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Vijayakala’s statement: Can Government prevent another revolt in the North?

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 2 August 2018 00:00


Member of Parliament Vijayakala Maheswaran’s speech at a public meeting in Jaffna caused an uproar in the Parliament, forcing the Deputy Minister to resign from her post. The speech was made in Tamil, and no proper translation of the speech is available in public media. The locally banned website ‘Lanka e News’ presented an English translation. Had those MPs who caused an uproar in Parliament read a translation of the speech? 

The Speaker has requested a proper translation of the Deputy Minister’s statement and informed the Attorney General to investigate whether State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran’s statement violated the Constitution.

The speech

I managed to get access to ‘Lanka e News’, dated 4 July, with the English translation of the speech made by Deputy Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran at Veerasingham Hall, Jaffna on 2 July in the presence of Ministers Vajira Abeywardena and John Seneviratne.

Following is an excerpt from the speech from Lanka e News. 

“I wish to tell the two Ministers who are here that we are most hurt over the dismal situation prevailing here with no aid being provided. The sufferings of a woman can be understood only by another woman and not by a man. A six-year-old girl was raped and killed. Our girls who are receiving no support from anyone have only one choice – to commit suicide. What are we to do? Is it for this a president was appointed by us after so much toil? The situation is so bad that our children cannot go to school and return home safely. All of you know how our people lived before 19 May 2009. When comparing with today’s situation, it seems the LTTE should be revived. If our children and women are to come home safely, a LTTE administration is again necessary. What this Government has done for the last three years is only returning the lands which were acquired. We thank the Government for that, but beyond that the Government has done nothing.

The claim that the Government carried out development activities in the North is a lie.

But what has the Government done to those who became widows due to the war? Nothing has been done to the youths who completed their university studies. There are 30,000 widows in the North and 12,000 LTTE cadres in the rehabilitation camps. What is the Government doing for them? 

Today, the drug scourge is on the rise in Jaffna. After the war was over, the political leaders are transporting drugs to Jaffna. That is why drug addiction has shot up in Jaffna. The war was confined to the North and East only. Hence a separate special development program should evolve for these two provinces. What has happened now is that special development programs are being implemented for other provinces, but not for the North and East.” 

End of quote.

She also mentions how a number of Cabinet papers presented by her were rejected.

Vijayakala’s concerns

The Deputy Minister’s speech directed towards the two Ministers raised issues concerning 

1. Hardships faced by Tamil people in the North after the war 

2. The breakdown of law and order and poor public security

3. Survival difficulties of 30,000 war-widows

 4. Continuing to hold 12,000 LTTE cadres in rehabilitation camps |

5. Non-availability of employment facilities to youth who have completed university studies. 

6. The rise of the drug scourge in Jaffna 

7. The need for special development programs for the North and East 

Hardships of the Tamil people

The long war resulted in most Northerners’ houses getting demolished, lands taken over by the LTTE, and subsequently taken over by the Army. All these make living difficult. The war resulted in 30,000 widows, forced to fight to survive and look after their children.

The Government is handing over the lands taken over by the Army. But how about the lands taken over by the LTTE and distributed to their supporters? Has the Government made an attempt to record complaints of those who lost their lands? Alternate housing for those demolished is extremely slow, even after 8 years.

Safety of children and the drug menace

The Deputy Minister was concerned about the safety of the children and the increasingly prominently drug menace, which was absent under LTTE rule. A common problem in the South, but does it mean that the North will also be affected? Most of the Kerala ganja enters the county through fisher-folk in the North. Vijayakala considers politicians are involved, an accusation she has repeated for a long time.

Survival of war-widows

The war has resulted in 30,000 widows. Southern politicians claim families earning below Rs. 25,000 per month can be considered below the poverty line and are entitled to Samurdhi benefits. The Government plans to award Samurdhi benefits to another 150,000 families before the year-end (or before the next elections). Does the Government propose Samurdhi benefits to widows in the North? 

LTTE cadres in rehabilitation camps

Vijayakala referred to 12,000 former LTTE members in rehabilitation camps not mentioned in media. If her statement is true, it shows the public indifference and slow progress of rehabilitation. Does the Army consider the 12,000 ex-hard-core LTTE members beyond rehabilitation?

Employing educated youth

Graduate unemployment is a country-wide problem. However, graduates in the North are few. The Eastern Province’s attempt to offer employment to graduates was stopped by the Central Government. The education in Tamil, due to Sinhala/Tamil medium policy, has restricted education quality for Sinhala and Tamil students. Tamil students are more concerned about studying English, but the facility may only be available near cities.

Providing information to the Army

In a related incident, Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, at an event held in Kilinochchi, requested all State officials in the Northern Province not to provide information to the army without seeking his advice. 

The Chief Minister said people in the North had been inconvenienced due to the three forms of administration by the Central Government, Provincial Council and also by the Governor. “That is why we request for federal governance. We request for self-governance for the nine provinces.” Do the Chief Minister’s remarks and Vijayakala’s statement make a big difference? 

