The first case filed by a citizen against the Information Commission of Sri Lanka in a court of law is currently pending in the Court of Appeal.
The case was filed by S.M. Manoj, a journalist from Polonnaruwa.
At the end of 2016, the previous government had decided to hand over 60,750 acres of land on the south bank of the Maduru Oya, bordering Thoppigala West, which had been at war for 30 years, to a foreign company with the aim of making the country self-sufficient with sugar.
A Writ petition to the court of appeal
Discussions have been on the rise to secure the way of living of 2000 families engaged in chena cultivation and 400 families who made their living by dairy farming due to the work by the then government and the present government in implementing that development process, and against the environmental impact on 22000 families on the left bank of Maduru Oya, as it has been proposed to draw water to facilitate this project from Maduru Oya.
Therefore, journalist S.M. Manoj, a resident of Polonnaruwa, has requested information from the Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority, the project proponent of this project, under the Information Act. However, an appeal has been lodged with the designated officer and later with the Information Commission for not providing the information properly. The commission has ordered that information be provided after the appeal.
However, the Mahaweli Authority had not released the information following the order.
The petition filed by S.M. Manoj mentions 11 respondents including the Chairman and members of the Information Commission, the Attorney General, and the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka.
The petitioner alleges that the previous government had taken a Cabinet decision to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient with sugar. Accordingly, the petitioner states that he has received information that 60,750 acres of land bordering Polonnaruwa, Ampara and Batticaloa districts have been transferred to a foreign company for sugarcane cultivation.
“No justice ensured by the Mahaweli and the Commission”
The petitioner points out that although he requested the Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority under the Right to Information Act to provide information on the lands transferred, the relevant authority refused to provide information regarding that. He has appealed to the Information Commission against this and although the Commission has ordered that the appeal be heard and information provided, the Mahaweli Authority has not followed the Commission’s orders.
Therefore, the petitioner has requested the Court of Appeal to issue a writ order to the Information Commission to provide all the information requested by him and to enforce the law against the Mahaweli Authority which has failed to provide information.
Has already provided what asked for – Commission
The Information Commission, one of the respondents in the petition which was heard in the Court of Appeal on February 19, had informed the Court of Appeal that the information requested by the appellant had already been provided to him.
Can’t be satisfied – Petitioner
The Court of Appeal accepted the petitioner’s dissatisfaction and issued a notice to the other respondent, the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, to appear before the Court of Appeal. The case is set to heard again on May 18. Attorneys at law Nuwan Bopage, Lalith Gunaratne, Manoj Priyankara and Chathura Wettasinghe are appearing for the petitioner.
Another court case in Batticaloa
A case has been filed in the Batticaloa High Court seeking the rights of the dairy farmers who are losing their pastures, based on the information obtained by Mr. S.M. Manoj on behalf of the dairy farmers in Chenkaladi Divisional Secretariat, one of the four Divisional Secretariat Divisions inhabited by the people affected by the Maduruoya South Bank Development Sugarcane Project which is being carried out without even providing information under the Information Act. Hearing of that case was commenced on 5th March.
Investigations from the HRCSL
Based on the information revealed by Mr. Manoj, a complaint has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka regarding the rights of chena farmers in this area. It is also currently being heard in the Human Rights Commission.
Commission should fulfill its responsibility – S.M. Manoj
When we inquired about this from Mr. S.M. Manoj, he said,
“The Information Act is one of the greatest privileges enjoyed by the citizens of our country. A greatest right. Because all other laws are made to suit the needs of the rulers.
Citizens are now interested in using the Information Act to obtain the information they need. However, some public authorities are not yet ready to provide information. They are trying to maintain their authority. Due to this, state institutions are not taking action to provide information to the people as required.
If government agencies avoid providing information in this manner, the Information Commission should assist the public in obtaining information. It is their responsibility to formulate a program, including directing public authorities to provide information to the public. The Information Commission is legally bound for that. If a citizen goes before the commission for not being able to obtain information, it will be investigated for more than a year.
Then people will get tired of the right to information. The Information Commission is in Colombo. If a citizen from areas such as Jaffna, Polonnaruwa and Hambantota travels to Colombo, spending a long time for Information Commission hearings, he will have to bear an unbearable expense and get fed up with the process. Therefore, I went to court seeking an order to strengthen the right to information.”
A spokesman for the commission said that people from far-flung areas could join the commission in appeals through video technology. A spokesman for the Commission stated that the hearing of appeals is being delayed due to the large number of appeals coming to the Commission and that they will be duly examined and relevant orders will be issued and no citizen will be treated unfairly.