Who will do what is being done by us right now - we are doing a service to the nation
Director General of the Civil Defence Force Rear Admiral Ananda Peiris spoke to on a wide range of activities that his organisation is engaged in, while tackling criticism against his forces being extensively used for non-military activities such as farming and maintaining parks.
Q What was the role of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) during the war?
The Civil Defence Force was created to protect the threatened villages mainly in the North Central and Eastern Provinces which were bordering the conflict zones.
We were under the police at the beginning and were known as Home Guards but it was done in a hurried way and not properly organised.
There were 18000 members at that time but the terrorists had a free run in the way of attacking.
After the Kebithigollewa massacre, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the department an independent organisation.
"The other most important factor was that in a war we have to study an area by a map but these people born in the area know the area well, the canal, the rock and protecting their kith and kin."
Our members were given T56 assault rifles, military training and a military uniform.
It was opposed by senior officers in the Army but the Defence Secretary wanted similar weapons and uniforms
used by the Army to be given to them.
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa told us they are hunters, and if they can shoot running animals why can’t they take down the terrorists.
The other most important factor was that in a war we have to study an area by a map but these people born in the area know the area well, the canal, the rock and protecting their kith and kin.
Therefore we selected 600 who were specially trained to go beyond the villages similar to Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP).
Not only protecting villages, we protected the supply routes, areas taken over by the army, as well as special economic targets.
During the war we were called at different times and there were times we even provided 6000 of our men to support the capturing of the key LTTE area.
Q What is the current role of the CDF in the post war period?
After the war was over the CDF personnel were worried about their future and at that time there were 41,000.
There was no security contribution and we were given instructions to obtain land and start farming and various other businesses.
Immediate steps were taken by considering the fact that most of our men were farmers. Therefore we took over state land in different parts of the country. We did not have a single mammoty or a tractor. So they brought what they had and what they owned. Some even borrowed and we now have nearly 800 medium and large scale farms. Some individuals even gave their private lands for us to cultivate.
The Justice Ministry requested the Defence Ministry to provide security for all the court complexes and the Wildlife Department also requested for our help. We provide security for wind mills and even for large scale plantations.
"After the Kebithigollewa massacre, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the department an independent organisation. Our members were given T56 assault rifles, military training and a military uniform"
Q Involvement in farming is an area that your force is known for. What is the status of that now?
There was a vegetable crisis several years back and we used to collect them from the farmers and sell them. We used our resources and what we lacked, the government provided us.
The Civil Defence Force (CDF) is operating more than 800 farms situated across the country where they have generated more than Rs.900 million by selling products since 2010 cultivated in 14,000 acres.
These farms help to generate an income which enables to fulfil the needs of our force. We are mostly using government lands and there are also lands we do farming on which have been given to us by private owners.
Such ventures are very important to operate the organisation. Our force was established by replacing the Civil Defence Department.
Revenue generated from farms, producing bricks and compost has generated the Rs.900 million earned by the CDF.
Q What about the criticism made by the opposition that security forces as well as CDF members are used for sweeping and cleaning parks and streets?
We were engaged in cleaning the canals in Colombo which were built during colonial times and ever since, they were not maintained.
It is easy to criticise but it is difficult to perform. The sewerage pipes were directed at the canals. We support anything for the sake of the country.
Who is going to do this? Is any outsider or a multi-national company going to do it for us?
At the beginning they criticized, but now when they walk on public parks and walking paths they praise us.
I managed to motivate the CDF personnel and of course I have to tell you that we give them a small incentive for engaging in these activities.
Money is allocated for such projects by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) to be spent for contractors, but when our boys get engaged in the work a part of that money could be given to them as an incentive to motivate them.
Q What are the major plans you have for the future?
Our people are still being paid the amount that was paid when it was established in 2005, which is less than the other forces and below the police.
Our tenure of duty is eight hours a day, so after that we allow them to do their farming and other activities, which is the difference when you compare it with the other security forces in the country.
When they were deployed out of their homes we provided them with meals. A new pension scheme is to be introduced to members who have finished 20 years or more which is a remarkable step.
Now, only a few are in villages as there is no security requirement, but when there is a need we deploy them.
Our strength is where the threat was during the war and is mainly in the Eastern and North Central Provinces.
After the war we recruited 3500 from Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu. We noticed that youth in those areas were interested in joining our force.
There are certain places where we have excess numbers but have managed to utilise them for a lot of work which is beneficial to them as well.
They were not sure of their jobs, but now they are happy and soon they will be given a pension as well.
Q Welfare is something which is crucial to fulfil the needs of a force. What is the progress CDF has made so far with regard to welfare?
Our salaries are lower than the military and the police so therefore we have initiated our activities on our own.
We are constructing 275 houses now and last year it was 250. Those who did not have a house are getting one.
Through welfare activities we get a lot of work done as it immensely benefits our troops.
When they die in service we give Rs.1 million as a fixed deposit on which we give them an interest, and the entire amount can be withdrawn when the youngest child turns 18.
We give scholarships and exercise books to the children of our members. This is the only organisation that gives the entire need of exercise books to the children of its members. 50 libraries were built by us and now we are building another 50.
Q We have seen your forces being involved in providing a facelift to religious sites. Could you brief us on such projects carried out so far?
It is a major role we play at the moment. A number of neglected religious sites were given a facelift by the Civil Defence Department.
We cleaned Mihintale and Anuradhapura sacred sites which were covered with forests and shrubs.
Rehabilitation of ancient Buddhist sites in Deegavapiya, Mahamewnawa, Pothuvil, Galmaduwa, Ampara and Muthiyangana were also carried out by us. We are involved in many such projects throughout the country.