News Features

CJ slashes political red tape with incisive decision

By 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 decisive.

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 sight.

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 excavation.

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 Divisional Secretary.

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 restoration

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.