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Management lavish with top brass - plantation workers paid a pittance - State Minister Radhakrishnan

The Political leader of the Upcountry People's Front (UPF) Velusamy Radhakrishnan MP who is to take over as the State Minister of Education under the new government told the 'Sunday Observer' in an interview that he would carry out his responsibility with focus on the educationally-lagging plantation community whom he represents.

He also explained the reasons which prompted a large majority of the plantation community to vote for President Maithripala Sirisena at the January 8 Presidential poll and the requests his party had put forward to the government on behalf of them.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: A large majority of the plantation community voted for President Maithripala Sirisena at the January 8 presidential poll. What are the reasons do you attribute for the victory?

A: Many of the primary demands of the plantation people, specially individual houses and lands for them, were not fulfilled on a priority basis under the 10-year rule of the previous government.

In the run- up to the presidential poll, the incumbent administration unequivocally agreed to do away with the 200-year old Line Room System and replace them with decent individual houses for the plantation people and also to allot seven perches of land for each family.

While this was the main factor that prompted the plantation community to decide in favour of President Maithripala , there are also other reasons.

The sky rocketing cost of living and livelihood problems are the two other important reasons. They need about Rs.1200 per day to purchase their day-to-day basic consumer requirements, mainly food items such as rice, lentils, coconut and wheat flour. Their wages are not in keeping with the rising COL index.

The UPF took the decision prior to all other plantation TU-cum-political-parties to support the common candidate.

The leader of the Democratic People's Front (DPF) Mano Ganeshan was the only exception. We decided on seeking a change of administration taking into consideration the instances of HR violations, nepotism, family rule and the growing tendency towards totalitarianism.

The UPF also released a media release on this matter. We put forward many demands on behalf of the plantation people.

Aside from individual houses and seven perches of land, we had put forward as our demands the creation of new Pradeshiya Sabha divisions and Grama Niladhari divisions for the plantation workers, establishment of a university, establishment of industrial estates for creating more employment opportunities for the community and enhanced infrastructure for the plantation sector.

We also put forward as our demand the creation of a Plantation Community Development Authority.

Although the biennial Collective Agreement for wage increase to the plantation workers has been in existence, the workers are not getting an increase commensurate with the rising cost of living. So we would insist on the government's intervention at the appropriate stage.

Together with National Union of Workers' (NUW) leader P. Digambaram who has been appointed Minister of Estate Infrastructure Development and the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) General Secretary K. Velautham who is the State Minister of Plantation Industries, the UPF will lay the foundation during the period of the 100 day program for achieving our targeted goals for the socio-economic welfare of the community.

Q: As State Minister of Education what are your specific objectives towards the educational uplift of the plantation community?

A: I held the portfolio of Tamil Education when I was Minister of the Central Provincial Council and I know what exactly to be done for the educational uplift of the community.

There are many graduates in the plantations who are still unemployed.

We would think in terms of appointing them as graduate teachers for the plantation sector. More Tamil schools have to be started in the Sabaragamuwa, in Kalutara and in Badulla because there are no adequate number of Tamil schools.

Some of the schools in the plantation areas have to be upgraded as national schools.

Arrangements are underway to appoint about 3100 Teacher Assistants. To bring the plantation children on part with the children of the other communities, it is necessary to provide more laboratories to the plantation schools and also appoint teachers to teach Science and Maths. More computers have to be provided to the schools for imparting IT knowledge.

In the long run it would also become necessary to start special science colleges for them. Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed that these are important requirements for the educational uplift of the plantation community.

The plantation community very much deserves some special arrangements for their educational uplift in the context of the fact that educational facilities reached them only after 1977 although it reached all other communities as far back as 1948 because they were defranchized , were under the dominance of the foreign plantation managements with no access to proper schools and were denied many civic rights, including the right for education.

Q: Does the government have programs to ensure the sustainability and development of the plantation industry?

A: NUW leader P. Digambaram is now the Minister of Estate Infrastructure Development while UNP stalwart Lakshman Kiriella is the Minister of Plantation Industries. General Secretary of the pro-UNP Lanka Jathika Estate Workers' Workers Union (LJEWU) K.Velautham is the State Minister of Plantation Industries.

I am sure they are working on well-designed programs of the government for the long-term sustainability and development of the plantation industry. Improving the standard of living of the plantation workers by paying them wages commensurate with the rising cost of living and decent houses, in place of the line-rooms, will also contribute to the sustainability and development of the industry.

The plantation management companies which spend lavishly on their management staff should think in terms of the welfare of the workers.

They should properly utilise the government's subsidies for the development of the industry.

I think that handing over suitable proportions of the tea lands of all ailing estates to the respective workers and to the tea small holders for development will also help towards the long-term sustainability of the industry.

 

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