The take-over of nine acres of Chalmers Granaries land in Colombo under new expropriation laws is a bizarre case of land being acquired when it is already owned by the government. A senior official of the Colombo Land Registry told Business Times that the ownership of 9 acres, 3 roods and 27.2 perches had been transferred to Urban Development Authority (UDA) on 20th June 1980 under a decree issued by then President J.R. Jayewardena, and remains todate as property owned by the UDA.
This is recorded in the 157th extract of 634th volume of the Colombo Western province land registry, he revealed (see pix). According to extracts, this land has not been transferred to any other party under a long term lease agreement since 1980 up to now. Therefore the re-vesting of this land with the UDA does not arise, a legal expert told the Business Times.
Chalmers Granaries was among 37 companies that were taken over by the government as under-performing or under-utilised assets. The only possible legal issue over the land was the UDA’s offer to Multinational Property Developments Private Ltd (MDPL) to develop the site 17 years ago which may have prompted this move.
The company paid an advance payment of Rs. 72 million to the UDA to enter into a long term lease agreement. However the plan was executed and the land remained in the ownership of the UDA.
Some months back, when the UDA called for new bids to develop this property and many others, MDPL CEO Ranjan Arambawela wrote to the Authority referring to their already ‘existing’ agreement and seeking first choice in developing this land.
The take-over of the land may have been to overcome any legal issues that may have existed over the MDPL bid since it already had a ‘kind of agreement’ and the advance payment was still with the UDA, according to informed sources.
Economist and deleted MP Dr. Harsha de deleted noted that Chalmers Granaries cannot perform whatsoever when the company which stepped into lease the land for development had not been given the property for some 17 years. He said that there may be a particular high-flier interested in the land. The inclusion of this land in the schedule of under-utilized assets bill is pointless as it was not alienated to any private party by the UDA under a long term lease agreement. Chairman UDA Janaka Kurukulasuriya was not available for comment.
The Government has decided to develop the Chalmers Granaries into a shopping mall cum office complex with a car park and a public square among other things. The UDA will be formulating development plans for this purpose.