News Features

By Wilson Gnanadass in Kandy
The law states that if your landlord wants to evict you from your home, he or she must follow the correct legal procedure.
Unless a tenant wishes to surrender a tenancy voluntarily, most tenants in rented accommodation have the right not to be evicted from their accommodation until the landlord has first obtained a possession order from the court and had that order enforced by a court of law.

The Kandy Municipal Council (KMC) is at present embroiled in a crisis over unauthorised structures and a subsequent order to demolish them.
The controversy looms over an order to put up shops by the Mayor and a few other councillors, while the order to demolish the structure and evict all the shop owners has come from the council itself.
The present problem, which is bound to transform into a major crisis, is purely due to lack of foresight and discipline.
It is common knowledge that no structure could be erected by any individual without prior approval from the local authority. And if these shops have been built with a strong foundation, then the shop owners must have obtained some form of approval from the council.

The issue that draws public interest here is that though the shop owners had been given approval by a few councillors, including the Mayor, to put up shops, the council decides to nullify this order and vote against the Mayor’s previous decisions. This certainly demonstrates the conflict of interest between the council and the Mayor and a few in the council.
On the other hand, even the shop owners were ignorant in not obtaining approval in writing, but to simply accept verbal endorsements from the Mayor and a few others, to put up such strong buildings in the heart of the city.

Serious violation
The history of Kandy and its townscape has witnessed rapid and drastic changes from the beginning of British rule, particularly after the 1818 rebellion.
Since its founding in the 14th Century, Kandy, which remained the last stronghold of local kings, had gone through many a vicissitude. Although Colombo represents the prime commercial and administrative centre, Kandy continues to remain the cultural capital of Sri Lanka with a rich heritage of living monuments.
An observer can admire the landscape of Kandy that has formed with hills and low elevation areas at the centre. The visual characteristic is that the city space is locked with surrounding hills as barriers to expansion of the city.
The fact that the city cannot be expanded has today been the cause of many problems, given the rapid increase in the population as well.

Kandy City has been designed in such a way that certain roads have been meant for non-commercial activities. These roads have been called back lanes or fire escapes.
In the good old days, buckets were used in place of modern commodes. Each day the buckets were removed and replaced with another one. Once the buckets were removed from the toilets through the rear opening of the toilets, these buckets were then placed in a cart and pushed along the back lanes, to the place where they were disposed of.

Subsequently, when this system was done away with, after commodes and cisterns were introduced, these lanes had been preserved as emergency exits and therefore the council had taken a decision not to allow any permanent structures in these back lanes which are quite narrower than the main roads.
However, the individuals in question today have built their shops in these back lanes without authentic approval from the council, which has led to the council itself taking a fresh decision to demolish all of them.

Who’s to be blamed?
Serious questions have been raised as to who should be held responsible for this mess. If the approval was authentic, then why should the council take a decision to demolish them and if the approval was not legal, then why should the owners put up their own buildings? These are some of the questions that warrant proper answers from the council itself.
Some vendors were not certain as to what course of action they should take now, since they had obtained permission to engage themselves in business in these lanes way back in the early 90s.

According to them, President R. Premadasa had appealed to the KMC to grant them temporary permission to use one side of the road to do business.
Under this agreement, 71 individuals who were involved in business on pavements had moved to these lanes and had been selling goods. The council had not recognised them or given them any better facility to further enhance their earning.
This however prompted the present Mayor and a few others, on sympathetic grounds, to grant the vendors permission to erect concrete structures.

Vendors told The Nation that it was the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, the Opposition Leader and a few others who had visited the place who had given verbal approval for them to build their own shops early last year.
Elated by this order, the vendors had borrowed, pawned and spent all their savings to put up their own tiny buildings – spacious enough for them to run decent businesses.

However, it is learnt that many who were not given approval by the Mayor and others too had taken advantage of this situation and built their own shops.
The vendors had also been happily engaging themselves in daily business in these shops, until a few weeks ago, when they were notified that these shops would be demolished.

All praise for the Mayor
All the vendors who had benefited from this exercise are not UNP supporters. Most of them are the ones who voted against the incumbent Mayor. However, they praised Mayor Aluvihare for his meritorious act in granting them relief by providing them shelters to run their business.
Speaking to The Nation, they collectively said for the first time in the history of Kandy, UNP opponents were extended support and relief.

