From the sidelines  The presentation of a draft bill to repeal the 13th Amendment by the Jathika Hela Urumaya this week was a relatively low profile event. It was not followed by a news conference characterised by high octane rhetoric. Handing over the document to the Secretary General of Parliament, the JHU reportedly hinted that [...]


Reason vs.emotion in the push to repeal 13A


From the sidelines 

The presentation of a draft bill to repeal the 13th Amendment by the Jathika Hela Urumaya this week was a relatively low profile event. It was not followed by a news conference characterised by high octane rhetoric. Handing over the document to the Secretary General of Parliament, the JHU reportedly hinted that the party was ready to step back from its original demands for complete repeal of the legislation, and to make compromises ‘in view of the national and international concerns.’

NFF activist saying ‘NO’ to northern polls and devolution of power that can lead to separation

The JHU and its fellow travellers on this issue, the National Freedom Front (NFF) of Minister Wimal Weerawansa, and the JVP, collectively account for barely a dozen members of the 225-member legislature. The TNA and the Socialist Alliance consisting of the LSSP, the CP and the DLF will not support the bill. Hence it would appear they will have to depend, to a large extent, on SLFP and UNP support if they expect to secure the two thirds majority they will need to pass the bill.With the UNP in its newly unveiled draft Constitution pledging itself to the devolution of power to ‘provincial units’ within a unitary state, the likelihood of the JHU getting such endorsement looks increasingly bleak.

While reservations continue to be expressed over the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election and the desirability of the provincial council system, the discussion so far has not served very well to enlighten the public on the relevant issues.

Those opposed to it have raised alarm over the likelihood of police and land powers being abused,leaving the central government helpless. Another fear expressed is that of the possibility of a merger between the Northern and Eastern Councils, with the UN and western powers being ‘called in’ to establish a separate state of Tamil Eelam. There is a lack of clarity in the arguments that the 13A would facilitate these outcomes.

The scenario feared most by those opposing the 13Ais the possibility that the Northern Council, most likely to be formedwith a TNA majority, will be used as a stepping stone to secession. Unpleasant memories of one-time North-East Provincial Council Chief Minister Vartharajah Perumal’s ‘Unilateral Declaration of Independence’ in 1990 hover in the air during these debates.

They also tend to dwell on the inauspicious circumstances in which the 13th Amendment was thrust on Sri Lanka in 1987, under Indian diktat. Some of the rhetoric is factually inaccurate as well. There is much speculation on the disastrous outcomes that might follow once the NPC is established. It appears that a greater part of the campaign against the 13A is based on what ‘has been’ and what ‘might be,’rather than what ‘is’ at present.

A realistic assessment of the 13A and its implementation would need to take into account the fact that the political landscape today has changed beyond recognition from that which prevailed in 1987. The LTTE has been militarily defeated, decisively. India played no small part in bringing about that victory. Since then NewDelhi has consistently taken the position that it stands for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its small neighbour. This message is communicated repeatedly in various diplomatic forums.

India has its own good reasons for discouraging secessionist impulses anywhere in the region. At the same time New Delhi cannot appear to be insensitive to the sentiments of state governments, especially in Tamil Nadu, home to 70 million Tamils co-ethnics across the Palk Strait. With a general election coming up next year these pressures on the Congress-led UPA government willcontinue to mount.

By holding a free and fair election for the NPC and implementing the 13A, Colombo helps New Delhi to counter Tamil Nadu’s shrill allegations (real or imaginary) regardingthe treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The move would also take the sting out of the anti-Sri Lanka campaign currently being waged in the UN Human Rights Council,spearheaded by some western powers.Contrary to the thinking of the JHU, the NFF and the JVP, the refusal to grant a measure of autonomy to Tamils in the war-affected North through power devolution, is likely to bring them closer to the nightmare scenario they fear, than to pre-empt it. The lesson of history has been that external interference, under the guise of ‘humanitarian intervention,’ or whatever label, is more likely to happen in a situation where the intervening powers can claim that the state concerned was unwilling or unable to take appropriate measures to resolve the problem itself.

In a robust debate on Sirasa TV’s ‘Satana’ programme on Thursday, National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara (DLF) spoke in favour of the 13A, while Technology, Research and Atomic Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka (JHU) presented his case against it.There was intense argumentwhen Ranawaka said the provincial governor had to act in accordance with the wishes of the council’s board of ministers, while Nanayakkara insisted that the governor could exercise his functions at his discretion, and that the governor’s decision is final.

There appears to be ambiguity in areas such as the making of statutes by the provincial administration. On such matters,the interpretation of various clauses of the 13A in relation to each other would seem to require some legal expertise.A quick look at the 13A does, however,reveal,clearly, that there are a number of checks on the powers of provincial councils. Here are some of them:

  • The IGP is the head of the Sri Lanka Police force which consists of the National Division and Provincial Divisions. Each Provincial Division is headed by a DIG appointed by the IGP in concurrence with the Chief Minister of the Province.
  • The CID or any other unit of the National Division can investigate any offence at the discretion of the IGP after consultation with the Chief Minister and approval of the Attorney General.
  • The Chief Justice nominates Judges to the High Court of each Province from among the judges of the High Court of Sri Lanka.
  • The Finance Commission (that recommends budget allocations for the PCs) includes the Governor of the Central Bank and the Secretary to the Treasury.
  • The Governor of each province is appointed by the President, and holds office ‘during the pleasure of the President.’
  • The Governor may dissolve the Provincial Council.
  • Upon the making of Proclamation under the Public Security Ordinance on the ground that the maintenance of essential supplies and services is threatened or that the security of Sri Lanka is threatened by war or external aggression or armed rebellion, the President may direct a Governor as to the manner in which executive power is to be exercised.

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