Would like more Pradeshiya Sabhas for N’Eliya-Radhakrishnan
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
State Minister of Education, Nuwara Eliya district, Velusamy Radhakrishnan said that while his political coalition Tamil Progressive Alliance(TPA) had appealed to the President to release all Tamil prisoners arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on general pardon, he had refused to interfere in the functions of the judiciary. "Our leader Minister Mano Ganesan has spoken about those arrested under the PTA. We have also requested the President to grant a general amnesty to all these prisoners. However, he said he cannot interfere in the functions of the Judiciary," he said. The following is an excerpt of the interview with Ceylon Today:
The Up-country community has recently claimed that they may not be able to obtain their traditional Deepavali allowances, and if not, they will celebrate the festival as 'Black Deepavali'. Why are you silent over this issue? Have you initiated any conversation with the authorities?
A: We are not silent. We have initiated a dialogue in this regard with the Tea Board. Earlier people received Rs. 6,500 as their festival allowance. However, last year, they managed to obtain Rs.10,000 as Deepavali allowance. An additional amount of Rs. 3,500 was given by the government through the Tea Board.
People faced difficulties last year during the same period, so the government made arrangements to increase the allowance to support their expenses during the festival season. However, currently the estate authorities are not willing to pay more than Rs.8,000 as a festival allowance. We are still discussing this with the Tea Board.
But Deepavali is tomorrow? When would you settle this issue?
A: We cannot assure them of Rs.10,000. We cannot do anything further. They have increased the amount from Rs.6,500 to Rs.8,000. Last year, we were able to see Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's direct involvement in providing Rs.10,000 allowance to the people due to the prevailing problems. However, currently the situation is different.
Why have estate authorities decided to cultivate corn in tea estates? Is it suitable to cultivate corn in these estates?
A: Tea estates are divided into A, B, C and D categories. Estates that fall under the 'A' category are of great productivity, produce great quality tea and gain a good profit. These estates are very much under the purview of plantation companies. Estates that are classed under 'B' are comparatively less profitable. Thus, the plantation companies have brought a proposal to equally divide these lands and provide them to individual tea cultivators. The plantation companies will provide fertilizers and other facilities to them. People can work at the estates and separately cultivate tea on the given piece of land. They can sell the tea from these lands to the company and gain an income. Lands that fall under 'C' category are for foreign investment projects. These lands can be allocated for alternative cultivation like corn, potatoes etc. These lands are tea estates that have faced losses. 'D' is categorized as estates that were completely abandoned. These lands are allocated according to a proposal to invest in poultry.
Companies have not been in a position to maintain tea estates that fall under categories B, C and D. Currently, there is a shortage of workers on the estates.
Although these proposals were not implemented in the past, due to changes taking place in the tea estates today, people should adapt themselves to this proposal for income generation. We need an alternative when the estates are running at a loss. We cannot oppose every proposal. Previously around 300 - 400 workers were employed on tea estates but currently this number has reduced to 80 - 100. Most of them have given up their employment on estates. Therefore, these proposals will provide an income generation mode to people in the plantation sector.
There are views of political experts that the Up-country Community would be affected by the 20th Amendment. What is your stance on this? Will it affect the representation of the Plantation Community?
A: The initial 20th amendment was not passed in parliament but alternatively they brought a Provincial Council Amendment. They proposed a 60:40 representation but we, the Up-country representatives bargained for 50:50 representation. They have agreed to implement it.
However, this system should be practically implemented and should be examined as to its suitability. We are used to electing our representatives under the current system, thus some are opposing the amendments. We have to experience two or three elections to examine the advantages and disadvantages of the newly introduced electoral system. All majority parties have agreed to the amendment. Only the minority parties have opposed. Rather than opposing the amendment we must gain something from the new system.
The new amendment had ensured representation of women. It is said that all parties are hunting for women representatives.
What decisions have your party taken in this regard?
A: We are trying our level best to choose women representatives although those from the Plantation Community are reluctant to come forward.
You have proposed to the government to increase the number of Pradeshiya Sabha (PS)s in the Nuwara Eliya District. How is it progressing?
A: We have proposed to increase the number of PSs from five to twelve. We are unsure if we would obtain all 12 for the district.
Three in the Nuwara Eliya electorate, three in Ambagamuva, two in Kotmale, two in Walapane and two in Hanguranketha. It seems like they will agree to a lesser number. It will be positive at least if they agree to increase them from five to ten.
You were with President when the black flag protest was held in Jaffna last week. How do you view the grievances of those protestors?
A: These prisoners cannot be considered as political prisoners. Political prisoners are those who have committed wrong in a political arena. These prisoners were charged for being involved in the war. There are such prisoners from North, East and Up-country. Those arrested during the Bindunuwewa protest are also kept with the same set of prisoners. They were all arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Those arrested at Bindunuweva only held a protest blocking the way. But they are also arrested under the same law and have been detained for a long term.
However, currently there is good governance in this country. Most problems should be solved through dialogue. But for the past 23 days, three prisoners have been on hunger strike. It is the judicial institution that should take action in this regard. It is up to the Attorney General's Department to decide if the case should be transferred back to Vavuniya. The President cannot get directly involved in the functions of an independent judiciary. He has also said that he will solve this matter before it becomes a political issue.
The National Tamil Language Day was organized by our ministry in Jaffna. Since families of prisoners and other representatives held a black flag protest, Opposition Leader, TNA Parliamentarians and Jaffna District Ministers did not participate at the event. All members confirmed that they shall participate but as the black flag protest was held insisting on boycotting the President's visit, all refrained from participating. These representatives were scared that the protestors will sling mud at them if they participate at the event.
The President gained credit out of this event, even if the protest was to boycott his visit. He initiated a dialogue with the protestors and allocated a time for a meeting regarding the issue. It may be scheduled on Thursday, 19.
There are criticisms that the national anthem should be sung in Tamil first in Tamil areas of the country but it was sung in Sinhala at the Tamil Language Day event held in Jaffna. Is that correct? Was there any particular reason?
A: Since it was a government event, we decided to first sing in Sinhala and next in Tamil. The same students sang in Sinhala and Tamil on the same stage.
What is your stand on repealing the PTA?
A: Our Leader Minister Mano Ganesan has spoken about the prisoners arrested under the PTA. We have also requested the President to grant a general amnesty towards these prisoners.
However, he said that he cannot interfere in the functions of the Judiciary.
PTA is an unnecessary law. If that exists what is the point in practising democracy and good governance? We should abolish it.
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