UDA under fire for labelling Kajeemawatte folks ‘illegal’

BY Buddhika Samaraweera


Former State Minister of Urban Development Dr. Nalaka Godahewa claimed that instead of expeditiously providing housing to the needy people living in the City of Colombo, including the people affected by the fire that broke out at the Kajeemawatte in Thotalanga, Mutwal, the officials of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and other institutions are labelling the affected people as illegal residents.

Speaking to The Morning, he said that about 60,000 people in Colombo were identified as those in need of housing through a survey which was carried out in 2012. Although it has been more than 10 years since the said survey was conducted, he claimed, the UDA and the other relevant authorities have been able to provide housing to only about 20,000 people to date.

“The relevant officials are now calling these residents as illegal residents, which is wrong. Most of these officials are giving wrong advice to ministers who are appointed from time to time, and they (the officials) do not complete the construction of housing projects. Therefore, if they are now trying to wash their hands off by saying that the people, particularly those affected in the Kajeemawatte fire, are illegal residents, it is not acceptable at all,” he said.

Explaining the reasons for the relevant authorities’ failure to provide all in need with houses, Dr. Godahewa said that the UDA has halted the construction of several housing projects due to various reasons including legal issues, and that the same has resulted in the people identified as in need of housing not being provided with housing facilities. He also said that when the United National Front-led Government came to power in 2015, most of the housing projects were suspended.

“Sometimes, when the units of these housing projects are given to the people, it is not the people who are in actual need that are getting them. Houses are given to certain individuals on various political connections. All these irregularities should be stopped, and this issue should be looked at sympathetically. Without coming before the media and blaming the people, the relevant officials should perform their duty first,” he added.

A fire erupted at the Kajeemawatte in Thotalanga, Mutwal, in the late hours of Tuesday (27), and a total of 12 fire trucks were deployed to douse the flames. The fire was put out in a joint operation by the Fire Brigade and the residents of the area.

During a meeting held on Wednesday (28) where the provision of relief to those affected due to the fire was discussed, UDA Director General Prasad Ranaweera said that only 20 of the families who have settled in Kajeemawatte had settled there through the UDA, while the remaining 200 families had settled at the location illegally. He said that the Colombo Municipal Council 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.