National Affairs

Notes from Correspondents

Plenary Address by Comrade Senthivel

 [Text of the Plenary Address by Comrade SK Senthivel, General Secretary of the New-Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party on 25th September 2016, the final day of the Annual Plenary Session of the Party]

None of the development programmes put forward by the “Good Governance” regime led by Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe to solve the array of rising economic crises faced by the government will lead to prosperity. Likewise, the constitution which is being drafted anew by the regime will not find an appropriate solution for the national question, which is the main contradiction facing the country. Anyone counting on such a solution will be spinning his wheels.

To invite foreign capital and investments for development programmes and to pompously sound off about goodwill between nationalities and a political solution are not to ensure that the country is made prosperous for the people to live free of problems but to reinforce the neo-colonial neoliberal economic programmes to thrust forward the imperialist globalization programme under the leadership of US imperialism. Ruling class forces had in the past, in collaboration with foreign imperialist and the regional hegemonic powers, transformed the national question into war for the same purpose.

It is the same forces that are today enacting a form of political theatre in the name of goodwill between communities. In this climate, chauvinist politics is being projected in the South in order to capture parliamentary political power. As a counter to it, initiative is afoot in the North to advance an imperious narrow nationalist agenda. It is right for the oppressed Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil nationalities to put forward just demands for their basic rights and to politically educate the people and mobilize them with a long term view. But to promote politics of emotion without self-critical consideration of past policies and practices will again lead to wrong conclusions. While the imperious political forces will be able to build vote banks and thereby gain posts and positions by this approach, the people who remain in a sad plight will suffer further losses on top of uncompensated for past losses.

This does not mean that people should not mobilize or struggle against injustice but that just demands and correct struggles should include all people. That is, while national rights of Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil people are justly put forward, the long-standing demands for the basic rights of workers should also be asserted. Caste-based hierarchical thinking among Tamils and its socio-economic ramifications need to be taken up to secure just solutions. Likewise, the demands of women who are oppressed by gender and are denied a place in society should be upheld.

At the same time, as much as foreign forces should not be allowed to meddle in the country’s economic and political affairs there should be no foreign meddling in the national question. Appropriate policies should be adopted to avert the recurrence of the tragedy of the recent past when foreign meddling led to conflict, war and losses for the people.

It is in consideration of these issues that the Party endorses the concept of Progressive Nationalism as a political alternative to the anti-people identity politics of the past and present which has been identified with conservative reaction in the name of Tamil nationalism and promoted by foreign forces.

It is appropriate for all progressive, democratic and left forces to unite with progressive nationalism on the basis of a common programme to address the problems faced by the Tamil people and to encourage progressive Tamil nationalism to take an interest in matters affecting all oppressed people.

[based on a press release by the NDMLP, dated 26th September 2016]

Let live the people of Sampur

S Don Bosco, Secretary, Mass Organization for Social Justice, Vavuniya District issued the following statement in his call to mobilize the public to join the awareness campaign: “The ancestral land grabbed from the people of Sampur should be returned to them. The plan to set up a thermal power station there should be abandoned in view of the grave environmental harm that it will cause. Through it, way should be made for the people of Sampur to live at ease.”

He further added that 505 acres of ancestral land of the people of Sampur in the Muthur region has been has been sequestered by the Government to enable an Indian company to set up a thermal power station. This land is endowed with fishery, agricultural and forest resources. It has 110 acres of paddy land, eight tanks and 41 settlements, and includes fishing areas and forests. The peasants, fishers, indigenous people and workers have lost their livelihood. Hence, to restore their lives their lands should be returned to them.

There is a risk, besides environmental warming, that the fly ash and high concentration of carbon dioxide that emanate from the coal thermal power station when it becomes functional will cause respiratory and other diseases. Consequently, a region extending 5 km from this area, in which 5000 families live, will be adversely affected and their lives will be under threat, with the prospect of displacement. Besides, there is risk that during the monsoons fly ash will disperse to the Northern, Eastern and North Central Provinces. Thus it is important to think about these issues. Are we to wreck the lives of the people of the country in the name of development, only to serve the greed of foreign companies for profit?

Countries across the world are shutting down coal thermal power stations in the interest of averting further global warming. Even India is closing down coal thermal power stations. Under these conditions, why should a coal thermal power station be set up here? Has this country become a place to dump foreign waste?

