By Dinouk Colombage
The Urban Development Authority has partially demolished a block of houses in Maligawatta, opposite the R. Premadasa Stadium. On February 3, police accompanied members of the Urban Development Authority to Maligawatte Road. It was here that they set about partially demolishing the front and back of a block of houses. The Sunday Leader visited the site during these operations.
Mohammed Fayaz, a resident of one of the demolished houses, spoke to The Sunday Leader about the situation. He explained that they “were notified on Sunday (Jan. 30) by a letter from the National Housing Development Authority that the demolishing would take place on February 3.” He went on to add that other than protest there was nothing they could do.
When asked as to whether he had a deed to prove ownership he said yes. However, he was unable to provide the deed as proof. When asked as to whether the UDA or National Housing Development Authority were going to be providing separate housing, he said no and that they were expected to live in these half broken houses. He went on to add that “the UDA arrived this morning and began work; with the prevailing rain the situation will be worse.”
Adnan Nahir, a three wheeler driver, told The Sunday Leader that demolishing the houses is to facilitate a new parking lot next to the R. Premadasa Stadium. He said, “We heard that this area was going to be turned into a parking lot for the World Cup; the open area has always been used as one during games previously played at the stadium. When it was first announced we supported it and suggested they concrete the area. We are now told that there is not enough room.”
When asked as to why a corridor at the back of the buildings was also demolished, he responded by saying it was an attempt to “beautify the area in time for the World Cup.” He explained that the back was where the cooking took place outdoors. “The UDA has come and painted the building so that when seen from the stadium it will look nice,” he added. Nahir stated that the front of the building being demolished is acceptable but the back serves no purpose.
Aazim, a resident of the houses, told The Sunday Leader about his life and current situation in the area. “I lived here for 35 years and have experienced many hardships, yet this is still my home. When these people came and demolished parts of my house I felt that I would have to find somewhere new to live, which will not be easy at my old age.” We asked him about whether residents have not demanded compensation or alternate residence. He explained, “The National Housing Development Authority said that once the back has been demolished they will rebuild it. They have now provided us with plans and said that we have to do it ourselves.”
The Sunday Leader spoke to the Urban Development Authority about the situation. Lakith Paranaratna, an official at the UDA, explained that the area is all council land and so they are within the law to demolish the houses. He further added that the residents were unable to provide any deeds to the houses. When asked about whether the people are going to be relocated he said, “The NHDA has plans to help rebuild the back areas of the houses in a more sanitary manner, as for the front we have simply broken the boundary walls.” He neither denied nor confirmed that the area will be used as a parking lot for the cricket World Cup.
Despite repeated attempts by The Sunday Leader, we were unable to contact the National Housing Development Authority for a comment on the situation.
The Sunday Leader spoke to Suraj Dandeniya, the World Cup Head for Sri Lanka Cricket, who categorically denied that any houses were being demolished to make room for a parking lot.