A Fundamental Rights petition was filed Thursday in the Lankan Supreme Court against a government project to construct 65,000 pre-fabricated steel houses for people displaced by war in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The petition was filed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP for the northern Jaffna District, M. A. Sumanthiran. The respondents in the case are the Minister for Resettlement and Rehabilitation D. M. Swaminathan, the foreign contractor, Arcelor Mittal Construction France, and the Attorney General.
TNA MP Sumanthiran said in his petition that the proposed houses are not suitable from diverse points of view, and that the award of the tender to Arcelor Mittal Construction France, was flawed, maintaining that even prior to the completion of the tender process that Minister Swaminathan had announced that Arcelor Mittal would be undertaking the construction.
He further pointed out that experts of the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka had recommended the construction of traditional masonry wall houses and had justified their recommendation stating that the proposed prefabricated steel houses would suffer from several key drawbacks including inadequate foundation, insufficient roof support, risk of steel corrosion, poor ventilation and poor or non-existent capacity for extension or repair. The Lankan experts had also pointed out that the steel houses would have a much shorter lifespan than traditional brick houses.
The TNA MP pointed out that the pre-fabricated steel houses were going to be built against the wishes of the North-Eastern people of Sri Lanka.
“The District Coordinating Committees of the Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts of which I am a member also passed unanimous decisions on or around 27th September 2016 rejecting the abovementioned prefabricated steel houses,” he said.
The petitioner said that on November 11, 2016, he tabled in Parliament an alternative proposal made by members of civil society agencies and individuals for the construction of brick and mortar houses at nearly half the cost using materials that are environmentally and climatically suitable while also using local labor.
The TNA MP said in his petition that the failure to call for fresh tenders with regard to the implementation of the housing project is unreasonable, arbitrary and illegal. He thereby sought an Interim Order preventing any further steps being taken towards the implementation of the construction of the proposed steel prefabricated houses.