India is adamant on the use of coal as fuel. The “Good Governance” regime is hesitant to respond firmly. The Tamil National Alliance constituting the Parliamentary Opposition refuses to comment.

Meantime the people of Sampur are in struggle demanding their ancestral land and protesting against potential environmental pollution; and we express support for their demands. The Mass Organization for Social Justice along with other public organizations in collaboration with the “Green Trinco” organization has organized an awareness campaign in support of their demands opposite the Vavuniya Bus Station at 10.00 a.m. on Saturday 25th June 2016.

The Secretary, Mass Organization for Social Justice, Vavuniya District, on behalf of the Organization called upon trade unions, public organizations and political parties to transcend difference of race and religion to join the awareness campaign.
Issued by Secretary, Mass Organization for Social Justice, Vavuniya District
[Note: In September 2016, the Sri Lankan government announced the abandoning of the Sampur power project.]

Has Sri Lanka become a state of India?

Illicit fishing by thousands of Indian fishing trawlers seriously affect our fishers. Such fishing also adversely impacts on the economy of the country. While talks on the subject drag on, there is no solution in sight.

Why does India which, during the annual church feast in Kachchativu, banned fishing by Indian fishers in the adjoining region refuse to prohibit fishing by thousands of trawlers each day?

The Indian Minister of External Affairs who visited Sri Lanka recently and the Sri Lanka Minister of External Affairs released a joint statement on the problem of the fishers. That statement claims that the problem is complex and solution should be sought in ‘innovative ways’. Although it is possible for India to stop intrusion by Indian trawlers, the Sri Lankan government has conceded in this joint statement that the problem is complex, showing that Sri Lanka has yielded to Indian pressure.

India is persisting in its ‘big brother’ like behaviour. An incident that occurred much earlier than the dumping of dry food packets in 1987 is memorable in this context. During the Bandung Conference in 1955, Indian Prime Minister Nehru asked Sir John Kotelawala, then Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), to show him the text of his speech at the Conference. Commendably, Kotelawala, refusing to yield to pressure from Nehru, responded “Why should I show it to you?”

In the context of the announcement that the proposed coal thermal power station in Sampur will proceed as planned, the people of Sampur who have been expelled from their lands are continuing to participate in protest demonstrations.

Owing to the absence of coal resources in Sri Lanka, at least a three months’ supply of the imported coal needs to be stored to ensure uninterrupted operation of the plant. Thus the use of coal further requires a large extent of land for the storage of the fuel.
Coal-operated thermal power stations emit besides massive volumes of carbon dioxide significant quantities of acidic sulphur dioxide. Several countries have plans to shut down their coal-operated thermal power stations; and India too has such intentions. Then, why is India building one in Sampur? The motive is simply profit.

Solar thermal power will not have adverse impact on the environment. It is worth pondering why little importance is given to the development of solar electric power, although both Sri Lanka and India are well placed for its development. Coal, which has to be imported from India, causes environmental pollution and subjects people to all manner of disease. Particulates carried by coal smoke could be scattered across long distances, and this has already been seen in Nuraicholai, Puttalam.

India has also undertaken to expand the airport in Palali. For this purpose, large extents of agricultural land are to be acquired by the government. Already, this land has been sequestered by the armed forces in the name of a Security Zone.
The extension of the airport for civilian use needs engineers and other staff. But India proposes to use the Indian Air Force for airport extension work. Both Tamil nationalists and Sinhala chauvinists have chosen to ignore the fact that the extension of the airport is being done in Indian military interests.

The Sri Lankan government has announced that the Indo-Sri Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) will be signed in June, and that the Agreement will go through irrespective of objections by any. It is true that India has commendable technology. It is also said that through this Agreement Sri Lankan professionals can find employment in India. But the reality is that, with hundreds of thousands of engineers, doctors and other professionals either unemployed or underemployed in India, there will be an invasion from India in search of employment. What is uncertain is the number of undercover agents who will be among them.

There is a proposal to construct an underwater road linking Sri Lanka and India. Interestingly the matter is discussed in the Indian media while there is no information to that effect in Sri Lanka? What is the need for a road link between Sri Lanka and India? The military significance of such a project is understandable.

Already textile retailers have complained that their business is affected by Indian pavement hawkers arriving on tourist visas conducting door-to-door textile trade. Several RAW spies are active in the name of pavement hawkers.

