Paradigms of Land Policy for Sri Lanka: A Review Article
Posted on September 12th, 2017

by Dr. Sudath Gunasekara (SLAS)

A pre-publication copy of the monograph titled Sri Lanka: Land Policy for Sustainable Development, authored by Gerald Peiris (Professor Emeritus of the University of Peradeniya) which is due to be released on 15 September 2015, has been sent to me with an invitation to evaluate it. In undertaking this task I find it appropriate to place it against the backdrop of the knowledge and experience I have acquired both in the course of my official duties in the executive cadres of the state-sector administrative services that stretched for well over three decades, devoted almost entirely to matters concerning the needs of the more depressed segments of our peasantry, as well as my own research writings, including a doctoral dissertation, on agrarian affairs in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka.

This monograph is undoubtedly a landmark in studies on land policies in Sri Lanka in that it signifies a radical departure from all conventional studies undertaken so far on this subject in this country which were primarily concerned with matters such as ownership and tenurial relations in land, land-use, forest conservation, subsistence farming and poverty alleviation with a special focus on the peasantry. In this discourse the author has urged a more comprehensive approach to land policy formulation – an approach that takes into account the impulses and impact of land policies that have been pursued from historical to modern times in details not found in any other study on this subject. He has made an in- depth analysis with a sharp insight into a wide range of areas that impinge on land policies in Sri Lanka such as theoretical concepts, evolution of land policies, land reforms, rural poverty, agriculture including both the peasant and commercial plantation sectors, land grabbing and malpractices, and the need for strict and urgent legal measures to arrest this disaster, depletions of forests,  conservation of water resources and  biodiversity, effects of planation agriculture on  Sri Lankan life and  the intricacies of the rural–urban-estate land use systems. I am particularly impressed with the attention he has paid to the need to protect the central watersheds (the ‘Geographical Heartland’, HADABIMA, of Sri Lanka as I call them) against soil erosion and land degradation and depletion of water resources, pivotal for sustainable development and human survival in this country which no other scholar has so eloquently articulated.

He has emphasised the necessity for a complete reorientation of land policies beyond these fields to cover a wider spectrum such as the needs and aspirations of people to meet the demand for land for different competing uses like paddy cultivation, plantation agriculture, livestock rearing, rapidly increasing urban needs and infrastructure development like roads and railways and arresting natural hazards such as landslides and floods and disruption of wetland ecosystems. Besides, he has also called for the need to address a wider range of current issues like territorial integrity, sovereignty, devolution of power relating to lands that are of pivotal significance to governance and all aspects of life in the country, with special reference to the vital importance of reorienting land policy towards enduring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. A related perspective highlighted by Peiris is the need to protect land and its resources from foreign and domestic, intrusions driven by subversive ethnic considerations that pauses a serious threat to territorial integrity sand sovereignty of this Island nation.

The text is profusely illustrated and supported by maps, illustrations, charts and tables that have enhanced the academic value of the book. This thesis is equally useful for all sectors including academics and students who look for innovations and knew knowledge, policy makers and administrators involved in land work, looking for visionary land policies and the general public who treat land as their wealth and heritage. In compiling this discourse Professor Peiris has made use of his unparalleled and vast wealth of undisputed scholarly acumen and the wealth of almost sixty years of experience as a University teacher, scholar, researcher and a consultant in a wide range of fields and countries both in the West and the East which has served as the underpinning of this masterly analysis.

One final word on the painting on the front-cover designed by Manjula Peiris. It is, indeed, a masterpiece symbolizing the challenges our nation is facing both for ensuring sustainable development and as well as for the survival in this country which is being imperilled. It depicts symbolically the ominous terror and the plight of hapless rural farmer family. The man, though resolutely trying to drive away the impediment of a herd of charging wild elephants is also desperately struggling to save his family and himself.  He has only a rod and a huluatta (torch brand) for his defence against this terror by a herd of jumbo wild elephants. The anguished mother with the frightened child on her back is pulling the elder by her hand desperately who is holding a lantern in her other hand with trembling heart and soul dramatically portrays the plight of hapless peasants in the country side. Are these miserable peasants invoking god to save them from this ominous challenge before the nation arising from wrong land policies or no policies situation adopted by policy makers and the neglect for which they alone are mainly responsible.

The name of the book is very appropriate and speaks volumes on the thematic essence of the its content.  The need for a comprehensive and meaningful land policy, not only for sustainable development but also for survival in this Island nation is the pivotal message that has epitomized in this masterpiece.

This brief and modest attempt of mine is only a passing glimpse on this great work. One needs to read it in between line and it has to be ‘chewed and digested’ as Francis Bacon has once said of great books, to understand the real value of this unique treaties. But of cause the efforts of Prof Peiris will find their true results only in the implementation of policies embodied in this thesis by the policy makers and those who implement them. I commend this book for all those scholars, teachers and students, policy makers, Administrators and the general public who are genuinely and seriously interested in sustainable development and concerned with the survival of the Sri Lankan Nation.

This book has been published by Gevindu Kumaratunga of the firm ‘Visidunu Prakashakayo‘. It will be formally release at the Annual Book Fair which will open on 15 September 2017 at the BMICH.

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