Fisherman K. N. Sujith Fernando (42) and his family with two sons and two daughters lived happily until July 18, 2019- the day on which a massive sea erosion caused and sea water almost seeped into their house. Experts, environmentalists and fishermen believed this is a direct impact of Port City project, where there was heavy dredging of sea sands from the sea off the Negombo coastal area. Sujith was living in the coastal village of Doowa off Negombo. Subsequently the Coastal Reservation Department made an assessment and the family was asked to vacate its small house immediately as it was dangerous to live there.
The family initially moved to a relative’s house in the same village but when the owners wanted the house back in December 2019, Sujith had nothing else to do but to put up a temporary ‘house’ in a government land close to where he was originally living.
Sujith’s four children includes 17-year-old daughter who is siting for her Advanced level examination next year, 14-year-old daughter studying in Grace 9 and two sons aged eight and two and eight months. In their original house they had electricity and water supply and he had a Swarnaboomi deed for that. The family moved to that house in 2013 having lived in three rented houses. “It was with the support of our brothers we bought the land with the small house in 2013. Initially there was no issue but sea erosion started after the the Port City project was launched” said Sujith an experienced fisherman whose parents and grand parents had been living for several decades.
“Following the storm on July 18 and 19 in 2019 the sea erosion started and it came almost to the foundation of my house. Thereafter engineers from the Coastal Conservation Department visited and advised me that it was dangerous to live there. They asked me to visit their office with the deed and other official documents and having studied the documents, the official gave in writing a recommendation for me to get an alternative land from the Divisional Secretariate,” Sujith said narrating his agonising journey since 2019 to get a roof over his head.
However Negombo Divisional Secretariate had told him that there were no identified state lands in Negombo area and his case was forwarded to the Disaster Management office in Negombo. From the Disaster Management office his case was forwarded to the Gampaha District Secretariate and there it was recommended that he be paid Rs. 1.5 million as damages. “But there was no outcome on this decision and a month later I contacted the Disaster Management office in Colombo and an official who acknowledged that a letter had been received but said that disaster damages could not be paid for the sea erosion as damages were only paid for natural disasters like floods and landslides.
As there were no place to go, on December 23, 2019 Sujith had to put up a temporary house in a state land in the village where there was Grama Niladari office. But this was opposed by a leader in a fisheries organisation in the area and he had made a complaint against the family. Subsequential and evacuation order had been obtained from Negombo Magistrate and order had been served to move out of the land by January 21.
“As a mother I too like to bring up my children in our own house rather than going place to place. If we are forced to go from this where else we should go with this four children,” said I K. Surani Srimali Fernando (34) mother of the family.
Hit by sea, hit by bureaucracy
Since their own house was hit by sea erosion and was forced to vacate, the family had been facing multiple problems. The youngest son could not be admitted to a nursery as the Grama Niladari refused to issue a letter stating that they are from the village.
Besides, there are other problems this family faces. Eight months ago Sujith’s boat got caught to a storm in the middle of the sea and his life was narrowly saved. ‘But now I cannot claim insurance for my boat as the Grama Niladari (GN) is refusing to issue a letter as I don’t have an address. “The Gama Sevaka Mahaththaya (GN) refuses to issue a letter. He says I have unlawfully occupied a state land. Since I have insured my boat I am entitled to claim the damage but without the letter from the GN, I cannot forward the documents,”.
Asked as to what would be the alternative if he was asked to vacate on Thursday (Jan 21), Sujith says he has no alternative but come back there again. “Even if I am removed from here forcibly I will have to come back here because my wife and four children have no place to go. What I only want a small plot of land for me and my family to live peacefully,”.
“I too like to study in a house where there is electricity. I will be sitting my Advanced Level exam next year. But I don’t know what would happen without a house,” says Sujith’s eldest daughter with tears in her eyes.
“The sea erosion started after the Port City project. There are number of fisheries organisation which received millions from the Port City project. It is the same fisheries organisations which want to remove this poor family,” said one of civil rights activists in the area, Jude Namal Fernando who has come forward to fight for the rights of Sujith’s family. Those who really became helpess due to the Port city projects are families like Sujith’s. When we protest against the excessive dredging of sea sand in these areas, the fisheries organisations were silent because they received money,” Namal complained.