Authority of police for maintenance of peace 

Maintenance of peace is the responsibility of the police, but it is well known that the Chief Minister had been obstructing police authority, insisting the police be brought under the Provincial Councils. 

Lack of development in the North

Vijayakala’s biggest concern was the absence of a development effort in Northern and Eastern provinces. However, a large number of special development programs are being implemented for other provinces. Vijayakala also claims a number of Cabinet papers submitted by her were rejected by the Cabinet.

Pathetic situation in the North

The 30-year war devastated the northerners’ housing, agriculture and infrastructure. After the war, the Government emphasised on road development, which northerners claim was for the army. The only large project undertaken in the North is the ADB-funded Drinking Water Project in Jaffna. But people of the Kilinochchi District protested as the project would utilise water from the Iranamadu tank, which already has insufficient stored water for the local cultivation needs. 

During and after the war, affluent northerners left the country or moved to Colombo, reducing possible investments in the North that could have provided jobs for the needy. In addition, ancient local law prohibits lands being transferred to those of the ‘lowest caste’. Considering the fact that most of those who joined the LTTE were low-caste, former members and war widows are landless. Though the Army-occupied lands were released, whether a reasonable portion was given to the landless is unknown. Considering most Government officials are from the higher castes, such acts would be most unlikely. 

Shortage of water in the North

The NP receives around 1250mm of rain a year whereas NCP, East and NWP receive over 1800mm. Thus, NP is the most in need of water in the country. Traditionally, northerners are hard-working farmers, and used to draw water manually with an ‘Andiya’, which was later replaced with mechanical pumps. Excessive extraction has depleted groundwater, effecting salt-water moving in and resulting in large extents of lands becoming unsuitable for cultivation. 

The Vavuniya and Kilinochchi districts with poor rainfall have few minor rivers which carry water only during the rainy season. Two districts have plenty of flatlands which, if water was made available, would become agriculturally productive and produce grains, fruits and vegetables. Currently, after rains in November and December, northern vegetables enter southern markets, bringing prices down. 

Development of tanks in the North

The Government’s decision to reconstruct abandoned tanks in the Vavuniya District, with Army assistance was opposed by the NP’s Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and other Tamil MPs. When the subject was discussed at the Vavuniya District Development Committee meeting, MPs wished to use the Rural Development Committees instead. But, Sinhala members objected to using RDCs, which could result in delays and commissions. They claimed the Army would complete work early at a lower cost. 

Thousand Tanks – Thousand Villages development

Recently, the President launched the “Thousand Tanks - Thousands Villages” program under the Ministry of Agriculture to develop 1000 under-utilised village tanks in the NCP. The Minister of Agriculture, participating at the launch, informed that the President has allocated Rs. 9 billion for the initial development of 370 tanks.

Lion Breweries experiment

Meanwhile, W. A. Wijewardana’s article in DailyFT highlighted the ‘Divulwewa experiment’ by Lion Breweries - a paddy cultivation experiment carried out by Lion Breweries with 3,500 farmer families in Divulwewa in the NCP. The Company CEO, Suresh Shah, explained the 5-year experiment: “We got the selected farmers and educated them on the process of cultivating paddy properly. They were given knowledge of the correct preparation of land, seeding, planting, water, fertiliser and pest management, and finally, how to harvest, thresh and offer paddy to the market. This new system of management, without involving high technology or capital investment, helped farmers to get an average about 160 bushels per acre. Their previous yield was just 85 bushels. Some farmers even reached 200 bushels per acre. They managed these average yield levels continuously for five years.”

Lion Breweries wished to canvass the method to other areas of paddy farming. But, the attempt to communicate with the top Government authorities was unsuccessful. The Company had to give up its experiment and withdraw from the project - possibly because beer is considered a ‘sin industry’, Shah says.

Government’s policy on development

Even after 8 years since the end of the war, the Government has failed to address the issues that led to the revolt of the masses. Tamil-based education restricted education opportunities. In the South, private institutions offer a wide range of education possibilities, both locally and abroad, a facility unavailable in the North. In the South, Sinhala-educated youth revolt, cases of abductions and rape are common. Southern politicians neglect the need to curtail the trend.

The Government spends billions on massive projects in the South, but the majority have failed to bring desired results. In the North and the East, large investments are absent. 

The North’s biggest problem is water as their rainfall is lowest in the country. 

The NCP has an abundance of irrigation schemes from the past, but farmers still clamour for more water. During the planning of Mahaveli in 1977, World Bank engineers pointed out that Sri Lankan paddy farmers use the highest quantity of water for cultivation and emphasised the need to reduce it. Politicians do not encourage reduction, which is easily achievable with machinery usage, but yield to protesting and shouting farmers.

PM’s proposals for the North 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, addressing a meeting in the North, informed that the Palali Airport would be developed with the Indian Government, a yacht service for tourists to visit the islands would be introduced, and a road from Mannar to Trincomalee via Poonarin would be constructed. Apparently, the PM is completely unaware of the most crucial issue in the North, the water shortage for farming.

