Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

The particular problems of Madhu and Musali

( Created date: 22-Jul-2012 )

Whilst the first two Divisions in Mannar I visited for Reconciliation meetings had much in common with regard to the need for greater organizational support for the people, so that they could take full advantage of the infrastructural and other developments that have taken place recently, they each had particular problems which could be solved easily if only basic administrative principles were put in place.
Madhu suffers, as the entire Mullaitivu District does, from a bizarre geography. No one could give me any reason for the manner in which it had been carved out, and there seems to be no historical rationale either, since the divisional boundaries seem comparatively recent. Indeed there is also some confusion about this, because it seems the previous Divisional Secretary earmarked some land near to a village of recently resettled to put up some of the housing that is planned. Now it has turned out that that land belongs to Vavuniya District, even though the nearest inhabitants – and no one seems to contest that they should be the beneficiaries - are in Mannar.

Absurdities such as that abound. Irrigations schemes which are designed to serve the people of the Division are situated in the next door district. Some Grama Niladhari Divisions are very close to Vavuniya town but belong to Madhu, from which they cannot be reached except by a roundabout route which goes through Vavuniya District.

It would clearly make sense to redemarcate the Districts and the Divisions of the North (and perhaps elsewhere too) to ensure the convenience of the people, for administrative and legal purposes. It would also make sense to make the areas of responsibility of educational zones and police stations co-terminous with Divisions, so as to develop notions of responsibility and accountability. But I suspect we will continue victims of unexamined traditions, and people will continue to have to travel miles to courts, to administrative officers, for educational interventions and other social services.

In Musali I found another problem, one that had been seen on a small scale elsewhere, but which had reached lunatic proportions in Musali. This was the phenomenon of people who had been displaced arriving for resettlement, claiming the benefits, and then going away again. I was reminded again then of how sensible the government had been not to allow the large number of displaced following the final battles against the Tigers to leave the Welfare Camps before they could return to their places of origin, since otherwise several would have preferred to stay on in technical displacement, finding occupations away from their original homes but continuing to make claims with regard to the latter.

In theory there should be nothing wrong with this, but the opportunities for abuse will be legion. With regard to Musali the problem is compounded by the fact that the families displaced in 1990, when the Tigers threw all Muslims out of the North, feel the world, which neglected them for so long, owes them a living. The idea then seems to have sprung up that government must compensate not only each family, but all the different families that have sprung from the original comparatively small number that was displaced.

So now we have a situation where in theory there are 27,000 people in Musali, but there are only about 10,000 actually there. This leads to absurdities, such as the demand that schools be well equipped and opened since otherwise people will not return – and the reality that several such schools have fewer than 50 students (though perhaps this is not as bad as two schools in Madhu where the same phenomenon has occurred, which have only 4 students each).

The problem is that there is no clarity about the principles that should be followed in ensuring adequate compensation. I can see a case for saying that each of the original families should have two forms of compensation, but there is surely no case for more than that. One form should be what all the displaced have received, which is a cash grant and basic shelter equipment, tin sheets for instance and cement. Of course many people have received more, in the form of the houses that various agencies such as the army have built, and which the Indian government will now provide on a large scale. But these are to be distributed in terms of particular needs, and while the people of Musali should also benefit from such in terms of their needs, there can be no case for these being made available to all.

Unfortunately, whereas many of the recently displaced had no options, and therefore made the best of what they have received, and have in many cases transformed the original shells into reasonable dwellings, the people coming back to Musali had, as one bright official put it, alternatives to go back to in Puttalam. And so many of them went away again, though some of them continue to make further demands as to resettlement.
What they have in Puttalam represents the second form of compensation these long displaced families received, and which no one should begrudge them, namely new housing there. What is lacking though is clear records of the original familes, and what exactly has been received by them and their natural increase. If this can be checked on – which it should be possible to do at GN Division Level – then recompense should be made to those who have not received both forms of support, but any of the original families which did get both should be told very firmly that they no longer have any claims for assistance. Of course any additional assistance that can be negotiated for them, on the basis of needs, should be encouraged, but the state should not be burdened with treating the natural increase as meriting compensation on a universal basis.

Bringing closure swiftly to all this, including through establishing title for those who did not benefit from this during years of neglect following what should have been the visionary land reform of the seventies, is an urgent need. That would help with planning for the social services that might otherwise be made available in unnecessary abundance, as with the numbers of schools all catering to tiny numbers.


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