Chelliah Kumarasuriar, as the Honourable Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in the latter part of 1970, as a cabinet Minister, led a delegation that brought to the notice of then Minister of Foreign and Internal Trade, that the farmers in the Jaffna peninsula for their livelihood planted red onions and chillies and urged him to stop the import of onions and dry chilies. The delegation brought to the notice of the minister that during the harvest season of onions, the CWE (Cooperative Wholesale Establishment), responsible for the import and supply of essential commodities, imported onions from India and other countries. The minister immediately ordered a ban on the import of onions and dry chillies. As result the price of onions shot up from Rs2.50 to Rs25 a pound and dry chillies from Rs10 to Rs100 a pound. This was one act of the United Front government, about which Tamil farmers were ever grateful to Srimavo Bandaranaike and her party, even after its fall from grace.
In the Jaffna peninsula there are nearly 9,130 hectares of rain-fed paddy-land available for cultivation. The sandy sub-soil over a coral lime stone foundation conserves every drop of rain, giving it the quality of an amphibious storage of water. As no irrigation facilities are available in the peninsula, the paddy cultivation relies on rainfall.
Land available for cultivation in the peninsula is very scarce. Thus the farmers are mainly involved in planting and cultivation of cash crops, such as tobacco, chili and red onions, on small plots of land. The unit of cultivable area in the peninsula is called the lecham. Nearly 24 lecham is approximately one acre. The land area for cash crops is calculated in Kandus (plants) – that is, a 1,000 Kandu area is about three to three-and-a-half lecham.
Normally, the total cultivable land available for the red onion in the peninsula is about 500 hectares, while chili is cultivated in about 600 to 650 hectares.
Annually, the peninsula produces around 2,500 tonnes of dried chillies, 2,000 tonnes of green chillies and about 9,000 tonnes of red and other types of onions.
Earlier, the government promoted the “Grow more” campaign to encourage the production of rice and other food crops locally, but farmers in the Jaffna peninsula was never given adequate assistance, protection and guarantees for the propagation and marketing of red onions and chilies produced in the peninsula.
Knowingly or otherwise what the the CWE responsible for the import and supply of essential commodities, imported onions from India and other countries, the same time the red onions were harvested in Jaffna Peninsula and were ready to be transported to Colombo, they flooded the market with cheap imported onions from India and other parts of the world. Because onions are perishable, the Jaffna farmers would be forced to dispose of his onions at Rs1 to Rs1.50 per pound and incur heavy losses.
With so many ministers today, this practice continues as it is a clear case of the left-hand not knowing what the right-hand does. What is more, the Jaffna Peninsula minister in the present cabinet has not brought to the notice of the minister responsible for the CWE, as did Chelliah Kumarasuriar who served as Minister in the 1970-1977 cabinet and a Member of Senate of Ceylon; who took upon himself as his duty to serve the people, he represented. Sadly, the Tamils never appreciated his good deeds, only because he was not elected by them.
Further, it must go on record that as the Minister of Posts and Telecom was responsible for providing a permanent building with living quarters for the Chulipuram Post Office, that serves my hometown Moolai. We the people served by CHP Post Office are ever grateful to the Minister, who appointed by the State and not elected by people.