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Multinational, local firms get forest land for agri-projects

Multinationals and local companies are to be given state lands for mega agriculture projects with tax concessions thrown in under a controversial deal involving forest lands, which unlike forest reserves, are not protected.

The government is planning to hand over thousands of acres of forest lands to five multinational companies after abolishing the circular No. 5/2001, limiting arbitrary allocation of ‘other’ (unreserved) forest lands, environmentalists and local communities say.

According to the circular, any allocation of forest lands for development activities requires the approval of a special review board which has not been followed since the circular is invalid.

Official sources said arrangements are underway to amend the various land acts and ordinances to legally clear two million acres of forest land under the cover of granting one acre each of freehold title to around 1.2 million villagers, most of them farmers.

The balance 800,000 acres of forest land has been identified for mega modern agri- production projects of multinational and local companies, the sources revealed, adding that this segment has drawn opposition.

Meanwhile a national agricultural plan is to be devised soon with the aim of expediting agricultural modernisation as far as technically feasible industrial modes in food crop production, a top Agriculture Ministry official told the Business Times.

Agricultural products and processing will be provided concessions up to a maximum of 10 years under the Strategic Development Law.

Under the budget proposals 2021, individuals and companies engaged in farming, including agriculture, will be exempted from taxes for the next five years.

Investments exceeding USD 10 million in the areas of agricultural products, and processing will be provided with concessions up to a maximum of 10 years under the Strategic Development Law

The approval of the Cabinet of Ministers has already been given to amend the Land Development Ordinance to change the methods of preparing a new grant and revising available conditions.

This new amendment will fulfill all the objectives of the State Lands (Special Provisions) Bill of the previous regime where all government lands which were leasehold interest are to be given as outright grants to the poor.

This bill was not passed in parliament as it had been rejected by various sections of the people and the then opposition during the previous regime.

But its contents including the setting up of a land bank with digital data of all lands are to be implemented under the new amendments to the Land Development Ordinance by the present regime.

A Land Data Infrastructure (LDI) and Land Information Service System (LISS) in Sri Lanka will be established through a South Korean grant of USD 60.33 million under a technical assistance programme.

“If implemented, the project will enable the Government to integrate the land parcel fabrics into LDI and LISS and enhance the ability to manage the city administration using land information service systems for 24 municipalities,” the official said.

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