Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been handed over the deed of transfer of the one and a half acres of state land near the Parliament complex at Madiwela worth over Rs.300 million, on a free grant by the Urban Development Authority during her tenure in office ignoring an opinion of the Attorney General which says that such land can only be alienated `for an urban development purpose`.
The Sunday Times learns that the UDA Board handed over this property deed to President Kumaratunga during her tenure of office, without any consultation from even the officials of the UDA that handled such land alienation after the cabinet had approved that she receives this property to build her own house with her private funds.
The Attorney General`s opinion states that ` all free grants by the Authority must be for urban development purposes `. On Friday, Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabeyson declined to comment any further on the matter.
The UDA had given the State land to President Kumaratunga by a deed of transfer when, subsequent to the cabinet decision of August 24, 2005, a Board paper was submitted within a week to the UDA, and approved immediately on September 1, 2005.
The subject land called Delgahawatta depicted in Plan No. 2558 dated 15.08.2005 made by N. P. Elvitigala Registered Licensed Surveyor is part of the land depicted in PP.Co 5516 situated in Madiwela village within the Urban Council limits of Maharagama, acquired by the UDA under the Land Acquisition Act, for which the vesting certificate has already been received under Sec 44.
A senior official of the UDA who did not want to be identified asked whether the construction of a private residence even for a former Head of Government could be interpreted to mean an ?urban development purpose?.
President Kumaratunga was granted the land after it got Cabinet sanction at its meeting on August 24, 2005 with the President agreeing to forego her pension of Rs. 25,000 per month and the right to a free official residence with water and electricity bills paid by the Government in lieuof this 1 ½ acres of land at Madiwela. However, after obtaining this free grant of State land from the UDA, President Kumaratunga requested an official residence, and then an office for herself in Colombo 7. The former Ranaviru Seva Authority building at Independence Avenue is currently being renovated for her office.
The Madiwela land was owned by the UDA and the Board of Management at its meeting on September 1, 2005 had approved the grant of the free land and the Authority Chairman had accordingly handed over the land to her by a Deed of Transfer.
The AG`s Department in its opinion said even though there was no legal objection to the UDA making free grants of lands vested under section (6) of the State Lands Ordinance, in respect of land acquired for the UDA under the Land Acquisition Act, any free grant can only be made pursuant to a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, and must be for `urban development purposes`.
The UDA Board paper stated that this land cannot be used for a purpose other than a government activity of special nature as the area falls within the High Security Zone of the Parliament and therefore was suitable for the purpose since it is the responsibility of the Government to provide special security with other entitlements including an official residence upon retirement of the President. However, as this property has now been given as a free grant to the former President, she can sell the entire property in the open market to any buyer if she so wishes.
The land bordering the Diyawanna Oya that has been given to the former President, is part of the land that was developed for the President`s official Residence Complex at the cost of around Rs. 800 million but the project was shelved in 2001 after it caused an uproar in the country, and residents in the area complained. The value of the land is now estimated at around Rs. 360 million as the land was being prepared for the President`s complex.