Who is responsible for providing information regarding the tsunami housing scheme in the Ampara district?

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K. Prasanna 

The Sri Lankan government received a large amount of foreign aid following the 2004 tsunami.Thereby, Tsunami Housing Schemes were set up by the Saudi Arabian Government for the tsunami victims in the Nuraicholai and Metkkuvattai areas in the Ampara District but, the houses are not yet handed over to the people. Information requests were submitted to the Akkaraipattu Divisional Secretariat and the Kalmunai Divisional Secretariat regarding the Tsunami Housing scheme through the Right to Information Act. Nevertheless, adequate information was not obtained from these requests. It was also mentioned that further information can be obtained from the Ampara District Secretariat. 

However, neither the Ampara District Secretariat nor the Akkaraipattu and Kalmunai Divisional Secretariats have substantial information on housing schemes or they refuse to provide details. As a result, the Tsunami Housing Project has been dragging on for years without being completed and handed over to the public.

Inquiries by the Right to Information Commission revealed that the details of the funds used for the housing scheme were not available in any government agencies. An order was issued to the Ampara District Secretariat to clarify who the responsible agent for the expenditure of the housing construction  was. 

Accordingly, the Commission has been informed that the two tsunami housing schemes have been initiated by the National Housing Authority under the guidance of the Ministry of Finance and information will be submitted to the Commission as soon as it receives. 

Tsunami 500 Nuraicholai Housing Scheme  

The Tsunami Housing Scheme was launched in the Nuraicholai area under the Akkaraipattu Divisional Secretariat in the Ampara District with the financial aid of Rs. 552 million from Saudi Arabia. The contract for the housing scheme was signed on May 2, 2006 and the responsibility of constructing the houses was given to the Ministry of Housing and Construction. According to the Akkaraipattu Divisional Secretariat (18/2019) a multi-purpose building, a market building, a boys’ school, a girls’ school, a mosque, a hospital, a bus stop and a playground have been set up in 40 acres of land, including 500 houses. 

Towards the completion of the housing scheme, a case was filed in the Supreme Court by the Jathika Hela Urumaya against the provision of houses in the Nuraicholai housing scheme only to the Muslims. In this case, the then Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva ruled on December 2, 2009 that the Nuraichcholai houses should not be given to a specific ethnic group and that the houses should be distributed to all ethnic groups in the country. It is now 12 years since the judgment (178/2008) was issued and the houses have not yet been handed over to the beneficiaries. 

Thereby, a meeting was held in February 2019 at the Sainthamaruthu Divisional Secretariat to distribute these 500 houses to the people of Ampara District and 660 applicants attended the meeting. So far 303 Muslim beneficiaries have been selected but no action has been taken to hand over the houses. Out of 500 houses in Nuraicholai, 303 houses will be allotted to Muslims and 197 houses will be given to Tamil and Sinhalese people. Even though these houses are handed over, the houses are in a dilapidated condition making it impossible for the beneficiaries to settle immediately.  

The housing problem remains unsolved as the dissatisfaction of the beneficiaries towards the government’s policies on housing distribution persists. Doors in existing housing schemes have also been stolen. Human existence in this housing scheme is impossible since the scheme is enveloped with trees and weeds. There have also been cracks in the houses. Thus, the reconstruction of the scheme is required and it is necessary to allocate funds in this regard.  But, who is responsible for that? 

Maruthamunai 65 meter housing scheme 

Meanwhile, in the “Maruthamunai 65 meter housing scheme” situated in the Maruthamunai , Mettuvattai, only 96 houses out of 178 houses have been handed over to the beneficiaries so far. It has been reported that only the details of 178 beneficiaries of this housing scheme set up in 2006 are available at the Kalmunai Divisional Secretariat (KM / DS / RTI / 2019 / 1-165). Meanwhile, the Kalmunai Divisional Secretariat has stated that the details of the cost of the housing scheme,facilities included in the housing scheme and the details related to the bidding process are not available. 

Steps were taken to acquire land in the midst of various difficulties to set up houses for the people affected by the tsunami in Maruthamunai. Due to the shortage  of land in the Maruthamunai area, the paddy fields in the western part of Maruthamunai had to be selected. The then Kalmunai Divisional Secretary A.H.M Ansar acquired 33 acres of agricultural land in the Maruthamunai Mettuvattai area. Of these, the housing scheme was carried out in 10 acres of land.

Of the 178 houses constructed, 82 houses are yet to be handed over to the beneficiaries. It is reported that these houses built by the Sri Lankan government at a cost of Rs. 10 lakh are in a dilapidated condition after 14 years. Interviews were conducted at the Ampara District Secretariat and the Kalmunai Divisional Secretariat asking to provide the rest of the houses to the beneficiaries. But houses have not yet been handed over. 

It can be observed that a large amount of donations and government funds allocated for the project have been wasted. The cost of a house at the Nuraicholai housing scheme is Rs.35 lakhs . But,  today a cost amounting to one million is needed for the renovation. Delays in providing the available resources to the tsunami victims is a violation of the rights of the people. Following the judgment of the Supreme Court, it is observed that such delays are taking place in the selection of beneficiaries of all ethnicities. Perhaps the housing scheme would have been a success if the case had not been filed in the court. But in that case other ethnic groups would not have been taken into consideration.

The Nuraicholai Tsunami Housing scheme is said to be set up for the benefit of the Muslim population who has lost their homes due to the tsunami. It is alleged that hundreds of Muslims who lost their homes due to the tsunami in the Ampara district have not yet been given the houses.The court ruled that since the housing scheme is set up in state land,constitution makes it clear that the beneficiaries are entitled to the equal protection of their fundamental rights, freedom, conscience and religion.

But the judgment did not come into force. Beneficiaries were not properly provided with houses. Currently, only the walls can be handed over to the beneficiaries, not the houses. It can be observed that the houses are in a dilapidated condition.     

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