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Kajeemawatte to be removed as an intermediate settlement after fire?

6 months ago

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  • PM orders urgent report from authorities
  • Prasanna calls for 200 illegal settlements to be probed
  • 60 houses fully damaged, 11 partially, 306 individuals evacuated 
  BY Buddhika Samaraweera   Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has instructed the relevant authorities to prepare an urgent report regarding the fire that broke out at Kajeemawatte in Thotalanga on Tuesday (27), in which nearly 75 houses were destroyed, and to look into the possibility of stopping the Urban Development Authority (UDA) from maintaining the location as an intermediate settlement for those awaiting the establishment of permanent residences. The Premier, who participated in the Colombo District Coordination Committee meeting held last morning (28), instructed the committee appointed to look into the incident to prepare a final report as soon as possible. He said that fires have broken out in this area thrice within a period of one and a half years, and that therefore, the final report should be prepared taking into account the investigation reports on those incidents. Gunawardena also informed the relevant officials of the UDA to look into the possibility of stopping this site, which currently belongs to the UDA, from being used as a location for temporary settlement of citizens. He said that the illegal settlements in this area, which are frequently reported, should also be looked into. Meanwhile, Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga, who participated in the same meeting, said that a formal and impartial investigation should be conducted into this fire, as well as the illegal settlements at Kajeemawatte. He said that there is a need to identify the residents who are legitimately in need of housing. Claiming that some of the people living there are from Badulla, he said that houses for such people should be provided in the respective areas. Colombo District Secretary Pradeep Yasaratne, who also participated in the meeting, stated that around 1,000 people live in the 220 houses currently built at this site, adding that most of them are illegal residents. UDA Director General (DG) Prasad Ranaweera, speaking during the meeting, stated that during the implementation of the Dematagoda housing project in 2007-2008, the residents of that area were temporarily settled in Kajeemawatte. Since then, he said, the UDA has been using this area as an intermediate residence, and that in 2014, the land was completely freed by providing houses to all who were living there. He further said that only 20 of the families who have settled in Kajeemawatte have settled there through the UDA, while the remaining 200 families have settled at the location illegally. He pointed out that after 2015, illegal settlements in this area have increased, and that the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) has even allocated tax numbers to the houses. Noting that water and electricity facilities have also been given to the illegal residents, Ranaweera said that the unauthorised residents of this area have also been included in the voter list. “There are other estate houses like this in Colombo, but Kajeemawatte is the only one that regularly catches fire. The UDA is working to provide houses for 68,000 shanty houses in the Colombo District. However, if houses are to be given in this way, at least 200,000 houses will be needed. If that happens, the UDA will become a loss-making entity,” he explained. A fire erupted at Kajeemawatte in Mutwal in the late hours of Tuesday, and a total of 12 fire trucks were deployed to douse the flames. The fire was doused in a joint operation by the Fire Brigade and the residents of the area. According to Colombo Divisional Secretary Nalaka Rathnayake, who spoke to The Morning, a total of 60 houses have been fully damaged, and another 11 houses have been partially damaged due to the fire. He said that a total of 306 individuals belonging to 75 families, including 200 elders and 106 children, have been affected. He said that the affected families are currently staying at the Kelani Nadee Viharaya and the Muwadora Uyana Community Hall, where they are being provided with food and other necessities by the relevant authorities. Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is on an official visit to Japan and the Philippines, had on Tuesday instructed the President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake to take steps to provide immediate relief to all the residents affected by the fire. The President had given directives to Ekanayake to intervene immediately and direct Yasaratne, the Commanders of the Tri-Forces, the Fire Brigade, the Health Department, the UDA, and all the other relevant Government agencies to look into the needs of the affected people, and to provide them with the required facilities.

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