[Part1 -Dispossession ] - People's Land Commission report summary

From today, a summary of the People's Land Commission Report will be published daily in as a series of articles in English, Sinhala and Tamil. This is the first article of the series. 

What is dispossession: Dispossession is the act of depriving a person or group of land and or property.

Land dispossession is a multi-faceted issue affecting livelihoods, social security and social mobility, environmental justice and identity. A large number of land dispossession issues presented before the Commission were linked to militarisation and institutionally-entrenched ethnic discrimination. Sri Lanka’s economic development model, bureaucratic failures and systemic exclusion, especially in the case of the Malaiyaha Makkal people, are key contributors to the dispossession from land in Sri Lanka.

Based on the Commission hearings, following are key factors which cause dispossession:


Ethnic discrimination

Flaws in Sri Lanka’s economic development model

Bureaucratic failures

Systemic exclusion of the Malaiyaha makkal people

Systemic exclusion based on caste

Key Findings:


The lands that were acquired in the North and East during the conflict remain under military and police control. As a result, many of the communities who have previously lived in those areas cannot return to their original lands.

Mullikulam, Keppapulavu, Jaffna and Kilinochchi: the military occupies lands owned by Tamil families. Therefore, the denial of the right to land is often linked to discrimination based on ethnicity.

The consultations reveal that local government officials are reluctant to ask the military to leave due to fear.

Ethnic discrimination

Ethnically biased policies for resettlement and relocation constantly lead to land disputes between Sinhalese and Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims or Tamils and Muslims.

Gal Oya Scheme (Ampara)

Mahaweli Development Scheme

Tsunami housing scheme (Ampara)

Norochcholai Tsunami housing scheme

Minority communities view these settlements with mistrust (ulterior motives of weakening local groups’ electoral powers through manipulating regional demographics) due to the lack of transparency in procedures.

The sudden and arbitrary demarcation of privately-owned lands as forest land for wildlife conservation or archaeological sites in different parts of the country. The issue becomes ethnically charged when the lands are acquired only from minority communities.

Eg:- Mullaitheevu, Puttalam, Trincomalee

Flaws in Sri Lanka’s economic development model

The neoliberal economic strategy of the State is styled on a myth that mass dispossession (in the style of land enclosures) will make the land in rural areas available for industrial activity.

In turn a workforce is expected to arise out of the dispossessed masses who can find employment in the newfound industrial and commercial economy.

Large extents of land have been allocated by the State to facilitate multinational agri-businesses, while poor farmers' share of land has shrunk over the years.




The urban poor are forced off their lands into the suburbs or to housing complexes located in the outskirts of the city as urban land has become a highly sought-after market commodity,

Colombo and Negombo: Increasing land prices and rent hikes create issues of landlessness and homelessness among the urban poor, driving them further away from the city.

Lands acquired all over the country are used for tourism-related infrastructure and large ‘mega-development’ projects.

Malwathu Oya: Villages living downstream were relocated to make way for a tourism project.

Bandarawela, Hambantota, Colombo, Negombo, Sampur, Aruwakkalu: dispossession of communities due to mega development projects

Bureaucratic failures

People accuse the administrative authorities of neglecting their grievances through inefficiency and indifference, while expediting the demands of the economically and politically affluent.

People further complain that there is a fundamental lack of coordination among the different state departments who deal with various aspects of land. As a result, when one of the local authority’s issues land permits, another might simultaneously prohibit entrance to the same land.

Tensions among these different State departments thus detrimentally affect the resolution of people’s land issues. Landless people are often misled by the cumbersome and confusing bureaucratic procedures involved in getting permits and in exercising their rights.

Dishonest administrative authorities can also benefit from a lack of awareness or education among local people about the annual renewal of land permits and other procedures, as permits and land grants can then be subject to illegal transfers in spite of the presence of the original owners.

Mullaitivu: Communities interviewed have been unable to convert their temporary permits into permanent deeds due to bureaucratic challenges.

Ethnically biased policy-making concerning settlements and land distribution, bureaucratic red tape, corruption, illegal transfers of LDO land, issues of succession and arbitrary use of the land kachcheri system were among the issues raised at the public hearings of the Commission.

Systemic exclusion of the Malaiyaha makkal people

Disenfranchisement and systemic exclusion of plantation communities from decision-making processes have detrimentally affected their living conditions.

Bureaucratic failures have also perpetuated landlessness in the plantation sector, despite policy changes introduced to distribute land to plantation communities.

Those who had already left plantations in search of alternative employment opportunities are also not able to access these schemes even if their landlessness is connected to the larger issue of bonded labour in the plantations.

Findings of the PLC point out that land allocated for plantation workers by these schemes is situated in uninhabitable areas that are prone to landslides and other forms of natural disasters.

Delthotta Loolecondera Estate: It is the first ever tea plantation in Sri Lanka- the workers are demanding ownership of the tea estate be handed over to the workers and for land to be distributed among workers.

Systemic exclusion based on caste

Caste-based discrimination in land ownership has a centuries-old history and precedes the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict and militarisation.

Even if the land currently under the custody of the military was released to the people, there is no certainty that many of the displaced living in the Neethavan Welfare Center would be able to return to the areas where they lived before because they do not own land in those areas.

PLC background research reveals that Tamil nationalist politicians do not give any prominence to the ways in which the caste background of IDPs has caused their pervasive landlessness.

Caste also plays a central role in Tamil people’s experiences of the civil war, internal displacement and militarisation. Demilitarisation, albeit important to ethnic reconciliation and socio-economic development of the Northern Province, cannot itself be a solution to the landlessness of the oppressed caste communities in the North.

Indeed, the families of the IDPs from oppressed caste backgrounds have expanded since they were initially displaced, with greater land needs than in the 1990s.

Some inmates of the camp who do not own land in the villages occupied by the military opined that they should be given alternate land either where they live at present or other areas where they have access to good schools for their children’s education, health care services and transportation.

Neethavan Welfare Center (Jaffna): it is a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). There are 61 families living in the camp at present and nearly 25 of them have been there since 1990 when they were first displaced from different villages in Valikamam North. Many of the displaced belong to oppressed caste communities.

The second part of the series discusses the recommendations made by the People's Land Commission Report to address the issue of dispossession. The complete summary can be downloaded as a pdf below.

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