Sri Lankans can’t have their cake and eat it in a unitary state unless…


With a biased media reporting prevailing in Sri Lanka not all people were kept aware of what the battered people of Northeast province had suffered nor the magnitude of livelihood loss and destructed infrastructure by the protracted civil-war. Further the media over glorified the war victory of the previous regime after the war ended in 2009 and failed to inform the population on the lack of much needed real development activities in the combined Northeast province to assist reconciliation between communities. Instead during the six negative peace years to 2015, the previous rulers utilized the full strength of the security forces to wipe out from the war torn areas any debris left behind by their crushed enemy and systematically began liquidation of all heritage sites of the minorities to rub salt on their wounds. This misrule caused change of rulers in 2015 and in spite of three and have years of the new Unity Government, the power greedy previous regime members in parliament wanting to get back to power at any cost are using their biased media to report events negatively to put fear in the minds of the people, with the post war issues and the pre-war causes for the conflicts left unresolved; much to disillusionment of the battered people of now divided Northeast province.

Earlier lot was conveyed by the biased media that many nations by deceit and conspiratorial design perpetuated brutal and bloody civil-war on Sri Lanka a sovereign state to cause untold miseries on the people of this small island nation in the Indian Ocean. But the same media failed to acknowledge the bitter truth that all the conflicts that preceded the civil-war, were caused by decades of oppressive state acts that imparted much sufferings on the Tamil speaking minorities most of whom originated from the North and East Provinces considered by them as homeland; before the three decades old civil-war was brought to finish in 2009 with international interference, to push back the development of the nation by five decades. The events after 2009, caused another international interference in 2015 that brought in a Unity Government, made up of majority legislators from the same old pool of country’s corrupt politicians.

During the negative peace years between 2009 and 2015 under the former regime with full of nepotism and corrupt administration executed many heritage genocide projects in the war torn northeast province; while many mega white elephants projects were irregularly completed in the rest of the country.  These ventures drained heavily the assets of the state and did no good to the economy; but helped the corrupt previous regime to make more profit to earn a bad name internationally for the country. That prevented much needed foreign investments coming into the country, causing much destruction and international disrepute to the nation. To overcome this impasse, then rulers obtained more loans that left the country in heavy debts. Over the past three and half years, the Unity Government has struggled in a corrupt environment to settle the colossal debts taken by the previous regime and at the same time attempted with limited success to lessen the burden on the people caused by those many mega projects; initiated much needed reforms to put engine of growth back on track and begun addressing many thorny post war issues and the many decades old pre-war causes for the conflict that led to the bloody and cruel civil-war.

One such white elephant project of the previous regime was the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) in Hambantota district; where today the check-in counters are empty, car rental desks deserted and the only sign of life is a handful of staff idling around an information desk, who disperse when visitors arrives or departs in the only single daily flight from the airport, is kept alive by the profits made from the only international airport, Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, with the government looking for a suitable operator to handle the planned one million passengers each year. There are many more tales of other white elephant projects of last regime in the country. In the meantime after the war ended the military that should have been reduced by de-listing the excess military persons and all surplus lands held by them released back to the owners. Instead the same strength is still retained in the previous war regions. The regime utilized the military to assist the state to restrict free movement of civilians in and out of previous war zone, this screening process resulted in arrest of many for interrogation; since then there has been a search for missing persons by relatives of these persons made to disappear by the state.  Military also got involved in business activities in the war zone, depriving civilians in those areas re-start their closed down due to the war. Only few days back the army commander made public his plan, that a battalion of army occupying a long coastal stretch and some public properties close to the Jaffna Fort in the peninsula would move into Jaffna Fort; that the military has plans of converting this heritage site as its military base, under the pretext their moving in to this 40 acres site would enable them to release those said occupied properties in its vicinity back to the owners.

This is one of many post-war spiky issues prevailing within the authorities operating under the unitary state mechanism in the North and East provinces with no role in it for the two provincial councils. While the District Secretaries of all eight districts in the said two provinces have passed the pressure on to the various ministries in Colombo for they have been facing bottom-up and people-based pressure, particularly in the form of resolutions passed at various Divisional and District Development Coordination Committee meetings, demanding to get back the private and public lands that have been deliberately seized by various Departments and Authorities, who have delayed release citing various procedures and involvement of approving agencies to release the lands. These state authorities have not followed any proper procedure or approval processes when seizing the lands, nor have they consulted the concerned Provincial Councils. As land for projects were not released the District Secretaries had no choice but to return funds allocated back to the central government. Especially at a time when the neighbouring North Central Province, which borders with all the three districts of the Eastern province and two of the five districts in the Northern Province is undergoing a massive infrastructural development again with the Provincial Councils have no role to play, confirming the bitter truth that this Provincial Council system of devolution brought about in 1987 served nobody satisfactorily was probably the biggest white elephant ever produced by the State in seven decades of self-rule.

