Empowering the plantation sector | Daily News
Major tasks of the New Villages Development Authority for the Plantation Region:

Empowering the plantation sector

Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development Minister Palani Digambaram, National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress and Hindu Religious Affairs Minister Mano Ganeshan and State Minister V. Radhakrishnan at the ceremony.  Picture by Gayan Pushpika
Ministers Mano Ganesan, Vadivel Suresh, Mangala Samaraweera and Palani Digambaram at the event.

The New Villages Development Authority for the Plantation Region was established at a ceremony held at BMICH yesterday under the patronage of Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development Minister Palani Digambaram took great effort in establishing the Authority to empower the estate community and integrate them into the national development drive.

The plantation community historically lived in isolation economically and socially which resulted in a backward position, lagging behind other communities in the country. It is gradually getting mainstreamed while breaking the isolation. This process will be fast-tracked through the establishment of the New Villages Development Authority for the Plantation Region. This community was brought to the government administrative structure with the creation of a separate Ministry for plantation infrastructure including housing in 1996. This facilitated the breaking up of the isolation by providing public services to the estate sector.

The Ministry under a different name, continued until 2010. However, this institutional identity was lost with the decision to abolish the Ministry in 2010. With the new government established in January 2015, the Plantation Infrastructure Ministry was re-created and again in August 2015, with the reshuffle of the Cabinet following the general election, the Ministry was renamed as the Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development. It should be noted that the estate housing component was renamed as the ‘new villages’. In this administrative institutional development, the establishment of the New Villages Development Authority for the Plantation Region is a milestone and a progressive step.

Process

Why there should be an Authority while there is a Ministry? In January 2015, when a new Ministry was established, it formulated a five-year national plan - Action for the Social Development of the Plantation Community 2016 - 2020. The administrative capacity of the Ministry was not enough to undertake the programme and projects included in the National Plan of Action. Hence, the idea of establishing an authority was initiated.

With the approval of Cabinet, the process of establishing the Authority commenced. A Task Force was formed in March 2016 headed by the Secretary to the National Policies and Economic Affairs Ministry with representatives from the Ministries of Plantation Industries, Lands, Housing and Public Enterprises. In addition, regional plantation companies and civil society organisations were also represented.

While the Task Force was drafting the Bill, on the basis of the observation of the Finance Minister, the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) was to be reviewed. It was felt that since the PHDT was functioning within the plantation sector focusing on the welfare of the workers, there may be possible functional repetition between these two entities which may lead to confusion. Hence the review became critical. The Task Force found the scope of the PHDT was limited to welfare and maintenance of housing and health facilities. Its function is very specific and narrow. Also it caters to the needs of the plantation companies. In contrast, the scope of the Authority broadly covers social development focusing on all aspects catering to the needs of the community. Although the Task Force commenced its activities in March 2016, it was only in July 2018, more than after two years afterwards, that the Bill was submitted to Parliament. It should be mentioned that it received the support during the debate from both the Government and also the Opposition parties. All the 35 members of Parliament, during the debate, supported the Bill and it was passed unanimously.

Objectives

The major objective of the Authority is social mainstreaming. As indicated earlier, this community has to be mainstreamed, breaking the isolation in which they were placed in estates. The public services that are provided by the government should reach them fully and this community should be well integrated to the national system of governance. Another objective is the empowerment of the community enabling them to contribute to the national development. Their contribution is limited to the production of plantation crops such as tea and rubber.

They were not able to participate in other areas of development. This community is landless and do not own houses. Therefore, the ownership of their houses with clear title deeds will enhance their civil and economic rights. They are very weak in the field of higher education. This community with lower educational levels is considered to be the source of unskilled jobs. The vulnerable groups such as elders, women and children are to be empowered.

Challenges ahead

The creation of new villages is the mandate of the Ministry, but the development of the new villages comes under the mandate of the Authority. Conversion of new housing schemes into a village is not an easy task. First, the ownership of the houses has to be ensured with the clear title deed. Facilities such as community centres, playgrounds, temples and children parks should be provided and should be easily accessible. Transformation is taking place within this community with the expansion of educational facilities.

New lawyers in the society are emerging. Non-workers who live on the estate travel outside the estate for their livelihood. Teachers, three-wheeler drivers, shop assistants and construction workers are new categories found in the estates.

These legal residents have to be accommodated within the new villages along with the workers, which will be a challenging task.

Empowering this community is an ongoing challenge. Indicators with respect to poverty levels and nutrition status are low when compared to other communities. They should be on par with others. University admission from the community stands at 1.6 percent of the total admission of the University.

This community represent five percent of the total population. Thus, the university admission too should be around five percent of the total.

The presence of this community in the higher level of the public service is almost nil. Except in the education sector, intake into the public sector is insignificant.

Due to the expansion of educational facilities, the O/L and A/L students are on the increase. After the completion of the upper secondary education, there is a large-scale migration towards urban centres mainly for unskilled or semiskilled jobs. Without any vertical mobility, there is only horizontal mobility. The Authority is expected to address all these challenges.

Conclusion

In order to address these issues, the Authority has to coordinate with both government and non-government agencies. The regional plantation companies are one of the primary agencies which hold the ownership of the land where new villages are to be created and developed.

Hence, their support is critical. Through the activities of the Authority, attempts will be made to make the community be on par with other communities in terms of social indicators and nutrition levels. Thus the community will be able to participate in all spheres and contribute to the development of this country.


 

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