India today launched an ambitious Rs 1,300 crore housing project in northern Sri Lanka to build brand new homes for about 43,000 ethnic Tamil families displaced due to the civil war in the country.
The project, which is the second phase of the housing scheme, was launched in three districts of Mannar, Mullaitivu and Jaffna today on Mahatma Gandhi's 142nd birth anniversary by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha.
Today's launch saw 1,500 Tamils and Muslims displaced due to the decades-old war getting certificates for building houses in lands either owned by them or given by the Government with Kantha announcing that 10,000 houses will be built by August 2013.
Rajapaksa and Kantha handed over certificates to the beneficiaries at Muslim-dominated Periyamadhu in Mannar district, Mallavi in Mullaitivu and Eluthumadduval in Jaffna district and interacted with them.
This is part of India's commitment to build 50,000 houses for war-displaced Tamils announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit to India in June, 2010.
India has already handed over 1,000 houses to such people in northern region as part of its pilot project which was completed in July this year.
Under the owner-driven model, the beneficiaries would get 5.5. Lakh Sri Lankan rupees each to build houses and the money would be released in four instalments by the Indian High Commission after they had fulfilled certain criteria like completion of the first phase of the construction.
Kantha said the first instalment of Rs 1 lakh has already been transferred to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries, while Rajapaksa said the Indian Housing Project was unmatched and unprecedented in its scale, reach and impact.
"Target of completion of all the 50,000 houses to be constructed under Indian assistance would be completed within three years and Government of India has already set aside the requisite funds for this purpose," Kantha said at a function.
The beneficiaries have been selected by a transparent process and efforts have been taken to give representation to every section of the society and every sub-division in five districts of the northern zone, Indian officials said.
In Periyamadhu village, where over 400 Muslim families were chased away by the now-defunct LTTE in 1990 as part of its ethnic-cleansing drive, the scene was emotional as the people got the certificates to build their houses.
Almost all the families have returned to live in their villages after spending over two decades in various camps across Sri Lanka.
Four implementing agencies -- UN-Habitat, International Federation of Red Cross in partnership with Sri Lanka Red Cross, National Housing Development Agency of Sri Lanka and Habitat for Humanity will facilitate the construction of the houses.
Though India plans to complete the construction of 43,000 houses in the next three years, the beneficiaries say they would finish the construction well before the time as housing is a very important aspect.
Ponnambalam, a 55-year-old man who lived in Government-run camps for over two years, says he returned to his village in Mannar district in 2010 and has been living in a temporary shelter since then.
"Now that I have got the money, I will finish construction of the house very fast. Proper shelter is very important. So, I am thankful to the Indian Government for this assistance," he said.
High Commission officials said every district and sub-division have been represented in the initial 1,500 beneficiaries. Around 300 beneficiaries are from Puthukudiyiruppu, one of the focal points of the last phase of the war as it was a LTTE stronghold.
They pointed out that efforts were made to include people from one of the worst-affected areas so that the people resettle there and live in their own places.
Under the project, 38,000 houses will be newly-built and 5,000 would be undertaken for repairs.