Paramilitary encroachments threaten water supply

[TamilNet, Saturday, 19 September 1998, 11:49 GMT]
SLA sponsored Tamil paramilitaries in Batticaloa are principally distinguished by their remarkable resourcefulness to make life unbearable for the much harassed local civilian population. And now they are standing in the way of supplying adequate running water to the people of this war battered eastern town.

The Water Supply and Drainages Board (a public authority of the Sri Lankan government) has to pump more than five hundred thousand gallons of water to meet the basic needs of the Batticaloa town.

But currently it can pump only three hundred thousand gallons.

Several parts of the town, as a consequence, are supplied water only for a limited number of hours during the day. The Board pumps water to the town from three large wells which it maintains in the suburbs of Kallady, Kokkuvil and Palameenmadu.

The Board has two more wells in Kallady which remain closed. These wells can pump more than the current shortfall in water supply to Batticaloa town. The Board is unable to do so as its officials are scared of the families of the paramilitaries that have encroached too close to these wells on its land.

Community health regulations stipulate that a source of public water supply should be located at least one kilometre away from any human settlement.

In 1960, the Sri Lankan government allocated 294 acres in Kallady to the Water Supply and Drainages Board for digging and maintaining three large wells as safe sources for supplying water to the Batticaloa town.

Vandals knocked out the pumping system (thieves made away with the machinery) in two of these wells when fighting broke out between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers in June 1990.

They remained neglected until late 1996. Since 1994 an enterprising section of the SLA sponsored Tamil paramilitaries began encroaching on the Board's land, drawn by the prospect of the fortune they can make eventually in the land hungry Batticaloa town. Local officials of the Board were too scared to take immediate action against the paramilitary encroachers at the time.

Now there are fifty one families of assorted cadres of the SLA sponsored Tamil paramilitaries that have encroached and settled on the Water Board land.

Sources in the area said that Prabhaharan, the dubious local leader of the EROS in Batticaloa, has seized fifteen acres from the Board's property. He has parcelled this land into a large number of housing plots and rented these out to his cadres and supporters.

The cesspits, garbage dumps and drains of the paramilitary encroachers are so close to the closed wells that if they are restarted now severe pollution of the pumped water is inevitable say Board officials.

The local Divisional Secretary's (DS) office filed a case in the Batticaloa courts to evict the encroachers. The courts issued orders for the removal of 21 of these in July 1997.

The DS office is expected take legal action soon to evict the others as well.

But the paramilitaries and 76 others who have also encroached the Water Board land encouraged by the example of the ex-Tamil militants have vowed not to quit without a fight.

Local Water Board officials are scared out of their wits as a result, and refuse to say anything on the land issue.

However, they say that they have put forward a blue print for an alternative source of water supply to the Batticaloa town that may save them from the current collision course that might even put their lives at risk. According to this proposal water will be purified and pumped from the Unnichchai reservoir, 26 kilometers south west of Batticaloa.

But they say the only hitch with this project is its cost -600 million SL rupees which the cash strapped Sri Lankan regime is not prepared to invest in this war ravaged region.


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