Earlier in the 1950s and 1960s Master Plan was developed to utilise the waters from the Mahaweli River basin to irrigate Dry Zone land in northern and eastern parts of the country in addition to generating electricity, six decades on the objectives have not been achieved. The original Mahaweli Development Project (MDP) was a 30-year plan divided into three phases and Polgolla Diversion as Phase 1 was constructed in the 1970s. Then in 1977, it was shortened from 30 years to 5 years with the Accelerated Mahaweli Project (AMP) and the Victoria-Minipe Diversion as the Phase 2 was completed in the 1980s. The Moragahakanda Project constitute the balance work as Phase 3 that includes the construction of the North Central Province Canal (NCPC) left out of the AMP and subsequently abandoned with the outbreak of the Civil War. Three decades later after the war was brought to finish the much needed abandoned final phase of the MDP was emphasised to address water shortages in the Northern Dry Zones and further on realising the scarcity of rain to provide as an additional benefit of a flood control system at rivers that flood causing heavy damages. Thus MDP was modified and the Unity Government launched to construct it in 2015; to feed about 1000 minor tanks a major part of which lies in the NCP covering ancient settlement areas north of Anuradhapura and sub project to address the plight of the farmers in most remote areas in the NCP schemes. The balance part will be transferred to serve new settlement areas in Northern Province and surplus water to the Kanagarayan Kulam Basin to meet the long-standing needs of Northern Province. For this purpose a 94km long Upper Elahera canal is now under construction, includes channelling 26km underground to be the longest water tunnel in Asia. This project when completed would be the second largest ever built in the country and would minimize the drought conditions prevailing in the North Central Province (NCP) and Northern Province (NP). On completion of the North Central Province Canal (NCP) would provide much needed water for the Iranamadu Water Supply Scheme, enabling the water problem of the farmers in Kilinochchi and via the Jaffna-Kilinochchi Water Supply scheme address the drinking water problems of urban and rural   population along southern part of the Jaffna peninsula.

Not well known to many Sri Lankans is the sad truth that the civil-war nearly halved the population to cause a negative growth in Jaffna peninsula, where no perennial rivers exist and relies heavily on ground water. The deteriorating quantity of groundwater got polluted further over the war period due to the absence of a sewerage system and seawater intrusion caused by indiscriminate limestone quarrying and damaged seawater exclusion bunds. Further unregulated water extraction for industrial, agricultural and domestic use after the war ended has caused acute water scarcity. The crisis made worse after the civil-war, when the groundwater extracted at the center of the peninsula in Chunnakam got polluted further by waste oil dumped into pits at the state run power generation plant seeping into the underground reservoirs. Sadly, no action has been taken to remove the pollutant, instead the authorities are providing families with potable water by bowsers. The authorities have developed a new plan to supply water to Jaffna peninsula by the Jaffna and Kilinochchi Water Supply and Sanitation Project, which involved drawing water from Iranamadu Tank and transferring via pipeline to the peninsula. The success of this new plan depends heavily on Iranaimadu Tank getting regularly fed by NCPCP.

The Unity Government has in an attempt to reduce impact of this anticipated fall, is planning to address urgent needs of these people that includes plans to construct much needed houses for the people in the North and East, with a road network programme in these two provinces is also expected to get underway soon. The expansion of the University of Jaffna faculties in Kilinochchi has been completed and plans to develop a domestic airport at Iranaimadu and Palai Airport, Kankesanthurai Harbour, Myliaddy fishing harbour, sugar factory in Ampara, National Paper Mill and Rice Mill in Batticaloa are all to be revived as part of infrastructure development drive on the development of agro irrigation, economic education and health sectors including and special emphasis to develop Eastern port city of Trincomalee as an agriculture and energy hub and completion of the construction of the North Central Province Canal (NCPC) to connect the Mahaweli basin to the Kanakarayan Aru in the Northern Province to uplift these regions and boost its economy. With no possibility of ever producing an Executive President under the present unitary state constitution, the ill-fated and now divided Northeast Province has already fallen behind other provinces in development relies heavily on the generosities of the central government and any optimistic would agree that before Mahaweli water fill Irranaimadu Tank lot more water would spill over to the Ocean.

The Unity Government in power on realising the popular figure of speech ‘one can’t have your cake and eat it too’ applies to all; accepting the well accepted truth that they as majority community dominated rulers can’t continue to ignore the rights of minorities with their unitary state policy. Therefore the Unity Government should before its term expires in 2020 get those lost rights of the minority communities reinstated in the proposed new constitution and get it passed in parliament to enable these maltreated people in the now divided North and East provinces to cohabit with others.