Trip to Vanni, Section II of Part III

 by K.Mylvaganam


In my earlier insertion on the above subject I mentioned the development works taking place in Vanni. The worst affected areas are the roads in Vanni. All most all the roads are made of gravel except the main Kandy road that is now referred to as the A-9 road. That too was completely in the ruins when I drove into Kilinochchi in May 2003. It was filled with potholes and ditches. This road however was supposed to be done up by the Sri Lankan government right up to Jaffna. The contract is given to ten different companies in order to get the work completed as early as possible. I was made to understand that the entire work is to be completed before the 31st Dec.2003. But I doubt that they will reach this target. Even the patch of road between Murugandy and Kilinochchi was still incomplete when I left Vanni at the end of September. The portion of the road between Paranthan and Elephant Pass is still not laid as yet. Strips beyond Elephant Pass and Pallai are done up. But the stretch beyond Pallai up to Chavakachcheri is still in a dilapidated condition. However a fair length of the road between Chavakachcheri and Jaffna has been newly done up. It took nearly two hours by an Austin Farina car to reach Jaffna from the Muhamalai "check point" - a distance of 30 kilometres. In all I would say that the work is going at snail speed.

It is worth mentioning that all the contractors who have been given this work come from the south. The reason being that, the contractors from the North are not qualified to undertake such a costly job. The Sri Lankan government has introduced a system by which the contractors are classified under nine different categories starting from 1 to 9. Nine is the lowest. Those in the ninth category can take jobs up to Rs.50,000.00. As the numbering goes down the requirements become harder. As it gets closer to ONE the contractors have to show prove that, they have in their employ certain number of both skilled and technically qualified personnel and specified types and number of machinery. They should also show proof that they had undertaken large contracts during the past five years. The North and the East was ravaged by the war for over two decades and there are hardly any machinery left worth mentioning. One could only spot some old Morris Minor and A-40 cars and most of them too running on Kerosene belching a lot of smoke polluting the area. How could we expect to see Bulldozers, Earth Movers, Diggers, Tippers, etc. The only new machinery's worth mentioning are the few Massy Ferguson tractors and Land Masters owned by some farmers.

But I was impressed to see the speed with which the road between Paranthan and Mullaitivu is progressing. It was completely rugged and potty and covered with red gravel a few months back. It was making the area awfully dusty. Every time a vehicle drove past people covered their nostrils with whatever they had - sari, shawl or even a handkerchief. The grass on the ground and the leaves on the trees along this road are red in colour because of the dust from the gravel. The road work on this strip commenced somewhere in early June and by the end of September the entire distance of 40 km or at least over 95% from Paranthan to Puthukudiyiruppu was brought under tarmac. But I should mention that the type or the method of laying this road differed very much from that on the A-9 road where stones are being laid first and steamroller is run over before the asphalt is poured on it.

But in the case of the road between Paranthan and Mullaitievu only gravel is spread for a thickness of approximately 6 inches, watered and the steamroller is run over it before the asphalt is put on it. When I saw for the first time the first layer of asphalt being poured, I was flabbergasted to see the workers pouring the asphalt barefooted. I pulled up my vehicle to a side to have my doubts cleared. I was told that the first layer of asphalt is an unheated watery substance. The several layers of asphalt poured subsequently are the normal asphalt that we all are used to. Then of course the do have gunny bag wrapped round their feet. I am not an engineer to pass judgement on the longevity of this type of road. An engineer in charge of this road work assured me that it should last at least a few years. I hope and pray he is right. It is also noteworthy that almost all the workers involved in this project are from the local population.

Another impressive progress that I noticed was the production of paddy has gone up almost two folds in the past twenty-five years. In the past the average yield per acre was around 15 bags or 45 bushels. Now they are getting a yield around 40 bags. This is mainly because highbred varieties are in use as seed paddy. The most dominating one is a particular variety of Samba. This is smaller in size and the rice is white in colour. The paddy is no more sold in Bushels as in the past. Instead it is sold by weight. The Samba being small in size allows less air space in the bag hence the weight of a single bag is more thus fetching a higher price. But unfortunately I noticed that the price of paddy has dropped during the past year.

I was told that bag of paddy fetched nearly Rs.1000.00 last year. But this has dropped down to less than Rs.600.00 a bag in September this year. The reasons attributed to this situation are the increase in the production of paddy and the government continuing to import rice from overseas. The L.T.T.E. which imposed a tax on the transport (or is it export) of paddy or rice outside the L.T.T.E. controlled areas has lifted this tax and have fixed a minimum price of Rs.650.00 for every bag of paddy. The cost of production/cultivation of paddy has gone up in leaps and bounds. For example one has to pay Rs.4,000.00 to harvest an acre of paddy. Shaving of the bund, fertilising, weeding, spraying insecticides and weed-killers are also quite expensive. The wages for one day's labour are between Rs. 250.00 and Rs. 300.00 - and that too if you can find one. If the cost of cultivation continues to rise and the price falls or stagnates at low levels as it is now, I am afraid that many farmers may give up paddy cultivation.

Now the increased local production and the import of rice have caused the supply to exceed the demand. This is causing a glut in the market. The co-operative societies, and the farmers' organisations should raise this issue with the government authorities and bring about a ban on the import of rice if the farmers and the paddy cultivation were to prosper in the future.

In my next insertion I shall give details of lodging facilities in Kilinochchi and tips on places worth visiting.

K.Mylvaganam

from Circle Digest, Oct. 19, 2003 #3240

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Posted October 18, 2003