Sumanthiran MP withdraws Supreme Court Petition challenging Pre-fabricated House Construction in North; Will file Fresh Petition making cabinet respondents

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran this week withdrew his Supreme Court petition challenging the proposed construction of prefabricated houses for the war-displaced in the North and East but will file a fresh application next week after making the Cabinet of Ministers respondents.

The other respondents are Resettlement Minister D M Swaminathan and French steel giant ArcelorMittal that has been identified for the project. The case was taken up on Thursday and argued for more than two hours in front of Justices Sisira J de Abrew, Anil Gooneratne and Vijith Kumara Malalgoda, PC.

During the course of arguments, it was revealed that the Cabinet had last decided to award 6,000 houses (out of the original proposed 65,000 prefab units) to ArcelorMittal without calling for fresh tenders. Mr Sumanthiran, therefore, withdrew his petition with liberty to file a new application after making the Cabinet respondents.

Mr Sumanthiran appeared in person while Upul Jayasuriya, PC, represented Resettlement Minister Swaminathan. Sanjeewa Jayawardena, PC, represented ArcelorMittal. Deputy Solicitor General Viveka Siriwardena appeared for the Attorney General’s Department.

The Fundamental Rights petition seeks orders to prevent the Resettlement Minister from signing a contract with ArcelorMittal or its agents for construction of prefabricated houses for war-displaced in the north and east.

It also seeks an order restraining the minister from implementing the contract, in the event that it is signed; and another to provide him (the petitioner) with all information and documentation relating to the said construction and related tender process.

It requests Court to direct that steps are taken to ascertain whether the intended beneficiaries preferred brick-and-mortar houses to prefabricated steel ones; for tenders to be called for and then awarded with accordance with the housing preferences of potential beneficiaries; and for beneficiaries to receive housing in accordance with their expressed wishes.

The prefab housing project has been in the pipeline since 2015, blocked by widespread protests. The TNA said it was “totally opposed to prefabricated steel houses” and called for civilians in the North and East to be provided with traditional masonry houses, in keeping with their culture and way of life. All 16 MPs of the party endorsed this position.

In the face of resistance, President Maithripala Sirisena passed the project to Special Projects Minister Sarath Amunugama for a recommendation. He returned with a proposal to grant a contract for 6,000 houses to ArcelorMittal.

The initial plan–which would have compelled the Government to borrow US$ 1 billion to implement–was to build 65,000 prefab steel houses for war-affected families in the North and East. But the prefab steel dwellings have been objected to on multiple grounds including climatic unsuitability, flimsy construction, lack of durability, unjustifiably high cost and so on.

A Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee (CANC) rejected the project and recommended that fresh tenders be called. A group of civil society agencies and persons even put forward an alternate proposal for 102,000 masonry houses at a cost of just under Rs 1 million per house, using local labour and funded by a consortium of local banks.

Courtesy: Sunday Times

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