Farmers’ protest brings civil admin to standstill in Mannar

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 26 March 2003, 13:38 GMT]
More than 1500 farmers in Mannar demanding fair prices for their rice harvest and the removal of Sri Lankan armed forces units which continue to occupy fields and buildings in the region blockaded the District Secretariat Wednesday and brought all government administration in the Northwestern island town to a standstill.

“More than 14 years of extensive Sri Lanka army restrictions and ban on cultivation drove thousands of farmers in Mannar to destitution. They were hence pinning their future on this season’s harvest. But Colombo hit us below the belt by refusing the guarantee price facility which is available to farmers in other districts”, a spokesman for the Federation of Mannar Farmers’ Associations told Tamilnet.

The protest began around 7 p.m. Wednesday. Hundreds of farmers from many parts of the Mannar district, including areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers on the mainland, gathered in front of the district secretariat in Mannar town, blocking government officials from entering the compound.

selvam_campaigning_021101.jpgRice farmers in Mannar were compelled to sell their produce at prices lower than 650 rupees a bag during the war due to stringent SLA restrictions on transport to and from the district.

The SLA banned farmers from cultivating vast tracts of fertile rice fields in Mannar since 1987. Severe restrictions were imposed on the use of tractors and the supply of fertilisers and fuel.

“The few farmers who managed to cultivate a few acres amid the restrictions was fleeced by unscrupulous traders. They fixed the prices which were much lower than the going rate for rice in other parts of the island”, a spokesman for the Federation said.

Following the ceasefire which saw the removal of several restrictions late last year, Mannar farmers urged Colombo to buy their produce through the state owned Corporative Wholesale Establishment (CWE) at the guarantee price of 13.50 rupees as in other parts of the island to stabilise the local market for rice.

Farmers in Mannar now sell rice to private traders for 8-10 rupees a kilo. The Federation says that these prices will ruin many of them. The majority of rice farmers in the district are compelled to sell their produce at low prices because few have facilities to store the paddy in their farms or homesteads. Many local rice storage facilities were destroyed in SLA operations.

Early last month the Federation and the TNA MP for Vanni, Mr. Selvam Adaikalanathan, took up the matter with Sri Lanka’s Minister for Trade and Commerce, Mr. Ravi Karunanayaka. The Minister promised them that the CWE would begin buying rice from Mannar farmers at the guarantee price.

But CWE officials who visited the district to study the matter had reported that it was not possible to buy rice at the guarantee price as the treasury was not willing to release the money for the purpose.

The GA for Mannar met the protesting farmers and the TNA MPs around noon and promised that the CWE would be opened for buying rice at the guarantee price in the district from April 1. He also promised them that local Multi Purpose Co-operative Societies will buy 1400 kilos of rice from each farmer at the guarantee price from tomorrow.

Farmers, however, said they would continue their agitation from April 2 if no action is taken by the GA to redress their woe.

The protestors handed over a memorandum to the GA in the afternoon spelling out their four demands that Colombo should introduce in Mannar the guarantee purchase price for rice; that the Sri Lankan armed forces should vacate paddy fields they continue occupy; they should vacate paddy storage facilities and that Colombo should subsidise fertilisers.

The protest was organised by the Federation of Mannar Farmers’ Associations, the Tamil National Alliance MPs for Vanni, Mr. Selvam Adaikalanathan, Mr. Raja Kuhaneswaran and Sivasakthi Anandan and Fr. Ruben Ariyanayagam, the Superintendent of the Methodist Church’s Jeevothayam Farm in Murunkan.

 

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