Administrative powers a must for the Plantation Tamils –Radhakrishnan
BY MIRUDHULA THAMBIAH
State Minister of Education and Leader of Up Country People's Front (UCPF) Velusamy Radhakrishnan said it is a must for the Plantation Tamils to obtain administrative powers at least through the upcoming constitutional reforms.
"We are not demanding for a separate State, but administrative powers. We want the powers devolved for our community as well.
They must adopt such demands to the constitutional reforms. Administrative power for up country Tamils is a must," he said.
Following are some excerpts of the interview:
? Recently a series of deaths have been reported of female migrant workers from the plantations. Being one of the representatives of the plantation Tamils, have you initiated any action in this regard?
A: These people have not obtained jobs through the proper channels which have now ended up in a series of deaths being reported. They are approaching brokers through various agencies for job opportunities; however they are unaware that they will have to face various difficulties if they fail to reach through an official authority recognized by the government.
When these females face difficulties such as torture and abuse at their work places, the agencies that offered jobs will mostly ignore them or refrain from helping them and at such a situation they are isolated from obtaining assistance through channels at their home country.
Had these female aid workers obtained jobs through proper channels we could try our level best to help them by contacting the relevant embassies. However, we have taken action on many occasions, through relevant embassies, whenever we received complaints.
Mostly, families of affected female migrant workers from up country contact us only when they face problems, especially when deaths have occurred, other than that they rarely obtain official assistance.
These people are just concerned about earning, therefore they obtain jobs through agencies not through the proper channels.
? There also had been recent reports of mysterious deaths of domestic workers who are employed out of plantations, especially in urban areas within Sri Lanka. What action have you taken to tackle this issue?
A: I have come across incidents mostly of aged domestic workers who leave the estates to urban areas for jobs and face difficulties. Their economical situation is very poor. Generally the economical statuses of ordinary Up Country people are still unstable. There are no jobs even in the estates, some plantation companies have closed down.
Only if the tea factories are re-opened and re-established, it is also necessary to properly maintain the functioning of the factories that are already in operation. If not many people will leave the estates and go looking for jobs in urban areas. We cannot avoid this, as they have to find a mode of income.
At the same time their deaths cannot be mysterious, we cannot accept that. Cause of death should be found if a person is dead.
The deaths are mostly associated with all sorts of violence they undergo as domestic workers in urban cities within the country.
These workers undergo all sorts of exploitations, some of these females face torture, and as a result they commit suicide.
We have received complaints that female domestic workers had to face sexual violence at the houses in urban areas. We also understand that highly placed officials have been involved in such violence and abuse. However, we can only act and take necessary steps when and if we receive complaints.
? Plantation Tamils have always faced problems relating to employment opportunities but it has never been brought up by the representatives other than during the election period. Have you taken any initiatives?
A: If you see the unemployment struggle in the North and East, they are graduates who are demanding employment opportunities according to their education qualifications. But that is not the situation in the Up Country region. These youth are looking for jobs solely for the purposes of sustenance. It is very rare that they demand for employment based on educational qualifications. However, every job had its value and it is the role of the government to provide job opportunities for its youth.
We have lost the trust in this government when it comes to the issue of providing jobs. We have demanded so far and the government has not taken any positive move in this regard. There are some ministers providing job opportunities for youth from their electorates. Even if they provide outside the electorate it is still someone known to them, therefore those who are demanding for employment opportunities will not have a chance on a continuous basis.
The government does not make attempts to equally divide the job opportunities among the eligible people; therefore I will not trust the government on this issue.
During the election period we were promised by the government that it would provide 1 million job vacancies to the Up Country but it has not happened so far. Our people do not have any employment in our region but those from outside are coming to earn in our region which has thoroughly disappointed us. No job opportunities for our community.
I was continuously pressing the government to solve the employment issue in the Up Country, and at the end of the 100-day programme, I decided to resign from my post but Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promised to solve the issue. Yet no positive steps have been taken in this regard.
? Filling the teacher vacancies in Up Country has turned into being a complex situation. Why is that?
A: We have a system of free education in Sri Lanka. Therefore every opportunity is based on competitive examinations. Our people sometimes cannot enter their choices due to less achievement in competitive examinations.
We are unable to compete with candidates from the North-East or South because all the other communities have somehow developed within them. The plantation community in up country is still backward even in 2017.
I feel that a special quota should be allocated for the plantation communities similar to special quotas are provided to the Dalit community in India. When such opportunities are provided we can proceed further and achieve.
Only the plantation community has the highest population for grama sevaka divisions. But other areas are comparatively different. There are even grama sevaka divisions established for 500 people. But in the Up Country grama sevaka divisions are made for demarcated for large numbers of population and it is difficult to respond for every need and issue.
There are various administrative issues in the Nuwara Eliya District for the plantation community. If the government takes necessary steps to establish four more grama sevaka divisions in the Nuwara Eliya District administrative issues could be solved to an extend and employment opportunities will also be given to within the plantation community for these grama sevaka divisions.
There is a population of 220,000 in the Nuwara Eliya Division and 215,000 in the Ambagamuva Division but there are only 60-70 grama sevaka divisions. If the grama sevaka divisions are increased in these areas including issues relating to administration and employment can be solved. Some will obtain employment as grama sevakas and employment can be given in Police stations in these divisions, but the government is not ready to understand the reality. It is the same nature with every government. They only approach the plantation community to obtain votes but will fail to stick to their promises. I'm also fed up with every government.
Our community is still backward even in 2017. Our community will develop only when there are economical developments within our community. We have to develop our education and economy that will solve the employment issue in larger scales. The government should give special attention in solving these issues and to develop the plantation community.
The government is only giving special attention to the land issue or any other issue in the North and East but not in the plantation sector.
? If you are fed up of the government and if job opportunities are denied why do you continue to be in the government? Why did the plantation representatives continue to be a stakeholder of every government in the past and present?
A: We the representatives should think and consider our move in future. At the same time we cannot just neglect the opportunities given to us. Only in the current government we have managed to obtain proper ministries and serve our people.
Therefore we must continue to make use of this opportunity.
We are able to make small achievements by fulfilling the demands of our people but we are quite disappointed that it is inadequate to satisfy our aspirations.
? Some communities in Sri Lanka are now taking their chance to get their demands fulfilled through Constitutional reforms. What of the Plantation Tamils?
A: Other communities are talking about autonomy and various rights but we will prioritize on administrative divisions and power through administration.
There are only five divisional secretariats in Nuwara Eliya and we will request them to change it into ten divisions.
Representatives from our community will directly involve in administration. We do not have a Tamil speaking additional district secretary in Nuwara Eliya. There is no Tamil speaking divisional secretariats in the Nuwara Eliya District. Isn't it wrong to function in such a manner? The government cannot implement the same agenda in Jaffna, why could they not appoint Tamil Divisional Secretariats in Nuwara Eliya? There are Tamils living in Nuwara Eliya, they must be given administrative powers. We are not demanding for a separate State, but administrative powers. We want the powers devolved for our community as well. They must adopt such demands to the constitutional reforms. Administrative power for Up Country Tamils is a must.
? There are allegations made by the plantation community representatives that the entire concentration is only to the North and East, from the government to the international community. Are you of the same view?
A: People of the North and East have been affected by the war and had experienced large number of damages and setbacks. We cannot deny it! Their economy had been disturbed and all their opportunities have comparatively reduced. However, these issues have been taken up internationally by the representatives and they have an international focus. This had continued in the plantations too but it has not been taken up internationally. This trend must change.
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