Land to those who till it

l by Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne

(December 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) On 10th July 2011, in this column, I said “One need not be a Marxist to observe that low country private factory owners and small-holders, pay similar or higher wages for workers and yet they make much profit. One of the main reasons, for the low cultural level of workers, is related to their living conditions. Unlike many of the villagers, they do not have their own house or land to work. Even the 7 perch land distribution and housing loan scheme is not functioning properly.” If the companies find it impossible to make a profit, then the problem is in the massive company structures.
Plantation management
The democratic way out may be, to break up the plantation system and create small-holders, to cover the entire plantation industry. Companies can hold on to factories and sales. I have been advocating to plantation workers, that, they must demand land, instead of demanding higher wages, from the outdated corrupt plantation management. In this way, the up-country Tamils could be the owners of 29-3the land, which they developed. Next in line, are the Kandyan peasantry in nearby villages who were directly or indirectly involved in the land for generations. Moving out of quasi slavery, of the estate production system to petty production, is a revolution. Of course these small producers should be in cooperatives to protect themselves. Already there is a strong small holders’ cooperative system throughout the plantation area.
Strangely enough, the Mahinda regime has come to the conclusion to redistribute estate land. Obviously, what the reactionary regime is going to carry out is not a revolution, but a counter revolution. In his budget speech, Mahinda, referred to the up country Kandyan Tamils as Indian Tamil. I suspect that this reference is not just a mistake, but a deliberate act to alienate Kandyan Tamils from the land that they have developed. Already big business is interested in the land redistribution, while the plantation unions are hostile to the idea.
Plantation Ministry’s plans
One report said that the Plantation Ministry is awaiting directives from the President’s Office to go ahead with plans to take over underutilized lands in the plantation sector. Plantation Industries Ministry Secretary Malani Peiris has said that a mechanism would be worked out, after the directives are given. According to her there are many investors, estate workers and outsiders waiting for lands. She added that there is a misconception that lands will be given to outsiders. Though the ministry secretary stressed that they will ensure a fair distribution of the land, where all will benefit, she admitted that the issue of acquiring land was a ‘sensitive issue’ with some politicians trying to capitalize on the matter. I have now identified one such politician, none other than Mahinda the president. Mahinda, will act according to the demands of his global masters. In that scenario, Malani’s wish that “We will act very carefully after studying all the proposals,” will remain a bureaucratic dream, unless the proletariat takes the upper hand. UNP MP R. Yogarajan has said that, despite there being an under utilization of land, there was no necessity to acquire the lands and redistribute them. “Instead, the government can make use of the available workforce in the estates by providing facilities for them to cultivate the lands and maximize the crops. This will help uplift their income and living standards,” he said. How can the government give land to the estate workers, unless it takes back the land from companies? 
Yes, under the proposed plan, the government hopes to take over 37,000 hectares of land (85,000 acres) from the plantation companies and give them to small-holders. Obviously there is no need to bring in outsiders, when there is an experienced workforce within the estate sector, which has been in existence for more than 100 years in the estates. If total outsiders come in, the worker will have to fight to repel them. Thus it will create a socio political problem in the up country, probably worse than the Tamil national problem in the Tamil homeland in the NE. On the other hand if the land is given to the estate workers and nearby villagers, they have the capability of cultivating the lands at a very low cost. If they continue to cultivate tea, they in turn will supply the local companies with their production provided the companies maintain factories. Trade union officials based in the estate sector have always complained that, after 1992, some of the companies combined the estates under them and maintained only one factory, in order to raise profits, resulting in closure of some of the factories. It is futile to seek solutions within neo liberalism, this is yet another problem to be handled by the coming social democracy.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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