COLOMBO: Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R.Sampanthan has described the Maithripala Sirisena government’s decision to ‘RETURN’ 1055 acres of land to the Tamil farmers of Sampur in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, as a “very big achievement” of the struggle to get back lands seized during the war.
On Saturday, President Sirisena and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga ceremonially handed over land deeds to 25 of the 1272 families displaced from Sampur in 2006, at the start of Eelam War IV.
“The refugees’ ten year struggle would not have borne fruit if the result of the January 8 Presidential election and the August 17 parliamentary elections were different,” commented Kumarasamy Nakesvaran, President of the Sampur Displaced Persons’ Welfare Association. .
“Between the two elections, government officials were wary of returning the lands because they feared that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa might come back to power as Prime Minister and reverse the Sirisena government’s policy, Nakesvaran told Express.
The government is committed to returning, in phases, 818 acres occupied by civilian agencies and 237 acres held by the Lankan navy. So far, 285 families have returned.
However, the returnees are worried about the environmental impact of the 500 MW Indian built coal fired power plant to come up in Sampur. “This is an agricultural area with 30 to 40 irrigation tanks. A coal-based power plant will spoil the atmosphere. We have requested India to shift it and provide us facilities for agricultural, small scale industrial and tourism development. Foul Point could be developed as a tourist resort,” Nakesvaran said.
But TNA leader Sampanthan was more cautious. “Some bilateral agreements on Sampur have already been signed. At present we need to concentrate on agricultural development, housing and employment. We could take up other problems as we go along,” he said.
Indian officials said a detailed environmental impact study is being done. At any rate, locating the plant at Sampur was not India’s idea but Rajapaksa’s, who wanted to turn the strategically located Sampur into a Centrally-administered industrial area. India’s choice was China Bay, next to Trincomalee harbor, but Rajapaksa forced it to agree to Sampur.