Relocating slum dwellers and giving them new hopes

Published : 1:08 pm  May 6, 2014 | 2 comments |  |  (3759) reads | 

Slums in Colombo

 Relocation of slum dwellers to hoist Colombo as the ‘Miracle of Asia’ The negatives appear to be outweighing the positives 

With an estimated average rate of urbanisation between three to four per cent in the country during the 2010-2020 period, measures are being taken to shift administrative boundaries to the outskirts of Colombo. Falling in line with these changes the Urban Development Authority (UDA) together with the Ministry of Defence are carrying out a number of urban development and relocation projects to beautify the commercial capital of Colombo and make it the ‘Miracle of Asia.’ According to UDA reports, the city of Colombo had a population of 80,000 when the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) was established in 1865. However, taking into consideration the annual growth rate in the city, its population in 2012 was estimated to be over 706,000 persons. The major changes taking place in Colombo and its Metropolitan regions is to meet the growing demands of this population.


By Rumana Razick


Urban Relocation

Most of the administrative offices in the heart of Colombo have been moved to the new administrative capital, Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte and are concentrated in and around the Battaramulla town. Major warehouses and industries will be shifted to the new industrial towns of Homagama, Horana and Peliyagoda. The Army Headquarters will be shifted from the heart of Colombo to Battaramulla and the Colombo Fort area will be redeveloped with high-rise commercial buildings and offices. Commenting on the development of high-rise buildings in the Colombo Fort area the UDA said that they encourage vertical development as land values in most commercial areas are high. “We aim at constructing multi-storied buildings to accommodate government and private offices and boost commercial development in the area,” the UDA said. Slum Relocation More than 50 percent of the residential population in Colombo are living in substandard conditions lacking basic facilities. Slums occupying 900 acres are scattered on government land, railway reservations, canal banks and low-lying areas. The entirety of the 900 acres will be cleared and 68,000 housing units will be provided for slum dwellers by 2020 under the Urban Regeneration Project.

Measures are being taken to provide 40,000 apartment units for shanty dwellers and 20,000 luxury and semi-luxury apartments for housing underserved families. With a vision of providing a house for every family in Sri Lanka the UDA together with the Ministry of Defence are planning to construct new houses and make the City of Colombo slum free by 2020. In November last year, 500 housing units at the Mihindu Senpura housing scheme in Dematagoda was provided to low-income families. Meanwhile relocation procedures to 718 houses that have been constructed in Estate 54. The construction of 430 houses in Estate 66 in Wanathamulla are underway. Construction procedures to set up housing schemes in seven locations in Colombo are also underway. Housing schemes at Madampitiya, Mattakuliya, Henmulla, Aluthmawatha, Apple Waththa, Kibulala and Aramaya Place amounting to 10,000 housing units will be completed by December 2015.

Relocation Procedure

The UDA said that several steps are followed in the relocation process. Community surveys will be conducted for the collection of basic data which will then undergo a screening process. New families will be selected for relocation and a series of awareness programmes for living in high rise apartments will be carried out for their benefit. Management corporations will then be established for the management of common amenities.

Housing Facilities and Maintenance Each 450 square feet housing unit valued at 4 million rupees consists of two rooms, a hall, a washroom and a kitchen. Public facilities like community halls and parks will also be provided for the inhabitants. The slum dwellers are required to pay a deposit of 50,000 rupees prior to relocation and henceforth a monthly maintenance fee of 3,900 rupees for 20 years to cover the housing costs. A fund will be set up by the deposit of 50,000 rupees collected and this will be used for the maintenance of public facilities and common amenities. The UDA said that a unit will be set up by the Condominium Development Authority (CDA) to overlook the maintenance of the housing schemes. However the relocated slum dwellers are required to pay their own electricity and water bill as each house has been set up with a separate electricity and water unit.


Chair of Sociology Department University of Colombo Professor Siri Hettige

It is estimated that over 50 percent of the Colombo population is living in low income housing. What is being done today is not to relocate these people in better houses, but to get some commercially important areas cleared of settlements. High-rise apartments are not suitable to accommodate low- income people as their needs and livelihoods cannot be taken care of by such accommodation. Low- rise housing schemes with common facilities such as open space, garden plots, and common amenities like health, pre- schools, play areas and community halls can be the best solution. But, this would require more land and more public investments which would not be economically feasible.

Livelihood problems of slum dwellers

In addition, livelihoods can be a major issue. Slum dwellers derive their income from the large informal economy, private and public institutions like the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).Once taken away, they will be like fish out of the water. If relocated outside the city, either they will have to commute to the city for work or there will be a shortage of labour in the city. Consequently, wages will go up. Measures to be taken. Given the present fiscal crisis, the government will not be able to allocate adequate funds to address the issue in a satisfactory manner. The government should adopt a more equitable approach by extending the provisions of the Involuntary Resettlement Policy that is applicable to big projects like the Southern Expressway.

Engineer Tudor Wijenayake

People who were living in derelict houses with no hope of bettering their livng conditions now have well facilitated houses. However a few things need to be considered. High-rise apartments have additional facilities like passenger lifts, common amenities like water, electricity and proper garbage disposal systems. All these need maintenance that comes at a heavy cost. Who will bear these costs? Executive Director Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu The CPA has published a report underlying the importance of following domestic and internationally recognised standards to prevent and minimize forced eviction.

Taking an example from the report, in early May 2010 the homes and businesses of a small lower- middle- class community in Mews Street in Colombo’s Slave Island were bulldozed. The residents were not given appropriate notice and were not compensated. Now, almost four years later most of them are yet to be given the alternative accommodation promised. In addition the report also states that Colombo has never had a large sprawling slums. It also found that unlike 9 other large South Asian cities, Colombo’s low-income settlements were relatively small clusters with 74 per cent having fewer than 50 housing units while settlements with more than 500 units accounted for only about 0.7 per cent of the total low-income settlements in Colombo.

However, less than 25 per cent of these families had ownership rights and more than half of this population lacked security of tenure. There is no doubt that many of Colombo’s low income settlements need significantly higher levels of services. The lack of adequate housing, secure tenure and title are also major concerns. However the Urban Regeneration Project’s approach to housing contradicts with what is spelt out in the draft National Housing Policy (NHP) that contains many positive elements despite its limitations.

President Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Mr. Upul Jayasuriya

There are two types of relocation being done. The relocation of slum dwellers from private property and government owned property. When relocation of dwellers occupying private property is being done, it needs to be ensured that the procedure in the Private Property Rights Protection Act is followed. The land needs to be measured, valued and compensation has to be paid accordingly. In addition it’s up to the inhabitants if they want to be relocated.

No one should be evicted forcefully. When it comes to evicting people from government owned property, the procedure that comes under the Recovery of State Property Act needs to be followed. The Act states that both parties should go to the magistrate’s court and present their case. It is the magistrate who will then decide if the eviction should be carried out or not. However this is not what is being done.