Over the past few weeks, the Resettlement Ministry had been embroiled in a controversy over providing 65,000 permanent houses to the war affected people. The controversy was with regard to the tender procedure adopted.
Apart from the tender procedure, there was another issue which displeased the people. The reason for their dissatisfaction or unhappiness is quite reasonable. These houses are not made by bricks, cement, sand and the likes. They are made of steel.
Arguments and counter arguments have been put across by officials and activists pertaining to the pros and cons of such a construction. The people, on one hand are unhappy over the houses, but, are in two minds since they have a roof above their heads to live under.
Officials in the Resettlement Ministry however said that people need not be skeptical about living in the steel houses since it would feel no different from an ordinary house.
One crucial factor pointed out is the humidity level within the steel houses. But the officials claim that the temperature inside the houses would be lesser than the outside.
Even though the issue was yet to be solved, the Government last week published the list of names of beneficiaries who would be given houses through the 65,000 Permanent Housing Scheme for war affected families in the North and East.
A protest was scheduled to be staged by residents and civil society activists in Jaffna on April 9 against several issues including resettlement. Accordingly, the protest was to be staged opposite the Central Bus Stand in Jaffna.
The key demands that are to be placed are, to provide brick houses instead of steel homes to IDPs, to take immediate steps to address the water contamination in Chunnakam, and to scrap the Sampur coal power project and look at alternate energy sources.
While the issue of steel houses cropped up recently, the other two issues have been quite long standing. In fact, the Government recently handed over 177 acres of land in Sampur back to its owners. According to reports, over 90 percent of IDPs have been resettled in Sampur, with only fraction remaining to be resettled.
In the case of Chunnakam, several families in the area had to move out of their homes last year due to claims that the underground water had been contaminated due to an oil leakage. The residents claimed that they had faced health issues due to the problem, and alleged that no actions were taken by the Government or the local authorities to address the issue.
What do people want?
Resettling the people is important. But what is more important is that it should not be done against the will of the people. They were affected. They lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their wealth. Many of them only managed to save their lives and nothing else. They were not poor.
It is therefore important that the wishes and needs of the people are considered, and given priority, when carrying out such moves.
The process of resettling people does not end with them being put in a house. It is more than just a house. The authorities need to look at crucial aspects such as their livelihood facilities, access to basic needs such as food, health and education and a whole lot more.
More importantly, the government should check whether they are resettled in the right place. For example, there is no point resettling a fisherman in a plot of land which is inland.
The slow process
The resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North and East, even though carried out in several stages, hit several roadblocks over these years owing to various reasons.
While demining was cited as a main reason behind the delays in resettling the people, other reasons such as High Security Zones (HSZ), alleged land grabbing, lack of infrastructure facilities were others which resulted in the process dragging on for years.
The Government has done what it can for the people affected by war. A house is not just a structure built with bricks and cement, or in this case, with steel. It is a place where lives are built upon.