The Sunday Leader

Action Plan To Uplift Living Standards And Livelihood – D. M. Swaminathan

By Camelia Nathaniel

Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs D. M. Swaminathan says that his ministry in its action plan for this year has identified 14 areas in the North and East to uplift the living standards and livelihood of those who were affected by the war. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Minister Swaminathan said that 9000 new houses will be constructed for the IDP’s and returnee refugees in the North and East at a unit cost of Rs. 800,000. Further he said the 2400 partially damaged houses will be renovated for the  IDP’s and returnee refugees in the North at a cost of Rs. 200,000 per unit and 143 semi permanent houses will also be built at a unit cost of Rs. 163,300 in the Jaffna District. For the returnees whose lands are occupied by the military, alternative lands will be provided with infrastructure facilities under the relocation program with the consent of the IDP’s and returnee refugees.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

Q:  Seven years since the end of the war how do you see the transformation in the country especially the North?

A:  I believe we have come far in terms of development, reconciliation and resettlement. The lives have returned to normalcy after the war. Development projects are being carried out and the lands occupied by the military are being released. So overall I believe the transformation has been a positive journey. However there is still much to be done because of the returning refugees and the IDPs. Most of the people have lost their houses and livelihoods because of the war. So for the IDPs to be economically independent we as the government have to keep supporting them until they are fully integrated to the society with the ability to stand up on their own. The other area of concern is providing housing facilities to these people as most have lost their original houses and at the moment they live in temporary houses which are not habitable. This has to be addressed urgently because as I see a permanent habitable house is very important and it should come before everything else. In order to start a stable life one has to live in a permanent place where you can call home. We have started the 65000 housing project to address this issue and other projects are also included in our action plan for 2016 to develop infrastructure, education and other areas. So systematically we will see more positive transformations in the North once these projects are completed.


Q:  How far has the demining progressed?

A:  One hundred and thirty one square kilometres have been demined up to now from 2002 and another 54 square kilometres remain as hazardous areas. So for this we have allocated 20 million rupees and foreign assistance is also rendered for the demining activities. However our strategic plan is to make Sri Lanka free of landmines by 2020.


Q:  How many are still displaced and have not been resettled?

A:  As of the figures recorded in 2016 February 14,159 families are yet to be resettled.


Q:  Why is the resettlement taking so long?

A:  Due to the process of the release of lands which cannot be done overnight, the resettlement of the IDPs cannot be done as quickly as we want it to be done. The lands are released in stages. Also even if the lands are released these people do not even have proper shelters to live in. So the housing issue is also in the forefront of this delay in resettlement. That is why as I mentioned earlier the 65000 housing project was initiated so that these people can be provided with permanent houses in a short period of time. Due to demining also some of the lands cannot be released. So accelerating the demining process and the resettlement process is one of the priorities. But since the Cabinet papers have been approved for the projects that will be implemented in the North for these people to have housing, sanitation, infrastructure as well as proper livelihoods we are confident that the ministry will be able to resettle the remaining IDPs very soon.


Q:  Currently what are the challenges facing the North?

A:  Since the lives of these people have been subjected to many tragedies, they are still healing and since most of the families have lost their breadwinners the lack of job opportunities have affected them. They should be economically strengthened so that they can lead their day to day lives without being dependant. They need to be given that dignity to earn a living through their own skills because they have either been in IDP camps or without proper jobs for a long time. The individuals who come from rehabilitation also find it difficult to market their products which they learn how to make while in rehabilitation. So I have instructed the rehabilitation commissioner also to initiate a programme so that even after rehabilitation they are educated about how to market their products or how to tap the job market with the skills learnt by them. From the ministry’s part we have implemented livelihood assistance programmes for the IDPs which they can claim at the time of resettling. I think the generation of income is essential. Through the Palmyra Research institute and the North Sea limited which are institutions that come under the ministry we have implemented a programme to provide job opportunities and a mode of income. Currently we are looking at upgrading the machinery in these institutions so that the people can earn a higher income.  I believe more than anything else, developing the economy and housing in the North are essential. More than political debates what they need is to be economically secure. In addition we have to focus on the threatened villages as well which are towards the North Central province. The LLRC recommendations also state that border villages need to be looked after and through our action plan we have allocated 475 million rupees for the development of houses and infrastructure in these villages. Developing the infrastructure facilities is also important at the moment. It is not sufficient that the roads are carpeted and hotels are coming up, the infrastructure facilities needed for the common man like jetties, passenger boats, agro wells and tube wells have to be provided for them. Currently we have implemented 14 projects and have allocated over 14050 million rupees to develop these facilities.