Besides, it is worth noting that Indian development schemes are based mainly in the North and East of the country.
[based on a note by Sri in Puthiya Neethi, Tamil journal of the NDMLP, June-July 2016]

Is Thaandikkulam a Suitable Site for the Vavuniya District Economic Centre?

Hon. Mr Harrison, Central Government Minister for Economic Development has allocated two billion rupees for the Vavuniya District to set up an Economic Development Centre. The Ministry the time of allocation of funds announced among a multitude of conditions that the Centre should be located the within 2 km of Vavuniya town and that availability of electric power should be assured.

As it was not possible to identify land within 2 km from Vavuniya and the allocated fund was about to be diverted to another district, disputes and debates arose among politicians of the North. Shutdown of shops in the Vavuniya Market and an awareness campaign took place to exert pressure on the Northern Provincial Council. Personalities from the UNP and Provincial Council members from the SLFP, who were opposed to the TNA, participated in the awareness campaign. This campaign was conducted to urge the release of 5 acres of the 45 acre land belonging to the government’s seed production farm in Thaandikkulam in order to set up of the Centre.

Those concerned should note that, besides the adverse implications for Vavuniya town in the event of setting up the market complex there, the only Tamil medium Agricultural Training College for the North is located in Thaandikkulam. Already, with little foresight, part of this land has been acquired to accommodate a private bus station, and fragmentation of this land in this manner could lead to the extinction of the Agricultural Seed Research Station and the Agricultural Training College.

If the market complex is set up at the location of the Training College, will not noise from the market complex disrupt educational activity in the College? Besides, will not there be problems due to increased road traffic in the early morning along A-9 highway? Despite adequate land being allocated in the Omanthai region off the A-9 highway, why are some people adamant to acquire this land? Also it should be noted that location of the Centre at Omanthai will facilitate farmers from regions such as Nedungkeni, Ottusuttaan, Omanthai, Paalamottai and Maangkulam where many small cultivators of vegetables live to market their produce. Besides, rather than erect all buildings for development in Vavuniya, only to pollute the town further, it will make sense to seek ways to develop and link small towns like Omanthai.

There are besides various complexities in this financial allocation such as whether the income from the investment of the Central Government should go to the Central Government or to the Provincial Government. If the land comes within the purview of the Northern Provincial Council, the Chief Minister and the Agriculture Minister of the NPC should clearly state that it cannot be acquired without the consent of the NPC. Also it is the wish of honest political forces that not only should the income generated goes to the Northern Provincial Council, but that should be used to brighten the future of the farmers of the region by establishing it at a most appropriate location in the Vavuniya District.

The text below is a statement issued by the Mass Organization for Social Justice on the subject.

 Locate the Vavuniya District Economic Centre in Omanthai

Debates as well as hunger strikes and demonstrations are going on in Vavuniya about the location of the Vavuniya District Economic Centre. The Vavuniya District General Secretary of the Mass Organization for Social Justice, S Don Bosco issued a press release in which he has pleaded that the location should be decided based on considerations of the future of the people of the country, the regional economic structure and environmental impact among others.

He added that a comparison of Omanthai, as proposed by the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, and Thaandikkulam as proposed by Mr Harrison, Central Government Minister for Economic Development indicates that Omanthai is the more suitable location and listed the following reasons:

Omanthai is the central station of the transport network for Palamoattai, Kanakaraayan Kulam, Maamadu, Nedungkeni, Naattangkandal and other areas comprising the agricultural regions of the Vavuniya District. Locating the Centre there will help to rebuild this urbanized area which before the war was developing into a small town, and to reduce the population density of Vavuniya.

This location already has a central college, banking services, a medical centre, a railway station, and the A-9 highway passing through it. The low population density and availability of adequate space in Omanthai makes the handling of environmental issues such as the disposal of waste and the control of traffic congestion and noise relatively easy.

If, on the other hand, the Centre were to be located in Thaandikkulam, it will have the following adverse impacts: Vavuniya, whose development was unplanned, already has a dense population and suffers traffic congestion. Location of the Centre nearby will worsen congestion and environmental pollution as well as create problems for waste disposal. Besides, it will adversely affect work done in Tamil in the Northern Province at the Agricultural College, on agricultural development, and on agricultural seed production activities.

