At the very roots, most internal conflicts are caused by socio-economic factors. The economic factor is not 'visible' and is seldom openly admitted, functions as a catalyst. The civil war in Sri Lanka is no exception to this rule . It is true that the 'Sinhala only' policy of Mr. SWRD Bandarnaike , implemented in 1956 was rooted in politics of wooing the majorrity Sinhala Budhist community to gain power. It is widely accepted as the cause of present turmoil. The economic consequences of this policy were reduction of jobs for Tamils and transfering them to the Sinhalese. In a dynamic economy with high rate of growth and jobs in private sector, the impact of this measure would have been marginal. However in absecne of both these factors, frustration of Tamils spilled over into an insurgency.
Under the socialistic pattern economy
, as in India, the government occupied the centre stage. Economic as well
as political power got concentrated in the small Sinhala elite in Colombo.
While the `Sinhala only' language policy was implemented for the masses,
English education continued to be the monopoly of the elite. Sri Lanka
has therefore been seeing major upheavals also amongst the majority Sinhalese.
The 1971 uprising and more recent 1987 uprising by the Janata Vimukti Perumana
(JVP) were manifestations of this basic malady.
STORY OF ECONOMIC STAGNATION.
QUALITY OF LIFE INDEX.
The key to Sri Lankan success in
achieving this quality of life is to be found in the control of population
growth. The rate of population growth that was 2.4 in the years 1963-69
, reduced to 2.3 % per annum for 1970 -74 and has continued to decline
to 1.4 in the years 1985-90. Currently it is stable at this figure. The
decline in growth rate is quite dramatic and if one is to take into account
the increasing life expectancy , then it appeares that Sri Lanka has already
reached zero rate of growth .
Rate of growth has stabilized at
1.4 % per annum.
A PLANTATION ECONOMY.
1934-38 1948 1950
1952 1954 1956 1958 1960 1962
(Source UN Staitsitical Year Books
1957,1975, 1979-80, 1985-86 and 1990-91.)
Tea prices in the international
market have a tendency to fluctuate. These reached the peak of $ 350 per
tonne in 1983-84
Natural rubber and rubber products form another major part of the plantation economy. Like elsewhere in SE Asia, the labour working in these plantations is mostly of Indian origin, largely from the southern state of Tamilnadu. The historical reason for this phenomenon being that in the early 19th century when the British were establishing their plantations world wide, it was the Tamil speaking area over which they had full control. The conditions of the early workers was no better than that of the slaves. Many people however took this up voluntarily so as to escape grinding poverty at home.
Economic stagnation is a powerful
impetus for violence , be it the Sinhala extremism or Tamil separatism.
Even this limited growth has occured in sectors like tourism and service
sectors where the benefits have reached only a small number. The key to
this stagnation is the neglect of agriculture and horticulture. Long term
figures for rice production show this very clearly.
Sri Lanka is a major importer of wheat, milk products and vegetables. The cold staistics hides the reality of Potatos selling at Rs 50 a kg and milk powder at Rs 168 per kg. Fruit like apples are imported from faraway NewZealand and cost Rs 25 per piece.
IMPACT OF 'LIBERALISATION POLICY'.
The multinationals who came in the country soon devoured most local companies, so much so that it is difficult find a Lankan brand name in the market. At early stage of liberalisation, the multi nationals sold at low prices and some times even at a loss. But once having established their monopoly, the prices have been jacked up and are beyond the means of most ordinary Lankans. The elites were kept happy by providing them with highly paid jobs, very few in number. The fact that both economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of narrow elite helped the matter.
Example of 'Nestle' in the area of milk products is reprresentative of the trend. This company was more interested in selling the surplus milk products from Europe and other advanced countries and hence took virtually no interest whatsoever to develop the milk production in Lanka.
EFFECT OF CIVIL STRIFE
The civil strife between the Sinhalese and Tamils has had both direct and indirect effect on the economy. Rising burden of defence related expenditure and general slow down of the economy are the indirect effects. But the two main sectors that have suffered are fisheries and tourism.
Sri Lanka was a favoured tourist
destination due to its lovely sun soaked beaches as well as breath taking
Budhist monuments. The long term trends in tourist trade show clearly the
effect of internal disturbances on the tourist trade.
The drop in tourist arrivals after 1983, the year in which Sri Lanka faced major riots clearly shows the effect of the unrest on tourist earnings. The trend after 1990s show that while the tourist arrivals have picked up, the 'big spender' tourists are avoiding Lanka. Also most tourists are 'transit' tourist on their way to Male.
1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1970
1971 1972 1973 1974 1975
PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE NOT SATISFIED
WITH THE HANDLING OF
APR 1994 JULY 1994
MAR 1995 JUNE 1995 AUG 1995
A full 70 % people were also opposed to the policy of privatisation. The results were based on a sample 2500 strong with proportional representation for all occupations and age groups.
The dis-satisfation with economic
situation is nor surprising.Out of a total population of 17.9 million ,
nearly 7 million or 38 % of the population lives in absolute poverty. Most
of these poor are in rural areas, 6.3 million. Unemployment is officailly
estimated at 14 % but may be as high as 35 to 40 % if under employment
is included. The pattern of income growth since 1980s liberalization shows
a marked bias in favour of mercantile and services sectors, essentially
Unemployment is mainly amongst the
young, Sinhala language educated Budhist youth in the South. This
is the recruiting ground for the Sinhalese extremist JVP party.
Many of the economic problems of Sri Lanka are directly related to its allergy to trade with India. Many Indian products like the Bajaj Three Wheeler , are ideally suited for their requirements. These have been heavily taxed, ( a Bajaj three wheeler cost upwards of Rs 1. 25 lakhs)so is the marked reluctance , so far to turn to India for relevant technology. The causes of this self destructive policy lie in the domanin of politics, only its economic consequence is mentioned here.
Sri Lanka is a small country with
excellent communications. It has also cent percent literacy. This makes
for a volatile situation when combined with economic dis-satisfaction and
affects the stability of the state. In addition is the crucial fact that
despite the demcratic form of govt , over the years a narrow elite has
emerged in whom the political and economic power is concentrated. Change
of parties has only meant change of a group of ruling elite or change
of ruling family. Even if the civil war between Sinhala and Tamil
can be ended, peace will continue to elude Sri Lanka unless that country
undertakes a programme of basic socio economic reforms.