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Sri Lanka settler land grant titles weak, discriminates against women: economist

Oct 16, 2017 10:27 AM GMT+0530 | 0 Comment(s)


ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka's state land grants to settler farmers in so-called colonization schemes, discriminated against women and only gave partial tittle limiting their use in a feudal style, an economist said.

Though some of the land grants were given beautiful names like Swarnabhoomi (golden land) they had little value when an owner tried to sell them.

Worse they discriminated against women, Rohan Samarajiva, an economist and head of LirneAsia, a policy research body said.

"Even if the male heir was in Colombo working and the daughter was at home helping run the farm the land automatically went to the son," Samarajiva told an forum in Colombo organized by Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based freemarket think tank and Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank that produces a global index of economic freedom.

"For a daughter to get the land, a special will had to be prepared by the father. She is usually left with nothing."

He said farmers could not mortage or sell the land to move to the city, as the deeds were not freehold and retained aspects of the wadasawam (service tenure) feudal era.

Deputy Power Minister Ajith Perera said the current administration wanted to give full title to holders of partial tittle.

There were also others squatting on state lands which needed a solution.

The concept of freehold, where ordinary persons other than the king or feudal overlord could own, sell divide or do whatever with their land emerged in England and spread to Europe leading to rapid increases in agricultural productivity. Freehold land was also freely heritable.

In Sri Lanka freehold started develop during Dutch and British rule. Wadawasam was abolished outright by the British and replaced with taxes. Under Wedawasam or divel land was heritable usually through a male heir but not divisable. Japan also reformed the land and tax system during the Meiji restoration which led to higher agricultural producitity and industrialization.

But critics say broad development of freehold was hindered in Sri Lanka by the waste land ordinance of the British time which vested unused land with the state, and post-independence expropriation of already freehold and used land.

Squatting is one way, some of this land can go back to the people, freedom advocates say.

Payment in kind (Wedawasam) and its replacement with cash (taxes) is considered a major advance in human freedoms that contributed to the Western world outpacing the rest of the world.

"Let them sell the land if they want to," Samarajiva said. "Why do people sitting in air-conditioned rooms want to tie people to the land in villages? He questioned.

"We need an open mind, not just an open economy."

He said during the time of President Premadasa tens of thousands of girls who used to weed farmland went to work in factories.

Now electricity, gas, availability of piped water also freed women from collecting firewood or carrying water.

But still a large share of the workforce was in agriculture though the contribution to total output was low.

Sri Lanka also had other restrictive laws including a paddy land act that prevented land in fast growing areas to be put into alternative uses and also to use rice paddies to grow more lucrative export crops. (Colombo/Oct15/2017)


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