by Canadian Tamil Congress, January 31,2014
(The following is the Keynote address delivered by C.V.K. Sivagnanam, Chairman, NPC at CTC Pongal Dinner held on January 18, 2014.)
Mr. President, Honorable guests, dear brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous Tamil New year and “Thai Pongal” greetings.
I also bring greetings and well wishes from our Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran, Ministers and Members of the Northern Provincial Council. It is a great honour and pleasure for me to participate in this great event. I sincerely thank the Canadian Tamil Congress and others who were instrumental in inviting me to take part in this important cultural event. Tamils celebrate many festivals such as Chittiraip Pirappu, Aadip Pirappu, Navarathiri, Sivarathiri, Deepavali, Pongal Vizha, Good Friday and Christmas. However, several centuries prior to the origin of other festivals, Tamils have been celebrating Pongal Vizha which can be traced all the way back to 2500 years. We can glean information about Pongal Vizha in the Sangam Literature which was written between 300 B.C – 300 A.D.
The ancient Tamils were aware of the fact that Sun provided warmth and caused rainfall which is essential in growing and harvesting paddy. They also found the cattle played an important role in cultivating paddy. Therefore, as an act of gratitude and to honor both the Sun and the cattle they celebrated Pongal Vizha. The concept is the same as the Thanks Giving Day celebrated in the Western countries.
This celebration also underscores the honour and value given by the Tamil community to those who toil hard to produce food for human beings. Tamil culture gives importance to nature and Sun symbolizes that phenomena. As you know the Sun seen from the earth untiringly rises and sets on a daily basis to give sustenance to the farmers of the human species and the herd of the animal species.
We are the innovators of the ideology of workers’ rights and egalitarianism. We are the pathfinders of labour rights and ethics. The Tamil race which was confined to Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka has now spread to many countries of the world either as migrants or as political asylum seekers. We are very proud of our Tamils in Diaspora in their zeal to preserve their language, their culture and their values. What more in abiding with the laws and customs of their host countries where they sought refuge. I look at this celebration as part of their success story and a reflection of the rich culture and ethical behavior of our people.
I consider it appropriate to express some views on the functioning of the recently inaugurated Northern Provincial Council, since I am attending this function in my capacity as the Chairman of the Northern Provincial Council. The Provincial Council system, as you all know, came into effect as a result of the 1987 Indo-Ceylon Agreement signed by Rajiv Gandhi prime minister of India and J.R. Jeyawardene president of Sri Lanka. The Agreement provided for the temporary merger of the North and East till a referendum is held in the eastern province. But, on a petition filed by the JVP the Supreme Court ruled on October 16, 2006 that the annual proclamations issued by President Jayewardene and his successors through gazette notifications were null and void and had no legal effect. The ruling was influenced by politics rather than evidence led before the learned judges. In a way it also reflected the politicization of the judiciary. The North-East Province was formally de-merged into the Northern and Eastern provinces on 1st January 2007. However, the same judges ruled that the merger could be effected by an Act of Parliament. Although the leader of the opposition UNP promised to provide the necessary support of his party to secure a 2/3rd majority in parliament, the government true to form baulked at the offer.
Sinhalese dominated Provincial Councils in Southern Sri Lanka can have their own views and objectives, but we are very clear that the amalgamation of the North and East, our traditional homeland, is a must for the survival of our people as a Nation.
The present government after claiming they have liberated the eastern province, held provincial Council election in the Eastern Province in 2008 and again in 2012.
Likewise, the government announced in May 2009 that they had liberated the Northern Province as well. But dragged its feet on without holding elections for more than 4 years. Finally, elections were held on the 21st September in 2013 largely due to pressure exerted by India, US and the international community. When the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) decided to contest the election, we clearly stated that the Provincial Council system created under the 13th amendment is not the solution to the ethnic conflict between the Tamil and Sinhala Nations. We stood and we stand steadfast in this view.
