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Call for common programme to win over land and housing rights of Hill-Country people

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Land and housing issues of entire population of Sri Lanka have yet to be solved and these issues will remain unsolved due to the existing social system. However land and housing issues of the plantation workers and their heirs have not been addressed even to meet preliminary needs. These problems are continued to be unsolved as it is specific, unique and different from others for historical, political, social and cultural reasons thus requires specific attention to be address.

In this backdrop, voices are being raised in general in political and trade union platforms for the rights of land and housing of Hill-Country people. This is a healthy move. However the expectation of Hill-Country people is that these movements should not be confined to mere verbatim attacks. Hill-Country people being a group belongs to plantation economy as well as a nationality, is facing many unique challenges. Among those, land and housing issues have become the major issues. The time has come for people’s interest centered political parties, trade unions, civil organizations, intellectuals and inpiduals to agree on common programme with common understanding and to work with unity to win over land and housing rights of Hill-Country people. Following framework has been drawn based on this need. This could be considered as the starting point of a discourse and towork based on common consensus.


I. Land and housing rights and Hill-Country people

Hill-Country people who were pought to Sri Lanka by pitish reign have been living as Sri Lankan nationals passing through many adverse conditions. These people, who have historically contributed to build Sri Lanka’s economy through plantation industries and continue to contribute not only through plantation economy but also through other sectors as well, Yet, it could be observed that the Hill-Country people are directly and indirectly deprived of the housing which is a basic need and the land which is the base for existence.

The denial of this right to continue to prevailed not only to workers of the estate but to all Hill-Country people including teachers, government officers, self-employed people, and people employed in formal and informal private sector etc. whom are by products and emergence of social history of Hill country people . And regardless of their geographic differences, whether being in NuwaraEliya or Galle, the very right is denied to all. Thus, it is noteworthy that it is a common problem of Hill-Country people.

The right to land and housing should comprise a shelter with a land to create an environment to live in. And it should have legal entitlement and infrastructures to live in. Hill-Country people who comprise plantation workers have been living without any of these rights. Further, those who are by and large possessing home garden and agricultural land with no title are posed to the danger of depriving them at any time.

Hill-Country people live in five types of housings and they are as follows; line houses, cottages, upstairs housings, twin quarters and inpidual houses. Line housing accommodates about 70% of the Hill-Country people. Line houses are coupled with many inhabitable features. The structure and lesser space of the line rooms are not suitable for healthy family and social life which are the major issues. There are issues, in cottage, of lesser space and the insecurity and instability based on its weaker structure. Up-stair houses restore the problems existing in line housing systems in a new form and they accompany the denial of land rights. Even though the twin quarters houses are little improved system than the above mentioned two types of housings, only few numbers of these types of housings are there. Although inpidual housings are seen as a solution to the shelter problem, they still have very less in extent of land and the denial of land right persists in this system as well.

Therefore, it is necessary for a housing that would enable healthy family and social life for the entire Hill County people except those with inpidual houses and twin houses which are relatively well maintained. Further, denial of land rights is still a common issue to all people living in any of the above types.

Nevertheless, lands are sold or leased to multinational companies without any conditions.

II. Legal background of denial of land and housing rights

Estate Worker (Indians) Ordinance, 1889 the first legal enactment regarding plantation workers had no arrangements about shelter. However, section 24(i), the amendment to the above pought in 1941 included shelter arrangements. Hence, prior to 1941 the standards shelters of plantation workers were determined by the l and dislikes of plantation management. The amendment states that the employer (Estate Management) shall provide separate room to the worker who lives with his spouse. Further, it says that the room shall not be allowed to be shared with any person other than children below 12 years of age.

The legal arrangement reveals that employers had the responsibility of providing separate room to spouses who are workers. Based on this the lines were built and given with room in extent of 8’x8’ and 10’x10’ with a verandah or verandah and kitchen; which are the line rooms.

No separate rooms were built and given when numbers of family members are increased. As the children of workers lived for generations by generation were compelled to registered but they had to live in the same line rooms.

pitish companies built some more lines but they were not enough to accommodate all workers. Therefore, many families had to live in the same line rooms. They were expelled from the line rooms when they were retired, lost their employment or where no one of their family works in the estate. In case of one single person works in the estate the room is pided into two and shared.

Estate staffs like managers, assistant managers, clerks had to leave their residences once they retire or loose their jobs. The Estate Quarters (special provisions) act enacted in 1971 provides arrangements to do so. The proviso states that the officer and his dependents can live in there until he looses job or he is asked to leave by a court.

It is important to note the differences in expelling workers from lines when they retire or loose job. Since it has been practically difficult to expel estate workers who were captive with closed with line rooms, and line rooms are determined as settlements of estate workers as unwritten law and the non-promptness of government to take responsibility for housing problems of estate workers.

There is no any legal provision to expel workers upon their termination of job. Meanwhile there was no provision that emphasized that each and every worker should be given with residences. Further, there was no legal security to person living in estate without working in the estate.

Estate management used to take action to expel officers from estate staff quarters. This is done in accordance to the law. However, now this is done to workers too and it is done via court order. Further when cottages are build in the garden land or extension of line rooms and twin quarters are done by workers, they are demolished by court order. The reason for these pathetic situations is that the estates lands either leased to companies or owned by Land Reform Commission. Due to this estate people are in a situation where they cannot claim ownership for the trees which were planted by them. The situation is same in the state managed estates as well.

In this legal background Hill-Country people are destined to live in the leased out land and in the land that belong to Land Reform Commission as a group without address. Therefore, it is understandable that the issue of address is severe than the solution of providing separate door numbers to each houses. It should be understood that the solution to the no address problem is in the success of land and housing rights of estate workers.

