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Self sustaining villages
as a vehicle for reconstruction and
societal integration in Sri Lanka

from The Mahatma Gandhi Centre

The war displaced in the North

Three decades of militancy for dividing Sri Lanka and counter measures to hold it together as a single unit displaced thousands of people from their homesteads in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces to take refuge in temporary camps. With the recent mass exodus of people to escape for safety from the grips of LTTE, the humanitarian crisis intensified. After having overpowered militant threats against the civilian population, resettling the internally displaced people in their own places of origin has become the immediate single most challenge for the government of Sri Lanka. The pace of resettlement seems conditional to ensuring that the villages are landmine-free and provided with other basic facilities for people to return. Reconstruction is essentially being viewed as the layout of infrastructures, and therefore, it is subjected to bureaucratic macro level planning and project implementation. While all these do contribute to the rebuilding process, people who should be in the centre of everything meant to affect and restore their lives are not in the picture.

People displaced and living under tremendous hardships for many years should not suffer any longer, and given their frame of mind, returning to their villages and restarting their lives as quickly as possible will be their biggest post-war dividend. We at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre believe that entrusting the rebuilding of the villages to the respective inhabitants will restore their self confidence, and contribute to rehabilitation much faster. We also believe that direct involvement of people in reconstruction work according to priorities agreed by the people themselves will not only provide employment and kick start a viable economic activity but also will ensure higher value for investment and eliminate waste and corruption. Thus, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre is advocating formation of structured village administrative councils or gramarajyas as people centered development and empowerment mechanism for societal reformation in this country and, in particular, to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Northern region which has become the immediate interest of the government and the donor community.

Gramarajya, an immediate option:- Formation of Gramarajyas will contribute towards a peaceful and equitable society in which every citizen (in the Gramarajya & therefore the country) is assured of a space and right to attain life goals individually and collectively. Specifically the Gramarajya mode of organization and administration is aimed at:-

* Encouraging the people to take charge of the development plans for the village and implementation of such plans

* Social transformation through self-reliance and accrual of immediate societal benefits

* Greater inter-village interactions and social cohesion for national harmony.

These objectives are in consonant with the long term vision of President Rajapakse for this country when he suggested to the All Party Conference that "…any solution needs as a matter of urgency allow people… in their own localities…take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment".

Benefits of Gramarajya:- Gramarajyas that provides space for individual and collective creativity and take pride in self achievements will set a new trend for societal cohesion and national harmony which may not be achieved by power sharing constitutional amendments. Formation of Gramarajya can be implemented very easily based on present geographic delineation and, this will be the simplest mechanism to reach out to the people while all discussions for constitutional (13th, 13th+ or 13th +++ etc) amendments can go on. Grama-Niladhari units on the ground can be identified using GPS imageries, and information gathered from the people awaiting in the IDP camps relating to identities and localities can be used for resettlement in the their respective units. This may help even to cluster people based on affinities of blood and other relationship in the camps, and initiate discussion on post-settlement reconstruction of the villages prior to their departure from the camps.

When people are made directly responsible for village reconstruction they tend to organize under interest-based activities – for instance- Heritage, Women, Youth, Food Production, Services that can contribute directly to development of their immediate localities. Electing and supporting functions of administrative councils (Gramarajya) are made mandatory for people of each village to formulate and implement development plans of the respective village. The administrative council (Gramarajya) is constituted by representatives – at least one for each sector- elected by the people forming groups to reflect their interests. The 924 Gramarajyas thus formed (in the Northern Province) may undertake the following (or similar) tasks as reconstruction priorities:-

* Bringing every piece of village arable land under appropriate use to match land capability for maximizing production efficiency and reducing reliance on chemical inputs. Food for Work (FFW) Programme is a well known method in post-war reconstruction, and initially land repair and rehabilitation can be the major FFW task undertaken by each Gramarajya.

* Generating a source of renewable energy to replace fossil energy for varying use, from cooking fuel to fueling farm operations. A 5-10ha fast growing tree species like Giricidia blocks of Renewable Energy Banks (REB), can be strategically positioned as a dedicated energy source for each village

* Narrowing down the rural-urban disparity by improving connectivity for sharing knowledge and providing access to all service entitlements (banking, payment of bills, health care etc).

Even in areas where electricity is unavailable, solar powered Mobile phone and Internet connectivity can be encouraged. This will facilitate people to learn new entrepreneurship skills and rapidly restore normal life to fully utilize reconstructed infrastructures.

Establishing Gramarajya particularly in the war affected Northern Province will be the quickest way to restore normalcy as it will lead to:-

* Functioning administrative village council elected by the people

* Engagement of everyone in constructive and remunerative work

* Better use and accountability of resources under the supervision of the beneficiaries in the village

* Respect for public goods and collective responsibility for progress and protection of the interest of the village.

Thus the success of Gramarajya can be measured by:-

* Declining dependency on handouts and engagement of everyone in some activity connected with reconstruction and rehabilitation

* Declining extents of fallow and uncultivated land in the village with increasing cropping and other forms of land use

* Increasing product outflows and inter village economic interactions

* Decreasing crime rates and increasing social cohesion

Support for Gramarajya:- Gramarajyas cannot be established unless there is interest and support from government. If Mahatma Gandhi Centre is to assist in setting up Gramarajya as a mechanism for reconstruction and rehabilitation it is assumed that:-

* There will not be bureaucratic hiccups in selection of the village(s) and interaction with the people awaiting resettlement and /or have been recently resettle in their original villages after being internally displaced

* Government advisory and extension services will be available to support village self efforts

* The government will recognize and respect peoples development priorities and collective decisions

It is estimated supporting one gramarajya will cost between Rs 2.5 Million to Rs 3 Million per year to carry out the following activities. The Funds will directly go the Gramarajyas and most of it is to be devoted to development targets as identified below:-

Budget Items

Diagnostic Phase (once)

* Village Identification

* People’s Consultation

* Commitment for self reliance

Constituting Gramarajya (Once)

* Group(s) consultations & selection

* Village development plans

Implementation of development Projects

* Home Gardens

* Waste Management

* Renewable energy

* Public Awareness and Information

Monitoring and advice

* Enumerators and resource persons

* Self evaluation

End Note:- The President and his team deserve the plaudits for their new mission to take this country to another level of development at par with other developed nations. This confidence is highest at this moment, as the President also took a bold step to reassure people that there are no minorities in this country. It can however evaporate rapidly if the economic recovery anticipated by ending the war and military expenditure is held back by our inability to reach agreements on power sharing and other benefits to satisfy all political parties. What the country immediately needs is the resettlement of the war affected people, and reigniting a new hope in them that the country and its leadership care for all. Constituting Gramarajya will help to restore confidence that people are in direct control of their destinies, and that will the biggest prize for all the patriots who sacrificed their lives to save this country from breaking up.

The Mahatma Gandhi Centre,

22/17, Kalyani Road, Colombo-6

Tel: +2501825; email:gandhicentre.lk@gmail.com

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