Minister Harsha de Silva with the affected residents near the construction site on Saturday (15)
A meeting conveyed by State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha De Silva regarding issues faced by a group of residents in Off Buthgamuwa Road, Rajagiriya is to take place today (September 18) with Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRC) Chairman Roshan Gunawardena and Municipal Commissioner of Sri Japura-Kotte Wasanthi Rathnapala.
Following the Dailymirror Expose’ titled ‘Nuisance next door’ published on September 13, Minister De Silva, who is also the MP for Kotte, visited the group of affected residents on Saturday (September 15) and called for this meeting with SLLRC Chairman and Municipal Commissioner of Sri Ja’pura-Kotte.
The Dailymirror Expose’ reported the long standing residents in the area alleging an Indian property developer Iconic Developments (Pvt) Ltd of building a super luxury condominium project named Iconic Galaxy on a land in their neighborhood. The story neighbours were quoted in stating that the property developer was illegally filling the marsh, forcibly using a private road and building an unauthorised bridge as the main access to the complex.
They also alleged that the Urban Development Authority (UDA), the SLLRDC, Ja’pura-Kotte Municipal Council and the Welikada Police are acting to facilitate the requirements of the Indian company, violating the laws of Sri Lanka.
According to the revelation by Dailymirror it was found that a private road had been allegedly converted to a public road to make access to the condominium under construction. This was supported by documentary evidence. The residents also complained that they were greatly disturbed by the construction with sound pollution continuing to late night. The female residents also had complained that they were undergoing sexual harrament due to the workers at the site.
As there can be many sides to a story, the Dailymirror before publishing the Expose’ also obtained a response from the Indian property developer and published it prominantly in the article.
Meanwhile, Minister de Silva, who is a very active politician on social media, made a post on his official Facebook page, regarding this Rajagiriya issue, in connection which Iconic’s MD Parikh has also replied. Later, a conversation between Parikh and Minister De Silva began.
Minister’s FB post
In reply to the Iconic Developments Managing Director, the minister made a lengthy post. Below are extracts from his comments.
“I had a meeting, with all stakeholders together; Iconic representatives, residents, UDA, SLLRDC, MC, police etc. At that meeting it was found that the road was in fact a private one. That is why the police agreed to the signage ‘This is a Private Road’ being erected. There seems to be a dispute with regard to the filling of the land too. I have asked the SLLRDC to immediately inspect and provide a report.
“All I want is the law to be adhered to. Most disturbingly I just found out today that last week a meeting had been called without me and certain ‘decisions’ had been taken to demolish what has been called ‘illegal constructions encroaching on to the 30 foot public road’. I have directed that the minutes of the said meeting be immediately sent to me to understand what had happened at this non-transparent meeting by leaving the elected representative out.
“This I find most strange and not in keeping with the good governance we have to practice. In any case the ownership and the width of the road have to be established before any demolition of houses of long time residents is to take place given the situation.
“When I visited the area every person on that road came to speak with me. Yes, it is only a few residents who live down the road. I am perplexed about your number of 500 residents; perhaps they are those who have paid for the new apartments. Yes, they are important and hard earned money has been spent. Sums between Rs 30 and 50 million has been paid as down payments and these monies keep the construction going. I am fully aware of their rights and intend safeguarding same. But that does not in any way mean that the rights of the existing residents can be dismissed.
“I would also like to mention in public that I cannot be silenced by ‘powerful people’ and it is best that such attempts are not made in the future by either side. It is best that there is an understanding that not every politician is the same,” the minister said. (Note that the minister’s Face Book comments have been edited to the suite the print edition of the Dailymirror )
Meanwhile, the minister said that he was not satisfied with the Kotte MC at all since corruption has been rampant within the MC.
“I requested for an audit from the UDA of 39 ongoing developments in Kotte last year, after we were alerted by some residents about a massive fraud where a particular developer had obtained a permit to go up 13 stories, but ‘found a way’ to increase it to 25 stories. According to this report, of the 37 buildings audited (the Kotte MC did not share details of 2 projects even after the UDA requested for same repeatedly) it was found that:
a) Only 04 projects complied with the planning and building regulations specified in the Kotte Development Plan.
b) Of the remaining projects, 12 had received permits, but with major deviations; and
c) 15 were progressing with valid permits, but without clearances from relevant agencies such as the Central Environmental Authority and the Traffic Planning Committee etc.
d) The rest were not scrutinized as they could not be classified as ‘apartments’.
