Kantalai ancestral farmers face denial of water rights

[TamilNet, Sunday, 17 July 2005, 13:19 GMT]
Mr.R.Sampanthan, Trincomalee district parliamentarian, has requested the Sri Lanka's Ministry of Irrigation not to divert water from Kantalai tank for irrigating fields in a newly created Sinhala settlement Jayanthipura undermining the preferential rights of ancestral (Purana) farmers of Tampalakamam and Mullipoththanai of the down stream. When the augmentation of Kantalai tank took place in 1950s to support new Sinhala settlements Government of Ceylon gave an undertaking to traditional Tamil and Muslim farmers ensuring their right to water from the tank.

In the letter to the Irrigation Ministry Secretary Mr.Sampanthan has reminded the undertaking given to Purana farmers of Kantalai, Tampalakamam and Mullipoththanai.

Late Mr.Dudely Senanayake, then Prime Minister and also Minister of Lands and Agriculture in a public statement issued on 8th June 1969 had stated- "When the augmentation of Kantalai tank was taken up in the early 1950s an undertaking was given to the Purana field owners who were the only land owners enjoying the limited facilities of the reservoir at that time, that the first 55,000 acre feet of water would be reserved for Purana field owners for their Yala cultivation. When the colonists were selected they were told quite clearly that while they could have a full Maha (Maari) cultivation, but the Yala-Kodai cultivation would depend on the availability of water in the tank."

Quoting Mr.Dudely Senanayake's statement Mr.Sampanthan said following the contest for water between the colonist farmers and Purana farmers the ministerial authorities had intervened and impressed upon the colonist farmers that the Purana field owners couldn't be denied their right to water during Yala-Kodai cultivation according to the undertaking given to Purana farmers when the augmentation of the tank took place.

"I am informed that some new proposals have been made to irrigate some further new extent of paddy land in the Jayanthipura area under the Kantalai tank upstream. The implement of such proposal, when there is much difficulty already in providing irrigation facilities to the Purana farmers during Yala-Kodai season could only result in the further deprivation of water to the Purana farmers. No such new proposal for irrigation facilities under Kantalai tank is accommodated as any such steps would clearly violate the preferential right of the Purana farmers and would be illegal. This would also promote conflict among the farmers,"Mr.Sampanthan stressed in his letter with copies to the Trincomalee District Government Agent and Director of irrigation for Central Region.

Kantalai village was a traditional Tamil village and Tamil people were in majority and Muslims second till the then UNP government in power implemented a State aided colonization scheme in 1950s under which thousands of Sinhalese villagers were brought down from the southern part of Sri Lanka and settled under Kantalai scheme, sources said.

According to stone scriptures that the tank was built by King Kulakottan who also renovated Trincomalee Koneswaram temple. Under the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) with Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) parliamentarian Mr.Anura Kumara Dissanayake holding the portfolio of Ministry of Irrigation, the statue of King Agbo has been erected on the bund of Kantalai tank. JVP's argument was the King Agbo had constructed the Kantalai tank not King Kulakottan, sources said.


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