Chapter Seven

The merged province as Tamil homeland and the experience of devolution.

It is only after independence and long after the departure of the British, it dawned on the Tamil leadership, that an honourable and secure life of the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka is possible only in the achievement of selfgovernment within their territorial homeland of the North East Province. With the continued ascendancy of the Volk in the political life of the nation, this Tamil demand gradually came to be established as the aspiration of the Tamil people.

The cry for a federal form of government became the cry of the Tamil people mainly after the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. The democratic platform could hardly be used to win the rights of the Tamil people. The parliamentary democracy has made irrelevant any need for accomodation and magnanimity from the Sinhalese leadership. The non effectiveness of the democratic means and the impotency of the Tamil leadership led to the gradual takeover of the Tamil leadership by the militant movement committed to as in the freedom of the Tamil people through armed struggle.

With further abuse of the idea of unitary state and the constitution of the Sri Lanka, the Tamil concurrence could not be obtained for the two subsequent constitutions of 72 and 78. The Constitutional process failing to accommodate the aspirations of the Tamil people could not win their endorsement.34  The constitutions were no more an expression of the svill of the Tamil people. The break down of the constitutional order and peaceful government became inevitable.

The violation of the constitutional norms that arose as a result of the deterrent clauses left behind by the British were nullified by the omission of those articles in the new constitutions and the constitution brought in line to serve the idea of dominance so that it shall not be possible to challenge the authority of the Volk for any illegality or unconstitutionality.

Tamil participation in the subsequent elections have always remained conditional hoping necessary changes would be forthcoming accommodating their rights and aspirations. Though the government and constitutional process of independent Ceylon has always suffered from an active involvement and participation of the people in the political process of enacting new constitutions, by opting to adopt a colonial attitude towards the Tamil people, the Volkists totally underestimated the capacity of the Tamil people to support an armed struggle to establish their inalienable rights.

The Sinhalese political parties have got used to offering assurances of redressing the grievances of the Tamil people in their Party Manifesto before the elections. However after the elections, they place themselves as obedient servants of the Volk. Both the major political parties and the parliamentary sy stem of government and the constitution as the supreme laws of the land have scamped to the values of the Sinhala Volk. The new pretenders to the throne after coming to power would set aside the constraints of the constitution to provide a peaceful government, have no option but to set one community against the other, one class against the other, one religion against the other, one language against the other so as to continue in power.

In all these the Tamil people saw themselves being cast as villains and made scapegoats to all the ills of the Sinhalese. The guarantees and safeguards that were supposed to have been built into the constitution withered away in no time. The idea of federalism, homeland and self rule if not a separate and independent and sovereign state which were no where to be found before independence, became the catch word for the Tamils.

Even the Indian intervention hardly changed the disposition of the Volk nor the course of events.

The pretensions of the collaborator layers, to whom the British subtly transferred power before an independence struggle could relegate them to the background, has been far reaching. As inheritors of the mantle of unitary Sri Lanka, the layer now steered to rally round the idealism of the SinhalaVolk. Seeking to perpetuate the idea of a unitary Sri Lanka against the will of the Tamil people, it has brought only suffering and disgrace to the people of this island.

These renegade lawyers35, who have known nothing else but the sale of this country to foreign interests during the last five hundred years, continue to subterfuge as patriots and thrive by instilling unnecessary fears and discord among people of this country. By prolonging war and causing indebtedness to foreign countries they hoped to bring back the days that gave them so much pleasure as collaborators and agents of foreign rule.

The immense difficulty these dwellers of Colombo have in comprehending a restructured polity, keeping in line with the natural disposition and political realities, should be seen in the light of them having never been part of Sinhalese and Tamil communities that exists outside Colombo.

The Tamils seek separation

The last of the very disappointing experience of the of the Tamil people with Sinhalese leadership came after the 1977 elections when the Tamil representatives were sent to parliament to seek an acceptable solution within the frame work of a united Sri Lanka armed with a mandate to seek separation if such a solution is not possible. Mobbery was the answer of the government ofJ.R.Jayawardena. Another constitution was enacted without addressing the Tamil aspirations and grievances. The idea of an executive president not answerable to the Parliament made it easier to foist the military rule over the North East supported by further legislation such as Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 which gave wide powers to the army and police to violate the fundamental human rights of the people of the North East.

