30 March 2018, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. Plantation communities in Sri Lanka, especially from the central hilly regions, experience major challenges in obtaining services from the Government. Many residents are hampered due to their poor literacy levels and lack of Sinhala language skills as well as the lack of awareness of Government systems and procedures. The long distances estate residents have to travel from their villages to the Government offices as well as limited public transport also exacerbates this situation. As a result, some estate residents do not possess vital legal documents like birth certificates leading to difficulties in their day to day lives, especially when opening bank accounts, obtaining travel documents or identity cards.
In 2017, UN-Habitat, through the project “Human Development Initiative through Empowerment and Settlement Improvement in the Plantation Settlements in Sri Lanka”, supported a number of estate families in the Nuwara Eliya District to obtain their basic legal documents. Funded by KOICA and implemented by UN-Habitat in collaboration with Government Authorities, this initiative has positively contributed towards integrating plantation settlements into the mainstream administrative process in the Nuwara Eliya District.
When the project commenced in early 2017, the community members in estates had identified the need for a special service to facilitate the issuance of legal documents. At the outset, UN-Habitat conducted awareness programmes in schools and through the Grama Niladharis about the initiative. Communities were requested to contact their respective Grama Niladhari and obtain application forms. Disadvantaged and vulnerable community members were then assisted to complete their application forms by UN-Habitat staff, members of Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Societies (EWHCS) and educated youth in the estates. Thereafter, the completed forms were collected by the Grama Niladharis and submitted to the relevant Divisional Secretariat or the Nuwara Eliya District Secretariat for processing. Once the collected documents were validated by the Government officers, mobile camps were held by the relevant Divisional Secretariats in the Medakumbura, Diyagama West and Liddesdale estates so that the successful applicants could meet the Government officers and receive their documents. These mobile camps were supported by the Grama Niladharis, and senior officers from the Divisional and District Secretariats including the General Registrar and Divisional Registrar of Nuwara Eliya. As a result of this intervention, over 350 people have received their birth certificates.
As a result of this initiative, UN-Habitat has developed a close link between the Government administrative service providers and the estate management of the Regional Plantation companies (RPCs) for future collaboration in obtaining legal documents for their workers. The applicants who were unsuccessful in obtaining their birth certificates due to incomplete application forms are being assisted by the Grama Niladharis to resubmit their applications.
The HDI project is contributing towards human development through capacity building of youth, communities and local authorities; increasing resilience of the communities through settlement planning and community infrastructure; and through awareness creation towards mainstreaming plantation settlements. It is implemented in close collaboration with the Ministry of Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development. It is expected to benefit over 10,000 persons directly and 250,000 persons indirectly in Nuwara Eliya district. The project is being implemented from January 2017 to March 2018 in the Kothmale, Nuwara Eliya and Walapane Divisional Secretariat divisions.