Project to weaken Thonda’s hold on estates underway

Moves to transform line rooms to individual housing units


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government was in the process of implementing an unprecedented project meant to weaken the powerful Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) hold on plantation workers, Plantation Infrastructure Development Minister Palani Digambaram said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the Information Department, leader of the National Union of Workers (NUW) Digambaram said that the primary objective was to transform over 160,000 line rooms to individual housing units.

The NUW quit the SLFP-led UPFA in the run-up to the Jan.8 presidential poll to back Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature, whereas the CWC remained with the UPFA.

Ministry Secretary V. Sivagnanasothy said that each housing unit comprising two bedrooms would be built on a seven-perch block of land.

The owners would be given title deeds to housing units, each estimated to be worth Rs. 1.2 mn. "They’ll receive a bankable document, hence the privilege to use it for their benefit", the Ministry Secretary said.

Minister Digambaram alleged that CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman who had been previously in charge of the plantation portfolio was working overtime to undermine the on-going project. The MP said that the housing project was on track.

The NUW leader said that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had thrown their weight behind his initiative.

According to the Nuwara Eliya District MP, 378 houses would be handed over in the first stage, with 75 of the recipients being victims of Koslanda landslide victims.

His predecessor had pathetically failed to launch an Indian funded project to build 4,000 housing units for plantation workers, Minister Digambaram alleged.

Former minister Thondaman had shirked his responsibilities, Digambaram said, adding that they were coordinating the project with the Indian High Commission.

Appreciating the support extended by the government of India to improve the living standards of the community, the Minister emphasized that the recipients of all housing projects would be selected through a transparent process.

The Minister claimed that he had ended the appalling practice of giving preference to supporters of a particular political party or trade union.

He expressed confidence that once the 4000 unit Indian housing project achieved progress, Sri Lanka could secure further Indian assistance. The minister explained a proposal he made to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding construction of 20,000 housing units with Indian funding.

Ministry Secretary Sivagnanasothy said the main Indian project was making progress. According to him, funds would be released to repair 1,000 line rooms as a temporary measure to bring immediate relief. The official explained Indian support as well as an UNDP project meant to improve the living standards of the community.

Both Minister Digambaram and Sivagnanasothy said that there had never been a similar project implemented by a previous government. The ministry secretary listed a series of welfare projects under taken with the support of donors, including the World Bank.

Management of plantation companies, too, had backed the project, they said. Sivagnanasothy released the names of various plantation companies that had provided the required land for the project.

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