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Sunday, 25 October 2015

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Sluggish pace of land release in North and East...:

Displaced families still languish in welfare centres

Nearly five and a half years after the military defeat of the LTTE in the three-decade-long war on terrorism, everything is in place in the war-torn regions except for the sluggish pace of land release to the people from military occupation, for the resettlement process to be expedited.


President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister D.M.Swaminathan and Deputy Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran handing over land deeds to families at a function in Jaffna

In spite of repeated assurances given by the UNF Government on expeditious release of the lands to their owners to facilitate demilitarization in civilian areas and comprehensive resettlement of the displaced families, no remarkable progress has been made on the land release issue. This has resulted in the continued stay of 13,480 displaced families in welfare centres in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and also in homes of their relatives.

Progress

Nevertheless, much progress has been made in civil administration, the judiciary, infrastructure (including remarkable development of the road network), health, education, transport, agriculture, fisheries and other livelihood facilities. Also much progress has been achieved in rehabilitating and reconstructing government and private buildings that were damaged during the conflict period.

According to the Jaffna Government Agent (GA) N.Vethanayahan so far only 1663 acres of lands have been released to the people from military occupation in the Jaffna Northern province - 400 acres in Koppay DS division , 613 acres in the Tellipalai DS division ( both in the High Security Zone in Jaffna) and 650 acres in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.

To mark the inauguration of the land release in Jaffna , 2015 President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Minister D.M.Swaminathan and Deputy Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran distributed documents of 31 plots of land in Valalai and Vasavilan to the owners on March 23, 2015. This marked the first step in the release of a thousand acres of land for expediting the resettlement process. On October 5, 2015 , President Maithripala Sirisena handed over documents of 576 acres of lands in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu to the owners. The documents were distributed at Iranaimadu in Kilinochchi at a special function.

Military occupation


New access road in Vasavilan where private lands have been returned to the owners


Private land overgrown with dense vegetation being cleared

The thousands of acres of land under military occupation in the Northern province include 9000 acres in the Mullaitivu district and another 9000 acres in the Jaffna district, according to authoritative sources. About 10,000 acres of these lands are private lands, the sources said. It would be possible to resettle the entire population of displaced people if a minimum of 2000 acres could be released, the sources said adding that efforts are under way to secure the release of more lands in the near future. Of the astounding 257,000 internally displaced families in both the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the end of the conflict in May 2009,243,520 families have already been resettled in their original places of residence. Of the remaining 13,480 families still living in welfare centres and with relatives, 10,716 families are in Jaffna and 1,065 families are in Trincomalee.

In a landmark decision in May 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena revoked a BOI US $ 4 Billion industrial project agreement in Sampur, Trincomalee to retrieve the 880 acres of land earmarked for the project to resettle the 825 displaced families. The government initially allocated Rs.180 m for the resettlement of the families and the UNHCR together with other international orgasnisations also extended assistance for resettlement.

To mark the resettlement of the families in their own lands, the President distributed land deeds to 25 families in August this year. On that occasion, UN Resident Representative Subinay Nandy announced the allocation of US $ 4100 Ml for rehabilitation programs.

The UNHCR agreed to provide the resettling families, both in the North and the East, a temporary shelter in the form of a semi-permanent structure to the value of Rs.130,000 or US $ 1000. The government disburses to them a resettlement allowance of Rs.25,000 and another Rs.13,000 for clearing land , for food and other contingencies.

The slow pace of land return has kept the displaced people mired in poverty, according to studies. The lingering effects of the policies of the previous Rajapaksa administration which prioritised infrastructure development over genuine economic growth for the war-weary population compounded the plight of the people, according to study. The Ministry of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs is allocating huge amounts for expediting the resettlement process. The amount allocated in June 2015 for jungle clearing, tools, shelter, cooked meal and food packs is Rs.69.5 Ml, according to Ministry sources.

Rehabilitation, Resettlement

The first priority under the many programs of the Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Affairs Ministry is addressing the housing problem of the displaced and homeless families of the Northern region, ministry sources said.

Discussions are under way with the European Union (EU) for obtaining a 15-year soft loan for initially constructing 65,000 compact houses with wells, solar panels and other infrastructure on an accelerated pace, the sources said adding proposals on this are being submitted to President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Cabinet for approval, he said.

Discussions are also under way with a reputed international construction company on entrusting the housing construction project at a comparatively lower cost, he said. Cabinet approval has been granted for constructing 65,000 hoiuses for providing proper shelter to the resettled families, the sources said.

Thirty-two welfare centres for the displaced people are in operation in the Jaffna district - in Nallur, Sanilippay, Uduvil, Tellipalai, Koppay, Karaveddy and Point Pedro. The 42,201 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) housed in these camps are waiting resettlement in their own lands in Delft, Velanai, Kayts, Karainagar, Jaffna, Nallur, Sandilipay, Chankanai, Uduvil, Tellipalai, Kopay, Chavakachcheri, Karaveddy, Point Pedro and Marunthankerny. Rs.21 m has been allocated for repairs to be carried out in the welfare centres, according to Ministry sources. Rs.165 m has been allocated for renovation work to the welfare centres and for rehabilitation activities, the sources said.

Programs to start agricultural farms to provide livelihood assistance to the families being resettled is also on the cards, Ministry sources said. Several areas in Vavuniya and Kilinochchi, where the soil is fertile and suitable, have been earmarked with more similar lands to be identified in the near future, the sources said. Discussions on obtaining assistance and support for the projects are under way with the Thailand Ambassador.

Foreign Direct Investments and the visits of prospective investors are also anticipated, the sources said. Consolidating and updating the fisheries sector in an effort to provide livelihood to the displaced people belonging to the fisher community with foreign assistance will get the next priority under the programs of his Ministry, the sources said.

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