|CJ slashes political red tape
with incisive decision
Stanley Samarasinghe and Rathindra Kuruwita
One thing that the Sri Lankan judicial system is not famous for
is swift action. We are more renowned for trials that drag on
and on. General acceptance is that a Speedy resolution through
the court of law is a thing of the past, something that belonged
in the era of our kings. But a recent incident involving Sarath
N. Silva, the Chief Justice showed that justice can be swift and
An exception to the rule
The third September was just another day at the Supreme
Court with Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva presiding at the bench,
when he saw a group of people, who, judging by their mode of
dress and comportment seemed to be villagers, standing inside
the court house, due to lack of seats, which is not an uncommon
The CJ noted however that even after one hour, they were still
there, standing in the court house. The leader of the group was
a young man who had some typed papers in his hand. CJ spoke to
them from the bench and asked what purpose they had come for.
The young man, Rohan Douglas Rajapaksa replied that they were
villagers from Pothuwatawana, a village close to Wennappuwa.
Their reason for being present in courts was to file a complaint
against a local council member Kithsiri Samarajeewa. The local
council member had started excavating the land and taking large
amounts of clay from the cemetery and some paddy fields using
his political clout and the brawn of local gangsters such as R.
M. Pushpakumara alias Pushpe, Nihal and Indrajith.
“These men excavate our lands because the clay from the area is
used to make tiles and the demand is high” said Rohan Douglas
Rajapaksa. “The irony is that it was my great grandfather who
donated the land for the cemetery and I am helpless and unable
to prevent this unlawful activity.”
The villagers also informed the CJ that they came to the Supreme
Court only after all other avenues were exhausted. “We
complained to the local council, Divisional Secretary, Agrarian
Development Officer and at last to the secretary to the
president; but no action has been taken, because these men are
believed to be henchman of a high ranking member of Parliament
in the area.”
The villagers also had a sworn statement from a senior citizen
in the area, Mr. Rajapaksha Mudiyanselage Ubayawardana
Rajapaksha, 76, a Graduate from the University of Ceylon,
dealing with all the events that had taken place regarding the
It was a rare coincidence that Roshan Fernando, Chilaw
Superintendent of Police, was also in court in connection with
some other matter. The Chief Justice having noticed this,
ordered him to submit a comprehensive report on what was going
on in the village of Pothuwatawana.
The next day, SP Roshan Fernando produced Kithsiri Samarajeewa
before court. He was accompanied by an assortment of lawyers who
claimed that the project was approved by the local council and
But Rohan Rajapaksha produced photographs and countered the
argument by saying that this amounts to a desecration of the
dead and added that the excavation is causing severe damage to
the paddy fields and having an adverse effect on the canal that
runs near the cemetery. He also submitted a petition signed by
210 villagers supporting his complaint.
“These men were excavating a large portion of the Pothuwatawana
cemetery which is the only cemetery for the villages of
Hunderapola, Pothuwatawana and Kahatawila under the pretext of a
project to restore a canal” said Rohan Rajapaksha.
The CJ said that the photographs refuted the claim of the
counsels for the defendants that the object of this project was
to irrigate the paddy fields served by the canal. He also
accepted that the excavations would cause the water to flood the
cemetery and deny water to large tracts of paddy fields.
Punishment for the guilty
Then court focused it’s attention on the damage caused by
the respondents to the cemetery and paddy fields and ordered the
respondents to restore the canal reservations to its original
condition, re plant the area of forest that has been destroyed,
close up the drain cut through the cemetery and to restore the
paddy fields that have been damaged so that they could be
cultivated and ordered the defendants to complete the
restoration within 21 days. Court also appointed a committee of
five elders in the village who attended court, to supervise the
Kithsiri Samarajeewa and Pushpakumara were released on bail
fixed at Rs. 250,000 each and Nihal Premasiri, and J. H. Daya
Indrajith were released on Rs. 100,000 each, all on cash bail.
Making the system better for all
Under normal circumstances, to achieve this result would
have taken years of litigation. It is likely that they would
have thrown in the towel, because the lawyers’ fees and
traveling expenses would have been a great burden on the poor
villagers and most probably they would have been crushed under
the might of the defendants.
But, justice prevailed due to the timely intervention of the
Chief Justice. The problem is that yes, immediate action was
taken and the problem was resolved within days, but there are
hundreds if not thousands of such cases that are stagnating in
our legal system.
The objective should not be to applaud individual heroics but to
increase the efficiency of the system so that each case will be
resolved in this manner.