Therefore, the Mass Organization for Social justice points out that since this is a matter within the purview of the Provincial Council, the members of the Council should set aside their personal likes and dislikes to arrive at a unanimous decision in the interest of national development, public interest and the protection of the environment; and that, the TNA which is in power in the Provincial Council should not make the historical mistake of being indifferent and create room for conflicts based on race, religion, language and region.
(Vavuniya correspondents)

Bad Working Conditions of Women in Garment Factories in the North

Following the end of three-decade long cruel war in the North & East, under the cloak of foreign investment and in the name of employment opportunity, garment factories have set foot in all districts of the Northern Province, excluding the Jaffna District. Three garment factories have been set up in Vavuniya, one in Mannar and one in Kilinochchi; and arrangements are afoot to start one in Mullaitivu.
Women sought employment in the garment factories of the north in the face of rising unemployment, and were offered jobs. But the cruelty suffered by the working women in their workplaces is indescribable. The Garment factories look massive as well as attractive. But the shameful exploitation and violation of fundamental and human rights of women employees in the garment factory has compelled women employees of the Kilinochchi garment factory to unite and express their protest. Before the unrest in Kilinochchi settled, women in the Mannar garment factory launched their struggle.

What messages do these struggles deliver? Do the women receive the essential basic wage to meet the essentials of life? Are their employment rights protected? Is their place of work safe? Are they served nutritious food? What is their basic wage? What is their monthly leave entitlement? How many hours of work are extracted from them per day?

The Central and Provincial governments raise these questions with the employers and arrange to inspect the factories and resolve the problems faced by the women.

It is commendable that women workers of the garment factories took the progressive step of launching a united struggle. Nevertheless, they should note that only through united struggles that the workers can win their rights. The working women should note that the Tamil National Alliance has not on one occasion spoken on the exploitation of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim women workers in the garment factories, regardless of their race, and that it will take a series of broad-based campaigns to make them speak on such subjects.
(Kilinochchi correspondents)

Wages in the Plantations

Comrade K Ganapathy, General Secretary of the Communist Workers’ Union, Ratnapura addressing the media in Matale on 9th July 2016 noted that the ‘Good Governance’ regime which is answerable for the dragging on of the wage dispute is only siding with the Employers Federation.
He added that while the Central Bank has observed that a monthly earning of Rs 63,000 is necessary to meet the rising cost of living, the wages earned by the plantation workers is less than Rs 10,000 per month, and insisted that the government should secure a minimum daily wage of Rs 1000 in the plantations.

He accused the leading trade unions of extracting substantial sums as subscriptions from the wages of the workers only to use the workers as shields for their political ambitions. During the three important elections that took place recently, union leaders, as usual, pledged to the workers that they will resolve the questions of individual housing units for the workers and wage increase, gathered their votes and secured seats and posts as ministers in the Provincial Councils and in Parliament.

The Wages Agreement which is renewed once in two years has dragged on unresolved for 15 months, with only 9 months due for the next Wages Agreement. But the dominant unions are indulging in cunning acts of deception, while voting with the government on all issues. The most that they did about the wages was to stage a ‘satyagraha’ in Colombo. While the large trade unions are avoiding struggle to preserve the self interest of their leaders, the smaller unions, rather than acting according to their strength, idly watch like bystanders.

In all, the workers suffer as a result of the non-implementation of the wage increase in the face of the rising cost of living. Besides, the EPF, ETF, service gratuity and bonuses are calculated based on the earlier wage structure causing further losses to the workers. In addition the 12% payment by the employers in respect of their contributions has been suspended. The consequent overall loss suffered by the workers as a result of non-renewal of the Wages Agreement ranges between Rs 100,000 and Rs 150,000 per worker.

Under the conditions, steps taken by the Department of Labour to make available to the workers the Rs 2500 allowance offered to private sector employees is unacceptable, as it requires a daily wage earner to work for 25 days in the month to secure the full allowance. Employers offer at most 22 days of work, and excess payment for work during public holidays does not count for the purpose. The decision is that only Rs 2000 will be paid for 20 days of work and Rs 1500 for 15 days of work. As the allowance is not a part of the wage, there is no entitlement to EPF and ETF for this sum.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged Rs 1000 daily wage during the parliamentary election campaign, but it is now 16 months since he was elected. His government and trade unions associated with it have failed the plantation workers, who remain the lowest paid workers in the country, denied of wage increases made available to the state and private sector workers.

The workers will not achieve anything until they reject the trade unions that deceive them, and unite as workers transcending difference of trade union and party affiliation.
(Matale correspondents)

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