country to
the juggernaut of urbanisation.
According to our front page new item, yesterday the President
has decreed that although the custody of all State land ought to
vested in the Lands Commissioner General this has been ignored
by State institutions who have resorted to selling, leasing and
renting out land in their possession.
He also said half the lands released by the BoI for different
projects have not been made use of for the specified
purpose.This too should be looked into since there are vested
interests in the alienation of such land.
The President should order a census of all land that have
been apportioned by the Ministries and probe if these are
bringing the State the anticipated returns. At a time when land
is at a premium not only in this country but also in the rest of
world every effort should be made to preserve and or make
productive use of all available land.