Under the Urumaya program, the freehold provision of real estate and farm land rights to two million families can be called the beginning of the modern revolution for farmers and their sons and daughters who did not own even an inch of their own land, said Presidential Economic Advisor Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga.
Since the days of Sinhalese kings, the king owned all the land, and according to the nature of the duties and caste hierarchy, the king assigned lands to the people through various Sannas.
The British came to the country and took away the people’s rights to their land by introducing the Waste Lands Act as a strategy to find the land they and foreign investors needed to build a plantation economy.
Therefore, the majority of the farmers in our country fell out of the frying pan into the fire. The upcountry people, the backbone of the economy, were severely affected by the acquisition of fertile land needed for the plantation economy. The Budget presented by President Ranil Wickremesinghe on November 13, 2023 presented a historic proposal to save Sri Lankan farmers and their children from all these dangers. It proposed to give free land deeds to those who lost their land in the Ceylon Wasteland Ordinance passed in 1897. Accordingly, the Urumaya program was implemented in Dambulla. It is a timely action. It is an initiative for the farmers to become real participants in economic growth that will soon improve the livelihood of Sri Lankan farmers. This article is prepared from the comments Dr. Samaratunga shared with us.
The President as the Minister of Finance made many proposals to recover the collapsed economy and improve people’s lives in the 2024 Budget with the theme of prelude to a strong future. Among them, the most important proposal is the proposal to give back the freehold land rights to the farmers who had lost their land rights. It has a lot of economic and social value.
In 1935, through the Land Development Ordinance, steps were taken to provide the land in parts to farmers through license systems. The Minister of Agriculture in the first Rajya Sabha was D.S. Senanayake. He took steps to provide land ownership through farmer colonies. However, even after almost 100 years, these agricultural lands have not been given to farmers who own them. Do you know the story of Bertol Brecht, a world famous dramatist? It is mentioned that “farmers should know the village land as it should be received”. Accordingly, in the Budget, the President proposed to give them back to the farmers who had lost their traditional properties during the British period and to give full private ownership of the farmlands. That is why I initially said that the Urumaya program can be named as one of the best proposals in the budget. It is the biggest privatisation drive in a way.
While there were programs to provide land to peasants who had lost their lands, it did not solve the problem faced by the modern generation of farmers in a sustainable and formal way. The rights of these lands were given under different names like Jaya Bhumi, Swarna Bhumi and so on. But it was not freehold. Because of this, the farmers were in trouble. In the 1970s, the Land Development Ordinance was working to provide land for small-scale farmers.
With the implementation of the Accelerated Mahaweli Development project, there was an awakening in the agriculture sector. The country became self-sufficient in rice. But it would have been more successful if the peasants had their own land rights.
Any individual or family is in dire straits if they do not have freehold ownership of their own land. There is a lot of social injustice. Without a freehold deed, they have nothing to secure a loan from a bank or a financial institution. The farmers were suffering from great uncertainty about the future. That is why the President’s proposal in this year’s Budget to save our farmers from this unfortunate historical circumstance can be called a historic decision. During the implementation of this program, the farmers in the Dry Zone were initially entitled to fifteen acres of land through a grant. It is five acres in size in pure land, ten acres in fields. Later it was reduced to two and a half acres during the Mahaweli movement. It is not enough for the farmers.
The President has taken steps before coming forward to solve this problem. He was the Prime Minister from 2001 to 2004. At that time, steps were taken to solve this problem. But due to a legal issue, it got sidetracked. At the same time, the Government was overthrown in 2004. The program was disrupted.
He became the President on June 9, 2022. Because he understood the problem, he took steps to speed up the program of giving back the right to their lands to the farming people by providing solutions to the legal issues and other issues that arose in the past. Many rounds of negotiations were held. A decision was taken to give real freehold deeds to farmers’ sons. It is a historic decision and an initiative of a revolutionary process. Two million farmer families will benefit from this. This is a medium term plan. This is not a program that can be completed in a day or two. All lands must be measured.
If a person has the freehold of a piece of land for himself, he can start a farm, small-scale industry, or a business. Let’s imagine that 500,000 families out of the two million families that will receive that land started a small and medium scale business, a paddy mill, a tea shop, and a textile manufacturing program.
It has a positive effect on the economy. It gives impetus to economic progress. With that, the economy of the village wakes up. In this way, the Urumaya can be called as a program that empowers individuals, families and the society to rejuvenate the economy at the village level.