Unions propose “Right to Life and Land’ plan for central hills residents

The Sunday Times
09 Nov 2014

The Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees’ Union (FTZGSEU) has urged the authorities to formulate an environmentally friendly development plan on “Right to Life and Land” for the Central Hills aimed at protecting residents.

The proposal should be presented in parliament within the next six months, the General Council of the union said in a resolution declared after a meeting held on Sunday.

While sympathising with the victims and acknowledging the support extended by the public, the union said they didn’t see the government acting with responsibility in providing information to the public.

“There is an effort to underplay the tragedy while passing the responsibility over to the workers,” the union said referring to figures of affected people varying from 150, 192 and 210 to over 1,400. The number of the dead also varies.

“We maintain, the Meeriyabedda tragedy is far greater and serious than what government ministers and MPs wish to say and worse than what state officials make it out to be,” the resolution said.

Referring to warnings issued earlier to residents, the union said while it agreed that people living in areas under threat of landslides should be immediately relocated for their safety, this is only a temporary safety measure.

“What is frighteningly evident from the warnings made first in 2005 and repeated in 2011 is that no government, nor has any state agency ever thought of a permanent solution for these people living with danger. When this government was greedy of Colombo prime land, they did relocate the poor claiming that was done under a development plan,” the resolution said.

It said the fact of the matter is that plantation workers cannot be relocated away from their estates. Estate work does not allow them the comfort of travelling daily by bus to work. Therefore, relocating them involves heavy and very serious planning. They need permanent livelihood for workers, plus at least schooling for their children and adequate health facilities for them. There is also the question of sustaining the plantation industry.

“Most importantly, we wish to stress the responsibility for these landslides do not rest with these poor workers. It lies with an unorganised market and irresponsible land use for short term economic crops in Badulla and Nuwara Eliya districts. All governments should take responsibility for promoting such agriculture without due planning,” it said.