Yet living amid poverty, devastation and social trauma after 30 years of war, the people of Vanni look with hope to the central government and provincial administration for industrial and commercial development to resume their progress to prosperity.
The writer visited some of the interior areas of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts to meet families for a first hand report on their present condition, their main requests and requirements and what they have to say about the 100- day program of the Unity Alliance Government .
All families, selected at random, welcomed the price reductions on food items, fuel and cement under the 100-day program of the Government and said that they were looking up to the government for more relief . Although a large number of families among those were interviewed have constructed houses partly under the housing assistance provided by the
government, they said that the amount to a ceiling of Rs.550,000, disbursed to them in installments, was inadequate to complete the houses. Without proper livelihood facilities and regular income they are unable to pay back the loan.
As a result they are traumatised. The authorities that disbursed the loans had not made arrangements for the monitoring of the construction process which was a major drawback, they complained.
They also said that they were anticipating the central government and the provincial administration to offers them livelihood assistance by starting industries, factories and other businesses, utilising the local resources and encouraging private and public sector investments.
Even after resettlement and provision of assistance for rehabilitation and housing , they have problems that preclude them from returning to normal life. A majority of the people are relatively poor with marginal incomes, with little or no savings.
The areas visited are some of the worst affected in Klinochchi and Mullaitivu districts. Most of the areas of the over 1237 Sq Km of the once bustling commercial, agricultural and fishing district of Kilinochchi were under the control of the LTTE during the conflict and nearly 40,000 families of about 300 villages remained trapped under their autocratic rule, with a skeletal police force of their own and judgments , mostly death sentences to ‘traitors’, delivered in their kangaroo courts.
Under their utopian Kilinochchi Eelam, they had also established a judicial system with courts, including a ‘Court of Appeal’ and a ‘Supreme Court’, a ‘bank’, a ‘peace secretariat’ and other infrastructure for civil administration with all government offices coming under their purview.
Kilinochchi was their de facto headquarters from 2002, the LTTE controlled everything and conscriptions from every family were common and were forced.
The Mullaitivu district with its nearly 2,516 Sq Km area , over 40,000 families of about 630 villages, large forest areas, including thick jungles and vast inland waterways was no different.
The district was the final hideout of the LTTE during the final stages of the war and it had been a main target of the military operations in the Northern theatre of the Eelam War. About 300,000 civilians were left alone in Mullivaikal, Pudukudiyiruppu and Nandikadal to face the LTTE on the one hand and the government forces on the other. The woes of the people and their untold hardships and miseries which started from the beginning of the conflict almost three decades ago, their life under the LTTE reign, their constant displacements, loss of their loved ones, loss of houses, properties and everything that they owned and their life in welfare centers are most traumatic and tragic history of the past.
While the families expressed their views, the Government Agent (GA) for Kilinochchi district Ms. Rubawathy Ketheeswaran explained to the Sunday Observer the priorities under the 100- day program of the government. She said that increasing payments to the Samurdhi beneficiaries, constructing 300 houses under the NHDA program, a Social Care center , the ‘Ariviyal Nagar’ industrial zone in Kilinochchi and imparting vocational training are priorities under the Government’s 100-day program.
After the resettlement of the displaced people over four years ago, the major issues her office was encountering were relating to land issues.
Many people have sold their ‘permit lands’ but they want it back. A good number of families have encroached into government reservation lands.
As of now there is a program for the renovation of the Iranamadu Tank with financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank while the program of feeding it through the Moragahakanda-Kaluganga Irrigation Project is also under implementation. The question of extending housing assistance to single member families, mostly widows, is also under consideration, the GA said.
Rural Development Society (RDS) of Narayanapillai, Velautham Chairman said that over 65,000 acres of paddy lands can be cultivated in the Yala and Maha seasons if irrigation facilities through the Iranaimadu Tank can be improved. The central government and the Northern Provincial Council (PC) should improve agricultural productivity in the district.
The PC should have more teeth to wok for such projects. The government should release the 800 war prisoners in detention and should disclose the facts relating to those who have disappeared. The people want lasting peace, communal harmony and livelihood facilities, Velautham said.
Extracts of the interviews with three of the 10 families of Selva Nagar in Kilinochchi, Kurakkankattu, Murasumottai, Paranthan and Division 2 in Pudukudiyiruppu as follows:
Sivapalan Jayakumari (51) of Selva Nagar, Kilinochchi: My husband
Sivapalan deserted me 15 years ago during the conflict and I am now living with my old-aged parents , two grown-up sons and two daughters.
One son went for overseas employment to Qatar and the other son is working in a video center in Jaffna. The entire 700 families in my village were displaced during the military operations and we were, consequently, housed in welfare centers in Zone 4 Manik Farm, Vavuniya for over one year. My house and all houses and over 100,000 cattle heads of the villagers were destroyed.
The housing assistance of Rs.325,000 paid to me was not sufficient to complete the house and I obtained loans to complete the house. The three-km sandy road to our village from the Kilinochchi bus terminal has not been graveled and it is difficult even for three-wheelers to ply on the road. Power supply has not been provided to our village so far in spite of repeated representations.
Subramaniam Sivakumar (44), three-wheeler driver , Puthukudiyiruppu, Mullaitivu : My parents were from the plantation area but I was born and bred in Mullaitivu. My wife and I were LTTE cadres for about two years. My right leg was amputated after injuries sustained due to artillery shelling and my wife also sustained injuries. Our two children are attending school.
I having rented a three-wheeler to eke out a living in spite of my physical impairment. My wife is unemployed. The Rs. 550,000 given as Indian housing assistance was not enough to complete my house and I had to obtain a loan of another Rs.450,000 to complete. I find even that amount is not enough to complete the house. With my limited income it is difficult to settle the loan.
We are still not free from police and CID inquiries although we returned to family life long ago and eking out a living with difficulties. We want communal amity, peace and mutual goodwill and we ardently believe that all these will become possible under the present government.
Amirthalingam Wijeyaletchumy (69), Housewife , Kurakkankattu, Murasumottai, Paranthan : We do agriculture. My husband has gone to work in the paddy fields.
Of the two unmarried sons one is a qualified civil engineer but due to the trauma during the conflict he is psychologically affected and is unable to utilise his full potential as an engineer. My other son also has similar problems.
We did paddy cultivation in 10 acres, 2 acres of which are our own, and had a good harvest. There is a good price for the paddy. We did not get the payment for repairing
damaged houses. We were affected during the fighting and my family was in the Veppankukulam welfare centre in Vavuniya for three years.
The other families interviewed also expressed similar views while relating the tragic losses of their nearest and dearest ones, houses and properties.
Traders and businessmen interviewed in Puthukudiyiruppu town said that that the town is now bustling with life and people are more cheerful.
Their businesses are improving, they said, adding that the situation will further improve if arrangements for providing livelihood facilities to people engaged in various trades such as carpentry, building construction , fishing and agriculture could be provided on a larger scale.