Minister stated that certain persons, who were directly responsible for the 13 stories going up to 25, were the same people who are involved in the Iconic Galaxy apartment complex mess from the MC.
“If we find out that Kotte MC officials have been manipulating matters I will ensure that they are dealt with full force of the law,” he further said.
Justice to be meted out to all
The minister reiterated that he hoped justice would be meted out to all parties and if the developer has transgressed they will have to correct themselves. If the residents have transgressed then they will have to correct themselves too.
Meanwhile, many people and residents representing organisations from Dehiwala, Mount Lavinia, Kotte and Colombo suburbs have rendered support to the group of Rajagiriya residents. Those organisations and the people claim that they were experiencing the same issues in their areas.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror learns that the Indian developer in question Iconic Developments (Pvt) Ltd has organised a press conference to be held today (Tuesday) at a five- star hotel in Colombo.
Iconic developers send second response
The Dailymirror contacted the management of the property developer via email and sent them the allegations made by the people, seeking a reply to be published in the Expose’. Subsequently, the Managing Director of the Iconic Developments Rohan Parikh replied and his reply was published in the DM article. However, the management of Iconic Developments Pvt Limited had sent another response on Monday in response to the Expose article. As the Daily Mirror respects the right of reply and believes all voices should be heard, the following are the relevant sections of the second response sent to the Daily Mirror:
1: Iconic causing inconvenience to residents
Response: A small group of 4-5 residents has misled a local politician and the residents have been trying to extract monies from Iconic. 4-5 residents have illegally built their walls onto a shared public road which is blatantly an illegal act. When asked to move their walls back, they have responded with lies and threats. This is their vested interest.
2: Indian and Chinese workers behaving inappropriately
Response: Not a single Indian or Chinese national worker is employed at Iconic’s site. The photograph in the paper is of workers from the neighbouring site belonging to another Sri Lankan construction company. The same project has taken up a large warehouse for storage on this particular road. There are multiple developments coming up along that area. Iconic developments take the utmost care to ensure that any inconvenience to the residents is at the minimum. We follow all norms prescribed by the local authorities regarding construction. Our construction is handled by Maga, a local Sri Lankan Company employing Sri Lankan manpower. In fact every agency working on our project is a Sri Lankan Company employing Sri Lankan manpower.
3: The construction site releases effluents into the canal
Response: The canal was a sewage dump until it was cleaned and maintained by Iconic. Images of the canal before and after are easily available. Iconic challenges the newspaper and the neighbours to produce a single shred of evidence of pollution.
Iconic further charges that the canal was used by the residents as a garbage dump for many years. Now that a clean development is coming up, their use of this canal as a dump yard has been stopped. This has annoyed the 4-5 residents as mentioned previously.
We have left 60% of the land open for flooding of the canal in compliance with the rules of the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation.
4: RTI revealed Off Buthgamuwa road is not a public road
Response: Municipal records, Land records, UDA records, the owners purchase documents confirm that the road was declared public in the 2009. Anyone is free to visit either the Kotte Municipal or our offices where all copies exist to verify the same. It is unfortunate that basic due diligence is missing.
5: Off Buthgama Road is a private road for residents
Response: Not only is it a public road, Iconic owns a clear right of way over the road. Iconic has an inalienable right to use this road. The opinion of nearly every top law firm in Sri Lanka is unanimous on this, as is the opinion of every government agency.
The right of way documents are available for public examination at the offices of Iconic Development.
6: Govt agencies are turning a blind eye
Response: The project has gone though years and months of intense scrutiny from the BOI, the UDA, the Kotte Municipal Council, the Ministry of Environment, The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation. Many onerous environmental and developmental standards have been imposed on Iconic and 100% complied. Every building code, fire code, flood code, earthquake code, structural code, etc has been complied with to the letter. We challenge anyone to find a single code violation.