We have enumerated the reasons for contesting the elections in detail and in clear terms in our election manifesto. We stated that there was an absolute need for a Council with members elected by the people of the Northern Province. All these years our people were deprived of their political and civic rights in the absence of an elected Council. The military dominated administration deprived those rights of our people. There was a necessity to prevent the grabbing and acquisition of the land owned by our people. There was a necessity to prevent the exploitation of our natural resources and there was an urgent need to prevent the well-planned settlement programs in the North by bringing in people outside the Northern Province. There was also the dire necessity to expose, in a democratic manner, the unwillingness of the government in finding a viable and durable solution to the ethnic crisis. In this background, we thought to make use of the Provincial Council to pressurize the government for a solution to the ethnic problem and to bring the issues open at the international level. We have also the task to resettle the thousands of internally displaced people in their own homes, to improve the standard of living of those families where females are the only breadwinners, to provide livelihood to 89,000 war widows, to emphasize the need to release the political prisoners who have been detained for long periods without charges or trial. These are the daunting tasks facing the provincial council today.
I also must mention the fact that there was another important reason to contest the elections. It is to prevent the Northern Provincial Council administration falling into the hands of supporters of the ruling chauvinist government.
We did not accept the view trotted by some people that the Provincial Council system has no powers at all. That it is an empty shell. Working and assisting our people by exercising the limited powers of the system is an absolute necessity. At the same time, we will continue to agitate for devolution of powers going beyond the 13th Amendment. As of now, the executive powers are vested with the Governor. But, we believe those powers cannot be exercised by the Governor alone without decentralizing and delegating those powers to the Provincial Council Ministers and Officers on the basis of statutes enacted by the Council. People have elected a stable Provincial Council led by the former Supreme Court Judge C.V. Wigneswaran. The Chief Minister, Ministers and the Council are determined to fulfill the expectations and aspirations of our people to live in dignity and honour in the land of their birth.
We are skeptical that the Sri Lankan government would readily support the smooth functioning of the Council. But, we will try our best to work with the government without unnecessary confrontation to achieve our goals with help from the international community. We all realise and understand that extra funds are needed to undertake meaningful rehabilitation, resettlement, reconstruction and development of a region severely affected during the long war years. However, this fact has not been taken into consideration by the Finance Commission which for the year 2014 has allocated funds on the same basis like the other eight provinces of the country.
Only a total of 1876 million rupees has been allocated for capital expenditure out of a total sum of 15,520 million rupees. When we divide these paltry 1876 million rupees among all five districts of the North, one could realise the insufficiency of funds to each district of the Northern Province. This amount is sufficient only to construct about 17 kms of road at present cost.
We have been debating in open forums about the inadequacy of funds for development of the North. Our Chief Minister had recently discussed these issues with the President. This government is telling the international community that “we have conducted the elections for the Northern Provincial Council, people have been given their democratic rights to elect a Council of their choice and we will fully support all Council activities.” But in reality this government has not taken any concrete steps to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamil people. If they have goodwill of any sort, the government could have allocated a special fund for the Northern Province which has been abandoned and neglected for the last 30 years without any development.
This government has so far not shown its goodwill towards the Tamil people. Under these circumstances we have no alternative but to seek the support of the international community as well as assistance from the Tamil Diaspora to build the Northern Province. I take this opportunity to make an earnest request and a message to the Tamil Diaspora spread all over the world. As I mentioned earlier, the problem regarding an equitable and just political solution to the Tamil National Question has been internationalized as never before after the war ended in May 2009. This is largely due to the untiring efforts of the Diaspora Tamil. We are grateful for your support and efforts to espouse of our cause, working towards an equitable political solution and exposing human rights violations by the government. We are aware of the political and economic strength and potential you have to further accelerate your political and humanitarian activities.
I once again seek your support and assistance in bringing about a political solution to the ethnic conflict, in achieving basic human rights of our people, in assisting resettlement and rehabilitation our people to stand on their feet, in improving their overall standard of living, in assisting economic development of our homeland. Our people deserve to live in peace, equality and prosperity. Once again I thank the CTC and Board of Directors for the opportunity to meet you and participate in this great cultural event.