Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cinnamon Gardens

You might be wondering why on earth I was looking for the number of the UDA office in Matara.

Well, here's a story that I was partly told and partly followed up.

Once upon a time there was a biut of land named Galabodawatta in the Hikkaduwa Division, in the Southern province. This land was owned by the Land Reclamation Authority. So it was Government land. But then it was given to Namunukula Plantations and they began to grow cinnamon and coconut there.

By 2005 it was a thriving plantation which employed 15 full time employees and also provided employment to some 85 people in the village who would cut the cinnamon and pluck the coconuts and do the processing of the goods. Also, the villagers depended on the plantation for coconut leaves for their thatched roof houses and would never had to buy coconut for food because they could walk to the plantation and pick one up. They never stole and the security guards at the plantation never had a problem.

The estate is 242 acres and 100 acres of this barren land which is not used for anything.

So then the Tsunami happens and the Government begins to look for land to resettle people.

The Galle District Tsunami Disaster Management Committee takes this land back from the Namunukula Plantations and sets about preparing it for housing. By last week they had uprooted 500 fertile coconut trees and cleared 52 acres of prime cinnamon plantation. They did this will bulldozers so the people of the village could do nothing. In February the Prime Minister himself laid the foundation stones for this scheme.

And what is surprising is that they did not touch the 100 acres of unused land. Some people say this is politically motivated because the village is known to be a UNP stronghold. But I think it's more bureaucratic stupidity than political motives.

So, now because of the Government's plans there are a 100 starving families in Galabodawatta who have lost their income. They have not been given any compensation because they were not direct employees of the estate. They were informal day wage labourers and it was easy and legal to say 'fuck off' when they asked for help.

The big man in the area who was responsible for acquiring land is Minister Piyasena Gamage. He's actually the Minister of Skills Development, Vocational and Technical Education, which has nothing to do with the story, but he's also the Chairman of the Galle District Tsunami Disaster Management Committee.

When I spoke to him this morning (getting his mobile phone number was a bitch, but easier than getting the UDA number) he claimed the land was not fertile and there was nothing growing on it and that it was OK to build houses there. He also did not hesitate to remind me that all us buggers in the media had been shouting for housing for the displaced people.

But the estate manager Daya Nimalasiri does not agree with the Minister. Nimalasiri's an experienced planter says the estate was very productive and now they have lost everything. He said about 5 million rupees worth of cinnamon plants had been razed to the ground already.

Ain't that a mindfuck?

If anyone in the mainstream media wants to follow up this story please send me and email and I'll send you all the contact numbers.

Well coming to think of it, its not very surprising is it. This is Sri Lanka after all ;) :)

Wonder when the 'rata' will start going 'perata'
Yes sadly this is the case in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan government's are either corrupt, stupid or both.
Politicians are just focussed on power and money.
They do not care about the people or long term benefits of the people.
The JVP in particula is espousing policies that will create even more poverty but poeple believe them because they are more articulate than the more pragmatic parties.
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