The Sinhalese hope that their arrogant disposition to discard the Tamil will and undermining the constitutional norms would go unchecked was met with a Tamil resistance of a different kind. The helplessness of the parliamentary politicians and the virtual impossibility of achieving justice through the parliamentary process when the majority Sinhalese are not willing to share power with the Tamils, the idea of national liberation through armed struggle gained support among the Tamil people. The Tamil leadership in the parliament had two options, one to quit the parliament and allow the militants to take things forward, or to settle for the crumbs of the Sinhalese leadership and betray the Tamil aspirations and freedom struggle.

The TULF lead by Mr A. Amirthalingam, then a leader of the opposition of the Sri Lankan Parliament, settled for the latter. The TULF at this stage during 79 82 became the water snakes swimming the ponds of Sinhala Parliament hiding under the shades of the lilies and feeding with crumbs thrown to them by the UNP Government. This made the TULF forget the separatist mandate and support the schemes of totalitarian rule.

On Sept 17 th 1982, the inevitable announcement came. Six of the dominant groups the LTTE, EROS, EPRLF, PLOTE, TELO, and NLFTE came together as Committee for Eelam Liberation (CEL) rejecting the TULF leadership which has forfeited any trust of the Tamil people and declaring that the armed struggle will be taken forward with the objective of establishing an independent sovereign socialist oriented state they also announced theywill support candidates opposing TULF in the elections to the Parliament that was due, to prove the TULF has lost support.

The precarious position in which the TULF had been placed was subtly used by the Sinhala Government of the time to get the tacit support to one of its most undemocratic moves of nullifying the Parliamentary Elections and prolonging the life of Parliament.

The militants now grouped together facilitating the elimination of much of the friction and inter rivalry that was holding them back, were set on course of mature warfare. The most crucial decision that was to affect further events was the decision in the Committee for Eelam Liberation was to seek Indian support for the armed struggle. The support of India to the armed struggle of the Tamils, which was unthinkable to mal1v of the leaders in Tamil Nadu, was possible because of Mrs Indra Ghandi's progressive leadership. The Soviet position was that the Tamil militant leadership should work with India and expect all help from her. This support of India could not have become possible if not for the ultra rightist leadership of J.R Jeyawardena which chose an anti Indian course.

The Indian mediation

Soon the events were leading towards theJuly, 1983. when the worst of violence against the Tamils was directed by the party in power. The TULF and other moderates were now refugees in Madras. India intervened in the problem, armed and trained the militants while at the same time attempted to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Mrs Gandhi dispatched G.Parthasarathy as her envoy to Colombo.

With the entry of India as a dominant player in the fray, there arose a need to formulate the Tamil demand so that India can pursue the mediatory role. The position of the militant groups at this time was separation with an option that they would consider any reasonable alternative. The territorial demarcation of the Tamil homeland diferred among groups. EROS and EPRLF map included part of the upcountry and their programme included the emancipation of plantation Tamils. The maps of LTTE and PLOTE though did not include the upcountry, included parts of North Western province mainly the area of Demala Hatpattu once ceded to the Sinhalese.

India's entry compelled the groups to place the alternate demand in a more defined manner so that it would be the option India would pursue as a solution. The need arose to place a demand in such a manner, it shall not contradict the position of the Indian government, in its own conflicts with nationalities. It was precisely during this period, during the end of 1983, the Tamil demand was formulated as autonomy for the merged North East province within the frame work of united Sri Lanka with powers more or less similar to those of Indian states thus relegating the separatist demand to the background. Without the entry of India, this change of priorities in precedence could not have been possible. This alternation was endorsed by all the militant groups and emerged as consensus position among all the Tamil groups and the TULF.36

The TULF was very useful to India and the militant groups have now grown and decided to forget their past deeds. With the new found strength by the support of the people, now thrown in favour of the armed struggle, the groups surged ahead like unbridled horses.37

Soon the intensive mediation and pressure on the Sri Lankan government by India forced J.R Jeyawardene to enter into a dialogue with G.Parthasarathy about the constitutional conflict in Sri Lanka forcing him to abandon his earlier stand that it was an internal problem.

