The Sri Lanka government’s ambitious project of building 65,000 houses in the civil war-hit Northern and Eastern provinces in five years is embroiled in controversy, much before it can gather momentum.
A few days ago, when the country’s Parliament in Colombo witnessed a debate on the project, the Northern Provincial Council in Jaffna too discussed the Central government’s initiative and Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran reiterated his reservations.
To be built through a prefabricated method, each house will have 550 sq ft. It will have facilities such as the provision of gas for cooking, solar panel, WiFi and furniture. The unit cost is estimated at about Rs. 2.1 million. Arcelormittal Construction, a leading company, has been selected to implement the project. The unit cost has been arrived at after taking into account the facilities.
As of now, two model houses under the project have been put up in the capital of the Northern Province and the process of seeking feedback is under way. “There has been a good response,” Rehabilitation and Resettlement Minister D.M. Swaminathan told Parliament on Thursday.
Those who spoke against the project in Colombo and Jaffna raised a host of issues. Making their position clear, elected representatives from the North said their objections were to the manner in which the project was sought to be executed though they were not against the government’s plan to provide houses.
M.A. Sumanthiran, Member of Parliament belonging to the Tamil National Alliance, argued in the House that given the unit cost, two houses could be built instead of the proposed one. K. Sarveswaran, councilor of the Northern Province, says what is being done is to “force changes” in the lifestyle of the people. Suitability and durability are some of the issues raised.
Kadirgamar for community-driven model
Ahilan Kadirgamar, political economist, told The Hindu that the government should adopt the community-driven model and this could “boost greatly” local livelihoods, as happened in the case of the Indian housing scheme, where many farmers and fishermen who were destitute found work in house building.
Upgrading living standards
However, a politician, who also hails from the North, on the condition of anonymity, says what the project has sought to do is to “upgrade the living standards” of the people. As for the use of new materials and technology in the proposed housing scheme, changes are not something new to the North. Cement concrete came to be used only after the advent of the British, the politician says.
An official says the government will finalise the design of the proposed houses, only after examining all the inputs it receives from various quarters.