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Batticaloa, the much developed region:

Paddy production increase from 2009

Eravur UC Chairman and SLFP organiser for Batticaloa, Seyed Alizahir Moulana, a veteran nationalist and patriotic Muslim leader represented the Batticaloa district in parliament on three consecutive terms from 1994. He played an important role during the height of terrorism by making the incumbent Deputy Minister of Resettlement Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna Amman to join the government, after his defection from the LTTE to become an active SLFP member promoting communal harmony in the strife-torn Eastern province.

Midway through his third parliamentary term he resigned as an MP and took up the diplomatic posting as Minister (Economics) in the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington and in the post-conflict era, after the total elimination of terrorism in May 2009, he coordinated with the World Bank, the IMF and other global monetary organisations in securing financial support for post-conflict rehabilitation of the country, especially the Northern and Eastern provinces.


Seyed Alizahir Moulana

In an interview with the 'Sunday Observer' he elaborated on the multifarious development activities of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Eastern province, what he, as Chairman of the Eravur UC has been able to achieve, and what he believes as 'unpatriotic attitudes' of Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe and the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during the period of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed on February 22, 2002.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: You resigned as a parliamentarian in 2004 and left for the USA to take up an important diplomatic position in the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington. On your return in 2010 in the post-conflict period, what changes in relation to rehabilitation and reconstruction, especially in the North and East, did you observe?

A: As a parliamentarian I often spoke in the parliament and outside about the deteriorating conditions in the North and East and the distress of the people but the Government did have its priorities because the situation was not conducive to undertake any development activities. But in 2010 when I returned to the country when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was, in the post-conflict era, running for a second term seeking the people's mandate for him to continue with his massive development programs for the country, especially for the North and East, I saw development virtually in all spheres and the country transforming at a rapid pace.

At that time I was Minister (Economics) at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, I was entrusted with dealings with the WB, IMF and other world monetary organisations on matters relating to Post-conflict development in Sri Lanka. The President had established contacts with local leaders at the grass roots level and with the local government authorities in the North and the East and was providing them the funds received from Washington for development activities in a concerted effort to empower the people of the strife-torn regions.

Marked headway was being made in providing infrastructure development, including road networks and electricity, proper health services, rehabilitation and reconstruction of tanks, anicuts and irrigation facilities , improving agricultural productivity, providing education to the children and livelihood to the farmers, fishermen and other communities. The Eastern province being an ideal tourist destination, improvements were also being made to the industry.

The Batticaloa district has now turned out to be a much developed region virtually in all aspects of development on par with many Southern regions, thanks to the multifarious development projects implemented under the 'Mahinda Chintana" Concept since 2009.

The district has recorded the highest yield per hectare in paddy cultivation and marked progress has been reached in providing livelihood facilities, including housing, electricity, drinking water and educational support services.

With agriculture and fisheries being the mainstay of a large majority of the district's population and the government's focus on transforming the district as a popular tourist destination, the district is fast transforming as an important hub of economic and livelihood activities. Paddy production in the Batticaloa district doubled from 580 mn. metric tonnes previously to 120,000 Ml metric tonnes in 2014. Earlier, the farmers were able to do cultivation only in one season whereas they can now cultivate in both during 'Maha' and 'Yala' seasons. While the national contribution of paddy was three percent previously, it had increased to eight percent in 2014. Paddy production and paddy lands under cultivation during both the 'Maha' and 'Yala' seasons had progressively increased since 2009.

The extent of paddy land in the 'Maha' season that was 50,807 ha in 2009 increased to 60,783 ha in 2013. In 2020 this is targeted to increase to 61,320 ha paddy land. The targeted production is 12,57,544 mt of paddy in the Maha season and 1,34,000 mt of paddy in the Yala season.

The fisheries sector has also seen much progress with access roads constructed to all coastal areas with enhanced facilities for them to market their harvests.

The contribution of the fisheries sector to the national economy that was previously three percent has now increased to nine percent. During the LTTE terror there were regions known as 'uncleared areas' and 'cleared areas' , the former remaining neglected in the development process. This situation has completed changed after 2009 with all areas being brought under the development programs. Poverty has been considerably reduced under the 'Samurdhi Poverty Alleviation Program' and the 'Divi Neguma' program.

