13th Amendment back in the limelight
The Hindu: January 21, 2016 | T. RAMAKRISHNAN

 

Even as Sri Lanka is getting drawn to the process of making a Constitution with devolution as one of the key issues, the 13th Amendment, an outcome of the Agreement between India and Sri Lanka in 1987, is again in the limelight.


While former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has argued that the proposed scheme of devolution should not exceed what has been implemented under the Amendment with no to any merger of Provinces and the transfer of land and police powers to Provincial Councils, senior leader of the United National Party (UNP) and 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.


Re-kindling public interest


This is not the first time that the public interest in the matter has been re-kindled. While a report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka, released in September 2015, described the Indo-Lanka accord as a “landmark attempt” to resolve the ethnic conflict, the UN Human Rights Council in October wanted the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the provincial councils were “able to operate effectively” in accordance with the Amendment.


Subsequently, India had made a statement at the Council, urging the stakeholders to find a “political solution” that “builds upon” the Amendment.


Not a panacea, though


K. Vigneswaran, former Secretary of the once-merged North-East province, 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.


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 [Non government organisations] 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,” Dr. Vigneswaran, now heading the Akhila Ilankai Tamil Mahasabha, says.     


‘Northern Province has done little’


Similarly, with regard to housing, employment of youth and improvement of standards and facilities for education, the provincial councils can be proactive and “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.    


Look at it from Lankan perspective


However, A. Varadaraja Perumal, former Chief Minister of the North-East Province, feels that 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 13th 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.