Water to the North

The Mahaveli Master Plan of 1958 proposed 3 projects - the Polgolla Diversion, the Victoria – Minipe Diversion, and the Moragahakanda Multi-purpose Reservoir, to provide irrigation facilities to the North and North Central Provinces. 

The Moragahakanda Dam is already complete, and Kalu-Ganga is almost ready. The original Moragahakanda scheme meant to transfer water from the Amban Ganga along a concrete-lined NCP canal to satisfy the requirement of farmers north of Medawachchiya, all the way to the Iranamadu Tank. But, the original proposal was modified during the Rajapaksa Government in 2010. Under the modified proposals, the NCP canal (now Upper Elahera canal) will reach Yakalla, will trifurcate to 1. NCP canal receiving 640,000,000m3; 2. Huruluwewa on Yan Oya receiving 128,000,000 m3; 3. Manankattiya reservoir receiving 159,000,000 m3, feeding existing irrigation and water supply schemes.

The NCP canal commencing with 640,000,000m3 of water in the final stretch will follow natural drainage channels, but will deliver only 100000,000m3 per annum to Iranamadu Tank, only by 2032. Majority of NCP canal water would be diverted to irrigate existing tanks in NCP. 

Knowledge of politicians

Apparently, the President and the Prime Minister seem to be unaware of modifications made to the Moragahakanda water distribution system. When the Moragahakanda project was suspended due to communal problems in 1963, the agreement among the politicians was “In the final negotiations to end the war, Moragahakanda waters will be offered to northerners as a gift from the South”. But, when Rajapaksa won the war, it became “water from the South should not be given to the North”, hence the modification.

During 2007-2010, President Maithripala Sirisena was the Minister for Mahaweli Development and started Moragahakanda. The progress was slow, but he had ample time to study the history and details of the project. Ranil Wickramasinghe commenced his political career in 1977, when Mahaweli was the most important project, and had 40 years to study the project.

Similar ignorance was shown over the Kandy Expressway project. In 2012, a MOU was signed with Cabinet approval for the construction of the Kandy Expressway under Build, Own, Transfer basis with two Chinese companies. But in 2013, then President Rajapaksa directed the expressway to commence from Enderamulla to Kandy through Kurunegala and Galagedara. Under the revised route, the distance to Kandy became 120km, whereas under the previous proposal, Kandy was only 98.9km away. With the change, the Chinese contractor backed out. The current Government moved the commencement back to Kadawatha. The current cost of the Kandy Expressway runs over hundreds of billions of rupees. If the Chinese were allowed to continue, it would have been completed by now without such a cost to the country. In addition, every vehicle would consume an additional two litres of petrol one-way.

Unfortunately, our politicians’ views on major public projects, with their poor English and technical knowledge, are scanty to say the least. Every Minister has plenty of staff, some with the responsibility of examining newspapers and bringing relevant news items to the attention of the Minister. But, Sinhala newspapers hardly produce any critical articles on projects. Our President and PM waste valuable time attending minor public functions that could be represented by lower politicians. Meetings with hundreds of staff will not raise concerns on a project. But, a discussion with a few selected individuals can educate the Minister on all aspects of the project. 

The President, having taken over the Mahaweli Ministry again, should have been aware of the modifications made to his pet project. He was more concerned with issuing Moragahakanda waters to Polonnaruwa farmers who receive nearly 2000mm of rain annually with the most comprehensive ancient irrigation network. Polonnaruwa farmers need to be directed to cultivate on time and save water. 

Solving the problem

Vijayakala highlighted the pathetic situation of the poor northerners, mostly farmers, whose poverty is a result of water shortage. But, Vijayakala, like most politicians, was not aware that northerners’ livelihood could be improved with water from Moragahakanda. 

To achieve fair play, water distribution at Yakalla to existing tanks of Anuradhapura should be restricted, and issuing waters from the NCP canal to the Horowpatana tanks must be controlled, which would allow sufficient water to reach the northern districts. In addition, irrigation water needs to be pumped to the Jaffna peninsula. 

The Upper Elahera Canal was expected to be completed by 2014. After the redesign of the canal system, if contracts are awarded by 2020, construction can be completed as water reaches Yakalla. The construction of the NCP canal is not as complicated as the UEC as the route does not cross wildlife reserves. Japan, who conducted the initial planning of Moragahakanda, would be willing to fund and carry out the final design and construction.

When the contracts are awarded, northerners would become aware that water would be available on a definite date and prepare for the same. They could cultivate vegetables, grains (excluding rice), and fruits for the southern markets, and southerners would enjoy plenty of reasonably priced foodstuff. 

Most importantly, when northerners get used to water from the South, they would enjoy a higher living standard and be aware that goodwill with the South is essential and would not demand separatism anymore. 

Northern politicians are only concerned with getting a federal administrative system. They are not concerned about the suffering poor. There was a lot of truth in Vijayakala’s statement and the delivery of a sufficient quantity of Moragahakanda water to northern farmers is the only solution to address northerners’ poverty. Otherwise, frustrated northerners would continue to create another revolt in the North.


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