Colombo Telegraph

Lifting The Northern Province

By S. Sivathasan


In an economic sense, 1982 was the best year since independence for the Northern Province (NP). At the present tempo of a little progress and more regress, it may take 20 more years to get back to 1982. This would imply that when the rest of Sri Lanka (SL) gets on to 2032, NP will lag 50 years behind. If growing together of all provinces is targeted as socially desirable, they will develop as per the physical resources and the natural endowments of the people. Growth differential thereafter is unstoppable. Stifling it for that reason however is iniquitous. When it is pursued as policy it becomes unconscionable. It can only generate a feeling of injury, frustration and tension.

The urgent need of the North is for it to be on its own, to work out its way of redemption. The people can evolve their strategies to create wealth relying on their ability and effort. The overwhelming circumstance against is the destruction caused by war. Therefore the essential facilitation of an enabling environment has to be provided by the state for a decade or so. In this respect it has failed for four years even to think about it. Highway construction, restoration of the railway and provision of power that are under way are indisputably conducive to development. But the deficit is massive.

What are the grave shortcomings? The influx into south Sri Lanka was occasioned by quarter century of dislocation in the North. Residents expelled from their homes for the sake of High Security Zones (HSZ) have no houses to return to. Reparations are needed in a huge way for them to restore their residences and to rebuild their lives. Has this been worked out even though Tokyo Pledge prematurely terminated shows a precedent? Such a move would require that the HSZ be vacated. This is a crucial component for a return to normality. Lakhs of recent migrants to the South will then move to the North,  along with their source of income which is principally remittance from abroad. This amount is estimated at a few billions per annum. This would begin to fuel the Northern economy infusing the needed finances into house renovation, house construction, absorption of farm products and giving a spurt to trade.

What the Tamils desire as their primary value is a life of dignity in their place of birth together with their compatriots. This is denied them invoking the full might of the coercive apparatus. Do they feel free when 150,000 soldiers pry into every aspect of their personal lives and chaperon them at every turn? Compounding the problems of the people further is the rampage of the para military, operating under the aegis of government. Sufferance is the badge of your tribe, is what the military dins into the Tamils. Do they feel equal citizens when they have no right to own the land they owned? When 6,500 acres in land starved Jaffna are taken over by the military, don’t they have a sense of deprivation? Won’t the other Tamils in the province see the Sword of Damocles poised before them?

For all this the military commander of the North pronounces that the dispossessed will get land along the coast. Knowing full well that this would need a change of occupation from farming to fishing and therefore of caste, he says it. He also announces that for land taken over compensation will be paid. In what currency? In ‘Zimbabwe Currency To Be’. Who ever demanded it? With such insensitivity the military sets about its tasks. With the North East alone under this fate, those in the rest of the country have no fear since expropriation is ethnically based. Both law and its implementation are oppression oriented. The people had prescience enough to anticipate suppression of their rights and quite rightly demanded that the military should be moved out of the North. The military persisted in staying on to execute the evil intent of the government. The withdrawal of the military is the basic step to a resumption of normality and a pre-condition to any development activity.

Driving the Tamils to the pastoral stage is the target of the government. This plan and its integrated execution are evident to all. Tamils have observed it most keenly for over half a century. To add to the ease of governance, the Tamil population has been reduced by a third in the last thirty years. To crush their prospects, the hand of the state has for long been laid on their Education. It was not without thought or sense that a senior Minister of national stature once said “If you want to destroy the Tamils, first destroy their Education”.

Tamils too with intelligence and prescience place their finger on Education as the strategy for meaningful employment and forward movement. With the fullest understanding of its power, opportunities are smashed by the state before they can blossom. In respect to Tamils, this truth holds in the nation and more in the North ie NP. In many a state there is Single Window Clearance for speedy action. In the North there is an all pervasive Governor’s Office. It is a single orifice to stymie and to stultify all projects at their very source. Those who have sponsored projects and failed assert without reservation, that it is easier to take a camel through the eye of a needle. They have been harrowed enough through a policy of weathering. A few news releases of some school building statistics do not make for educational development.

The eyes of the Tamils are on fresh vistas. To cite an example, developing modern education appropriate to the Northern students’ mental capacity and aptitude is their priority. The performance of South India – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra and Kerala – point the way and display  possibilities. Karnataka’s software exports for 12 months in FY 2011/2012 amounted to Ind. Rs. 850 billion ie SL RS. 1.938 trillion. Tamil Nadu recorded Ind. Rs. 468 billion ie SL Rs. 1.067 trillion. SL’s total revenue and grants in 2012 amounted to Rs. 1.051 trillion.

What explains Karnataka’s pre-eminence? In 1985, Texas Instruments fielded a team to India with a two city agenda – Bombay and Chennai. Both were lukewarm because neither comprehended the potential of IT. An unscheduled visit to Bangalore gave them a warm reception and the city got a head start. The other two lost out the early bird advantage. Bangalore had the advantage of a culture of science due to the vision of Jamshedji Tata who established the Indian Institute of Science in that city in 1909. MGR in Chennai had film culture. Growth is according to the excellence of one’s mind says Thirukkural. The North has no appetite for features of a pastoral economy, cultivating mushrooms and herding goats.

Sinhala Only language policy was to shut out Tamils from government service. Tamil also became an official language after Tamils were excluded in sufficient numbers to give monopoly rights to the Sinhalese. Now good education is denied them, to emasculate their chances still further. Two surveys, 12 and 16 years back showed the proportion as less than negligible. Public sector employment is 1.2 million. A study of names in the list of officials in the telephone directory will reveal ethnic composition in the Presidential Secretariat, Ministries, Departments, Boards, Corporations, Central Bank and State Banks. Industrial sector too cannot absorb them since the North has no industries worth speaking about. In numbers there are 11, to the country’s 4,816.

By all account, there is an imperative need for new ground to be plumbed. Commencing with education, human resources development is of paramount importance. As for infrastructure no list is necessary as the government knows it all and the priorities. Taking the Tokyo Pledge as the entry point, action needs to be mobilized for fund mobilization and to develop the will to implement. What the North requires is the immediate initial spurt.

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