Q:  With victory celebrations being planned in the South, will the government impose any restrictions on commemoration ceremonies planned for the North?

A:  The government will not impose any restrictions as long as it is well with the law. If they carry on with some activity that violates the present constitution the government will take action against it. This position has also been explained by the Defence Secretary. As long as it does not contravene the law and it is some activity such as religious observations the government will not impose any restrictions.


Q: There is talk that the threat of the LTTE still remains. Do you agree?

A:  I do not agree with that position. This is a myth brought by the Opposition to discredit the government. There is no LTTE threat and the Prime Minister has also reiterated this position.


Q: What is the current situation with regard to the releasing of lands?

A: From 2015 onwards 2,183.50 acres of private land have been released by the security forces in the North and East. So we have settled over 1700 families in these lands. Due to the housing and infrastructure issues we are yet to resettle about 1063 families but that will also be done soon. To release the remaining portions of land discussions are ongoing and it has to be done systematically. The lands are being released in stages and we are also in touch with the Defence Secretary regarding this matter. Like I said this cannot be done overnight. The President set up a committee which is comprised of the Prime Minister and me to look into the land issues. So we are positive that all these lands will be returned soon to the civilians.


Q: Is there a special plan under the current government in resettling and assisting the war widows?

A: There is no special plan as such. But I believe the women’s affairs ministry is dealing with this issue. Also from our part we give top priority for the war widows in every project that provides housing, infrastructure and livelihood assistance.


Q: The housing project that your ministry initiated has come under criticism from several parties. Why?

A:  Housing remains one of the pressing issues because these people either live in shelters or temporary houses which are not habitable. Over 90,000 applications have been forwarded to the district secretaries and divisional secretaries to obtain houses. According to our estimates about hundred and thirty thousand houses (130,000) are needed for the North and East. This shows how urgently this issue has to be addressed. Certain parties and individuals continue to criticise the housing programme initiated by the ministry but the issue remains the same. Mere criticisms will not bring houses for these people. The ‘talk only’ policy will not change the plight of the people in the North and East. Even if our efforts are criticised we are committed to improve the living conditions of these people since we do not have any ulterior motive or agenda. I invite these criticising parties to visit the North and see these houses for themselves. We are open for criticisms if they are constructive but criticising for the sake of it will not help the Northern and eastern people.


1 Comment for “Action Plan To Uplift Living Standards And Livelihood – D. M. Swaminathan”

  1. bandito

    “I invite these criticising parties to visit the North and see these houses for themselves. We are open for criticisms if they are constructive but criticising for the sake of it will not help the Northern and eastern people.”

    you are the new kid in town. We have seen premadasa housing and seen housing in Asia and the west.
    What you proposed is available at the pyrenees beaches. They can never be permanent homes but just another tent while camping.

    Those homes of Mittal are not fit for Northern Lanka Culture.
    Go read a parallel to the Bard a Cervantes `Don Quixote de La Mancha.` the man who tried to change the world and how he got hammered at every turn- it is true.
    Lankans are more western than Indians so they refuse to budge from how they like to live.
    Don Quixote The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (Spanish: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha), is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered one of the most influential works of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature and one of the earliest canonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library collection that cites Don Quixote as authors’ choice for the “best literary work ever written”.[2]

    The story follows the adventures of a hidalgo named Mr. Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story. Throughout the novel, Cervantes uses such literary techniques as realism, metatheatre, and intertextuality. It had a major influence on the literary community, as evidenced by direct references in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844), Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), as well as the word “quixotic”. Arthur Schopenhauer cited Don Quixote as one of the four greatest novels ever written, along with Tristram Shandy, La Nouvelle Héloïse and Wilhelm Meister.[3]
    Summary:Cervantes said the first chapters were taken from “The Archive of La Mancha”, and the rest were translated from Arabic by the Moorish author Cide Hamete Benengeli. This metafictional trick appears to be designed to give a greater credibility to the text, by implying that Don Quixote is a real character and that the story truly occurred several decades back.

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