The residents and land owners, living off Buthgamuwa Road, Welikada, Rajagiriya, are raising voices of dissent against a property developer, an Indian company by the name of Iconic Developments (Pvt) Ltd, which has commenced a construction project of private apartments, named Iconic Galaxy, on a land in their neighborhood.
This luxurious 33-storey tower comes after the developer’s previous ‘110 Parliament Street’-a project with over 170 residents in Rajagiriya- which opened in 2008. Iconic Galaxy will have 272 super-luxury apartments in a land spreading two acres.
The residents in Buthgamuwa Road claim that the construction site has posed severe threats to their safety and welfare and demand to know whether this is the ‘price’ they have to pay when this type of development takes place in the area.
“We do not know whether the Government of Sri Lanka has given this area over to Indians as it appears that Laws of the state are no longer applicable in this area and the Government authorities, namely the UDA, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC), Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte Municipal Council (MC) and the Police are all acting to facilitate the requirements of this Indian company violating the laws of Sri Lanka. Inaction by the Police hierarchy with regard to our complaint further cements this,” Col.Retd. Vikum Siriwardana, one of the residents, told the .
We do not know whether the Government of Sri Lanka has given this area over to Indians as it appears that Laws of the state are no longer applicable in this area
This Buthgamuwa Road, which has 14 residences, does not connect to any other road and ends at a canal. Recently Iconic Development Ltd commenced the project of constructing private apartments on a land to which there is access from Kamatawatta Road, Rajagiriya and borders the said canal on the opposite side. The constructors later constructed a bridge across the canal so as to obtain access to the construction site from our private road, residents claimed.
Actual access to this particular land on the other side of the canal is from Kamatawatta Road, but with the construction of this bridge another access has been created from Buthgamuwa Road.
“This road comes to a dead end. The road borders a canal and part of the land, consisting of two blocks between the canal and the road, was earmarked as a flood water retention area in the UDA master plan, hence filling was prohibited all these years. However, these lands, including the canal reservation, are being filled by the owners since of late. As a result these two blocks are now at a higher elevation from the road and the rest of the premises. Even when these lands were left as water retention areas, our road and the premises were submerged by flood water on a number of occasions. There was severe flooding in 1992 and 2010 which cut off completely whatever access our residences had with Buthgamuwa Road. There was minor flooding on several occasions including last year when our private road was submerged by water,” Siriwardana said.
They fear that with the filling of these two blocks, which are now at a higher elevation compared to the road, their road and residences will be submerged by water in the event there is a minor shower.
Channa de Silva, an engineer by profession, is also one of the residents who is facing difficulties due to the construction site.
According to him, the regular arrival of men and vehicles to this particular construction site, using their road, has plagued them with issues related to health and security, apart from restricting movement.
“Given the huge presence of this project, consisting of 272 apartments that are spread across 33 storeys, - we foresee thousands of vehicles plying these roads (in future). It is difficult for two cars to pass through the road coming from opposite directions, let alone find a space to park,” de Silva said.
He said the presence of new high-rise apartment complex in the area would only worsen the haphazard parking and congestion.
He stated that their numerous written complaints to Welikada Police, UDA, SLLRDC and the Sri Jayawardanepura-Kotte Municipal Council haven’t been acknowledged nor action being taken.
“The constructors use heavy machinery late into night disturbing the residents, particularly children who are preparing for various examinations and our complaints to Welikada Police haven’t brought us any relief,” he said.
The excessive noise from the construction site has doubled because there is another construction site which belongs to China Habour Engineering Company Private Limited. The affected houses are located in between the two construction sites.
“Due to the continual harassment we had to endure, we as the residents put up notices in the form of signboards indicating this to be a private road. Iconic Development lodged a complaint at the Welikada Police against the residents for putting up boards. The Welikada Police, who totally ignored the complaints we lodged earlier, was quick to initiate an inquiry into the complaint by Iconic Development and summoned us to the Police Station,” he said.
We are not against development, but it should not be at the expense of destroying the lives and properties of long standing residents of the area
At the police inquiry, the representative of Iconic Development produced a Government Gazette issued in 2009 where Sri Jayawardanepura-Kotte MC has proclaimed part of this private road as a road vested with the said MC.
The particular representative has also submitted a letter from UDA giving authority to Iconic Development to construct a bridge across the canal. However, according to the residents, Sri Jayawardanepura-Kotte MC at no stage had informed the residents of any such decision, nor obtained written concurrence from the residents nor pay any compensation for acquiring a private road belonging to the residents. Therefore, the residents claim that the decision to vest the private road with the Sri Jayawardanepura-Kotte MC is a unilateral decision of the said MC. They consider this decision to be illegal although a Gazette notification has been issued by the said MC to the effect.
The residents, who had no idea until their private road was announced as a public road, requested more details regarding the Buthgamuwa Road from the Kotte MC through a RTI application last year.
Information Officer of the Kotte MC replied to the residents’ RTI last year stating that the private road off Buthgamuwa Road was not declared as a public road according to the records maintained by the Municipal Council. He had also said that such a decision was neither taken and nor gazzetted. Please see the letter on topright.
Leaving more questions on the said Government Gazette which was produced by the Iconic Development representative at the police inquiry, where Kotte MC has proclaimed part of this private road as a road vested with the said MC, the residents are in possession of a recent valid street line certificate issued by the Kotte MC in 2016 stating that this is a private road, which was submitted to the police as proof.
Hiran Perera’s house is also located on Buthgamuwa Road. He along with the other residents alleged that the Sri Jayawardanepura Kotte MC had aided this company by fraudulently issuing a certificate to the effect that Buthgamuwa Road is a road belonging to the municipality.