III. Political background behind denial of right to land and housing

No actions were taken to ensure land and housing rights of estate workers during period of ruling of the pitish companies’ and afterwards. No attempts were made by local rulers to ensure them housing when opportunities were there, when the estates were nationalized. Although small numbers of twin quarters were built during this period, people who were not working in estates were expelled through court orders. Denial of land and housing rights of estate workers continued to be there even in the scenario where plantations and residential lands are leased out after nineties. Even though, seven perches of lands were provided and opportunities were given to construct separate house (without deeds) under loan schemes, it is, policy wise completely stopped after 1998. During the period (1994-1998) when inpidual houses were built, estate people were settled in two story house schemes as well.

The present government has announced that 50,000 two story houses to be built for Hill-Country people. Government has not given any justification for building two story housing even where people are opposing such plan. It is notable that two story housing scheme implemented where there is scarcity for land which is not a problem in Hill-Country. Implementation of two story housing schemes is based to the denial of land rights to estate workers and it is re-assuring line system in a new form.

The government, while approving two story housing, is concerned that estate people should not obtain land rights. It seems that leaders of Hill-country that support two story housing prefer to continue with line type residence in another form.

IV. Estates Settlement not incorporated with rural and urban settlement and rights of Land and Housing

Since the pitish era plantations were ruled as empires, isolated from administrative structure of the government. Consequently the estates are still not officially included into the government’s administrative structure through Grama Niladhari pisions which is the basic administrative unit. Therefore, estate residences are not legally considered to be included within the administrative limits of Pradesiya Sabha or Urban Councils. Entire Plantation lands had been leased out to companies without differentiating cultivation lands and residential lands. Further, the same situation persists in the state owned estate too. Hence, there is a barrier in linking estates with Grama Niladhari pisions as there is no arrangement to separate and release residential lands from leased and state owned (Land Reform Commission) lands. In addition, estates remain uncovered under the command area of pisional Councils and Urban Councils. Thus, residential land of estate workers also considered as private property or business enterprises like plantation cultivation land (Section 33, 1987 pisional Council Act no 15).

Estates could only be turned into separate settlement only when Hill-Country people are provided with land and housing rights. It is possible to Grama Niladhari pisions to accommodate estates only when they become estate settlement and which could only ensure that estates accommodated by Pradesiya Sabah.

V. Issue of right of land and housing and Hill-Country national ethnic identity

House is very fundamental to any inpidual or a family. It is intolerable that plantation workers who did greatly contribute and still continue to contribute to the economy of the country have no proper and habitable housing. The issue of land and housing of plantation workers on one hand is an issue that disables a large number of workforces of the country and negative impact is being taken place in cultural life of the people. On the other hand it threatens the existence of the identity of Hill-Country people. The strength of Hill-Country workers is weakened and the identity of belonging to Hill-Country also ceased when a family that lived permanently in the plantation estate moves permanently to urban area for business and economic reasons. Identity of Hill-Country national ethnicity deteriorates through this process. Thus, people who permanently lived in the plantation lose their identity. This is a direct consequence of the denial of land and house that are the identity of place of residence. This situation arises due to today’s plantation structure which is based on structural inequality. This erasure of identity is a type of ethnic cleansing. It is noteworthy, others, whatever the size and quality is, have a land and a house for them, therefore their identity and existence is ensured but the situation is much different in Up-county.Therefore denial of land and housing rights plays as a direct factor in depleting the plantation workers solidarity and eradication of Hill-Country ethnic identity.

VI. Agricultural and Chena land issue of Hill-Country people

Apart from the land and housing issues, there is a vulnerability of losing the land used for Chena cultivation by Hill-Country people. In this situation people of Hill-Country are in a condition in which they cannot even think of obtaining land for self-employment purpose.

VII. Outcome of land and housing problems

? While the line rooms and cottages cannot be defined as habitable houses, twin quarters and two story houses have is own unique problems. Further, more importantly as these are not given with title to owners, thus problem of ownership prevail.

? Though the inpidual houses built in an extent of seven perches are small, they are relatively advanced. However, as these are also given with title, problem of ownership prevail.

? Threat of expulsion of workers who live in lines, cottages and twin quarters are now serious.

? Estate settlements are not included, in legal term as settlements under government arrangements, therefore, even, address is impossible to inpidual houses as well.

? There are legal barriers in obtaining infrastructure facilities from government since estate settlements are not considered as residences approved by government.

? No ownership to land used for agriculture and Chena cultivation

VIII. Tasks before us

1. Determining numbers of houses needed.

2. Determining the type of housing is needed/acceptable. (Including the changes to be done to the existing inpidual houses).

3. Determining extent of land for each house.

4. Deciding how and from where to obtain the land needed.

5. Determining how and who builds the houses.

6. Determining what type of deed and how to obtain.

7. Deciding on settlement (rural/urban) of incorporation of house by taking from estate administration.

8. Deciding how to obtain infrastructure facilities to those houses.

9. Deciding how to deal with the agricultural and Chena land issues.

10. Deciding the ways and means of achieving land and housing rights.

a. Expression of demands, campaigning.

b. Mass/public activities.

c. Actions to be undertaken with government institutions (Parliament, Cabinet).

d. Obtaining support outside the government.

We, hereby invite you/your trade union/institution to participate in the meeting to be held on to achieve a common agreement and to carry on common work plan.

Further, we kindly request to submit your opinions, proposals and work plans in writing as to land and housing right of Hill-Country people and the ways of achieving them.

Though the invitation is sent by People’s Worker Union, we shall prepared ourselves to work with a common identity.

Thank you.


E. Thambiah LLB

Attorney at law

General Secretary

People’s Worker Union

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