The colours of the hills | Sunday Observer

The colours of the hills

Candidates in their campaigns-Periyasamy Mylvaganam - ‘betel’ Udapatha
Candidates in their campaigns-Periyasamy Mylvaganam - ‘betel’ Udapatha

The Sunday Observer visited two of the export tea production areas, Pussellawa and Kotagala, of the central hill country for an on-the-spot study of the trends in the run up to the February 10 local government polls and observed the community gearing up for the polls, with polls campaigns gaining momentum and virtually all candidates representing the different trade-union-based political parties, mainly candidates of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) led by Minister Mano Ganeshan and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) led by parliamentarian and former Minister Arumugan Thondaman attending pocket meetings and going on house by house canvassing. The TPA is a three party alliance of the National Union of Workers (NUW) led by Minister Palany Thigambaram, the Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) led by State Minister V. Radhakrishnan and the Democratic People’s Front (DPF) led by Minister Mano Ganeshan.

We talked to some of the candidates and plantation voters, selecting them at random. The candidates are working round-the-clock and are very enthusiastic about the upcoming polls, while the voters, who appeared not very optimistic about the polls, mostly expressed their problems although they said that they would certainly take part in the polls. What we observed and captured in our images, at these instances, is that, despite the many housing, infrastructure, education and employment programs that have been implemented over the years, the people are immersed in poverty and do not have even elementary facilities such as, proper housing, a regular income, latrines, interior roads, transport and education for their children.

The questions asked from both, the candidates and the voters were mainly on their views on the new electoral system, the 25 percent quota to women candidates, whether there is awareness among the electors on the new electoral system, the twofold increase of Councillors in the upcoming polls; and on the part of the candidates their tentative programs on improving the living standards of their local communities.

Their answers:

P. Mylvahanam JP. Contesting the Udapalatha Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) on the SLFP’s ‘betel’ symbol:

A: I am now the Secretary of the plantation TU of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Earlier they did not know when they elected and never had any personal acquaintance but now it is entirely different. The candidates had to visit a vast area and sometimes the voters never had the chance to personally acquaint themselves with the candidates. Now the situation is different. I am contesting the Udapalatha Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) in the Pussellawa electorate and the people know me personally and the opportunity for providing them a better service is very much enhanced. The people are eager to elect someone personally known to them. I was a PS Councilor previously for the full term of four years. We had difficulty in getting funds for the plantation community of my area but I got funds to the tune of Rs.3.5 million and spent them on infrastructure development. This should have been done long ago because the plantation community play an important role and are capable. They should have been given more importance than us. Now the expenditure on posters, transport etc have been reduced.

Sinniah Amarawathy, Employee at the NUW office in Pussellawa:

Four educated and qualified women have been nominated under the 25 percent quota for women. Much has been done through the PS, e.g. water and latrine facilities and small roads. Women will work honestly and tirelessly and would make a change in the life of the plantation women.

Karuppiah Shanmugaraj, contesting Udapalatha PS on TPF’s ‘ladder’ symbol:

There were only 24 councilors in the Udapalatha PS. Now the number is to be increased to 43 and unlike previously we will be able to give a better service to the people. We have also fielded some educated and capable women candidates. We no longer have to depend on estate management for infrastructure and other related work. That was slavery. Now the situation is different. PS jurisdiction has been extended to the plantations and plantation people’s representatives will work for them. We will get funds to work for our people. Earlier we had to cover a vast area but now we have an area which we can cover easily and an opportunity to talk to the people. We have given importance to the youth. Under the mixed system we will be able to get more representatives. We are conducting programs to create awareness among the plantation community on the new electoral system.

