Kandy violence: Are losses being grossly underestimated? | Sunday Observer

Kandy violence: Are losses being grossly underestimated?

24 June, 2018

" If these steps are not taken, there is not likely to be recognition by the State, of the costs. Nor is there a platform to promote accountability, reforms of institutions, and the enabling of citizens’ engagement with the State. In its absence such reform mob violence shall recur as at present, extremism that leads to violence has a viable business model in Sri Lanka "

In March 2018, mob violence visited pockets in an East-West arc5-20 km North of Kandy – our habitat. The state is obligated to ensure the safety of its citizens - but it failed to provide the necessary security in March 2018. Despite warnings of impending violence and assurances by senior officials, the Police were bystanders at critical junctures. At a minimum, the state is obligated to restore the property, health and well-being of the affected. And it must do so urgently. After 100 days, there is cause for alarm in this regard.

The victims have been assured by the Prime Minister, visiting Ministers, the Army Commander, and officials, of a full and quick restitution. The Prime Minister urged that the rehabilitation be completed in 4 months. The Army Commander assured that all the buildings shall be rebuilt by the Army as the President will release funds. However, after the initial debris clearance, the army has withdrawn, and no substantial progress made as regards restitution.

In mid-March, an initial compensation amount was paid –Rs 100,000 for a destroyed business and Rs 50,000 for a destroyed house. In all, about Rs. 10 million has been disbursed. Usually, these small amounts are only helpful for the worst affected, for getting through the days while being displaced, for cleaning debris, or going from office to office in search of redress.

Since early March, officials have been assessing losses and have made the victims understand that their assessment shall form the basis of rehabilitation and restoration by the State. Below, we describe the available assessments and compare it with that undertaken by civil society.

Damage assessments by the State

At the local level, each Divisional Secretariat (DS)was tasked with estimating the damages. The map shows the 20 DS in Kandy. The DS officers have visited the affected sites and summoned the affected, multiple times. They have identified 622 victims of the violence, to be compensated. By May 1 they were able to assess properties of about 440 of those affected including 224 houses of the affected 301, 119 businesses of the affected 221, of 78 vehicles and 19 of the 22 religious places.These assessments were stymied in several cases as the displaced do not have the documentary evidence that the officials feel they need, to accept a claim.

The DS division with the largest number of damaged buildings and vehicles were Kundasale, Yatinuwara and Pujapitiya. The DS division with the largest loss estimates were Kundasale, Akurana, Pujapitiya and Medamahanuwara.

Damage Assessment by the Disaster Management Authorities

After tabulations at the DS level, the information was forwarded to the District Disaster Management officials who compiled the reports and forwarded it to the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation. In the case of the 21 mosques and 1 temple they communicated the assessment to the Ministries of Muslim Religious Affairs and Buddha Sasana, respectively.

By May 1, their aggregate estimate of loss for these 440 cases was Rs. 28 million. Anyone who has taken a look at a few pictures of the damage, and has any idea of construction costs will know that these estimates are ridiculous. This value may go up as some of the more difficult assessments are for the larger losses. However, the assessments so far are too low to reach up to any reasonable figure.

After the initial release of information on May 1, State officials have been unwilling to release updates even at aggregate scales. In addition, even the victims are not provided with the State’s estimate of the losses to their own properties. The victims are not in a position to complain as they need to approach these local officials for multiple requirements.

Damage Assessments by Civil Society

There has been a community effort to put together assessments of damages so as to facilitate disbursing private donations to take care of the most urgent needs until the state delivers. The assessments were done by volunteers and civil society groups. They compiled the estimates through interviews, site visits, expert inputs and peer review. As there is a common pool of limited funds to be disbursed there are also checks and balances to the process. The total estimate that this effort has come up with is a billion rupees. Thus the State has underestimated by at least 50 fold.


Given the lack of transparency, the State apparatus has under-estimated the losses by 50 fold. The gross under-estimates of damages will lead to profound losses for the affected with long-term impacts of alienation and bitterness, a lack of deterrence against future mob violence by the State and accomplishment of the goals of the mob leaders which shall encourage them and other future enterprises. The delays and reasons for under-estimates have to be rectified. Officials have not been transparent –concealing information or erecting barriers to avoid criticism should not be viable in the long-term. The reasons adduced for under assessment -such as low previous assessments for taxes or insurance, need to be countered. The abiding principle has to be the restoration of the property of the victims. Some assessments are delayed and lowered because many have lost ID cards, property deeds and other records. As done by civil society, other methods have to be found. In any case, the State owes these victims much more in reparation than just compensation for documentable property damage. Empathetic officials, fluent in Tamil have to be brought in – the addition to female officials fluent in Tamil shall help most female victims.

Many of the affected need assistance in dealing with officials and support through psycho-social counselling

There should be an ombudsman to advocate for the victims. The current alternative of intervening through politicians is problematic. The citizenry, civil society and the media should push for transparency quick rectifications of inadequate assessments to publicize the obvious shortcomings in the processes for expediting reconstruction. Given their ability to bulldoze red-tape, and to get around the shortcomings of officialdom including in assessments, the Army’s willingness to rebuild should be supported.

The larger lessons and long term social impacts have to be documented. The promised Presidential Commission of three retired judges is essential. The National Police Commission must release reports from itself and the Police.

The Human Rights Commission must release its report. A fuller accounting of the societal, commercial, livelihood and national damage in economic terms is needed.

If these steps are not taken, there is not likely to be recognition by the State, of the costs.

Nor is there a platform to promote accountability, reforms of institutions, and the enabling of citizens’ engagement with the State. In its absence such reform mob violence shall recur as at present, extremism that leads to violence has a viable business model in Sri Lanka.

[Acknowledgements: Moulavi S. Fazal, Rev. R.Abeysinghe, J. Vishvanathan M. Wazeer, Naja Yahiya, Irfan Cader, M. Raza, M. Ramzy, R. Zacky, M. Randiwela, Prof. S. Hasbullah, S. M. Razick, and Dr. F. Haniffa helped. We shall continue this work and solicit inputs to [email protected]]