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Land grabbing by Navy and Special Task Force, Sri Lnka


In Ragamwela and Shastrawela (Eastern Province) the Sri Lanka Navy and the Special Task Force confiscated 1,220 acres of forestland, wetlands and agricultural lands. 265 acres of this total is from Ragamwela (Panama) while 115 acres of land and 840 acres of forestland under the control of Department of Forest Conservation are from Shastrawela. In the area it has been proposed to establish a Ranawiru Village, a Navy Camp and a Hotel Complex. The forestland appropriated is situated in the Ragamwela Government Forest, Ulpassa, Shasthrawela while the rest of the land are croplands belonging to local residents. [1] Following the statement by local communities the lands grab began on 17 July 2010, when 150 families from the villages of Ragamwela and Shastrawela were violently chased from their homes by armed men. They attacked the villages, burned the houses and threatened the villagers to dissuade them from returning. Immediately afterwards, Army units erected fences around nearly 500 hectares of farm land and forest, preventing the villagers from having access and cultivating the land. [2] Entrance to the land appropriated has been restricted except for the officers of the Navy and Special Task Force.

The confiscated land is also rich of ancient buddhist temples and archeological artifacts. Temple Balumkararama, built by residents of Ragamwela, is located in the same area and the entrance to the temple has been prohibited.

The lands have been acquired without revealing the type of project that will be implemented in the area. According to the Army, the goal of this acquisition is to establish a military base. But the local populations have noticed that infrastructures, most likely for tourism, are being constructed on their lands.

Most of the residents are engaged in agricultural activities as their means of livelihood. The confiscation affected their normal lifestyle and today the victims are condemned to search for jobs outside of their villages. Any work proposed on the current construction sites is temporary.

Several laws has been violated for the implementation of the project. According to the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resources Management Act No. 57 of 1981, prior written approval should be obtained from the Department of Coast Conservation for any developmental activity. However, this regulation has been ignored by the defense forces.

In addition, by unauthorized clearing and fragmentation of the forest and building of permanent structures, section 20 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance as amended last by Amendment Act bearing No. 65 of 2009 has been violated.

Moreover The National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 previse for any developmental activity carried out within an area over one hectare of forestland prior written approval should be obtained subject to an EIA. This provision has been violated by the project. The project also violates the Archeological Ordinance bearing No. 49 of 1940. Lands of the residents of the area have been acquired for the project through coercion. Moreover, basic rights of engaging in religious activities and livelihood activities of the community have been violated.

From the first incidents in 2010, villagers have filed complaints many times with local police and with the National Human Right Commission, but in vain. On the contrary, they were threatened or harassed, verbally and physically.

In 2014 villagers organized as the Panama-Paththuwa Surekeeme Sangvidhanaya (Organization for the Protection of Panama-Paththuwa) protested in front of the National Human Rights Commission in Colombo [3]. This Commission ruled in their favor in their fight against having the Sri Lankan Army confiscate their land, but in fact, nothing has changed and, according to reports from locals, a tourist complex is under construction.

The protesters also continue to oppose the World Bank (WB) – Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) joint commissioning of the ‘Arugam Bay Special Tourism Promotion Zone’ in their area. This project in fact is linked to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Strategy, set up by the government in Colombo, with the financial support of the World Bank. Since the tsunami of 2004 and the end of the Civil War in 2009, the government has bet on tourism to support economic growth. But these tourist investments come with numerous cases of lands and coasts grabs, depriving thousands of families of their livelihood.

The same problems are also taking place on the Kalpitiya peninsula (West coast), where foreign tourist companies, like the Six Senses Group, Dutch Bay Resorts or Kuwait European Holding, have begun construction on lands and beaches confiscated from more than 2,500 families, mainly fishermen.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Land grabbing by Navy and Special Task Force, Sri Lnka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:Ampara district
Location of conflict:Shastrawela (Lahugala)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Land acquisition conflicts
Military installations
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

1,220 acres has been appropriated by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Special Task Force. 265 acres of this total is from Ragamwela, Panama while 115 acres of land and 840 acres of forestland under the control of Department of Forest Conservation are from Shastrawela

Project area:454
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:350 families
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Sri Lanka Navy
Sri Lanka Special Task Force
Relevant government actors:Department of Forest Conservation
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA)
Forest Department
Archaeological Department
Defence Ministry
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Panama-Paththuwa Surekeeme Sangvidhanaya
Centre for Environmental Justice
People’s Alliance for Right to Land - PARL
Sri Lanka Nature Group ‐ SLNG 
Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR)
Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Landless peasants
Religious groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Local scientists/professionals
Informal workers
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsWetlands of the Coastal Zone have also been used for this project. The animals living in these habitats face the risk of local extinction due to habitat loss and degradation.
The project area is a major habitat of the elephant. Therefore, with destruction of their habitat, the residents of the area are prone to Human-Elephant Conflict. Further, crop raids by elephants disrupt the livelihood activities of the villagers leading to many socioeconomic issues.
Since agricultural lands of the villagers have been acquired for the project, the villagers tend to find alternative land for their agricultural activities. This poses a threat to the other protected forests in the area.
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Section 20 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance, Amendment Act bearing No. 65 of 2009

The National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980

Coast Conservation and Coastal Resources Management Act No. 57 of 1981

Archeological Ordinance bearing No. 49 of 1940

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1]Uprooting people from the land. Land grabbing, current status and trends in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Nature Group, People’s Alliance for Right to Land - PARL. June 2012  

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

web site of 'People's alliance for right to land'

[2] Article published on peuples solidaires web site: Sri Lanka: the Army deprives families of their land to benefit tourists

[3] News paper article from Colombo Telegraph: Human Rights Commission Is Inactive: Villagers of Panama protest land grabbing. Published on March 2014

News paper article from 'The sunday leader': Land Grab At Panama? By Nirmala Kannangara, 2013

Article from 'Chapter III': Regaining of Land in Panama by the people

Meta information

Contributor:Centre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Paola Camisani (EJOLT team, Barcelona)
Last update19/06/2015