PHDT marks two decades in estate sector welfare work

Tuesday, 25 September 2012 00:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By D.C. Ranatunga

Gnanavalli grew up in the Eskdale Division of Park Estate near Ragalla. Her parents were employees of the estate. She read her first letters at the Child Development Centre (CDC) in the estate. With the grounding she got there, she continued her studies until she got admitted to the Eastern University and passed out as an arts graduate. “I still have fond memories of the days at the CDC,” she says.

She is just one of many hundreds of children of estate employees who have gone far in life. The CDC she refers to is the centre set up by the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) functioning under the Ministry of Livestock and Community Development. Earlier the working mothers had to leave their children at home with the older relatives or with untrained staff at the child care centres. Today the children are looked after by trained staff. The centres are well equipped and well maintained. They are clean and tidy.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, PHDT can look back with satisfaction that much has been achieved in improving the living standards of the estate employees. In the words of PHDT Chairman, H. Sandrasekera, veteran trade unionist, it functions as the foremost organisation whose fundamental precept is to enhance the quality of life of the workers in the plantations. “PHDT has made immense strides in giving a qualitative life for those in the plantation sector having as its basic tenet the concept of ‘Happy Family’.”

PHDT operates as a tripartite organisation consisting of the Government, Regional Plantation Companies and Trade Unions to coordinate and facilitate social welfare programmes in estates. It is the leading not-for-profit human development organisation implementing sustainable social development programmes to continuously improve the quality of life of the plantation community of nearly two million in the tae, rubber and coconut estates.

The plantation sector had undergone many changes over the past few decades. Land and related capital assets held by public companies in agriculture were nationalised through an Amendment to the Land Reforms Law in 1975. Nearly 62 per cent of the area under plantations was vested in public sector agencies with about 28 per cent leased to set up cooperative farms and about 10 per cent of land distributed among peasants in small allotments

Public companies including Agency Houses were eliminated from activities in the plantation sector. Ownership moved from the private sector to the public sector. The management and control of the estates were entrusted to the Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation (SLSPC), the Up Country Cooperative Estates Development Board (USAWASAMA) and the Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB) established in 1976.

A restructuring programme in 1992 saw the formation of 23 Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), the management of which was handed over to private companies on a profit sharing basis for a five-year period. In 1995, a major structural change took place when based on the powers vested in the Public Enterprise Reform Commission (PERC), shares in RPCs were sold to the private sector.

Formed under the Companies Act in 1992, PHDT has its head office in Colombo with a network of seven regional offices in the plantation areas of Badulla, Galle, Hatton, Kandy, Kegalle, Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya covering 430 estates.

PHDT has identified its core activities and is steadily progressing towards achieving its mission to improve integrated services beneficial to the plantation sector and its environs, as well as social, economic and spiritual wellbeing. Its core activities cover housing and infrastructure, water and sanitation, healthcare and nutrition, child development centres, training and development, and the Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Society (EWHCS) network.

“PHDT continues to break new ground in many areas of social development activities adopting multi disciplinary approaches,” says Director-General Ranjith Ellegala. He adds that these encompass mobilisation of the community through the Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Societies, capacity building, development of infrastructure and provision of basic healthcare and welfare facilities.

The cooperative society serves as the main Community Based Organisation (CBO) in the estate that uplifts the living conditions of the estate workers. They help to fulfil the housing needs of members and enable them to live a comfortable and healthy life as well as to develop the economic, social, cultural and welfare standards of the members.

Prior to the formation of the PHDT, the dwellings of plantation workers were very poorly built barely fit for human habitation. The appalling conditions resulted in health problems which had an impact on productivity. PHDT’s effort is to provide a healthy and dignified environment by building single unit houses complete with pipe bore water and sanitation facilities, and access roads. Each house consists of two bed rooms, living room, kitchen and detached toilet with a total floor area of 550sq.ft.The cost of a unit is Rs 440,000. So far PHDT has provided over 25,000 housing units.

In addition to housing units, a re-roofing of workers’ houses sees an upgrading of the living units. The Ministry and the Regional Plantation Companies provide the funds.

The workers are now able to access safe pipe borne water either within the community or at home. The safe water has improved their health by protecting them from waterborne diseases. An uninterrupted water supply is ensured by conserving rainwater for use during drought periods. Around 135,000 families have benefitted from these facilities.

While the estate population is served by a network of hospitals, dispensaries and maternal wards managed by qualified staff, the PHDT also facilitates programmes to improve the health of the mother and child by providing antenatal and postnatal care of the mother and the immunisation of the child. Educational programmes are arranged to raise awareness on nutrition, personal hygiene, breast feeding and infant feeding.

PHDT was recently awarded the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System Certification by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution. The award of this international standard recognised and accepted worldwide is a milestone in the history of the PHDT in its 20-year history.