Parthsarathy's initial recommendations came to be formulated as Annexure C dated 1st December, 1983, which called for the establishment of regional councils svith legislative posters on law and order, administration of justice, social and economic development, cultural matters and land policy. The regional council were to be given powers to levy taxes, and mobilise resources through loans and so on. The model as was expected was to be the Indian Constitution. The armed forces of Sri Lanka has to reflect the national ethnic position. The document was to be put to an all party conference to obtain a consensus and subsequently was to be placed before the Parliament for legal action.

The negotiations continued after Mrs Gandhi's death now pursued by Rajiv Gandhi who brought about the Thimbu conference in August 1985 when the Tamil political parties met the representative of the Sri Lankan government under auspices of the Indian government. At this meeting the cardinal position of the Tamil groups emerged as the recognition of the Tamils as a distinct nation, North East as the Homeland of the Tamil people and the recognition of the rights of self determination of the Tamil people. There was also a demand for citizenship to be given to the Plantation Tamils.

The Thimbu conference showed a wide gap in the perception of the Tamil side and the Sinhalese government. The Sinhalese position was, to place as non negotiable issue the unity and integrity, which was the perpetuation of the decadent British idea of unitary state now placed on the Volkist foundation, and they were not going to make any efforts to comprehend the idea of a united Sri Lanka in any other matrix, however sound and tried that may be. The Tamil position was to lay the four cardinal principles as non compromisable.

However the involvement of India alone facilitated the continuation of discussions along the Indian lines and soon the discussion steered into appropriation of subjects to the three lists as found in the Indian constitution. Known as Reserved List stipulating the powers of the Central Government and a Provincial List stipulating the powers of the Provinces and a Concurrent List which will be the responsibility of both. This led to the evolution of the Draft Amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka proposed by the Sri Lankan Government on Sept. 4, 1986 leading to the 1 3th Amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka .

Serious reservations were expressed by both the Tamil parties and Sinhalese parties about the contents of the 13th amendment which by and large came into being without proper discussion and acceptance among the people of this country, came into force from the 14 November 1987. The 13th Amendment provided for the temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces into one Northeast Province giving some recognition to North East as the homeland of the

The North East Provincial Council and devolution

The elections to the North and East that were merged bit a proclamation were held to the newly established North East Provincial Council in mid November 1988 and an EPRLF government was sworn in.38 Soon the Presidential elections were held and R.Premadasa, whose opposition to the Accord was well known, became the President. The EPRLF government started putting the provisions of the Accord into operation in spite of warring with the LTTE. Soon Premadasa and LTTE entered into negotiations with the objective of ousting India and dislodging the Provincial Council.39

The Indians came to know of the serious flaws in the Accord that was duly exploited by the government in Colombo to frustrate all efforts at establishing the Provincial Council.

The Sinhalese government in total grip of the Volk unwilling to part with their powers put obstacles using effectively all the loopholes that were found in the 13th Amendment. The negative clauses that were introduced in the 1 3th Amendment and the unchanged unitary character retaining the supremacy Of Parliament made the implementation of 13th Amendment impossible. The so called checks in the constitution became dead blocks.

After seven months of earnest effort at implementing the 13th Amendment on August 23 1989 by the then Chief Minister A.Varatharaja Perumal proposed an alternative amendment to the constitution in place of the existing 13th Amendment requesting the Central government to amend the constitution duly.

The main thrust of the EPRLF led Government was that the subjects that were provided special schedules and the subjects in the concurrent list were treated as subjects in the Reserved list.

Central intransigence was put in the following words,

(1) Law and Order Through the North East Provincial Council was in existence for the last seven months the Govemment of Sri T snks has not taken the necessary initiative that would establish the Provincial Police.

(2) Land: Though land was a devolved subject the Central control over land has been further strengthened.

(3) District Administration: Most of the public servants working in the Province dealing with devolved subjects are still under the Central government. The Mlllage officers, AGAKs and GAs are underthe Central government.

(4) Transport: The PmvincialAdmiDisXtion has been not allowed to establish and manage the provincial transport service.

