President Initiates fourth phase of ‘Bharat-Lanka’ Housing Project”

  • Pledges support for Economic and Social Rights of the Upcountry Tamil community – The President.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe underscored the government’s commitment to safeguarding the economic and social rights of the upcountry Tamil community during a ceremony held at the Presidential Secretariat. He acknowledged their significant contribution to the nation’s economy and expressed intentions to unite political representatives from the upcountry, transcending party lines, to present collaborative proposals within the upcoming month.

The occasion marked the virtual launch of the 4th stage of the Indian Housing project, ‘Bharat-Lanka,’ aimed at constructing 10,000 houses for plantation sector workers. President Wickremesinghe, along with Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development Jeevan Thondaman and Indian High Commissioner H.E. Santhosh Jha, virtually unveiled the foundation stone plaque for 1300 houses across 45 plantation estates in ten districts.

President Wickremesinghe expressed gratitude to the Government of India for their support, particularly on the 200th anniversary of the upcountry Tamil community’s arrival in Sri Lanka. He highlighted efforts to negotiate land acquisition from estate companies for housing construction and emphasized the government’s commitment to advancing education standards within the upcountry.

The event was attended by several dignitaries, including State Minister of Irrigation and Water Supply Shasheendra Rajapaksa and Governor of Central Province Lalith U Gamage, highlighting the significance of the housing project and bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka.

Expressing his views, President Ranil Wickremesinghe further said;

‘On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Upcountry Tamil Community to Sri Lanka, the Indian government has generously provided support for this housing project. I express my sincere gratitude to the Government of India for this gesture. The Tamil community of Indian Origin, who have made significant contributions to the country’s economy, have unfortunately suffered great losses due to the lack of land and housing ownership.

Today, they have been deprived of their political rights, but it is imperative that their economic and social rights are upheld. The government is actively initiating this process, starting with negotiations with estate companies to acquire land for the construction of these houses. Consequently, we anticipate commencing related housing programs in the near future.

Furthermore, the government has prioritized the advancement of education in the estate sector. Education levels within estates lag behind those in other regions, necessitating the establishment of equitable educational standards across all schools.

Moreover, it’s essential to recognize that not all upcountry residents engage in plantation work. Thus, efforts must extend to providing opportunities for youth, including access to education and vocational training, particularly geared towards international employment opportunities.

Currently under deliberation is the decision between continued plantation labour or the provision of land plots as per the plantation agreement, aiming to elevate individuals to the status of small tea plantation owners. This initiative seeks to foster economic empowerment and equality among upcountry communities.

Our aim is to convene all political representatives and present unified proposals devoid of party divisions within the next month.

The government is diligently addressing challenges one by one. Currently, discussions are underway to find solutions for the issues facing the people of the North East. Simultaneously, we must prepare to advance the nation’s economy by addressing the concerns of the Tamils and Muslim communities residing in the Upcountry region.

While we faced hardships for a period, we have now overcome bankruptcy and resumed economic activities. Upon assuming office, the nation grappled with shortages of food and fuel. Today, however, we have successfully overcome these shortages. As we implement economic programs, challenges such as tax burdens arise. Nevertheless, this burden is not permanent and in a matter of months, relief will be provided to the people.

It is crucial to acknowledge that our progress from the recent economic crisis was significantly aided by the financial support provided by India. Without this assistance, our path forward would indeed be challenging.

Furthermore, we are actively engaged in enhancing our economic ties with India, particularly during this period of India’s rapid economic development. During our discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we extensively deliberated on bolstering the relationship between our two nations.

In conclusion, I express my heartfelt gratitude once again to the Government of India for their invaluable support in initiating this program’.

Speaking at the occasion Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development Mr. Jeevan Thondaman emphasized that the launch of 1,300 houses in Phase 4 of the Indian Housing Scheme symbolizes more than mere construction; it signifies the initiation of the larger promise of 10,000 homes made during Prime Minister Modi’s visit. He expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his dedication to the Indian origin Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

Minister Thondaman stressed the long-awaited nature of the housing project, affirming the government’s commitment to delivering on promised projects rather than merely showcasing them.

Minister Thondaman praised President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s declaration of the decade of development for the up-country community and outlined initiatives of the granting of land ownership rights to facilitate economic and social inclusion. He also thanked President Ranil Wickremesinghe for his leadership during challenging times and emphasized the importance of permanent solutions to the community’s issues.

The Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka H.E. Santosh Jha, expressed his immense pleasure in participating in the event marking the launch of Phase 4 of the Indian Housing Project. He announced the virtual commencement of constructing the first phase of 1,300 houses out of the pledged 10,000 houses for plantation workers in Sri Lanka.

Highlighting the significance of the project, the High Commissioner emphasized India’s deep commitment, particularly under the leadership of Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi, to support the Indian origin Tamil community in Sri Lanka. The decision to construct these houses was announced during Prime Minister Modi’s historic visit to Hatton, marking the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the region. These 10,000 houses, spanning 250 estates and six provinces, aim to support the most underprivileged sections of society. The primary objective of the housing project is to provide plantation workers with their own dwelling spaces, thereby empowering them and improving their well-being. This initiative aligns with India’s people-centric approach and neighbourhood-first policy in its relations with Sri Lanka.

The High Commissioner concluded by acknowledging the Government of Sri Lanka, especially President Ranil Wickremesinghe, for his support and guidance. He reiterated India’s commitment to building a deeper and stronger partnership based on shared security, prosperity and enhanced connectivity between the two nations, as outlined in the vision document issued during President Wickremesinghe’s visit to India in July 2023.

The event was attended by State Minister of Irrigation and Water Supply Shasheendra Rajapaksa, Governor of the Central Province Lalith U Gamage, Member of Parliament Vadivel Suresh along with other State Ministers, and officials from the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka.