Minister D.M. Swaminathan says AGs Dept will file papers in the SC for resettlement of the displaced in their own lands:
When they resettle,the UNHCR has agreed to provide temporary shelter. The total amount that will be given to a family by the Government will be Rs.38,000. The Government has allocated Rs. 180 Million for the purpose
The decade-long issue of the eviction of 825 families from their traditional homes in Sampur and subsequent relocation in uninhabitable, make-shift shelters in impoverished conditions elsewhere, which sparked off persistent agitations locally has been resolved once and for all, Minister of Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu Religious Affairs, D.M.Swaminathan told the Sunday Observer in a brief interview.
President Maithripala Sirisena who had earlier revoked the BOI agreement with Sri Lanka Gateway Industries Ltd (SLGI) on allotment of Sampur land for an industrial complex, also reconfirmed the previous Cabinet decision on returning Sampur lands to the original owners, the Minister said.
When the Supreme Court (SC) case comes up for hearing on June 15 on the Fundamental Rights application filed by SLGI, the Attorney General’s Department will file documentation for resettlement of the people in their lands, he said. Minister Swaminathan also spoke on matters relating to rehabilitation and resettlement, return of tamil refugees and the present situation in the North.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: What is the latest situation on resettlement of the displaced people of Sampur in their original places of domicile ?
A: All provisions of the BOI agreement relating to the allotment of 880 acres of Sampur land to the Sri Lanka Gateway Industries Ltd. (SLGI) has been revoked by President Maithripala Sirisena paving the way for the resettlement of 825 displaced families. The earlier Cabinet decision on the matter too was reconfirmed by the President and Cabinet.
The President also signed the relevant Gazette Notification releasing the land in the Sampur area, which was earlier allocated to the Board of Investment, for resettlement activities.
When the Fundamental Rights case filed by the Company comes up for hearing before the SC on June 15, the Attorney General’s Department will file all the documentation and subsequently arrangements will be made for handing over the lands to the original owners with the concurrence of Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader, R.Sampanthan.
Q: Is there any possibility that some of the BOI projects will be started in part of the Sampur area ?
A: How can they start any of the projects when the lands in Sampur are to be returned to the original owners? No projects, BOI or otherwise, will be started in the area. But alternate lands may be allocated for the projects or alternate arrangements may be made, but it will be at the discretion of the BOI and the Government.
Q: Will rehabilitation and relief assistance be provided to families when they resettle?
A: When they resettle, the UNHCR has agreed to provide temporary shelter – a semi-permanent structure to the value of Rs.130,000 or US $ 1000. In addition the Government will give a resettlement allowance of Rs.25,000 and another Rs.13,000 for clearing land, for food and other contingencies. The total amount that will be given to a family by the Government will be Rs.38,000. The Government has allocated Rs. 180 Million for the purpose.
Q: How have the displaced people reacted to the President’s decision to return the lands to them and have any dissenting views been expressed over arrangements for resettlement?
A: As far as I am aware, the people are happy over the decision of the Government to return their lands to them. They are ready to clear the land and put up shelters as soon as official permission is given to them after June 15.
Q: As an initial step, under the Government’s 100-day program, an extent of about 1000 acres in the Valikamam North HSZ area has been returned to the people. What is the total extent of land under the occupation of the Government security forces in the North and what extent will be released to the people under the Government’s future programs ?
A: Of the lands in the possession of the Government security forces in the North and East, 9999 acres are private land and we are negotiating for the release of these lands, in whole or in part for resettlement of displaced families. They will be released gradually and phased out over a period. We are confident that a considerable extent of land will be released in the first instance with this request.
The entirety of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) presently housed in 32 welfare centres in Jaffna and in three centres in Trincomalee can be moved away from the camps and comfortably resettled if we can just get 2000 acres released in the Northern Province.
Q: The water contamination issue in Chunnakam and its environs has assumed alarming proportions of late. What are the steps that the Government is initiating to address the issue ?
A: The water contamination issue in Chunnakam does not come under the purview of my Ministry. However, I would like to say, the President has appointed a committee to look into ways and means of overcoming the problem. The problem was been there for many years, but now it has reached an optimum level. There are cases and counter-cases pending in the Courts on the issue. Whether or not the problem was caused due to seepage of oil over the years will be determined by the Courts. The only solution that the Government can think of for the present is to provide pipe-borne water.
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have expressed their willingness to provide funding. As a temporary measure, the Ministry of Water Supply is providing drinking water through bowsers to affected families. We are confident that matters would be sorted out soon.
Q: The gang-rape and murder of a school girl in Pungudutivu in Jaffna sparked off wide spread public protests and demonstrations in the entire Northern province and in some parts of the Eastern province. Do you think that they were instigated by certain persons or groups for political gain?
A: In my view public protests against such gruesome acts are not unlawful and not problematic. But damaging public property is certainly unlawful and those who perpetrated such acts deserve to be punished.
The incident that sparked off the protests is most horrendous and tragic.
The President recently visited the parents and relatives of the victim and sympathized with them. He also assured them that maximum punishment would be meted out to the culprits soon. But I do not know and cannot say whether or not these protests were induced for political expediency.
Q: Some of the total 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu returned to the country recently. Given the present conducive circumstances in the country, it is likely that more refugees will return in the coming months. What type of relief and rehabilitation assistance will the Government provide them for resettlement ?
A: There are 105,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in different camps and welfare centres throughout Tamil Nadu, according to our records. Some of them are also living with relatives or friends. From 2010 until now about 5000 families returned from Tamil Nadu and have been resettled in their own villages in the Northern province. Unlike under the previous regime, they now do not face harassment or days-long questioning. The Government welcomes those returning on their own free will. Due to living many years in Tamil Nadu, it is possible they are used to that lifestyle and many of them are disinclined to return.
All those families returning to their motherland are entitled to rehabilitation and relief assistance as any IDP.