Sevugan Sellamuthu, CWC Assistant Secretary. Candidate contesting the Udapalatha PS on the UPFA ‘betel’ symbol:

A: I was a member of Kotmale and Udapalatha as a CWC member. Previously our people were not very educated on politics. Our founder leader Saumiyamurthy Thondaman obtained franchise rights for the plantation people. We got a good percentage of political representation. We had three Councilors in the Central PC and most of the PSs were under our control. The situation has now changed because the plantation community has been divided under new political fronts. We had two members in the Udapalatha PS but we could not bargain for the vice-president’s position because of a division among us. People have now started to think differently. They know that the cost of living has gone up and wages issue not resolved in spite of the pledges. In the areas we contest on the CWC’s “cockerel’ symbol, we have nominated 25 percent women candidates. But in Udapalatha we have not fielded any women candidates. Although the plantation people paid taxes to the PSs throughout, funds were not allocated to them. But now the PSs have provisions to allocate funds to the plantations, which is an important turning point. Estate managements are not doing any infrastructure work now.

We have joined hands with President Maithripala Sirisena and are contesting on the ‘betel’ symbol expecting to work in coordination and goodwill. We only support the President and are much concerned about the Treasury bond scam which also involves EPF/ETF funds of the plantation people. In any case after the February 10 polls, our General Secretary Arumugan Thondaman will take a final decision in consultation with the National Council of the party, whether or not to work in coordination with the government. The CWC welcomes the new electoral system, because it gives us an opportunity to increase our representation.

The two PSs of Ambagamuwa and Maskeliya have now been made into six PSs and this gives them an opportunity to increase their political representation. Divisions among the community due to the mushrooming political parties pose a threat.

Muthusamy Dharmalingam (57), retired estate worker of Melford Estate, Pussellawa, located three km from the town, in the steep ascending narrow road, which is in a run-down condition. The estate was formerly under the management of Pussellawa Plantations Ltd. and is now under Damro Company:

We have been voting at every election but we see the candidates, parliamentarians or councilors only during canvassing time. We have many problems relating to our houses, water supply, sanitary facilities and income. Only my wife is employed in the estate and she too becomes sick from time to time. I am a sick person confined to the house. Of my three sons attending school, the eldest sat the GCE (O/L). Previously we had Samurdhi assistance but now even that has been discontinued. The line room in which we live is in a dilapidated condition. We did not get any assistance either from the estate management or the local government authorities. Only a small patch of concrete road was done by the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT).

Malakaruppan Maheswaran (47), a labourer in Melford Estate:

I have been a labourer in the estate for 14 years and my wife is also working in the estate. My two daughters are attending school. Elections or the election of members from the plantation community does not carry any meaning for us. We have been living in the dilapidated line-room, without any water supply or sanitation. They only come to ask for our votes. After winning they do not visit us and it is difficult for us to meet them. In the upcoming polls, we want to vote for the women candidates, hoping that at least they would do something for us.

Kandiah Sivamalar, worker in the Melford Estate:

I am employed in the estate and my husband is a labourer elsewhere. Of my three children two attend school and my son is engaged in a minor job in Colombo.

We only vote during elections but those who got elected never do anything for us. Our house is in a bad condition, with no water supply or sanitation.

Alliyammah Kandasamy, worker in Melford Estate:

I work in the estate and my husband is a labourer elsewhere. Of my three sons two attend school and one son is physically handicapped since birth.

My son who passed the Grade 5 exam has to be admitted to a different school but we are unable to pay the small initial payment necessary for that school. We have voted at all elections but none of the elected have helped us. We have to walk 3 km to fetch water.

We do not know anything about the new electoral system nor women candidates having been given a 25 percent quota.

Ramiah Chandrakumary, worker in Melford Estate:

I am a tea plucker in the estate for the past four years. My husband is a ‘nattamme’ in Pussellawa town. My two children are attending school. We constructed a latrine but we have no water.

We vote at all elections but those elected do not visit us or help us in any way. We know that elections are to be held on the 10th of next month but we neither know about the new electoral systems nor women candidates having been giving 25 percent quota to contest elections. `
Line rooms of the Melford workers