The education sector has recorded marked improvements, with all 310 schools already rehabilitated/re-constructed, 14 vocational centres established and 115 schools are presently on improvement programs.

IT education programs have been introduced to 45 rural schools in the district and 22 schools have been brought under the 'Mahindodaya Schools Program'. The Eastern University now has almost all faculties and students belonging to all three communities are studying in it.

Health services to the people under the health sector are fully functional with the attendance of medical specialists, physicians, para medics, nurses and other medical staff in all hospitals - one teaching hospital, four base hospitals, two district hospitals, 15 divisional hospitals, 14 primary health-care units,one chest clinic and one psychiatric rehabilitation centre.

All hospitals get upgraded from time to time. Doctors belonging to all the three communities are now able to render their uninterrupted services to the people, unlike previously.

The Eastern province is a much sought after tourist destination and in Paseekudah alone there are 12 tourist hotels with 12,000 rooms. A good number of local youth have got employment opportunities with attractive remunerations. The Government has provided employment to all graduates as management assistants or as teachers. IT education in several trades is being provided to those who do not pass either the GCE(OL) or GCE(AL) so that they can be gainfully employed.

There is investor confidence and many local and foreign businessmen and companies are now investing on businesses and industries.

Q: You have associated with many Tamil leaders and prominent members of the Tamil diaspora. Sections of them have always been critical of the government and have taken recourse to anti-government propaganda in the countries of their domicile. Do you believe that this scenario will change for the better in the context of the vast development activities that are taking place in the North and East?

A: The government has implemented development programs in the North and East without any racial discriminations contributing to the socio-economic welfare of the people. But some people find reasons, correct or not, to criticise the government. Some of the members of the diaspora community who visited their villages or former places of residence have appreciated the development works and the peaceful atmosphere in which people live. They are happy about the present situation. Within the TNA also there are some pro-LTTE elements or radicals who create problems. They too should appreciate that the President has restored democracy, peace and a better standard of living. They should contribute productively instead of taking recourse to confrontational politics and finding reasons to criticise the government. They should work towards resolving problems amicably because as the saying goes 'There is way if there is a will'. The Government wants peaceful coexistence of all three communities in the country. In fact the President had invited representatives of the diaspora community to come for discussions on several important issues.

Q: You were instrumental in bringing the then LTTE renegade and present Deputy Minister of Resettlement Vinayagamoorthy Muraleedaran alias Karuna Amman into the government fold and you had occasions to meet with the LTTE hierarchy during a very tense period. Can you please explain the background and the reasons that made the CFA to fail and peace talks to stalemate?

A: I contested the parliamentary elections on a national party, the UNP, and won at a time when regionalism was at the peak and communal-based political parties were at the helm,. This would have been impossible for anybody else.

I was elected by the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils because I was promoting unity and communal harmony. I talked to leaders of all communities and also LTTE leaders in an effort to bridging the differences, reaching a negotiated settlement and restoring peace in the country.

Although the CFA between the Government and the LTTE was reached in February 2002, I think that it was the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe who contributed to its failure. Ranil Wickramasinghe whose party was defeated in the elections said that he had no interest in the CFA because he was no longer the Premier..

The LTTE hierarchy asked me to take Karuna Amman away because of their internal regional-based differences on conditions that he gets an amnesty.

LTTE political leader Thamil Selvan also told me that if Karuna Amman can be taken they could continue the peace talks.

I had to take Karuna Amman away in spite of all risks involved because, otherwise, the Karuna Amman faction and the Prabhakaran faction would have been at each others' throat and there would have been a major bloodbath.

I hold Ranil responsible for the deadlock in peace talks. When I brought Karuna Amman, I had to leave the country.

After serving in the Sri Lankan embassy in US, I came back and at present I am the Chairman of the Eravur UC. The President is sincerely committed towards developing the East and he is providing everything that we ask for towards development.

 

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