A Tamil parliamentarian on Thursday challenged a proposed housing project of steel maker ArcelorMittal in the Supreme Court, questioning both its suitability for the post-war region and the government’s tendering process.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP and lawyer M.A. Sumanthiran petitioned the court seeking an interim order against the project, which has been highly contested for more than a year now.
From the time the government roped in Indian-born billionaire Lakshmi Mittal’s company to build 65,000 houses in the Tamil-majority north and east, the project evoked sharp resistance. Engineering experts in Sri Lanka studied the proposed prefabricated housing model and said it was severely flawed in its design, compared to traditional brick-and-mortar homes that they recommended. They also deemed prefab homes unsuitable for the hot and humid climatic conditions in the north and east.
Local activists argued that building brick-and-mortar homes would not only prove considerably cheaper but would also help create many jobs and rebuild the economy. The TNA raised the matter in Parliament. Following opposition, the Sri Lankan government scaled down the project to build 6,000 prefabricated homes, which is likely to be executed by ArcelorMittal.
Challenging the decision in court, Mr. Sumanthiran sought details of the tendering process for the revised project, and the cost of materials used for construction.
Meanwhile, sections of war-affected people in the north and east – an estimated 1 lakh await housing – have raised concern about the lack of adequate information on the project. Residents of Narippulthottam village in Vavunatheevu recently told The Hindu that while they heard the government would be constructing pre-fabricated homes in their village, they had no further information.
Following the controversy, Sri Lanka’s leaders assured people in the north and east that they could choose between brick and steel homes, but the experience of Narippulthottam residents indicated otherwise. “They didn’t ask us what kind of homes we want. We don’t know how a prefab house will be, people are saying it would be very hot inside. We have not seen a model yet. But we are scared to reject the project. What if we don’t get any homes after that,” asked Amirthalingam, a community leader in the village.