“With the help of this fraudulent certificate this company has obtained the necessary approvals from UDA and SLLRDC for this project creating severe hardships to residents of this narrow road. UDA and SLLRDC have failed to verify accurate facts and blindly granted approvals to use our private road as an access road to this large apartment complex. Our complaints to UDA Chairman, Chairman of SLLRDC and Municipal Commissioner of Sri Jayawardanepura Kotte MC have not prompted any action or at least a proper inquiry into our complaints,” Hiran said.
“We are not against development, but it should not be at the expense of destroying the lives and properties of long standing residents of the area. Development should conform to laws and regulations,” he added.
Adding to what Hiran said, Nipuna Leelawansa, another resident, alleged that it is apparent that all the Government Agencies involved, namely UDA, SLLRDC, Sri Jayawardanepura Kotte MC and the Welikada Police are turning a blind eye to the illegal acts of Iconic Development (Pvt) Ltd for reasons best known to them and have even connived with this company by giving approvals illegally.
“We have also read recent newspaper reports that similar situations have arisen in the Pitakotte area due to the relevant authorities issuing development permits disregarding regulations for personal benefits from developers,” he said.
Apart from traffic issues and land issues, the residents have been facing more difficulties. Explaining them, Dinali Perera, mother to three daughters, said the workers at the site cause severe difficulties especially for women.
“They walk on our road everyday smoking and without being properly attired. Lives of women, living on this road, are not safe anymore. We don’t even go out of our houses after 6pm. Sometimes, when these workers see women they expose themselves and lift their sarongs. It is very uncomfortable for us to even step out of our own houses. Besides that, they bring various women in three-wheelers at night. We find used condoms right outside our houses in the morning. All our children are very young. Almost all of us have daughters. They even pass sexual remarks at our daughters while on the road. When they are drunk, they torment our pets also,” Dinali explained the ordeal.
Large numbers of workers of various nationalities including Chinese and Indian are accommodated in a former warehouse building right next to their houses.
The Daily Mirror witnessed that the premises where workers are accommodated does not contain even basic facilities to accommodate such a large number of workers and doesn’t have even good sanitary facilities.
We don’t even go out of our houses after 6pm. Sometimes, when these workers see women they expose themselves and lift their sarongs. It is very uncomfortable for us
The residents have witnessed on many occasions workers accommodated at this premises doing their ablutions on Buthgamuwa Road, an act which they consider poses a serious health risk to the residents.
“There are more than two hundred workers employed at these two construction sites: Iconic Galaxy and the China Habour construction site. But there are only two toilets for them. Most often, our road is used as a toilet by these workers. We cannot walk on the sides of the walk because of the odour. Some of the workers have their meals seated on our road and discard food waste, empty drink cans, food wrapping material etc on the road polluting our environment and increasing the risk of diseases,” Dinali explained. “Perhaps due to lack of space, most of the workers spend their time after work seated on the road consuming alcohol and creating disturbances. The construction site releases effluent into the canal. The canal is now in an extremely polluted state and has become a serious health hazard to residents,” she further said.
The residents also wrote to the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Sri Jayawardanepura-Kotte MC on 13 July. But, no response has been received to the letter from the MoH yet.
The residents reiterated that they were not against development, but were against the blatant disregard for rules and construction guidelines.
“We want to get the regulations enforced. At least, let us live in peace in our homes” a spokesperson for the residents said.
“As we all know, the Government Agencies mentioned above have been appointed to safeguard the interests of citizens of Sri Lanka and ensure upholding the laws of land. But, if the same agencies are instead looking after the interests of a foreign company blatantly disregarding laws and regulations of Sri Lanka, including environmental regulations, resulting in serious repercussions to citizens of Sri Lanka, it is high time that the highest authorities of the Government open their eyes and do the right thing,” the spokesperson for the residents added.
Iconic Developments of India Managing Director Rohan Parikh responding to Daily Mirror in writing from India had this to say. “It is important to note here that the so-called ‘residents’ are a small group that has been harassing and blackmailing us since the inception of the project, solely with the intention of extracting money .On several occasions in the past they demanded money from us to allow us to continue with our construction work. This was in spite of us having the necessary permissions in place. There is not even an iota of truth in this allegation.
“Incidents like this make it difficult for foreign investors like us, giving an impression that the risks are high. It makes it seem as if anyone can make a baseless allegation without due diligence. The damage to the reputation of the country can be irreparable if well-meaning investors with integrity and a long-term vision for Sri Lanka are treated in this manner.
Incidents like this make it difficult for foreign investors like us, giving an impression that the risks are high
Managing Director Rohan Parikh
“Our project has been thoroughly vetted by several of the top law firms in Sri Lanka and its execution is based on permissions issued under the laws of the country. With regards to the road in question, it was declared a public road over a decade ago long before we, the developers, were even in the picture. In any event as an extra precaution we have also purchased a Right -of -Way over the road, thus ensuring that the legality of the project is not impacted under any circumstances.
It is even more pertinent to note that every agency of the Government of Sri Lanka, which has signed on this project, has done so in compliance with all rules and regulations. As for the bridge adjourning the land, the landowner obtained a bridge construction approval from SLLR & DC in 2012. We have just repaired the old bridge with all approvals from Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte MC in 2016.
Our project has been thoroughly vetted by several of the top law firms in Sri Lanka and its execution is based on permissions issued under the laws of the country
We have left 60% of the land open for flooding of the canal in compliance with the rules of the SLLRDC. Thus in case of the canal water level rising there will be no adverse impact on the area surrounding our building. We have also committed to beautify, clean and plant trees along our side of the canal to ensure we maintain ecological balance,” Parikh said.