If anyone has been to China, they will know that the Government owns all the property. So they tell you how you should live. Once you have tenure, you can trade your property as it has value, but when it comes to changes in legislation there is little you can do about it.
So no one in Chinese rural areas lives in ranchettes, while most Sri Lankan villagers do! That means, in Chinese terms, the villager in Sri Lanka is a millionaire, who does not realize how fortunate they are living like they do, as their Chinese counterparts live in cramped multi story dwellings also known as high rise flats.
Unfortunately the mentality of most people who live in Sri Lanka’s villages, believe that the Government owes them a living, they must provide them with electricity, water for drinking with expensive water supply schemes, and water for agriculture, by way of extremely expensive irrigation schemes. Then they are expected to receive fertilizer subsidies, they are expected to be protected from elephants by fences and a very expensive maintenance crew who are the Civil Security Department who have to go everyday on patrol to repair the previous night’s damage by wild elephants, where the fence has been broken.
Then there is a Samurdhi Officer in each GN division, tasked with ensuring that the really poor are helped financially and thus due to corruption even the not so poor receive welfare benefits. The local authority is supposed to provide buses that are highly subsidized to take their children to the nearest schools which can be a long way as the village can be spread out and far away from the high school their kids go to. Similarly the mid wife is supposed to come visiting when the women of the household is pregnant, and when she has the child she is supposed to receive supplementary food so the child is nourished.
In short there is a highly complicated, if expensive welfare system to reach people in villages that cost the state a lot of money to maintain and provide for, none of which is really appreciated by the people in the village, but are expected as basic needs.
This is all done through political patronage as houses are built on low interest loans so that they can live in the same village as their parents, even though there is no jobs in sight for them to do. Then they are expecting the government to provide land in the forests for them to grow food, when it is not a practical option, but the politicians in trying to keep promises are desecrating he environment to appease their vote base. All this as the reader can note is creating a culture of dependency in the village, from which few emerge.
The preferred option for the village
It is clear that unless the people living in the village can be economically self sufficient they should not live there. Many people in villages simply survive out of the remittance sent from an overseas country of ONE family member of the household that keeps the rest of them alive. It is tragic as there are often 3 or 4 healthy adults eating out of this remittance, without making an effort to work, saying there are no jobs. They refuse to go where jobs are saying it is too expensive to find accommodation and it is not worth paying for food and accommodation, leaving them no better off if they go.
These are other than the millions of people from villages who work in the Western Province and live in boarding houses, further making a mockery of this village life they can live only when they go home for the holidays!
How does one make a village alive? It is those people who have been provided with government jobs, who benefit most as they barely work for more than 3 days and spend a day travelling back home and a day going to their workplace and spend their weekends in their home in the village. They may posses a paddy field that has never earned them more than what the cultivation cost them, but they will not give the land to a farmer to work, for worry that they may lose their land to that person. So it is self defeating for them even to be given the land from which they make NO margin, and prevent another who can actually make it work.
Sri Lanka is the world’s most inefficient in Paddy Cultivation, as the land is too fragmented, and the water use is excessive and not well husbanded. Unless laws are changed to allow large scale farmers the use of this land, but pay the owner a rent for its use, where the owner does not lose title, this land is VERY POORLY cultivated by this absent owner.
What do we want to happen?
We want all village land cultivated by a professional farmer. HE knows how to handle the wild animal threat, he knows how to get the most of the land in terms of yield, and he knows how best to use the limited water supply from the village tank, which if he has to share with people who are farming a field, will result in water waste. It is more economical to farm a complete field with water, than do so in a fragmented field where different people farm at different times,
It is better to give all fishing rights (auction if necessary) to one person if the tank is small, rather than many trying to earn a living from the one tank. It is better to remove all subsidies, so people are forced to make rational choices.
We want to make sure that people have a choice. If they wish to leave their village, they should be permitted to do so permanently. If they need to be compensated for leaving then, lets work a scheme where those who remain buy them out, so they get some funds to put their roots in a more economically favorable location to them.
