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Sri Lanka: Fire at Kelani Valley tea plantation leaves 16 families homeless

Sri Lanka_Health&Safety_Kelani Tea Planation Fire_Credit_World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) _ Feb 2019

In January 2019, the living quarters of 66 people, including 21 children, were severely damaged by a fire at the Robgill Estate in Sri Lanka’s tea district. The official cause of the fire had not been determined; however, reports blame "grossly inadequate, overcrowded and unsafe housing conditions" for plantation workers. The estate is owned by the Kelani Valley Plantations. 

We invited Kelani Valley Plantations to respond; response provided below.

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Company response
27 February 2019

Sri Lanka: Kelani Valley Plantation response to incidences at Robgill Estate

We as Kelani Valle Plantations PLC, Sri Lanka’s one of the highest performing Regional Plantations Company (RPC) engaged with ethical and sustainable plantation business since 1992. The strategies we implemented as long term sustainable and responsible plantation company with highest recognitions from local and international bodies, we are always with total system management including human, environment and finance.

In respect to the above incidence which was happen in one of our prime estate in Bogawanthala and we would like to mention that we will send you a report including the causal factors for the incidence, the prompt actions taken by our estate and corporate management teams collaboration with local and regional trade union representatives and other parties concerned and post incidence analysis including the action we have taken to make the affected families back to the original state, will forward to you by beginning of the next week. (report is attached)

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10 February 2019

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

Author: A. Suresh and M. Thevarajah, World Socialist Web Site (WSWS)

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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