Sri Lanka’s State Land – Will title ownership solve farmers problems?
Posted on June 25th, 2022

Shenali D Waduge

The caretaker Prime Minister is once again trying to complete the project given to him – his vision was to destroy agriculture, transfer agricultural land and see farmers in jeans. He even promised chewing gum and gold chains to the farmers in Polonnaruwa in 1999. This was the Parakumba era Ranil wanted to create! Imagine King Parakramabahu in jeans! Giving land is nothing but a subtle inducement to sell the land given to farmers by the state to farm. The land eventually gets sold to foreigners or enemies. When food is no longer produced in Sri Lanka, it is a lottery for importers. It ends any program for self-sustenance but opens doors for bogus western funding on the pretext of resurrecting agriculture. We have inherited land and resources, passed down to us by our ancestors, not to have it siphoned off as is being planned. The eventual outcome impacts Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims. If those living on state land allocated for agriculture do not wish to continue, they should be told they can leave & that land can be given to someone who wants to continue agriculture. State land cannot be transferred into private ownership which results eventually in selling state land which is a violation of the Public Trust Principle as a Government is only custodian of the land & not owner to be handing ownership to anyone.

State land is not for sale – State land can only be leased

84% of Sri Lanka’s land is held in Trust by the State. A Govt is only custodian of the Land. This means a government has no moral or legal right to sell the land. The govt can only lease the land. Therefore, the government cannot give title ownership to any state land & this is an illegal act & can be reversed by legal channels. Constitutionally too the Government cannot give title ownership of state land to private hands (local or foreign).

This is the golden rule.

Getting the farmer to do what the Government cannot do!

Given this scenario – What the government is cunningly trying to do by giving title ownership to state land is to get the farmer to sell the State land as the Govt cannot directly sell State land. 

State land ownership cannot be given to one segment of people

State land belongs to not only this generation but future generations as well

We are enjoying what has been passed down by our ancestors.

Farmers are only a segment of the State (People)

A Government cannot give a segment of the State title ownership of the land

This violates fundamental right on equality” to all, clearly established in Article 12(1)

If a government is giving ownership of state land to farmers – then they must give title ownership of state land to all 22million people as well as include provision for state ownership for future generations. This is something that cannot be done, which is why a government cannot give ownership of state land to one segment of society or sell state land except lease it.

Farmers are in debt

If farmers are in debt, it is because they have taken loans & they cannot pay the loans.

This means without title deed ownership, they have been able to take loans.

This nullifies the claim by those promoting the need to have title ownership of land to obtain loans & that without title ownership of the land they cannot take loans.

State Banks and private banks give loans and have been doing so for decades.

The banks will provide details of how they give loans to farmers.

Farmers in debt given title ownership

Silent message – Leave State land + Give up Farming

A farmer in debt & given title ownership is one step towards luring him to give up farming & give up his land. The outcome is suppressed by a campaign to project notion that the government is doing a great favor to the farmer by handing him title ownership of state land.

Six dangerous scenarios are created by handing title ownership.

  1. From a farmer living on state land, once given title ownership to this land, he becomes a private land owner & the state washes its hands from any responsibility or assistance to him.
  2. Farmer then can be lured to sell land now under his ownership – this money invariably will get divided amongst large family living on acres of state land. Ultimately he may not have much left.
  3. A farmer living for generations on state land with his family after selling newly owned land will be asked to vacate the land with his family.
  4. This farmer & family will have to find alternate place to live & livelihood– Govt is not bound to help
  5. Imagine 50,000 farmers given title ownership to state land & lured to sell their land, leaving farmers & family without a land to live, without a home to live in, without a livelihood to live on? Look at the ultimate outcome of giving title ownership!
  6. If farmers are given ownership of state land – All citizens have right to demand title ownership of State land as well. This will create an ugly precedent & unwanted trouble for Sri Lanka.

What are the options

Covid and the current economic crisis has shown us that we cannot rely on importing food. We have to grow our own food & we have to protect food security of Sri Lanka.

Farmers are farming on state land.

The Government has to provide all assistance to all its departments & officials to help farmers & farming.

If farmers have fallen into debt – the Govt has to work out a relief package for them after auditing why they have fallen into debt.

If farmers require training on modern ways of farming – this has to be given to them.

If farmers are unable to sell their products because of third party mafia – the govt has to stop it & take quick action.

Farmers have to be regarded as crucial to Sri Lanka’s self-sustenance. No government can allow farmers to farm with difficulty on their own without assistance. The problem has arisen primarily due to lethargy of governments and inefficiency of public officials tasked to help farmers. These officials have to be changed & governments need to buckle up with a proper national plan that is practical and not just nice on paper.

If any farmer does not wish to continue farming – the solution is not to give him title ownership of state land (with ulterior motive to having the land sold by the farmer), but to offer him an alternative :-

  1. He can leave farming – but in so doing, he & family have to vacate state land & find alternate livelihood & this land will be given to a farmer wanting to farm
  2. He can be helped with loans & continue farming on leased State land (govt should also consider writing off old loans)

When foreign governments & international monetary organizations ask a government to privatize state land & enable foreign ownership – a government has to think of crafty ways to forsake State land. Offering title ownership is that crafty plan.

Farmers must look beyond the joy of owning a piece of paper & the bigger dangers that lie ahead for the farmer & his larger family who loses state patronage after becoming a private land owner. Politicians and activists realizing these dangers must explain to the farmers the ultimate outcome.

Shenali D Waduge

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