Monday, June 20, 2011

The Great Railway land scam - 16,000 acres and counting

The Railway department is one of the largest landowners in Sri Lanka. While it includes the right of way of 10 feet of either side of the railway tracks, the department owns an enormous amount of land, which has not been put to productive use and in fact has now been encroached upon.

In the 1970s the British Railways Board siphoned off all the British Railway land into a property owning and development company and made sure full value of the Railway owned land was obtained. The building of huge Office Blocks in a public private partnership above the large London Railway Stations was a huge benefit, as this assisted in developing land for residential and business purposes and also maximized the value accruing from these assets.

In similar vein I propose the SLGR now do the same, so that a professional property manager will be able to run this land bank, and not leave it to Railway professionals who know nothing about managing land. Just imagine if the railways went into a partnership to develop the Fort Railway Station into a huge office block or even a multistory car park that is sorely needed in Fort. This can be easily done with minimal interference with daily Rail commutes.

While there could be an Act of Parliament to set up this Company and transfer the ownership of the Land including those of the Railway Stations to this company, there should be certain basic rules relating any disposal of land, with leasing being the procedure of choice.

The problem is the unauthorized sqautting that has taken place on Railway land by people some of whom have Political patrimony and the task of the proposed new body would be made more difficult.

There are many railway workers who occupy railway housing and many ex- railway workers who outhave refused to move out of railway houses and no one has done anything about it due to the lack of proper management of such property.


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