By S. Sivathasan –
The Immovable is Moving
The caption has no Marxian connotation whatsoever. The words do convey that the expropriation of land which went on mercilessly for decades on end in the North East is now halted. More crucially the process is put on reverse mode, not with a promise but with a Presidential directive to the Service Commanders. In the years of upheaval, the state was the biggest expropriator of people’s lands. The largest swathes were by the military together with housing assets. It is supposed that they will now be relinquished with rectitude. As for speed, it has necessarily to bespeak military discipline.
After governance collapsed in the North of the country, land was the most notable among possessions to be ‘misappropriated’. Naturally one would affirm. Quite correctly, ancient Tamils identified three insatiable desires. ‘Love of land, Love of women, Love of gold’. This perennial truth has prevailed over the millennia. What kept these desires in check? The rigours of law and the dispensation of justice. They got frayed in the North East under the assault of war. This process was continuous between 1981 and 2014. Laws got aborted and justice was miscarried. Now the time is for their resuscitation.
Responding to the initiative of the TNA, the President and the Prime Minister have advised the armed forces to take immediate action on land issues. To be more clear, land taken over in the North East and not having a direct bearing on the military needs of the Forces should be returned to the rightful owners. Time phasing of implementation can make for precision both to the Forces as well as the losers of land. It can go backwards from the date of the decision in January 2015 to 19 May 2009, the end of the war. Invasive military takeover characterized this period and this action demands immediate attention.
To be done alongside is release of lands in HSZs. They also include parcels forcibly acquired under High Security Zones (HSZ). Conclusion of the war, elimination of the warring group, non-recurrence of violence and resumption of normalcy have knocked the bottom off the need for continued military ownership or occupation. HSZ meant to the owners displacement, non-residence and denial of access to their own property.
Thousands of homes so abandoned for decades are in abject ruin. The writer has seen them in his official inspections. The owners have to be given back their land. This is the very first step. Compensation and loan facilities constitute a programme by itself for rebuilding and resettlement. Movement back to Jaffna and the North can then follow.
The above can take their course since there is no security threat. HSZs can be de-frozen. Personnel to look after security have a strength of 375,000 (3 Armed Forces around 255,000. Police around 82,000. Citizen Volunteer Force 38,000)
This handing back will proclaim the results of the Litmus Test to all Tamils, all Sri Lankans and to the ever watchful world. Let it be the immediate precursor for the process of assuaging misgivings which got entrenched over the decades. Let it also declare in bold relief, the steadfastness of the new regime for transfigured governance.
Culture of Credibility
A credible 100 Day work programme, an honest account of initiatives taken, correct reportage on progress recorded and a true list of priorities for the next two weeks; all add up to creating a culture of credibility towards the new regime. Sustaining the tempo till the elections in April will certainly swing the people to the side of the government. Added strength mustered thereby is the guarantee of strong governance.
It is evident that the new regime has set its thoughts in delivering. Lord Acton the eminent British historian once said “The worst moment for a government is when it begins to reform”. The country is fully alive to the positive changes. For a society suppressed for long, expectations unleashed are high. For the minorities they are higher still. In the next three months, achievements to touch their imagination and publicity by a media left completely to itself, can win the trust of all. Fostering a culture of credibility is the Mantra.