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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 meritorious project.

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 exercise checks.

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 of Ministers.

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.

A new era for Rajarata my aim - NCP Chief Minister

Chief Minister of North Central Provincial Council Berty Premalal Dissanayake was interviewed by Nimal Wijesinghe Anuradhapura Additional District Group Correspondent.

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Exposing NGO conspiracies

Last week Social Welfare Deputy Minister Lionel Premasiri expressed some important views on Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The Deputy Minister's views are very significant because there is a direct connection between eradicating terrorism and NGO activities.

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Navy Chief assesses Navy’s role in the Forces’ successful campaign to eliminate LTTE terrorism

“It is matter of months now,” says the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda commenting on the pending victory of the Security Forces against the LTTE.

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