Govt. makes largest demand for estate lands

Key estate lands amounting to approximately 6120 hectares have been requested for acquisition, the largest extent requested from the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) for establishment of industrial zones under the Board of Investment (BOI).

Planters Association Chairman Sunil Poholiyadde highlighted this issue at the recently concluded 163rd AGM where he stated that the government had requested large extents of estate properties amounting to 6120 Ha in five plots of land from three companies.

Speaking with the Business Times on Monday he explained that five plots of land from three companies namely Kotagala Plantations, Horana Plantations and Pussellawa Plantations had been approached for land acquisition.

Mr. Poholiyadde pointed out that this was been requested for the establishment of industries and it was the largest amount of estate properties that were requested for acquisition by the state in RPC history.

It is understood that these properties so acquired were to be used for the establishment of industrial zones under the BOI.

It is learnt that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge had previously convened a meeting to acquire such lands but the initial request which had been for about 200 acres reduced to 100 acres from at least one plantation was agreeable to the RPCs.

Later requests it is believed that were mooted by local area politicians vying for shares in the said properties eventually have canvassed for larger extents of estate lands over 1000 acres from each company which was not admissible by the RPCs.

In the past as well though the state is vested with authority to acquire such at times the RPCs have initiated legal action when the industry was not agreeable in allocating such properties for state use.

Some industry persons point out that at a time when the present government has taken a decision not to acquire agricultural lands for non-agricultural purposes there were repeated requests for the acquisition of these properties.

The lands have been requested by the Finance Ministry and the BOI but the Divisional Secretaries were said to have not yet gone ahead with the takeover.

It is also learnt that some plantation companies have written to the Prime Minister, the Treasury, the Plantations Ministry, the Ministry Secretary and even the Ministries of Industry and Commerce and Development Strategies and International Trade.

Considered to be the largest extent requested by the state since the establishment of the RPCs the industry is in a flurry as to the future of the cultivation of their crops.

Acquisition of these lands could also affect the thousands living on the estates whose livelihoods could get hampered due to the reduction in cultivable lands.

It is understood that inspite of the long drawn out process involved in acquiring lands this has not been followed and the industry is said to be resisting.

Further, the industry pointed out that when the RPCs were requested by the government for properties amounting to around 150 acres to be allocated to provide housing space for flood affected victims all companies willingly contributed.

But to request for large extents of cultivable land was going beyond the limit, it was noted.

In the past as well, the state had acquired properties in the 1980s for the Matugama Industrial village where even to date it is believed there are large amounts of land lying vacant.

Moreover, in Ratnapura another estate property was used to establish an industrial village but was later converted to gem mining and which is said to be continuing.

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