An article by Iromi Perera for Groundviews, first published on May 8th 2015.
On 8th May 2010, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) demolished 20 homes that were occupied by 33 families on Mews Street in Kompannyaveediya, Colombo 2. Families were informed verbally a month prior to the demolition that they will have to vacate their homes and served the same in writing only 3 days prior to the demolition. Contrary to the UDA’s claims at that time, the residents of Mews Street were not illegal occupants of state land but had deeds to the land but at no point was the Land Acquisition Act followed. Their homes eventually made way for the expansion of the school for children of military officers.
Residents were not given any information regarding alternative accommodation or compensation. Thus when the UDA authorities arrived with bulldozers accompanied by armed soldiers, residents resisted but in vain. The eviction took place in broad daylight, with hundreds of army and police personnel present to keep the media away. One of the few videos of that afternoon shows the despair and destruction experienced by the families. Some families did not even have enough time to gather documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates or even children’s school books.
Residents were left destitute, with many of their belongings destroyed, and for 3-4 days were housed and provided daily meals at the mosque by the Federation of Kompannaveediya Masjids, until they found alternative accommodation with relatives or elsewhere.
None of them were compensated for the loss of their homes, possession or businesses. They were offered alternative housing in a temporary resettlement scheme in Thotalanga—“rows of single-room wooden shelters” that reminded two commentators of “Zone 1 in Menik Farm”—but promised permanent housing in a newly built apartment complex in Dematagoda in one year’s time. Subsequently, the evicted residents were also offered a rental allowance to enable them to live elsewhere.