15,000 deprived of livelihood in Paduvaankarai
[TamilNet, Saturday, 08 December 2007, 21:27 GMT]
Half of the affected agriculture-dependent families in Batticaloa district are from Paduvaankarai region, where the major cultivable land of the district, is situated. Forced to flee their paddy fields, standing ripe and ready for harvest, the families who returned under the Government of Sri Lanka's (GoSL) resettlement, could only witness the remains of the properties and livestock that had been looted by the Sri Lankan forces. Although four months have elapsed since their resettlement, the GoSL has not provided any assistance to the farmers to resume paddy cultivation.
The predicament of paddy farmers, Thambimuttu Koneswaran from Kokkaddichchoalai and Karthigesu Nadesan from Eachchantheevu area are typical of the travails faced by the agricultural community in Batticaloa. Both had to flee their villages during the Sri Lanka military offensive and were later resettled.
Speaking to TamilNet, Thambimuttu said, "I have been a farmer all my life and I have no other means of income. All my resources have been destroyed. I am left with no options. Sometimes, I think of committing suicide."
Despite Colombo's rhetoric of "development" and the claims of "liberating" the East from the "clutches of the Tigers", the military offensive has only brought misery to the families of the once self-sustained agricultural society of Paduvaankarai region.
"Incessant shelling by SLA in my native village of Kokkaddichchoalai in the early part of this year made us flee our homes. I fled to Batticaloa with my wife and children. We left behind all our belongings. For a short period, we stayed in an interim camp for the Internally Displaced People (IDP), where we faced much hardship. Later, we were resettled in Paduvaankarai."
"A tractor, motorcycle, plough and many implements required for paddy cultivation left behind in my home in Kokkaddichcholai had all been looted. Every season I used to cultivate about ten acres but now I am not in a position to cultivate even one acre single-handedly. When I returned home, I saw policemen moving about on my motorcycle. I approached them and told them that the vehicle belonged to me, but they refused to return it." He added with immense sadness, "Now I am pushed to the plight of being totally at the mercy of others." This situation is not restricted to Paduvaankarai alone, it is a true reflection of the predicament of all the farmers in the Batticaloa district.
Another farmer from Eechchantheevu area, Karthigesu Nadesan describing his plight said, "Everyone in this area depends on agriculture, directly or indirectly. All of us have been severely affected because of the mindless military offensive."
"Since I have been resettled here recently, a number of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have come forward to assist us. But the local officers harass us in various ways: they demand us to bring our refugee cards, they ask us whether we own land [elsewhere] and order us to become stay here permanently."
"When military offensives take place it affects all of us. Why do these officials not understand this? We have lost all our valuable property because of displacement, will they be able to compensate our loss in this regard? Will they give it back? When we were resettled, they supplied us just sugar, rice and flour. How long will these last? Only if we resume cultivation in our paddy fields, we will be able to meet our needs and eliminate our hunger and starvation," the enraged Karthigesu fumed.
The sentiments expressed by Koneswaran and Nadesan are echoed by scores of other farmers in the region.
Paduvaankarai region comprises three DS divisions and parts of Ea'raavoorpattu Chenkaladi division, with 20,000 families dependent on agriculture.
More than 15,000 families have been directly affected by the military offensives of SLA. Since the two seasons of paddy cultivation (Maha and Yala) had to be abandoned in the region, there has been an acute shortage of paddy seeds seriously hampering paddy cultivation in the current season.
Even though four months have elapsed since they were resettled, the GoSL has not taken any steps to promote cultivation in the area. The farmers in the district complain that they are going to face huge losses because they could not cultivate either in last year's Maha season (the principal cultivation season; October to March) or in the Yala season (subsidiary cultivation season; April to September) this year.
When contacted by TamilNet, officials of the Department of Agriculture in Batticaloa said that usually 100,000 acres of land are cultivated during the Maha season alone. They also confirmed the acute shortage of paddy seeds in the area because no cultivation had been carried out in the past two seasons.
One official added that various NGOs such as World Vision, Eastern Human Economic Development (EHED), International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), SLRCS, OXFAM, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have come forward to assist the people resettled in the area. "These organizations provide Rs.4000 worth of paddy seeds, fertilizer and insurance per acre. They help each farmer cultivate up to three acres and so far 11,000 farmers have benefited," he pointed out.
Asked about the assistance provided by GoSL, the official said that steps have been taken to provide fertilizer through the Agricultural Department for a subsidized rate of Rs. 350 as against the rate of Rs. 2,600 in the open market. However he pointed that there are certain restrictions for being eligible to receive this subsidized fertilizer. A farmer applying for such assistance should possess his own land, he must have been resettled in this area and should also provide the necessary particulars to prove that he was displaced from another area. "Nearly 40,000 acres of land has been cultivated during the Maha season," he added.
From data provided by Agriculture Department officials, paddy can be cultivated in a total of 58,374 hectares (144,184 acres) of land in Batticaloa district. Out of these 49,339 hectares (121,867 acres) of land is meant for high land crop cultivation. During Yala season cultivation, water required to irrigate the paddy land was obtained from lakes in the areas such as Unnichchai, Vaakaneari, U'rukaamam, Thumpangkea'ni, Kiththulvela, Kaddumu'rivu and Kadukkaamunai. According to the 2004 annual report, 40,000 families directly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.
Responding to a question regarding livestock, an official said, "Steps to provide livestock through NGOs have been taken." He added that statistics of farm animals that were killed had not been compiled so far.
The district's population relies on agriculture, fishing and related occupations for its survival. The military aggression in the area has totally ruined their livelihood, representatives from various civilian groups said. Even under normal circumstances, heavy rainfall, blazing heat and cyclonic winds often hamper their means of earning their livelihood. The situation has further deteriorated due to military offensive by SLA and all their resources have been lost, they lamented.
Apart from some support from international NGOs, there has been no Sri Lankan state allocation of compensation or relief except a small subsidy towards the cost of fertilizer. The recent budget passed in the Sri Lankan Parliament has also failed to allocate compensation to the resettled farmers.
Paduvaankarai region, with Poaratheevuppattu, Ma'nmunai West and Ma'nmunai Southwest, remains out of humanitarian focus unlike Vaakarai, a show-off area for Colombo — which has only a fraction of the entire district's affected agricultural families — that the Rajapaksa government exhibits to visiting foreign diplomats to make them believe the eyewash efforts of Colombo investing in "development" after "liberating" the area from the Tigers.
19.08.06 Paduvankarai faces misery