A shriveled old woman sits near a tinned old hut, cooking her midday meal/ The tinned structure absorbs the heat of the scorching sun which blares over her and the fire from her hearth makes it almost unbearable. She is one of the many internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been living in the Ponnthottam welfare camp for the past twenty (20) years
Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA – Matara Sports Correspondent
“I have been living at the Poonthottam welfare camp for the past twenty years. I have five children who are married and are living here as well. We are registered voters here and I don’t want to leave Poonthottam but the government is trying to chase us away” lamented sixty five year old Vishwalingam Kaliammah as she stirred her meal.
“The authorities disconnected the electricity and stopped providing us with drinking water. We have to fetch drinking water from almost a kilometer away and there is only one well at the camp site for washing” she continued with her tale of woe. The authorities have asked them to vacate the land and move to a new land at Nedunkanni but Vishvaingam Kaliammah insisted that the government provide them with land in their current camp instead.
“This land belongs to the government and the authorities can allocate land for us here without sending us to Nedunkanni” she said.
‘A handful of the more than 500 internally displaced persons (IDP) belonging to 97 families remained at the former welfare campsite at Poonthottam and have turned down the government’s offer to resettle them at Nedunkanni a mere 45 kilometers away. They said that they preferred to live in misery hoping that someday the government would grant them a plot of land at Poonthottam!. Land prices at Poonthottam have sky rocketed. Land in Poonthottam has become prime land as the area was undergoing rapid development, the scarcity of habitable land in the area and its proximity to the Vauvniya town.
Given this boom in land prices Kaliammah and a few others know that a few perches of land at Poonthottam would fetch a fortune in a few more years for which they were willing to endure any hardship.
The Poonthottam welfare camp was established in 1995 to accommodate the large number of persons displaced by the Civil War in the North. At height of the war there were over 500 families at this welfare camp and all of them except these 97 families had been resettled at Tharanikulam, Sundarapuram, Ashikkulam, Kalyanikulam and Katkulam.
“Politicians give us false hopes” – J Kalpana (IDP)
According to Jegatheeswaran Kalpana a thirty eight year old mother of two it was the politicians that had enlivened the people hopes of having land allocated from Poonthottam. “Each time there is an election politicians come here and make promises that they will give us land at Poonthottam. They make these promises in front of the little kovil that still stands at the camp site as the people believe it’s a sin to lie to the deities. They request that the people vote for them to help them fulfill their promises! But as you can see they have lied as the promises they gave have not been kept. We are undergoing many hardships here and do not have proper sanitary facilities even. Furthermore Nedunkanni, the place they plan to resettle us is infested with wild elephants and we fear that we will be harmed” she said.
According to District Rehabilitation & Re-construction Secretariat in Vauvniya, Project Director Mrs V Kirubhasuthan provision had been made to resettle the remaining families at Rasapura Village in Nedunkanni. The government had allocated 80 perches of agricultural land for each family while the UK based Gnanam Foundation had provided a million rupees per family to build a 550 square foot house and they were to help establish livelihood projects and cottage industries.
“The welfare camp was on private land” – Govt Official
“Of the 21 acres on which the Poonthottam IDP camp was located six acres belongs to the government and the balance is private property. The government hopes to build quarters for the staff of the college of higher education which is next to the former camp site. Infrastructural development such as the water tower has been started already. We had to disconnect the electricity supply and have been unable to provide rations as we have not been allocated the required funds since 2012. Of the 97 families remaining, 80 have agreed to move to Nedunkanni while only 17 families want to remain in Poonthottam.” she said.
Industry and Commerce Minister and Member of Parliament for the Vanni District Parlimenterian Rishad Bathiudeen confirmed that each family would be allocated half an acre of land in Nedunkanni and that a final decision on the IDP’s would be taken at the District Development Committee based upon the District Secretarie’s recommendation.
“They will be resettled by October 2016” – Government Agent
Vauvniya District Secretrary, Rohana Pushpakumara said “The houses at Rasapura Village should be completed by October 2016 after which we hope to resettle sixty (60) of these families there. We do not have sufficient land at Poonthottam or Vauvniya town to give them. The legal owners to whom the land where the IDP camp was situated are requesting that the land be returned to them. Even though the IDP’s have been temporary residents at the Poonthottam camp for more than twenty years they can’t demand ownership. We will take a decision on how to settle this issue once the houses at Rasapura Village are ready for occupation”.
This story was published in the Daily News – http://epaper.dailynews.lk/art.asp?id=2016%2F07%2F14%2FPg06_2&pt=p&h