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Sri Lanka Prime Minister wows to battle anti-freeholders

ECONOMYNET – Sri Lanka’ Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would battle in court anti-freeholders to give title to farmers and others who have been given less certain land rights by the state through several programs.

"There are some groups who are opposing the freehold rights through court action," Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying at a speech in Ampara.

"We will stay on the side of the people and face the court cases on their behalf."

Freehold land was a concept that developed mainly in Britain, with the breakdown of an older feudal order, boosting productivity and helping end the poverty of a then peasant class.

Under the Meiji restoration in Japan, freehold was legally created by reformers around the country finally ending the grip of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Japan gave land titles to ordinary people from 1873 (chiso kaisei) allowing them the right to trade and provide land as collateral for loans.

Agricultural productivity shot up in a few years and land use became more efficient, eventually making Japan a leading industrial nation in the world. Similar trends have been seen after the ending of collective farms in Russia and Vietnam’s Doi Moi.

In Sri Lanka land ownership started to emerge during Dutch rule, who gave a right called accommdessan breaking the grip of the monarch and temples on land ownership.

The ending of Wedawassam (tenured serfdom) system by British liberals and replacing labour with taxes may also have helped.

When the British first tried to end Wedawassam there was a reaction from those in higher echelons of society who benefited from the old order. The first attempt at ending of serfdom was reversed.





However economic analysts say the Waste Land Ordinance of the British ended with Sri Lanka’s state having large land holdings, blocking a wider development of freehold, holding back a by Japan-style economic revival.

After independence, widespread expropriation in the name of ‘land reform’ also left the state with more land, reversing some of the freehold that had developed during colonial rule. Other laws of such as the Paddy Lands Ordinance also robbed people of their freedoms as the rulers were able to interfere in land and even crop use.

In Sri Lanka, many regard the State and political controlling class in the same way as peasants of an earlier age used to regard the king and sovereign. The phenomenon which had also been present in other post-fuedal has been labelled ‘statolatry’ (worship of the state).

Freehold gives absolute rights for a citizen to use land as they wish, and no outsider, or ruling class can dictate terms, unlike leases or other tenured system.

Unlike Japan, when the post-independent Sri Lanka gave land to the people under several irrigation development scheme, free hold was not given. Under some land rights of irrigation schemes the girl child cannot inherit.

Similar rules had been seen in feudal Europe where the daughter of the family was kicked out of her ancestral home as her only male cousin had the right to inherit. Unlike in Sri Lanka’s people in some European countries have gone to war to get freehold. (Colombo/July09/2019)

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