13th Amendment back in the limelight

13 amendmentEven as Sri Lanka is preparing to come up with a new Constitution with devolution as one of the key issues, the 13{+t}{+h}Amendment, which created provincial councils in the country, is again in the limelight.

While former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has argued that the proposed scheme of devolution should not exceed the terms of the amendment, with no to any merger of provinces and the transfer of land and police powers to provincial councils, Leader of House in Parliament Lakshman Kiriella has gone on record stating that the amendment is the basis for the resolution of the national question.

The amendment was an outcome of an agreement reached between India and Sri Lanka in 1987.

K. Vigneswaran, former secretary of the merged North-East province (which has remained separated since October 2006), asserts that the amendment can be used to address day-to-day problems of people affected by the Eelam War, even though it is “not a panacea for all the problems facing this country.” This can go on till a new Constitution is ready.

Lead role

Pointing out that Sri Lanka is estimated to have 89,000 war widows, including around 54,000 in the Northern Province, he says “lack or absence of livelihood opportunities” is the major problem being faced by the women.

“NGOs cannot handle this problem fully. At best, they can play a supplementary or complementary role. It is up to the provincial councils to take the lead role,” adds Dr. Vigneswaran, who is now heading the Akhila Ilankai Tamil Mahasabha.

Similarly, with regard to housing, employment of youth and improvement of standards and facilities for education, the provincial councils can be proactive, but “unfortunately, the Northern Province has done little”.

He adds that unless there is “substantial progress” with regard to housing, livelihood and education, there are remote chances of about one lakh Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu returning home.

When pointed out that lack of manpower is said to be the main hurdle for the Northern Province to function meaningfully, he replies that there are still ways of getting things done.

However, A. Varadaraja Perumal, former chief minister of the North-East Province, feels the amendment suffers from certain “inherent weaknesses.”

Had it been interpreted in Sri Lanka as is done in respect of similar features of the Indian Constitution in India, the amendment would have made a “huge difference.”

Yet, he says that the 13{+t}{+h}Amendment can serve as a reference point, but the proposed Constitution cannot be based on it.

“You require a constitutional arrangement that can be understood from the Sri Lankan point of view,” he adds.

The amendment is the basis for the resolution of the national question, says UNP. (The Hindu)

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