By Mirudhula Thambiah
Vanni District Parliamentarian Charles Nirmalanathan commenting on the recent caste issues in the Northern Province said that during the period of the LTTE they did not allow any sort of caste related problems to affect the communities in the North and East. They were 100 per cent against it. The LTTE Leader vehemently opposed such caste dominance.
“I will also not accept such caste dominance. Therefore, it should be immediately addressed,” he said.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
? Why did you condemn the Mullaitivu District Secretariat in a series of issues in the region, especially in the ongoing deforestation?
A: Deforestation first began in Kulamurippu in the Mullaitivu District. According to the Forest Department statistics, around 300 acres of forest lands have been destroyed in the Mullaitivu region.
In the initial stages when we agitated against the deforestation activities, Mullaitivu District Secretary Rupavathy Ketheeswaran released a statement claiming that she was unaware about the issue.
However, these 300 acres are within 7 kilometres from the Mullaitivu District Secretariat. The District Secretary has not taken any legal action in this regard even today. At the last Mullaitivu District Coordinating Committee meeting held early this month, I questioned the District Secretary regarding the action she had taken against the deforestation activities taking place in the Mullaitivu District. I also questioned her to why has she distributed houses to those who already own houses in Mullaitivu.
These questions were posed at the District Secretary; however, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen opted to reply. He said there are limitations for the District Secretary to take action regarding certain issues.
Therefore, it is quite transparent that the Mullaitivu District Secretary is partial in the deforestation issue as she refrained from taking legal action against the culprits.
Mullaitivu District fishermen have faced various difficulties in their livelihood due to the intrusion of fishermen from the South over a long period.
These fishermen are involved in illegal fishing activities. They also follow fishing activities, which have been already banned. The Fisheries Department in Mullaitivu does not take any action in this regard but have given permission for these fishermen to carry out their activities in Kokkilai and Kokkuthoduvai.
As you know the District Secretary has the power to implement the law within a district. Under the Mahaweli Scheme Project around four acres of land was given to each 136 families in Kokkilai and Karunattukerni.
In the post war period even after the resettlement process, the Mullaitivu District Secretary did not take any action to resettle the owners of these houses under the Mahaweli Project. The Land Commissioner had given permission to resettle the same owners in the same area in May 2016 as given by the Mahaweli Project Scheme, but the District Secretary has failed to take any action in obtaining the land deeds for these owners.
But the District Secretary had written to the Forest Department and the Ministry of Resettlement regarding the resettlement issues of the Muslims in the Mullaitivu Region.
Accordingly the Ministry of Resettlement had allocated Rs 40 million to clear the forest area to resettle the Muslims. There is no one against the resettlement of Muslims in the said areas as they have already lived in the same area during the war.
If the District Secretary had taken swift actions to resettle the Muslims, why couldn’t she take necessary steps to fight for the welfare of the Kokkuthoduvai fishermen and the resettlement issue in the Mahaweli Scheme?
At the same time there is no proper information about the Muslims coming from Puttalam. They may have obtained their own houses and lands in Mannar. The same people cannot be given land and houses in Mullaitivu too.
Therefore, there are confusions in such activities, which should be taken into consideration.
?So do you say that deforestation is taking place to resettle the Muslims in Mullaitivu?
A: It is unnecessary to destroy forests to resettle Muslims. A minister is politically influencing the Muslims in Puttalam to safeguard and strengthen his vote bank. There are several allegations against this minister in regard to the deforestation activities in Mullaitivu. So far the District Secretary, Forest Department and Police had refrained from taking legal action against this deforestation.
At the same time if an ordinary person is to cut a tree in his garden that matter will be notified to Grama Sevaka and even Police action will follow. Around 300 acres of forest lands have been destroyed in Mullaitivu and none of the departments are ready to question the activity or file legal action. As I said initially when we questioned about this activity from the District Secretary she said she was unaware.
? Why do you think issue of fishermen in Kokkilai and Kokkuthoduvai in Mullaitivu was not addressed properly by the authorities?
A: The authorities have failed to take action because the affected are Tamil fishermen. Southern fishermen are politically influenced by politicians and ministers. Fishermen, mostly from Negombo and Puttalam come to Mullaitivu for fishing but the Department of Fisheries or the District Secretary has not taken any action to solve the problem.
?What‘s your view on the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Bill banning bottom trawling in Lankan waters?
A: Even today there are local fishermen who follow illegal fishing methods destroying our resources. They must be given awareness on this regard to do away with the malpractices. However, we are quite satisfied that this Bill will control the illegal poaching of Indian trawlers in our waters.
? Do you think this will cause a misunderstanding between the Tamil Nadu fishermen and the Northern fishermen?
A: We cannot consider this matter especially about the relationship. There is no confusion in the relationship between both fishermen, they are treated as fraternal. They have helped us in many ways during the war period.
Tamil Nadu fishermen have supported our struggle, they have even protested. However, we cannot accept their malpractices since it has destroyed our resources. It has continuously affected our fishermen in a long period. We cannot allow our livelihood to be affected. Therefore, these fishermen will eventually understand our problems faced by their illegal activities in our waters.
? It is learnt that caste related issues have yet again surfaced in the Northern Province. As you know there is an ongoing cemetery issue in Puthur based on caste difference. However, the authorities have failed to act solve this issue. What is your understanding?
A: I did not hear any such issues. But if there are any sorts of caste issues taking place in North, it should be immediately stopped. During the period of the LTTE, they did not allow any caste related problems to affect the communities in the North and East. They were 100 per cent against it. The LTTE Leader vehemently opposed such caste dominance. I will also not accept such dominance. Therefore, it should be immediately addressed.
? There are rumours from various representatives that there will not be a North-East merger in the constitutional reforms. Is that true? The TNA had continuously stressed on a merger for a long time. Do you think the people will accept a non merger?
A: We have to first wait for the interim report to see the developments. We have made our suggestions to the steering committee. The TNA had for a long period insisted on the North-East merger. Why should we worry about this issue before the result is out? We must wait and watch. But this does not mean we will step out from our policies.
? As you know there are various opinions prevailing among the TNA constituent parties with regard to an alternative leadership.EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandran recently added that Northern Chief Minister Wigneswaran should take up the leadership, while PLOTE Leader Siddarthan said that an alternative leadership will be advantageous to chauvinism. What is your stand?
A: Our Leader Sampanthan is involved in various attempts to somehow obtain a suitable political solution for the ethnic issue.
These attempts are quite transparent in the constitutional steering committee.
Only when the interim report of the constitutional reforms is out, we will be able to understand how much the TNA has reached for the betterment of the Tamil people. Therefore, there is no necessity for an alternative leadership.
We should only think of maximum power sharing through constitutional reforms. Let Premachandran express his own opinions, we have a different stand.