Indian Tamils, mostly employed in tea and rubber plantations in Sri Lanka, lack proper housing and Indian government is funding construction of 14 thousand houses for them through grant assistance project.
Sri Lanka faced a three decades long ethnic war waged by minority Tamils in north and east of the country but there is another category of Tamils of Indian origin mostly residing in central hill areas of the country. They were brought from India by British during 19th century to work in coffee plantations in Sri Lanka. More than a million are still associated with tea and rubber plantations and though they have got citizenship after initial hiccups in post independence Sri Lanka, their social and economic status needs much improvement. Housing is a major issue for these workers employed on daily wages and most of them are living within rooms as small as 175 sq feet, which is hardly adequate for a family. Providing them proper housing is considered a priority keeping in view the social stigma associated with these linerooms.
After the new government came into power in 2015, it formulated a national plan of action for the plantation workers and planned for construction of 55 thousand houses in five years till 2020. However, funding is a problem and only six thousand houses are estimated to be ready by end of this year. Government of India, as part of its development assistance to Sri Lanka, has already built 46 thousand houses in war affected north and east provinces while another four thousand houses were earmarked for plantation workers in central and Uva province. The funding is being done through an innovative community-driven approach and grant assistance of 9,50,000 Sri Lankan rupees is being disbursed per beneficiary in installments. The first lot of houses constructed are scheduled to be handed over to the beneficiaries in a function on Sunday. The function will also see signing of an MoU for construction of another 10,000 houses which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his second visit to Sri Lanka last year.
These new houses will not only ensure shelter to the beneficiaries but also provide land rights to these families, who were landless for generations. The Indian housing Project is being implemented as full grant assistance amounting to USD 350 million from the Government of India, making it one of the largest grant assistance projects ever undertaken by India overseas. Tea plantation workers, who are going to get houses, expressed their happiness and thanked Indian government for its assistance.
“I sincerely thank the Government of India for the house and the Government of Sri Lanka for providing land. We were living in lineroom houses with only two small rooms. Here we have two rooms, one living room, a kitchen and bathroom. So we are very happy moving into this house and very thankful to Govt. of India,” Ruben, a beneficiary.
The current government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a proactive outreach for connecting the Indian diaspora through welfare measures and investment opportunities. Government’s diaspora policy not only focuses on the rich and white-collared workers but gives equal significance to the working class population and the housing project in Sri Lanka is testimony to that.