What happens if State land is privatised and farmers given ownership? | Sunday Observer

What happens if State land is privatised and farmers given ownership?

Interlinked to the MCC US Government grant of $480m are some crucial topics that the government, the judiciary and citizens cannot ignore.

Over 80 percent of Sri Lanka’s land belongs to the State. What happens if this state land is privatised? Will the Govt be able to impose tax and gain revenue. Will the bulk money given at the purchase of land be sufficient to run a country? Confounding matters is the removal of restrictions prohibiting foreigners to purchase land and property. A Government is only trustee or custodian of the land for a term of office and an overruling principle is the inalienability of land with sovereignty. Without land no country is sovereign. So if a country’s land is privatized its sovereignty is questioned. That is one aspect that policy makers need to seriously ponder. Sri Lanka managed to salvage itself from four attempts by the previous government to privatise State land.

Is the distribution of title deeds among farmers an alternative to privatising state land?

That Sri Lanka lacks a sound and secure land policy is a fact. That Sri Lanka has been depending on proposals and reports given by foreign private contractors is also a fact. How far these proposals gel with the country and its people’s needs or wants is a different question altogether. What these foreign proposals continuously recommend is to view land as a commodity and open up for foreign investments.

Leaving aside the controversies surrounding the proposed MCC economic corridor and the numerous pink dots in a map circulating drawing fear of US bases being set up across the country, let us take the subject of farmers being given freehold title deeds.

Farmers holding LDO permits given title ownership

The previous government was on a hurricane attempt to dish out one million deeds to farmers. Why were they in such a hurry to hand over deeds to those holding only permits under the Land Development Ordinance (LDO) of 1935?

Permit holders of the LDO could not fragment land, mortgage the land, dispose of it without the GA’s permission but the land could be passed on to a nominated successor so long as he/she continued the livelihood given to the original allottee.

LDO permits were intended to ensure that no State land would be alienated to any person other than citizens of Sri Lanka. But now foreigners can purchase any land and any property. All restrictions on foreigners were removed by the previous government ahead of attempts to privatise land, ahead of signing the ACSA, ahead of launching preconditions given by MCC teams regularly arriving in Sri Lanka since 2015.

Sri Lanka, which was known as the Granary of the East at one time, has now become a country importing rice and most foods that could easily be grown in the country for local consumption. The pride that our ancestors brought to the island in developing agriculture has virtually collapsed.

The farmers today are engulfed in poverty and debt. These are sad realities that we have to face. But is giving a title deed to a farmer in poverty and debt, the solution?

A farmer holding an LDO permit is in a plot of land that does not belong to him. The land he and his family had been living on for generations belongs to the State of Sri Lanka.

However, the LDO permit enabled the farmer to earn a livelihood, he had a roof over his head and he had a place for his family to live. He had security in the form that as a member of the farmer community, they could make appeals to a government and obtain some form of concession. The state banks would also assist whenever possible.

Now imagine this farmer getting 100 percent title ownership to the land.

His links to the government immediately ceases.

He becomes a private owner fending for himself. The government has nothing to do with him and no obligations to him. He is on his own.

Will a bank give a loan to a farmer without consistent monthly income?

What is the collateral security the bank will demand – obviously the land.

What happens when the farmer cannot repay the loan? The Bank confiscates the land and eventually puts it to auction.

How many can afford such land put up for auction? With foreigners able to purchase land, will it not be them who will come forward and grab the land? (was this the plan all along)

What happens next, to the farmer?

He loses the land his family had been living on for generations He has no means of livelihood. He has no place to live He has lost the land he had been previously living under lease. His family doesn’t have a place to live or a means of indirect livelihood. He and his entire family are displaced.

So if one million such farmers are to be given title ownership to land – wouldn’t this one million eventually end up without land, without a job and without a place to live?

With their dependents, we are looking at a minimum of four million people who are likely to be displaced, without home and livelihood.

What is a government that doesn’t have any state land because all state land under its custodianship was privatised going to do in this scenario?

How will a government provide a place to live for this four million displaced people?

When over 80percent state land is privatised – a government has no land under its jurisdiction.

We are living in an island – there is only the sea around us… where will these four million displaced people without any livelihood, without any money and without any place to live go to, and as citizens of Sri Lanka how will the Sri Lankan Government look after them?