(5 )Highways: Onlymadswhicharenotused by motor vehicles has been handed over to the Provinces.

(6) Irrigation schemes: Other than the land underMahawelinoteven 30% oftheirrigated land devolved to the provincial Council has been handed over.

(7) Water supply and drainage: The Provincial government has no control over distribution of water and construction of irrigation of channels.

(8) Energy: As the centre has decided to retain control over the power generation even those meagre powers devolved to the Provincial Councils on power has been denied.

(9) Education: The government is now recruiting 25000 teachers. This is being done under the pretext that the TraiIiing of Teachers which is a central subject. The Provincial Government has been denied the power to ecruitteachers.

(10) Health: Though a devolved subject the powers relating to the appointment and transfer of health officials has been denied to the Provincial Government.

(11) Statutory Boards and Corporations: The Statutory Boards and Corporations are subjects devolved to the Provinces are still beingheld by the Central Govemment.

The Provincial Councils have not been permitted to either bring control or supervise them

(12) Food: Though this is a fully devolved subject, the Central Government which does not want the subject transferred has opted to maintain control under the pretext of essential services.

(13) Fisheries: The North East Province endowed with 65So ofthe coast line of Sri Lanka and thousand of fisher families depend on fishing fortheirlivelihood. Though this is not a reserved subject the government has chosen not to devolve any ofthe powers to the Province.

The above examples portray the intention of Sri Lankangovemment, through aininisAative action orinaction to effect the provisions ofthe 13th Amendment invalid. It is clear that the central government will not on its own devolve any ofthe functions, cadre or finance to the Provinces.

In consequence to the prevailing dead lock, the Indian Government should use its good offices and induce the Sri Lankan government to enact anAmendment to the constitution thatwill not provide for the powers of obstruction which now exist and provide necessary guarantees and assurances and supervise the completion process within the stipulated frame work. The reason for the request is the need to end the repetition ofthose pages of history of dishonest of Sri Lankan leaders in their violation ofthe agreements and assurances given to the Tamil people.

Hansard of the North East Provincial Council, 23rd A ugust 1989.

This statement was accompanied by a new draft of an amendment to the constitution that was to replace the 13th amendment to the constitution.

In these considerations, the fortunes of the North East Provincial Government were greatly affected by the dead weight of the seven other Provincial Councils which the North East Provincial Council had to carry with it.

These Provincial Councils, which are an expression of the defiance of the renegade Volk to face and comprehend the Tamil national aspiration and the political foundations of devolution, when it was forced to relent, it compromised its own position of only going so far as decentralization of administration under the unitary set up, by opting to create the seven other Provincial Councils. Distinguished by a greed that the Sinhalese should have everything that the Tamils have, the arguments in favour of creating seven Provincial Councils in the Sinhala Ratta failed to take into account, that the conflict would not have risen if the Sinhalese have not usurped the Centre and the passionate defence of the interests of the central authority was nothing else but intended to perpetuate the hold of the Volk over the Centre.

These Provincial Councils which were controlled by either of the two political parties which opposed devolution, were created so as to entrench a political basis that does not seek recognition of the greater units whose accommodation constitutionally is the real source of conflict. This allowed the devolution debate to be carried out at a lower level of political cognizance consistently relegating and avoiding the need to shift the basis of devolution and its debate to a platform based on greater congruence with the political realities.

The establishment of the Provincial Council came about as a result of a struggle waged by the Tamil people by shedding their blood and sweat. But the fruits of the system was being enjoyed by the Sinhalese who have not shown any desire for devolution and self government40 nor had made any sacrifice for it.

The non workability of 13th Amendment to the Constitution arose not only due to the lack of sincerity to the process of devolution but there were other reasons as well. Of these the concept of temporary merger found in the 13th amendment was foremost. The issue was so obstructive, it was felt having a temporarily merged Province is as good as having no Province at all. No programmes of a permanent nature could be initiated. The constitutional stabilisation programme that has to be initiated calls for a clear definition of the unit of the political division. When there is no definite demarcation of the unit, there is no possibility of programming activities intended at consolidating the Provincial political process which should bring into life a harmonious Province.

