By Abdul H. Azeez
Several steps have been taken by the government and private investors to capitalise on the benefits that Kalpitiya has to offer. The emerging appeal of the area as a luxury tourist destination has increased its potential so much that blatant land grabbing has begun to occur in greedy attempts to make money at public expense.
Kalpitiya, a long standing tourist destination known to be among the more ‘exotic’ places in the country is just beginning to garner mainstream attention after the end of the war. With the military moving out and accessibility improving, increasing numbers of tourists are showing interest in the attractions of Kalpitiya.
With vast swathes of untouched beaches and gorgeous strips of land in between sea and lagoon, Kalpitiya is perfect for higher end tourists who can spend big bucks on things like off-roading, watersports, whale and dolphin watching, etc. The area is perfect for luxury travel infrastructure and development. This means a lot of earning potential for those who get in at the bottom rung. With the potential gains so high and the area so unregulated, it only follows to reason that attempts at land grabbing would be made by unscrupulous business interests.
The Alankuda Land Grab
One such case of land grabbing was brought to the attention of The Sunday Leader in Alankuda, Kalpitiya Road, Puttalam. The land in question is an expanse of 400 acres and occupies the Survey Village Plan 3296 in the Land Registry. The blocks of land in this area are all classified as crown land after the Land Reclamation Act of 1972. However the current ‘owners’ of this block of land, Bar Reef Resorts (Private) Limited have used deeds of declaration that are purportedly not genuine to show that the land in question has in fact been bought by them from its previous owners.
The land in question, Alankuda Melsandy Totem was under the ownership of the Marikkar family as of 1960, when it was divided, subject to the Land Reclamation Act. A Folio (numbered 3886) attests to this fact and can be found in the Puttalam Land Registry. However the Land Settlement Ordinance in a Gazette released on August 25, 1972 explicitly states that the land mentioned above is now under the ownership of the crown. And it has remained so ever since.
The owners of Bar Reef Resorts currently laying claim to this piece of land have produced ‘deeds of declaration’ that attest their claim to Alankuda Melsandy Totem. These documents state that the land was purchased from the Marikkars. But the subsequent development of these lands having been given over to the crown go unaddressed!
When approached by The Sunday Leader the Land Reclamation Officer of Puttalam, Krishantha Jayawardene stated that he was aware of the case and as per the preliminary investigations carried out, the land indeed belongs to the state.
The Sunday Leader then contacted the lawyers involved in drafting the allegedly false deeds of declaration. One lawyer Sabri Mohamed refused to comment saying that he needed more time to check his case files while Samsu Rafi, the lawyer who drafted the final and most comprehensive deed of declaration refused to comment. However an article published in Lakbima on December 5, 2010, quoted the same lawyer denying the fact that he ever drafted a deed for a piece of land the size of 400 acres.
The land in question is now the site of major development and several millions have already been invested in it. The area is slated to be sold in blocks to foreign buyers who then pay extra to have the land developed according to their specifications. A tourist hotel by the name of Alankuda is already up and flourishing.
The partners of Bar Reef when contacted by The Sunday Leader had mixed reactions. Viren Perera declined to comment while Dallas Martenstyn said that the land that was owned by Bar Reef was only 165 acres in size and it was indeed situated in the area mentioned above. He emphasized however that the land in occupation was currently only 90 acres of the 165.
The matter was brought to the attention of The Sunday Leader by a letter written by one Shammi Silva, an owner of a patch of land adjoining the allegedly grabbed land. In the letter addressed to the Government Agent – Puttalam District, Silva says that the owners of Bar Reef, namely Viren Perera and Dallas Martenstyn have “illegally executed a deed of declaration claiming 400 acres of state land and unlawfully gained possession to (sic) the said lands and are in the process of alienating parts of the said land for valuable consideration.”
In response to the statements in the letter Dallas Martenstyn accused Shammi Silva of aggression and alleged that he had acquired the land of 25 acres of which he is currently the owner, through dubious means. He said that the land of 25 acres owned by Shammi Silva, ‘Melsandi Mini Watte’ was originally owned by Sampath Bank.
Martenstyn himself only found this out when he laid claims to these lands and the bank subsequently objected. It is not clear if Martenstyn claimed these lands illegally or not, but by his own admission he sought to legally buy the lands from the bank when he heard of its claim because of the reasonable price of ‘only Rs. 600,000.’
But after seeking to legally purchase the land (which the bank had acquired through a loan default) he was ‘sabotaged’ Martenstyn says by Shammi Silva when Silva brought along the original owner of the land and had him purchase it for him. Martenstyn went on to say that Silva then began a spate of unprovoked violent acts that resulted in his property’s gate and border fences being damaged.
Authorities must step in
All this, however, is irrelevant to the fact that some seriously dubious activities are being carried out in emerging centers of valuable real estate like Kalpitiya. The authorities and the government have so far been extremely lax in combating such cases. The deep spread of corruption and the high level of bureaucratic documentation in land related matters make this an area especially obscure and thus harder to govern.
What the public must realise is that these malpractices often result in fattening the wallets of an elite few. Corrupt and inefficient governance structures only aid and increase the deprivation of wealth to the people of Sri Lanka. With tourism touted to be one of the biggest earners of the emerging local economy, it is imperative that steps are taken now to nip corruption in the bud and to ensure fairness and equality in handling the nation’s assets.