The Urban Development Authority (UDA) informed that while the last survey conducted in 2010 had identified the presence of 58,000 housing units in impoverished areas of slums with shanties within the City of Colombo coming under the Colombo Municipality, by the end of 2017, only 18,000 houses would be constructed to accommodate their occupants.
The UDA comes under the purview of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Region Development of which the Minister is Patali Champika Ranawaka.
Project Director of the Urban Regeneration Project at the UDA, Brigadier S.A.R. Samarasinghe informed that although 58,000 housing units had been identified, the number of occupants per each housing unit would differ, with one housing unit sometimes having two persons living in it, while in others, they would be housing as much as 10.
Just because the government has changed, absolutely nothing has changed with regards to the policy adopted in terms of tackling the issue, he explained.
“Currently the plan is to build 68,000 houses, however there is the issue of the scarcity and non-availability of land. By 2014, 5,000 houses were built and at present a further 13,000 houses are in various stages of being under construction. Therefore, by the end of 2017, we will have constructed a total of 18,000 houses. We do this stage by stage. The first stage is that we identify a watte (slum). The second stage is that we then build houses in a land nearby. The third stage is that we then relocate those living in the watte to the houses built on the nearby land. Thus the land on which the watte was originally on now becomes released. In Thotalanga, there is Henmulla Nawa Niwasa, Kajima Watte and the transit camp in Ferguson Road. When the first 5,000 houses were being constructed, we built temporary houses in 2011 at the transit camp in Ferguson Road. In 2014, we gave the 262 persons who were there, who were then living rent free, without a vote, without having to pay utility bills (electricity/light and water), all of which we provided for, separate houses in housing elsewhere. We had then kept the land which became free for use when we would have to relocate the railway track. Yet, one week after the presidential election in 2015, people forcibly started occupying the said land. We cannot give them houses. We do not know where they come from. We work systematically. Only those who can prove their occupancy and ownership of a house are given houses and we do not give houses to those who live on rent. It is not our responsibility. There were only 14 families in Henmulla to begin with. Now people have come even from wattes elsewhere and are occupying this land,” he mentioned.
Last week, residents of Thotalanga, 300 to 400 families, of the Henmulla Nawa Niwasa watte and the Kajima Watte down Ferguson Road, blocked the Japan-Sri Lanka friendship bridge, creating massive traffic congestion in several parts of Colombo.
They alleged that their homes were demolished without any prior notice and were forcibly evicted by the UDA. The protest which commenced on February 16, continued the following day. However, the residents called off their protest the following day evening.
Rajan, a resident of the area, who on 2015 December 30, was forcibly evicted from the Henmulla Nawa Niwasa after the UDA forcibly demolished shanty houses in the said watte, and had subsequently set himself up in Kajima Watte, said that the backhoes which had ridden roughshod over the shanties which contained almirahs (cupboards/wardrobes) with belongings, and had also resulted in two children being hospitalized.
Accordingly, the UDA had demolished more than half of the 400 odd houses in the area. “We were not informed in prior. We continued our protest and demonstration overnight. There is also the Weligoda (Sand) park nearby,” Rajan said.
Meanwhile, experts say that Sri Lanka only needed medium rise buildings and not skyscrapers. Prominent architect, Deshamanya, Vidyajothi, Ashley de Vos pointed out that high rises would involve very high costs of maintenance, and other issues such as maintaining high water pressure, adequate sewerage and catering to increased power demands. He added that such issues would place added pressure on the National Water Supply and Drainage Board and the Ceylon Electricity Board.
De Vos also said that building high rises along the coast would block natural wind currents and air movements. “We have no wind tunnel testing which should rightfully be factored into the development costs. The sewers of Colombo are at its bursting point. Urban forests should not be isolated, but interconnected so that biodiversity travels, moving across the city. Large tropical trees providing shade should be planted and there should be narrow roads and wider pavements. The ministries in charge are incapable of good planning and are being dictated to. Are we incapable of thinking?,” he observed.
Pics by venura Chandramalitha