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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
Jaffna: still on paper
11th January 1998
Theorists of the Eelam movement have often argued during its early years that Jaffna is most unsuitable for carrying on a struggle for a separate state in Sri Lanka because it is an area which has achieved a very high level of economic integration with the rest of the country; that its links with Colombo were much more stronger than with any other Tamil majority regions of the north and east. They said that Jaffna would therefore always be politically unsuitable for the cause.
What they said was not the whole truth. Jaffna also had its pockets which had been left out of this economic integration with the rest of the island. Today one can see the economic momentum of this traditional link with Colombo (which some liked to characterise as the money order economy) burgeoning despite the land route remaining closed and the sea and air supply lines operating under much pressure.
But my contention here is that the pockets of discontent are likely to grow silently while the gaze of the country and the world is riveted to the dazzle of the resiliently energetic potential of the Jaffna economy to integrate with Colombo.
The Commercial Bank in Jaffna , for instance, has recorded a cash circulation of six billion rupees in business transactions between the peninsula and Colombo in 1997. The cash flow increased due to the chartering of ships and the large stocks of commodities which are being brought to the peninsula by Jaffna merchants. Commercial Bank officials in Jaffna said that savings among the people of Jaffna has gone up by eight percent last year. They said they are unable to fully computerise their operation as there is still a problem of irregular supply of electricity and the shortage of technical staff to service and manage computers. The business of the bank can be increased by almost fifty percent, according to them, if the Jaffna operation is fully computerised. The People's Bank will soon open its branch in Pt. Pedro.
Officials say that the bank is ready to open branches in Sanganai, Puththur, Nallur, Punguduthivu and Palai. The People's Bank in Jaffna needs approval from its headquarters in Colombo to recruit seventy five persons for opening these branches.
"We have good business in these places," says an official. The People's Bank's Deputy General Manager for the North K. Thirunavukkarasu states that a set of new loan schemes for pensioners, students, teachers, employees of local government bodies, etc., will be made available to customers this year. The bank has allocated fifty million rupees for self employment, co-operative societies and agriculture loans in the peninsula. There is a move to inaugurate a chamber of Industries for the north (The boss of the Reconstruction and rehabilitation Authority for the North has promised a number of incentives to the chamber).
Nowadays one finds regular advertisements by Colombo companies such as BASF Finlay (Pvt) Ltd. in the Uthayan, the only newspaper published in Jaffna. The are also numerous ads for hundreds of Tamil movies now available in video cassettes.
Telephone booths have begun to mushroom. DCSL and other brands of arrack are available in liquor stores and bars which are being opened up mostly in around the Jaffna town. Arrack can be bought in some grocery stores as well. Porn movie parlours have cropped up in some nooks and corners of the town.
(The LTTE sent letters warning the operators in November) Kassippu business is also a growing cottage industry, sometimes, according complaints, located a bit too near some army detachments.
All this does not mean that everything with the economy of the peninsula is going fine in the right direction. Power and unemployment remain key issues which none can resolve in a hurry.
22928 persons have registered with the Job Bank in Jaffna. Of these six hundred are graduates, about twelve thousand are those who have passed the GCE (A.L) exam and about ten thousand are GCE (O.L) qualified. This is more than 14 percent of the peninsula's employable adult population. If one takes into account the unskilled and skilled workforce in the peninsula which is unemployed, the percentage could be as much as 20 percent say informed sources. The predicament of the employees of the KKS cement factory and the Paranthan Salt Corporation is a case in point. Salaries have not been paid to employees for many years. Several employees of the KKS factory have committed suicide in recent years unable to bear their financial burdens. (an unconfirmed reports puts their number at seventeen.)
The problem of power continues to stymie efforts to get many of the industries and the agricultural sector on their former footing.
The Deputy General Manager (northern province) V. Rajendran has revealed the deplorable truth about the present state of the government's much publicised re-electrification program for the Jaffna peninsula. He said that at least 15000 KV of power is needed right now to meet the electricity consumption of all currently identified households of Jaffna.
This can be done only if the government can come up with 150 million Sri Lankan rupees to meet the cost of setting up power generation facilities that can provide the 15000 KV to supply electricity to all the households in the peninsula now, he said.
He further pointed out that currently the CEB is able to provide electricity to a few places, mainly in the Waligamam sector, only because of the five generators which the British government donated to the people of Jaffna last year. These, however, can generate only 2600 KV he said.
The total power requirement of Jaffna when one includes the electricity consumption of the peninsula's industrial and agricultural sector, according to Mr. Rajendran, is 40000 KV.
Reconstruction and rehabilitation in the peninsula still remain very much on paper.
Prabhaharan's strategy for the peninsula rests on the size of the discontented population which will, in time to come, be forgotten in the current race led mostly by the big business under political patronage (how else does one get those licenses and contracts) to integrate Jaffna's economy with Colombo, its traditional partner.