Wednesday, 06 July 2022 08:18

Supporting a Captive Enclave to Become More Independent

The worsening economic crisis in the country is compelling out migration of people. There are long lines outside of the passport office formed by people who see their salvation in working abroad. The plantation sector has been particularly affected by the economic crisis. They suffer from the general price increases and also on account of the fertilizer shortage that has adversely affected agriculture.

They have reduced employment opportunities due to the fall in crop production. A major problem facing people living in the plantations is lack of access to state services that are available as a matter of course to the general population. The plantation sector has long been an enclave with a low paid and captive work force. The people who live on tea and rubber estates have been unionized for decades yet the unions do not necessarily put the needs and goals of estate workers at the forefront. As plantation trade unions have entered parliamentary politics their role as political parties has meant that they relate to their constituents more as voters than as workers.

Up country Tamils increasingly view their unions as more invested in power dynamics at the central level and preserving their own power and vested interests than in serving their constituencies, yet no other viable alternatives are currently present in the up country. As a result, those who live in the plantation sector have to live in a separate administrative system. An unfortunate outcome of this is their alienation from the regular administrative mechanisms of the state, to which people living on the
plantations have less access.

NPC’s partner organization in the Ratnapura district, Environment & Community Development Information Centre (ECDIC), has initiated an activity to cater to the needs of the people on the estates. This is to ensure that they have access to very important administrative and identity documents, such as birth certificates, identity cards and marriage certificates. With funding received from Freedom House, which is partnering NPC in a project to strengthen inclusive service delivery at community and national levels, PDF trained selected estate youth to carry out a needs assessment survey.

As a first step, ECDIC trained estate youth to undertake a survey of the needs of the people. Second, it shared this information with the relevant state officers and supplied them with the data. Third, it organized a mobile service delivery service for the people, both poor and marginalized who might not otherwise have access to state delivery systems. Government officers visited the estates for two successive weekends to provide the people with the documents they needed. Implementing this initiative required coordination by ECDIC between state officials, police, estate authorities and the community.

Through this initiative ECDIC has empowered people with the basic identity documents they need to apply for passports and other state services. It has legalized unregistered marriages. The need for the service was evident when, in addition to the approximately 350 requests made for documents, a fresh set of about 40 applications for registration documents was made by estate sector people on the day of the mobile service that had been arranged to give a speedy response to the people’s most urgent
needs.