The realisation of a Constitution does not end with the enactment of that constitution. Instead it begins with it. The constitutional enactment only provides the legitimisation of the new form of Government. Bringing into existence the restructured polity is more arduous than effecting the change to the constitution.

A temporary merger brings no compulsion either on the rulers or the ruled to bring themselves into initiating the process of bringing the new Province into life. The constitution, apart from the document, involves a process of constituting and integrating a new Province where the new government is called upon to initiate a new discipline and culture in political life, including such a programme that would assure the minorities of their apprehensions. The idea of temporary merger casts an aura of impermanence which transcends everything that the provincial government does. It was not possible to interest either the officials or the people on any programme that would otherwise strengthen the case for merger and call for their loyaltv which should have been the important first step in the life of a new Province.

The shadow of the Volk over the devolution process

The idea of unitary state began its constitutional history as a Order in Council of the British Monarch where sovereignty purely rests with the crown. Sri Lankan constitution is a mosaic of constitutional principles borrowed from many constitutions. The independent constitution is mainly a fusion of constitutional principles found in Britain, Australia and the then Dominion of South Africa. To this, the 72 constitution added the Republican traditions borrowed from India. The 78 constitution of J.R.Jeyawardena brought in the Gaulist traditions of French constitution. The 13th amendment based on the federal principles found in the Indian constitution was crafted in later to meet the Tamil aspirations.

One of the most perplexing experiences of the devolution process was the arrogant refusal first exhibited by the former President R.Premadasa and subsequently by his ministerial colleagues, the ruling classes in Colombo to accept the usage of term government for the provincial government and their insistence of using the term council instead. Both the terms government and state was to be used only to denote the Centre. This was nothing else but an indication of the level of political acumen and comprehension on which the lath Amendment was crafted by India.

Such was the nature of avaricious patriotism of the Singhalese, many officers in Colombo refused to reply the letters sent out on the letter head of the North East Provincial Council because it carried the word North East Provincial Government. They refused to see the idea of nation, government, and state in its totality. Such was the make up of the Volk it steadfastly refused to depart with its ill gotten gains. The ideas of what is national, state, and government were so used in the 13th Amendment to denote only the central authority. Any political initiative towards the achievement of self government could be seen as a move towards separation and an unpatriotic act.

The officer cadres of the North East Provincial Council mainly drawn from the Sri Lankan administrative services, though efficient and capable Tamil of fixers, struck to the words of the constitution fearing they could be accused of anything unlawful. What was provided by the constitution as devolution of power had little relevance to them. The devolution has to be in the form of renouncement and appropriation of departmental powers and resources from the Centre, whose President, Ministers and the Officers were not willing to part with their Empires.

The officer cadres who would be more interested in power and position and permanency, were not prepared to dirty their hands and take risks. They could act only if the instructions come from Colombo and Colombo was not prepared to part with anything. The administrative class, mainly drawn from the arts stream of education, where traditionally the less endowed and less creative souls are relegated, are good at providing stability and implementation of laws, rules and regulations. The situation that prevailed in the North East Provincial Council called for a creative approach in building a governmental structure that could take the people into the 21st century. Though the North East Provincial Council had more than its share of technically competent people, the conflict that developed between the province and the Centre, the scientific cadre and the administrative cadre, the political leadership and the administrative machinery was unending and the end result was stagnation.

Though the scientific class showed great enthusiasm and tenacity in taking things forward in a creative manner, the administrative class which was very much interested in carnTing out exclusive domains, took up the position without the explicit relinquishment of power in the form of letters from Colombo nothing could be done. The vesting of powers and devolution was given a different interpretation at the administrative level. The devolution depended on the willing hand over of the Centre of the powers and authority the centre was holding, to the Province at the administrative level. There was neither will nor willingness to either hand over power or corporate, with the Provincial Government by the Centre.

The existence of Concurrent List where the initiative rested with the Centre, and the common subjects that was on the Central List and the Provincial List were retained so that centre could run its own programmes on these subjects. Such was the uncooperative attitude of Premadasa Government, the willing hand over of the powers could not be expected. The alternative was for the North East Provincial Council to take over the facilities antagonizing the Centre to which the administrative class was not prepared.

