COLOMBO: Housing remains a critical issue for Sri Lanka’s Indian Origin Tamil (IOT) plantation workers, though there has been some improvement in the last ten years due to the vigorous efforts of IOT political leaders and the liberalism of Lankan Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Maithripala Sirisena.
R.Yogarajan, MP and a leader of the IOT, told Express that in 1996, a Presidential Committee which surveyed 178,000 IOT estate families had found that only 1.7 percent owned their house and only 2 percent of the houses were in good condition. Nearly half were overcrowded. Sixty percent of the households were forced to share toilets. Half of them had no water sources within 100 meters.
However, by 2005, 23,000 new houses had been built. But a study done in 2011 found that there was a need for 194,044 houses, Yogarajan said. The latest estimated need is for 230,000 houses.
Since none of the families owned the land on which their houses stood, Yogarajan sought 10 perches (2714 sq ft) for each family. However, the present Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has given title deeds for seven perches per family to 1000 families. Government hopes to extend this facility to the other 200,000-odd landless families.
Additionally, government is to build houses for the workers, each house costing LKR 12 lakh. According to Estate Infrastructure Development Minister P.Digambaram, the government has already started laying the foundation for 326 houses in Koslanda which was hit by a landslide.
There is also Indian scheme to build 4,000 houses for the IOT estate workers. An Indian High Commission official said that each house will be getting a grant of INR 5 lakhs (equivalent to LKR 12 lakh). An Indian project consultant has been appointed to build 1,500 houses initially. The Lankan government will provide the land.
Earlier, IOT leader Yogarajan had suggested that the workers should at least partly finance construction using a bank loan and their Provident Fund savings. This would encourage the cultivation of a savings habit in a community not known for thrift, he reasoned. But Minister Digambaram said that the workers are too poor to go in for any kind of self-financing.