“Fisheries organisation which has received Rs. two million from the Port City project has not compensated the really affected people. Unfortunately the price of Port City is paid by people like Sujith and his innocent family. They had their own house but they had to leave it as there was sea erosion,” said Namal adding that the entire village is against the unfair and unjustifiable attempt to remove this family.
As a mother I too like to bring up my children in our own house rather than going place to place. If we are forced to go from this where else we should go with this four children,” said I K. Surani Srimali Fernando
The Negombo Divisional Secretariate admitted that the family lived in a legitimate land but says that there are hardly any state land to be offered to Sujith.
“The family has been living in a residential area. And they had a Swarnaboomy deed. As a policy we cannot provide two deeds for one family. If they are ready to hand over the original land they lived to us we can initiate a project to search for an alternative land elsewhere. This is under the category of natural disasters. The family does not want to hand over the deed,” says Nuwani Subasinghe Assistant Divisional Secretary of Negombo. But when asked whether a land would be definitely given to the family, Ms. Subasinghe said that process of searching a land could only be started once the ownership of their existing land is handed over to the government. “We can request for a technical report and assessment from the National Building Research Institute and decide whether it is a unsuitable land for living. There are limited state lands in Negombo and the family doesn’t want to leave Negombo also. We understand they have an issue with their source of living as fishermen,”.
She said that an order has been issued as they are now unlawfully occupying a reservation land belonged to the Coastal Reservation Department. “When the land Committee meets we can take a policy decision on this,”the Assistant Divisional Secretary added.
However when asked on handing over the ownership of the land, Sujith said that he is willing to give the ownership of his land if he can get an alternative land from somewhere else.
Sujith’s house hit by sea
We too recommend a place for the family; Coastal Conservation Department
We too recommend a place for the family; CCD
‘We are also of the opinion that it would be good if this family be given an alternative place. We think even the place they are now been given to them but there is an issue with the land, said Mr. Sakuntha D. Pathmasiri, Coastal Engineer, Area Engineer’s office of Department of Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management.
“In fact we issued a letter to provide this family an alternative land. But the Divisional Secretariate informed us that there are no an alternative land to be given. Then he has unlawfully occupied a land which was next to the GN office. Then we were informed that there is an unlawful occupation in the coastal reservation area and we had to take legal action according to the law,’ Mr. Padmasiri said.
Following the storm on July 18 and 19 in 2019 the sea erosion started and it came almost to the foundation of my house. Thereafter engineers from the Coastal Conservation Department visited and advised me that it was dangerous to live there.
“But we have not taken an order to evacuate them or demolish the temporary house. But there is a third party that got involved,” said Mr. Padmasiri referring to the fisheries organisation leaders.
“It is true there was a danger in the original place they were living and there is a plan to build a bund to control the sea erosion and it will be done at the end of this year. And once it is done there would not be a problem. We cannot give a guarantee to go to a place where there is a danger. That is why we recommended that he should be given an alternative land. What we did was to avoid the danger for the family. We didn’t try to obtain that land. We understand the situation of this family and because of that we have not obtained a demolition order,”.
Sujith can be contacted on 0715909474
There will be more like this because of the repercussions of the Port City development. But innocent families will suffer because there is no plan or process for resolving these
Umar Perera Tuesday, 19 January 2021 02:30 PM
Can the Daily Mirror ir Rotary or Lions Club start a fundraiser so that this family can rent a place until all this mess is sorted out? Happy to contribute
Rajan Rajakumar Thursday, 21 January 2021 12:04 AM
please contact me I am DR raj
TEL 0041 77 975 93 98
nimal Friday, 22 January 2021 08:46 PM
I need to help them please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Norman Balta Friday, 22 January 2021 11:56 PM
The government officials who approved the port city project and the Chinese government should compensate these people.
Imagine the amount of money that the politicians got as bribes for the construction of the port city.
Only the poorest of the poor are affected by the crooks in power.
Mary Thiagarajah Saturday, 23 January 2021 02:51 AM
More distractions than good by Port CIty Project.
E.H.Pemaratne Saturday, 23 January 2021 03:56 AM
What about the "viyath" maga. Don't they have solutions to problems like these. If not they must be called not viyath (educaated) but angal (inch) maga.
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