No water to drink, though much flow into waste | Sunday Observer

No water to drink, though much flow into waste

The Sunday Observer in its second leg of tour to two major export tea production areas in the central hills, visited Kotagala, followed by Pussellawa, for an on-the-spot study of the trends in the run up to the February 10 Local Government polls. The plantation community is gearing up for the polls, with the 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 house to 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. The TPA is contesting most of the LG bodies in the plantations on the UNP’s ‘elephant’ symbol, while the CWC is mostly contesting on the UPFA’s ‘betel ‘ symbol.

We talked to two candidates, including a woman candidate, representing the UPF and contesting on the ‘elephant’ symbol, and to voters of Wootton Estate, Kotagala, where polls campaigns were in progress. The candidates expressed optimism that with the increase in the number of LG bodies in the Nuwara Eliya region, especially, in the plantation areas, the twofold increase in the number of candidates and also fund allocations for development work in the plantations ensured for the first time, they would be in a position to undertake large scale infrastructure development for their community .

The voters we spoke to, said, they have been on Wootton Estate for two generations and have not been provided even basic facilities, such as, drinking water, sanitary facilities or a decent house. Incidentally, Wootton Estate is now owned by a private individual, and some of the houses are still owned by that individual, while part of the Estate has been sold out as land plots, with the tea production dwindling, informed sources said. The people said, they have to walk about 3 km to fetch drinking water for their daily use. It is inexplicable that in the hills where clean water is abundant with rivers, springs and tributaries originating, the water sources have not been mobilized for providing drinking water to the inhabitants for so many decades, observers commented. Strangely enough, although all hospitals and dispensaries are state-owned, medical facilities in the Estate dispensary are being denied to residents, the observers said.

Excerpts of what the candidates and voters said:

Elumalai Ellavi , voter, Wootton Estate, Kotagala:

My husband works in Colombo. One of my two children is attending school, and I am not working in the estate. My parents worked in the estate and we got the house from them . Now they are old and not able to work. We welcome women candidates contesting the polls because they alone understand the problems of housewives. No development work was undertaken for our estate for many years, other than the construction of one or two interior roads. When we construct toilets, the estate owner takes credit, claiming he did it because the line-room houses in which we live still belong to the owner of the estate. We also pay electricity bills in his name. Medical facilities are denied to us in the estate dispensary. Although we brought these to the notice of the previous Councilors and trade union leaders, the problem remains unresolved.

Arumugam Vadivelu, Voter, Wootton Estate, Kotagala: I work in neighbouring urban areas to eke out a living, my wife is unemployed. Of my three children two are married and one is working . I built my house in the 7 perch land that was given to my family. We meet the Ministers or Councilors only during polls campaigns. It is extremely difficult to meet them after that.

In that respect the electoral system presently being implemented is good, because we are going to vote for a candidate from our area, well known to us. We have only been able to meet Minister Anurahda Jayaratne and his supporters, in Gampola. They constructed interior roads and got us electricity.

Letchuman Viswanathan alias Pushpa, UNP candidate representing the UPF and contesting the Kotagala PS:

I am the financial secretary and politburo member of the UPF. I am contesting elections for the first time although I have been in the UPF for the last 25 years from the time of party founder leader P.Chandrasekaran. The increase in the number of members to LG bodies is good because more work can be carried out in respect of the electorates.

There were only two Pradeshiya Sabhas (PSs ) but now the number is increased to six. This means more development work.

The fielding of women candidates is a progressive step because, women play a more important role than men. They understand the problems of women and will be able to lay special focus on resolving such problems. It is necessary that they be elected. Although the plantation people have been paying taxes to the PSs in the past no funds were allocated for any infrastructure development. But, now the situation has changed and funds are to be allocated for development work.

Kandiah Radikala, Voter, Wootton Estate, Kotagala:

We welcome women candidates, because they understand our problems. These small houses in which we live were constructed over two decades ago under the auspices of the then CWC leader Saumiyamurthy Thondaman when he was a Minister.

Only the houses were constructed but no other facilities, including drinking water, sanitary facilities etc were provided. The same situation continues today. There are about 57 families living in this estate. There is no cemetery to bury our dead. The CWC did not help us in these matters. The roofs of our houses are badly damaged and leak during rainy weather. The estate ceased functioning several years ago, and is now owned by a private individual.

There is no proper management nor any help for us from the owner. We approached Minister Thigambaram who took up our cause with the relevant authorities. We desperately need drinking water. It is our primary requirement. For some houses the estate owner has got electricity supply in his name and is using that as an evidence to claim ownership to the houses. He is threatening the families and want them to leave.

Perumal Yogeswary, Voter , Wootton Estate, Kotagala:

My husband works in Colombo. One son is married and the other is schooling. We welcome the fielding of women candidates. Only women Councilors can help us because they understand our problems better. We believe, the upcountry plantation people will benefit by that.

The number of PSs has been increased and a new era is now dawning for the plantation people . The trade-union-cum-political-party we supported all these years failed to help us when we desperately needed their help. The TPA rose to the occasion and took up our cause with the relevant authorities. So we will support a candidate representing that party.

Velusamy Saseetharan, Voter, Wootton Estate, Kotagala:

I work as a labourer in the neighbouring urban areas.

The estate has not been functioning for the last 23 years, so we have to find work elsewhere. My wife and my mother live in the estate house. Until now nothing has been done for us by the PS but we believe the new PS would take steps to solve our problems . Our major problem is drinking water and we anticipate the PS to resolve that.

Pachchamuthu Sinniah, Voter, Woottron Estate, Kotagala:

My house collapsed and I am renovating it with my own money. The estate owner is objecting to it and when we approached the PS, the officials asked us to pay the tax in the estate owner’s name because the house belonged to him. We have been living in the house for two generations . The estate is not functioning, so I am working in the neighbouring estate, with two of my sons.

One son is in school, while my wife is unemployed. We expect the new administration to get us ownership rights to the house in which we have been living, provide us drinking water and protect us from the harassment of the estate owner. We very much welcome women candidates contesting the polls.

P.Balakrishnan: Voter, Wootton Erstate, Kotagala:

I have been a driver, and am now retired. My wife works in the estate.

I had 10 milch cows and a cattle shed in the estate to eke out a living, but was prevented from engaging in it, and arrested by the police on a complaint made against that. We are facing harassment.We anticipate the PS to look into these and take suitable steps to help us.

Alexandrina Sylaja: Candidate of the UPF contesting the Kotagala PS on the UNP’s ‘elephant’ symbol:

I am a self-employment instructor and translator, by profession. This is the first time I am contesting elections. I encountered much harassment, my house was attacked about which I have lodged a complain in the police. People of the plantations, especially, the women, have many problems. I have seen during my campaigning that they lack basic facilities , mainly bathrooms and latrines.

There are other shortcomings which the estate managements have not addressed. I believe, now, with fund allocations for the plantations, the PS Councilors would be able to address these issues.

Plantation women have expressed delight over women candidates being fielded. 

The election campaign in progress