As the constitution already stood to devolve powers on many subjects, it would have been perfectly legal for the North East Provincial Council to take the necessary political initiative to create its own independent structures and implement programmes and enact and administer the laws on subjects that are devolved. It was not possible to embark on a course of this nature due to many constraints. The Council did not have the funds which it could spend and such was the paranoia at the Centre, the officials were not prepared to take the risk however that may be legal. The Centre would view this as a move towards separation. The alternative was to legitimise structures that have been evolved out side and vest powers on them. The EPRLF government did not last long enough to attempt this course of action.

When the support for the establishment of a Provincial Police force was not forthcoming from the Centre, Chief Minister of the North East Provincial Council took great efforts to establish a force in the name of Citizen Voluntary Force (CVF) to do the policing duties. Indian officials and Sri Lankan police officials joined together to create the police force. But the Sinhalese government could only see this development as a separatist army. Soon the hostility between the Centre and the Provincial Government developed to a breaking point especially after the LTTE and Premadasa Government entered into negotiations. When the Premadasa government started to supply weapons to fight the Provincial government one of the first causality was the CVF. After the end of the EPRLF government the CVF was dismantled and the central authority in policing was extended over the North East.

The UNP Governments subversion of the constitutional process did not stop with lack of will and the non cooperation in realising the provisions of the constitution. In an attempt to undermine the Provincial system of Government, Mr Premadasa extended his own government into the domain of the Provincial Council system through his clever idea of parallel decentralization. Funds were provided to the MPs to initiate projects at the district level and Pradesha Saba levels. Aimed at revitalizing the decadent colonial structures, the UNP regime worked tirelessly to retain control over development using the old administrative system, which should have been handed over to the Provinces to be dismantled and brought under the control of the line ministries.

The system initiated during the British period, mainly to collect the taxes and administerjustice, has managed to survive with its pretensions of doing service to the people. The system , was burdened with responsibilities of development of the districts for which it neither had resources or technical competency to handle.

The reasons for creating various ministries in a democracy is to attain necessary degree of specialization and division so that a more efficient governance and programmes could be provided for progress. But the act of centralizing at lower level where specialist knowledge cannot be permanently retained and appropriation of powers to under take the programmes of various ministries and centralising them at such a level makes a mockery of democracy. The system makes input of specialized scientific knowledge at lower level virtually impossible. Nevertheless these officers are quiet capable of dealing in matters of social security and disaster management.

The system started by the British in 1833 has managed to linger up to this day. When there was a call to abolish the system, it survived the guillotine by changing its name. The system, in spite of its pretensions, is a burden and a drawback to development and progress. The administrative class, which has developed a vested interest in retaining the system, came in to existence when the British Monarch was ruling the country svith the help of her white Sahibs. After the departure of the British, the local Sahibs have managed to talk their way up and held on to the decadent system whose natural capacity does not go beyond maintaining records of government and distribution of dry rations. Its retention neutralises the benefits of ministerial form of government, and stifles both private and public enterprise. Great hope was placed by President Premadasa on the revival of this system to make irrelevant the Povincial Council System .

There was great resistance for this system of administration, established during the British times, to adopt to Provincial Council system. Unwilling to change, the administrative classes used to this system, showed loyalty to the centre, which was duly exploited by the Premadasa Government.

The Centre suffered from symptoms of withdrawal and loss of power. The role of the Centre became that of non cooperation and looked to Provincial Council as another implementing agency for its programmed The Central Government with access to aid agencies came out with grandiose schemes of development of the North East under the pretension of rehabilitation of war torn North East. None of these programme were implemented in the North East.

With the decision of India to withdraw, the Premadasa government stood to dismantle the North East Provincial Council. The political programme of EPRLF soon came to an end after surviving for sixteen months and with it a page in the history of finding a solution within the constitutional framework of a united Sri Lanka came to an end. The EPRLF government left the island and went into exile in India, with a call for separation. The provincial machinery left behind has continued to this day as a single administrative machinery for the merged North East. Though the governments could have used the opportunity to further consolidate the provincial machinery, the Centre has used the opportunity to throw its weight behind the military programme which was to bring about the eventual control of North East under a unitary form of government.