Sri Lanka tells India devolving powers to provinces not possible

Sri Lanka on Wednesday said it had made it clear to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that devolving police powers to the provinces, including the Tamil-dominated areas, was not possible saying ‘it has nothing to do with ethnic considerations’.

GL Peiris, the external affairs minister, was speaking in parliament today apprising the house on the bilateral talks between India and Sri Lanka held in New Delhi last week when President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the swearing-in of Modi. Peiris said the talks between Rajapaksa and Modi had covered a wide range of issues. ‘Prime Minister Modi’s vision for the future of SAARC, expansion of economic and the issue of fishermen were the main topics’, Peiris said.

‘During our talks on constitutional matters, we explained our position,’ Peiris said adding that the Indian side was told that the thirteenth amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution has been part of the statutes for over a quarter of a century. Sri Lanka’s thirteenth amendment was introduced in 1987 as a result of direct Indian intervention to try and resolve the ethnic impasse in the island. ‘There have been five different governments in the country during that period. None of them felt fully able to implement it’, Peiris said as having told the Indian side.

‘We made it crystal clear that devolution of police powers is not acceptable. It has nothing to do with ethnic considerations,’ Peiris said. He said Sri Lanka conveyed to the India that attribution of police powers to a province ‘wheresoever in the country was undesirable for matter of policy’. Peiris’ statement in parliament was in response to a query raised by the main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on matters discussed with the new Indian government. In July 1987, the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene which stated the devolution of powers to the provinces.

Hence the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment (13A)to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987 to establish provincial councils. The 13A and the provincial councils entered Sri Lanka’s statutes in 1987 as part of the India-Sri Lanka Peace Accord which envisaged devolution of powers to the island’s provinces in an effort to end the Sri Lankan civil war involving the LTTE and the government forces. The LTTE was crushed in 2009, ending its three-decades-old fight to create a separate Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern provinces.
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