Sri Lanka cash-strapped state plans 14,000-acre land grab in currency crisis: report

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Sri Lanka’s agriculture authorities are planning to grab 14,000 acres of paddy, violating the property rights of the owners claiming that there are ‘fallow’ and give them ‘young persons’ to cultivate them, a report said, recalling Zimbabwe-style land reform.

The plan to take over 14,000 acres of paddy land comes as the country is going through the worst currency crisis in the history of its soft-pegged central bank which printed money and made food prices almost double and a bloated cash-strapped state default on its foreign debt.

Under Sri Lanka’s Paddy Lands Act, considered by some as a post-independent folly along with previously repeated expropriation of private property, rice paddies cannot be put to more productive or alternative uses, putting their owners in difficulty.

“The government has allocated 550 million rupees to cultivate 14,000 acres of fallow paddy lands,” a state-run newspaper reported.

“These fallow lands will be brought under the government and steps will be taken to cultivate them using the funds made available by the government

“Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera instructed the Agrarian Development Departmetn to bring these fallow paddy lands under plough by making use of this allocation.”

The rulers have decided to “take over and cultivate’ 2,774 acres of paddy in Matakl, Nuwara Eliya, Vavuniya, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Badulla and Moneragala districts which have not been cultivated for over five years and 11,256 acres in other districts.

Minister Amaraweera has also instructed the Commissioner General of Agriculture to take steps to bring amendments to the ‘Agricultural Act’ for the implementation of the project.

Then are 47,471 acres of ‘fallow land’ in the remaining 17 districts.

“Minister Amaraweera advised that if the owners do not cultivate these fallow paddy fields, they should be handed over to the government and given to young persons who have no land to cultivate them for up to five years,” the newspaper said.

The violation of property rights of the private citizens come as President Ranil Wickremesinghe is trying to create conditions to attract investment and make the country and export competitive nation.


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