Sri Lanka

Welfare benefits

Print edition : November 13, 2015

A RITUAL that has become part of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly’s sessions every year since 1983 is the government’s assertion, during the discussion on the demand for grants for the Public Department, of its commitment to the welfare of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. The government—be it led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)—waxes eloquent on what it has done for the well-being of the refugees. After reading out the welfare schemes listed under the grants, there is normally a heated discussion on which party’s government had the interest of the refugees at heart, followed invariably by a slanging match. This year was no exception. Tabling the budget estimates for 2015-16 in the Assembly, the AIADMK government said Rs.108.46 crore had been allocated for the welfare of the refugees.

The government’s policy note for the Public Department for 2014-15 says a total of 3,04,269 refugees arrived in the State after the anti-Tamil violence began in Sri Lanka in 1983. It says the government has extended to the refugees residing in camps the benefits of all the welfare schemes implemented for Indian citizens. The monthly allowance for the refugees has been increased from Rs.400 to Rs.1,000 for the head of the family; from Rs.288 to Rs.750 for other adult members, and from Rs.180 and Rs.90 to Rs.400 for children below 12 years. Rice has been made available free of cost up to a limit of 20 kilograms for each family, and commodities such as sugar, wheat, maida, and sooji are given at subsidised rates through public distribution system outlets. In all, 19,728 refugee families living in 116 camps have benefited from the scheme. Children are given education free of cost in government and government-aided schools up to class 12. The policy note further says that refugee students are eligible for all types of scholarships that are given to other students in Tamil Nadu. The government has extended scholarships ranging from Rs.850 to Rs.4,700 to refugee students residing in the camps to pursue higher education. For the 2014-15 academic year, 22,428 refugee students enrolled themselves in various educational institutions. Refugee students are permitted to join arts and science colleges, professional colleges, polytechnic institutions and universities through the merit-based admissions/single-window counselling system under the general category.

The note also says that a skill upgradation programme has been undertaken to enable the refugees to take up gainful employment. Permission has been given to grant driving licences to eligible refugees residing in the camps. Similarly, sewing machines have been given free of cost to 16 refugee women, who have undergone training in tailoring so that they can augment their incomes. In 2013-14, as many as 1,130 women benefited under the scheme. In all, 416 women self-help groups (SHGs) have been formed in the camps with a revolving fund of Rs.10,000 for each group as a one-time grant to enable them to take up thrift and credit operations and other economic activities.

A sum of Rs.25 crore was sanctioned in 2011-12 to strengthen the basic amenities in the refugee camps across the State. The Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme has been extended to all Tamil refugees residing in the State. In 2011-12, refugees staying in camps were made eligible for this scheme and in 2013-14 the same was extended to Sri Lankan Tamils living outside the camps in the State. Two special camps have been set up in Cheyyar (Tiruvannamalai district) and Tiruchi (Tiruchirappalli district) to accommodate Tamils who have come to the adverse notice of the State police and who cannot be permitted to move about freely in the State. As of July 31, 2014, 50 Sri Lankan Tamils were lodged in the two camps under Section 3(2)e of the Foreigners Act, 1946.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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