A pilot project of building houses for the internally displaced persons (IDPs)s in Jaffna will begin soon. Initially, 1000 houses will be built and 49,000 will be added later.

The project monitoring consultant, Government of India-owned Hindustan Prefab Limited, is expected to begin the preliminary work once the current spells of rain end. “Once actual construction begins, it will only take a few months to complete the first lot of houses,” an Indian High Commission official said. And the first lot is expected to be ready by April 2011.

Asked about the number of houses to be built, given the many versions on the numbers floating in the Sri Lankan media over the past few days, Indian High Commissioner Ashok Kantha told The Hindu: “A majority of the houses will be newly built…I will not be able to give the exact numbers because enumeration is still on.”

A release from the Indian High Commission said:

“Questions have been raised recently about the extent and scope of the … project for construction of 50,000 houses in northern Sri Lanka under grant assistance from the Government of India.

“The present project was conceived, as a fully grant funded project, during the visit to India earlier this year of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the offer of India undertaking the construction of 50000 houses for the IDPs, given the extent of the demand and the urgency of the situation.

“While the bulk of this project will focus on the needs in the Northern Province, it will also cover some areas of the Eastern and Central Provinces. Work has already begun on a pilot project of 1000 houses, which will be spread over all five districts of the Northern Province. Hindustan Prefab Limited is executing this pilot project. We hope to draw important lessons from this pilot phase for implementation of the larger project in the second phase, which will also commence soon.

“The project, as conceptualised, involves meeting the housing needs of IDPs being resettled in these areas.  Given the ground situation, it is envisaged that the bulk of their housing needs will be met by construction of new dwelling units. However, the project will also cater to the needs of a smaller number of IDPs who may wish to have their damaged houses repaired.

“While the primary purpose of this project is provision of shelter, the Government of India recognises the potential that also exists for the creation of livelihoods as a result of this project. The Indian agencies executing this project will make every effort … to source materials, labour and expertise locally… in order to give a fillip to employment and economic activity in the region.”

On November 26, when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited Sri Lanka, letters were exchanged between Sri Lankan Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundara and the Indian High Commissioner for the first phase of the housing project.  

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