The proposed construction of 4,000 houses for Tamils engaged in the plantation sector in Sri Lanka may finally see light at the end of the tunnel, The Hindu newspaper reported.
Cleared by the Indian government nearly four years ago, this proposal, coming under the government’s $270-million housing programme, has remained a non-starter due to a host of factors.
The absence of deeds and assigning land to beneficiaries is the issue which requires to be resolved by the Sri Lankan government. The Indian authorities have been insisting on clear-cut documents in favour of the beneficiaries.
“The Prime Minister’s Office is closely pursuing the issue. We hope to have it sorted out in a couple of months,” says an official in the Sri Lankan government. The housing programme, envisaging the construction and renovation of 50,000 houses, is basically meant for the conflict-ravaged Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The Indian government gives Rs. 5.5 lakh (Sri Lankan rupee) as grant for building a house.
Over 35,000 houses have been completed out of the proposed 46,000. The Indian High Commission is hopeful of covering the rest in a few months.
Under the component meant for the plantation people, also called hill country Tamils, 3,000 houses would be in Nuwara Eliya and Hatton, both in the Central Province, and 1,000 houses in Badulla (Uva province).
Initially, 1,134 houses are to be taken up. A memorandum of understanding between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments was signed here in January 2012, covering a total of 6,000 houses including 4,000 for the hill country Tamils.
But, the main hitch in this region is that intended beneficiaries do not own land. They have been living on areas that are part of estates.
To address this issue, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had decided early this year to assign seven perches of land (equivalent to 1,925 sq ft) to each plantation family.
Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development Minister Palani Digambaram, one of the Members of Parliament elected from Nuwara Eliya, feels that as the Indian authorities should immediately go for the launch of the project. “It is only a matter of formality and time for the land deeds to be issued.”
Murugan Sivalingam, Tamil writer and former Deputy Chairman of the Central Provincial Council, wants the Indian government to ensure that sites, which are free of landslips, are chosen for the component.