Resettlement Ministry to be scrapped

Remaining functions to be handled by GAs; Sampur IDPs face new dilemma
By Anthony David

The government is to wind up the Ministry of Resettlement from next year and vest the remaining responsibility in the hands of the respective Government Agents. The decision, the Sunday Times learns, has been made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Like the withdrawal of the State of Emergency, he feels there is no need now for a Ministry of Resettlement since most of the task has been completed.
Such a move will see new functions being given to the current Minister, Gunaratne Weerakoon, and his deputy, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan.

The Ministry was established, particularly after the military defeat of the Tiger guerrillas in May 2009, to oversee the resettlement of some 300,000 people displaced by the separatist war. The bulk of them have been resettled leaving only some 8,000 IDPs to be relocated. The government hopes to resettle them by next month leaving no IDPs in the north.

However, last week’s signing of an agreement between Sri Lanka and India for the establishment of the Sampur power plant has necessitated the relocation of 900 families. People displaced from Sampur will not be considered as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) if they do not agree to the government’s relocation plan, Eastern Province Governor Mohan Wijewickrema has said.

The move would mean that some 900 families or 2,800 people living in three separate IDP camps will lose their benefits as displaced people and the camps would be eventually shut down. They would also not be considered for any other resettlement plans of the government or not be entitled for any compensation. Retired Rear Admiral Wijewickrema on Friday instructed officials to start informing the IDPs about the decision, but gave no deadline as to when the camps would be closed down.

He said the people would be offered relocation areas depending on the nature of their work. “Fishermen will be given land close to the sea and farmers areas they can cultivate,” he said.

The governor said there was a misconception that since the Emergency Regulations were lifted the displaced people could return to their original lands in Sampur. He said the area has been gazetted under the Public Security Ordinance and the regulation remains effective.

Currently the IDPs have been categorized into three segments – those who have been occupying land illegally, those who have been occupying lands on a permit issued by the government and those who hold deeds to their lands. Only those who hold deeds are officially entitled to compensation while the others cannot make a legal claim.

Earlier this week Eastern Security Forces Commander Lal Perera visited the displaced people in the three camps and urged them to accept the government’s offer. An area of some 7000 acres was acquired by the government in 2006.

(Additional reporting by Amadoru Amarajeewa.)

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