What does this mean? It means labor mobility, that has been hitherto stifled due to land ownership and tenure rules, where people DO NOT wish to abandon land for fear of losing. So they are NOT going to take lucrative employment, or if they do, they leave their family behind, and so a village turns into a geriatric home with a few children who when they are old enough need to be sent to a relative’s place in a big city to go to a better school that has prospects.
The “hondama pasala langama pasala” concept (the nearest school is the best school) will only work if teachers can be persuaded to move to the village where their job is. They don’t as they commute from their homes, not willing to leave their husband and children. There is NO future for any school other than the primary and kindergarten, where the teachers can be trained in village clusters, so they don’t have to travel more than 5 km to their workplace.
Incentives, policy changes have to be consciously made, so that the following occur. Each village will have a hair dressing salon, where one can earn a good living cutting hair, as that is a popular pastime in Sri Lanka. The village could have two to ten shops depending on the size of the village which will employ shopkeepers who can earn a decent living, perhaps a drug store, (pharmacy) and hardware store if the size is right. Now when people don’t want to cook villages also have a hopper, roti or string hopper place. That too employs some one. Then there is a doctor who probably comes once every other day to a cluster where 5 villages are in close proximity, that provides GP services on a private patient basis, increasingly seen in villages, a nurse may be from the village.
Then you have the farmers, as mentioned, and fishermen, and perhaps a civil security person to maintain the elephant fences around the village, and then you may have a cluster of government servants who commute in their bikes to the nearest town to work in any number of govt. jobs. It could be the local water supply, samurdhi officer, grama niladari, govi niyamaka, etc.
The average village numbers vary from 500 to 1500 people and of that about 100 heads of household would be working outside of the village, perhaps in Colombo and coming weekly, monthly or quarterly to their homes!
Anyone who wants to leave the village permanently must be assisted out, not retained at all costs! Infrastructure in villages are more expensive than towns.
In summary, the ideal village that will form part of the World Heritage Site
There will be a tourism officer, mainly the oldest able bodied person who could guide people around the village and tell anecdotes of the past.
There will be a few cattle men who manage their herds over land once cultivated.
There will be a few farmers who work more than 10 acres each, as that is the minimum needed for a decent quality of life, and vegetable farmers with slightly lower acreage that produce for the nearest market.
There will be a hair salon or two, a motor bike repair shop, and a tractor driver who sells his services on a daily basis to the owner, or he may own his tractor.
There will be shop keepers, and food shops, and a CSD who maintains the electric fence, a policeman who goes out to work, and perhaps stationed far afield, providing for his family. A school teacher, either in a kindergarten in the village or in a local school.
There could be an owner of a guest house providing accommodation to local or foreign tourists in a good location in the village near the tank.
In short they will all be GAINFULLY employed, that can give life to the village, and income into the village. This is the only way to wean the village from welfare, and make it attractive to visit and preserve traditions and give their services to a lively temple setting that has religious teaching at its heart, not building castles to compete for the flock!
The village will be able to maintain itself, deal with its alcoholics and undesirables, and gently ease out those who are NOT gainfully employed to go to areas where they can find employment. Those who have found employment should be given the chance to sell their property and move out to where they work, and marry, not holding onto another property other than the marital one, because they are unable to sell it due to the lack of a proper title.
This way, there will be equilibrium, with people coming and going, and perhaps even people retiring back to villages, if housing can be easily bought and sold, something NOT possible today. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have a dynamic village with the dame fossils living out of fear and inability to move to where they wish to go. So it is the laws that have to change make it possible. Please do the needful, and revive these dying villages.
In most countries in the world only wealthy people can live in villages with at least 40 perches of land, others live in flats. Unfortunately most of the people in Sri Lanka don't appreciate how lucky they are so in short you could argue they don't deserve it, and we should allow those who really want to live to live and move those who are complaining out of the village to somewhere else they can positively contribute to society, as clearly they are no now, if at all bleeding the society dry by their demands and rape of the environment.
A true lover of the village will preserve this environment and reverse its damage, and not burn at will, and so it should immediately be known as a privilege to live there, and attract those who want to, and remove those who don't want to.