New body for hill country Tamils

It will be on the lines of the Southern Development Authority, which had a visible presence during the previous regime led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Borrowing from the concept of the Southern Development Authority, which had a visible presence during the previous regime led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the present government has decided to establish a similar body for the welfare of over one-million plantation community, which essentially comprises hill-country Tamils.

To be called the Hill Country New Villages Development Authority, the proposed organisation will have a “strong institutional mechanism.”  It will carry out the functions of planning and coordination.  A few days ago, the Cabinet gave its nod for getting a bill drafted in this regard.

Indirect jobs to 1.5 million people

As per an official estimate, nearly one million people are residing in the estates and the plantation sector, as a whole, provides direct and indirect employment to 1.5 million people. Around 40 per cent of the residents of the estates belong to the category of non workers.  The plantation sector — tea and rubber — contributes around 20 per cent of export earnings of Sri Lanka with $ 1,366 million in 2015.

At present, the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT), a body comprising representatives of the Sri Lanka government, regional plantation companies (RPC) and trade unions, is in place. Set up in 1992, the PHDT’s mandate is to implement social development programmes for the community.

Several handicaps 

However, it suffers from several handicaps such as limited scope and coverage, reliance on contributions of the RPCs and the absence of the role of coordination with other Ministries, departments and agencies. Its social security net is not applicable to workers’ family members, who do not form part of the workforce in the estates. Also, the Trust’s functions do not cover small private estates and those coming under the control of Janatha Estate Development Board and State Plantation Companies.

Early this year, the government adopted a five-year action plan of $690 million for the economic, social and educational development of the community and this has been called ambitious in certain quarters. As part of the action plan, the idea is to build 56,500 houses at an approximate investment of $575 million.  The proposed Authority has been conceived to ensure effective implementation of the action plan also, an official says.

‘No duplication of functions’

P. Muthulingam, a Kandy-based prominent face of the community and who was involved in the formulation of the proposal for the body, says there will be no duplication of functions between the PHDT and the new set up. The latter will enjoy greater powers.

K. Chandramathie, who runs Social Welfare Mandram, an organisation based in Hatton for the benefit of women in the plantation areas, emphasises that the Authority should address seriously issues and problems being faced by the women, an area which does not get much attention while designing and implementing schemes for the plantation areas.  Women representatives of the community should also be given senior positions in the new set-up, she adds.