The Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) strongly condemned a recent incident of forceful and illegal encroachments of estates managed by the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), and called on the Government and law enforcement officials to uphold the rule of law in RPC estates.
The statement was a response to an incident on 6 December 2021, during which a gang of around 200 individuals forcefully encroached on an extent of 8.5 hectares, at the Madampe estate, in the Rakwana area, managed by Hapugastenne Plantations PLC.
Especially given the possibility of conflicts between these outside individuals and the workers or residents of the estate, the estate management immediately sought the intervention of the authorities to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. The Rakwana Police Station, the area Grama Niladhari Officer and the Godakawela Divisional Secretary were accordingly informed.
However, the gang refused to leave, even at the request of the police officers who arrived at the scene. No arrests were made initially by the police. Thereafter, with the matter being presented before the Rakwana Court, arrests were made on the Magistrate’s directive. Around 85 culprits have thus far been produced at the Pelmadulla court. However, they were later released on bail of Rs. 100,000 each.
Unfortunately, the court did not issue a warning to these individuals against returning to the Madampe estate. Hence, many of them returned to the encroached land, which had been left vacant by the estate for the replanting of rubber commencing from the end of December 2021 into the early part of next year.
The encroachers have started setting up structures and has even set fire to clear the area, which could have potentially spread to a large extent. The estate has submitted a complaint regarding this incident as well, to the 119 emergency hotline.
Given the lack of a resolution to the issue, the Madampe estate is now considering taking the matter to the High Courts.
The PA strongly believes this criminal act to be politically-motivated, particularly given the brazen behaviour of the individuals concerned and lack of fear of potential consequences. According to claims made to RPC representatives and police on the ground by the encroachers – who do not appear to be area residents – the decision to encroach on this particular property had been sanctioned and encouraged by a prominent Member of Parliament from the area.
The negative precedent and impact of such brazen criminal activities was immediately visible in the aftermath of the event. Certain workers of the estate too followed suit, in encroaching on the land of the estate. Disciplinary and legal action have been taken against these individuals too.
“We urge the Government to uphold the rule of law in the estates in order to avoid setting an extremely dangerous precedent,” a spokesperson for Hapugastenne Plantations said. “It is most unfortunate that the RPCs are facing the risk of violence, while attempting to safeguard fertile land owned by the Government and by extension the country’s citizens, from politically-instigated criminal gangs. The RPCs are only the custodians of these state-owned valuable assets, but have incurred significant investments on obtaining these lands for cultivation via long-term leases. A failure to act on this issue will result in an erosion of property rights, and encourage further encroachments of productive, commercial, and protected state lands. As a Government that was elected on the promise of upholding the law, we demand that immediate and decisive action is taken to prevent what amounts to theft of public assets in broad daylight,”
The activities of the estate have been severely disrupted by the incident and the management is now unable to proceed with the planned cultivation activities in the area. While this has been the most major incident of this nature in recent history, the RPCs have often faced similar encroachments. Typically such encroachments are instigated prior to an election cycle. This year, there were also several incidents of violence against the employees of RPC estates.
The PA and the RPCs request the Government and the authorities to take urgent action to address these issues, as well as to avoid such incidents being repeated.