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Sri Lanka: 16 families homeless after fire at Bogawantalawa tea plantation

Author: A. Suresh and M. Thevarajah, World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), Published on: 10 February 2019

4 February 2019

On January 29, a catastrophic fire destroyed 12 line rooms (long buildings divided into small living quarters) at the Vanakadu Division of the Robgill Estate in Sri Lanka’s central hill districts. The blaze...devastated the homes of 66 people, including 21 children.

The 16 families have lost all their belongings, including clothes, kitchen and other domestic equipment, and birth certificates, national identity cards and other necessary documents, as well as children’s books and school uniforms. The victims are currently being accommodated, without adequate food and sanitary facilities, at the estate’s cultural hall and the Kovil (Hindu temple).

Robgill Estate is owned by Kelani Valley Plantations...While the cause of the fire has not yet been officially determined, the principal reason for the disaster is hardly a secret. It is a product of the grossly inadequate, overcrowded and unsafe housing conditions. The overwhelming majority of Sri Lanka’s plantation workers and their families are accommodated in line rooms...many built during British colonial rule. Two or more families generally live in one line room.

House fires at Sri Lankan tea estates are common...While successive Sri Lankan governments and the plantation companies regularly promise better accommodation for the estate workers, nothing changes...

According to some estimates, about 67 percent of plantation workers are living in 120 square feet line rooms that have no proper ventilation. Twenty five percent of these facilities do not have proper toilets...Robgill Estate fire victims spoke last week with World Socialist Web Site reporters about their living conditions and denounced the government and the unions...Conditions facing workers at Robgill are typical of those at tea estates throughout Sri Lanka where workers have fought bitter struggles to improve their wages and living conditions...

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Related companies: Kelani Valley Plantation (part of Hayleys Group)