They said the Mayor had also promised to get them electricity and water facilities. But, a petition filed by some elements to the council and the subsequent decision by the council to demolish these shops, have now put their lives in jeopardy.
“The Mayor did not worry whether we were blue or red. He looked at our sweat, our suffering and, on a humanitarian and sympathetic basis, granted us permission to put up shops. But we are very sad that there are evil elements within the council to put a stop to this. Where can we go to, if our shops are broken?” asked Gemunu Weerasekara.
He said the original agreement was that if they were to be evicted from this place, an alternative location would be identified, but added that the council had not spoken a word about alternative arrangements.

Joining him was Ashraff Deen, who also praised the present Mayor for his bold decision to grant them approval to build shops.
“The Mayor has done this with good spirit and good heart but some evil forces are trying to scuttle this process. If the council can let the Mayor do what he wants to do, then all of us will be happy. We have our families and we are very poor people. How can we be chased or deprived of our livelihood?” he queried.

M. S. Salaldeen, another vendor, also made similar comments about the Mayor’s intention. He said the Mayor and a few others in the council had pure intentions to help the downtrodden while some others devalue them.
“It is a pity that some people don’t want us to be happy and do good in life. Why can’t the council take a decision to regularise this or even give us an alternative piece of land elsewhere to do our business,” he inquired.

Mayor in a soup?
Intentions may have been pure for the City Father to look into the needs of his children, but the manner in which this problem has been approached has raised the eyebrows of many in the city.
The Kandy Mayor has refused to talk to The Nation on this issue or make any remarks.
However, some of the councilors, on condition of anonymity, said the entire problem has boomeranged on the Mayor and he does not know what to do now.

It was in the beginning of August that the council took a decision based on a motion submitted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to demolish all unauthorised structures in the city.
The Commissioner, admitting that there were illegal structures, contrary to council laws, said such structures must be demolished. This was also conveyed to Mayor Aluvihare.

In response, the Mayor requested the finance committee for a period of one year to demolish the shops.
This was later conveyed to the council by the finance committee, but this decision to grant a one year grace period to the vendors was opposed by a majority of the councilors. The councilors pointed out that giving a longer period might compound the existing situation and proposed instead to grant the vendors only three months.

Subsequently, the council took a unanimous decision on August 30 to demolish all the illegal structures within three months.
However, last Friday, November 30, the three months grace period elapsed but there has not yet been any decision on this.
According to the Municipal Council Act No. 42 A (1), the final authority to execute the council decision over demolition of any unauthorised structure is vested with the Mayor; and the entire council awaits the Mayor’s action on this.
The council met last Friday 30, but according to informed sources, there has not been any decision to demolish the shops.

Legal action
The Mayor’s prolonged silence to act has now irritated several councillors, who say legal action must be instituted to maintain law and order in the city.
Under Municipal Council Ordinance 307 A, the Organisation for the Protection of Public Property of which the JVP Member Anura Gonewala is the general secretary, is now planning to take legal action against the Mayor’s silence in executing a council decision. Gonewala also said that he has written to the Mayor insisting that proper action must be taken against illegal structures in Kandy.

Bird’s Park squatters rise up
The lack of a proper decision regarding this issue has provoked squatters who were once occupying land around Bird’s Park, opposite the Kandy clock tower and were evicted by the former Mayor, barring their return to the same place. In a petition to the Mayor, signed by 36 individuals, they have insisted that their grievances be looked into immediately.
They have pointed out in their petition that the former Mayor pledged to find an alternative location at that time, but the council has still not honoured this pledge.

Meanwhile, the shop owners who are in a quandary over the demolition order vowed to take to the streets of Kandy if the council implemented the order and demolished their shops.

Councillor threatened
Assuming that it was SLMC Councillor Azwim Marikar who has been pressing for the demolition, the shop owners and vendors have sent him a strong threatening note. Surrounding his house one day the vendors had threatened to torch Marikar’s house, if the decision of the council was implemented.
Marikar has lodged an entry with the Kandy Police.


Mayor L. B. Aluvihare

The Mayor refused to make any comments. He said he was annoyed over another investigation The Nation carried earlier this year over corruption in the council and added he has decided not to speak to The Nation.


JVP Councillor Anura Gonewala

The Councillor blamed the Mayor for the present situation. He said the Mayor and his henchmen had bypassed the normal regulations of the council.
Sympathising with the vendors who would be forced on to the streets after the implementation of the council order, he said the blunder of some of the members of the council was going to deprive a community.
“I am strongly against this type of rule. We must safeguard the rights of the people and should not misguide them,” he added.


SLMC Councillor Azwim Marikar

Marikar was of the view that there has been foul play. He said the people of Kandy have been misled by politicians and added he was trying to put the house in order.
“How did this happen? How can the commissioner or the Mayor keep quiet over this issue? We become enemies of the public when we try to do justice. But those who break laws get away. This is unfortunate,” he added.