PROVINCES AND DISTRICTS OF SRI LANKA PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE

8 October 2013 04:46 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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History
The country was first divided into several administrative units during the Anuradhapura era, These were the three provinces;  Rajarata,  Ruhuna  and  Malaya Rata. These were further subdivided into smaller units called rata. Over time, the number of provinces increased, but the second-level administrative division continued to be the rata. However, with foreign colonial missions landing and taking parts of the country under their control, this structure began to change. When the Portuguese took over parts of the country after their arrival in 1505, they maintained more or less the same administrative structure followed by Sri Lankan rulers. During the Dutch rule in the country, the terrain under their control was divided into three administrative divisions. These were subdivided into disavas as in the earlier systems.

The British initially continued this system, but following reforms in 1796 to 1802, the country was divided according to ethnic composition. This was abolished by the Colebrook–Cameron reforms in 1833 and a legislative council was created, making the island a politically and administratively single unit. Five provinces were created, later expanded to nine, and these were subdivided into twenty-one districts. These districts were administered by officials known as Government Agents and / or Assistant Government Agents.

In 1955, the district replaced the province as the country’s main administrative unit. The Ampara district was created in 1958, followed by the creation of Mullaitivu and Gampaha districts in 1978 through a new constitution, which also reintroduced the province as the main administrative unit.  The last district to be created was Kilinochchi in 1983, and the current constitution (that of 1978) states that the territory of Sri Lanka consists of 25 administrative districts. These districts may be subdivided or amalgamated by a resolution of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.  

The Sinhalese make up 74.9% of the population (according to the 2012 census) and are concentrated in the densely populated south-west and central parts of the Island. The Muslims, who descended from Arab traders that settled in Sri Lanka, form the third largest ethnic group at 9.2% of the population.
The Sinhalese make up 74.9% of the population (according to the 2012 census) and are concentrated in the densely-populated south-west and central parts of the Island. The Sri Lanka Tamils live predominantly in the north-east of the island, forming the largest minority group at 11.2% (according to the 2012 census) of the population, the Northern province being largely a Tamil population, with a small number of Muslims and Sinhalese. The Eastern Province has all three ethnic groups, with the Tamils a little more than 1/3rd, the Muslims about 1/3rd, and the Sinhalese about a little less than 1/3rd.  

The Muslims, who descended from Arab traders that settled in Sri Lanka, form the third largest ethnic group at 9.2% of the population. They are mostly concentrated in urban areas in the southern parts of the island with substantial populations in the Eastern, Southern and Central provinces.   

There are also Indian Tamils who form a distinct ethnic group which comprises 4.2% of the population. The British brought them to Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers, and they remain concentrated in the “tea country” or “up country” areas of Sri Lanka.

Smaller minorities include the Malays who are descendants of  South-East Asian settlers, and the Burghers, who are descendants of European colonists, principally from Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK.   Source : Adapted and edited from the Internet

It would be observed from the above statistics that out of a total population of  approx 20 m, a significant number  of  Tamils,  live  ( and live peacefully )  outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. On the other hand, only a very small number of Sinhalese live in the Northern Province; the Sinhalese comprise about 30% of the Eastern Province.






The Recent Past
As mentioned above, the Britisher divided our country into nine provinces, mainly for administrative purposes.  There was no agitation or demand for devolution of power and autonomy at a provincial (zonal) level, except in the North and the East.

 In the then ongoing civil strife with the LTTE, there was the grave situation when “food bombs / parippu parcels” were dropped by India as a warning of worse to come; perhaps a form of an ultimatum. It was under those circumstances that the late Executive President, Mr J.R. Jayewardene signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, resulting in the 13th Amendment, even though he did not have the approval and support of his Prime Minister and several other Ministers.   

The provincial politicians, those in the “South”, were thus suddenly offered an unexpected gift of power, position, and many other privileges, which they had not sought or demanded.  This was a “goldmine” for them, but for the citizens - the tax payers – it has turned out to be a most expensive “white elephant” of many billions – an expenditure which could have been profitably chanelled towards various forms of development which need urgent attention.     




The Present Situation
Many of the right-thinking public, professional associations, and even some of the politicians themselves ( both from the Centre and from the Provincial Councils) have, through the years, now come to realise the folly of that hastily-conceived 13th Amendment.  

The Sinhalese make up 74.9% of the population (according to the 2012 census) and are concentrated in the densely populated south-west and central parts of the Island. The Muslims, who descended from Arab traders that settled in Sri Lanka, form the third largest ethnic group at 9.2% of the population.
The 13th amendment grants devolution of power to the provinces, with these stipulations:

a) Full statute powers with respect to the subjects in the Provincial Council List
b) Shared (with the Central Government – Centre) statute powers with respect to  subjects in a Concurrent List
c) Reserved List of power for the Centre While most of the subjects in the lists above have been sorted out, the contentious issues seem to be in the Provincial List - Ninth Schedule
a) Police and Public Order - Appendix 1  Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987
b) Land and Land Development- Appendix 11 of the Accord

It should be emphasised that under the prevailing post-war conditions in the country, the Central Government carries the responsibility of maintaining law and order within the whole country. It has to be militarily strong enough to guard the country and ward off any future terrorist activities, from either the South or the North. Therefore, at least for a few more years, there must be strict control of the use of arms and military weapons. In this context, one would not expect the transfer of the full powers of the police to the provinces. What might be conceded, at present, appears to be a Provincial Police Force, under a Provincial Inspector General of Police, appointed by the Central Government. The powers and duties of such a local police would have to be negotiated.

Regarding land issues, it should be clearly understood that all parts of Sri Lanka belong to all its citizens. It is a sad reflection that in today’s situation, though one minority ethnic group are able to reside and carry on their activities without hindrance in any and every part of the country, the same cannot be said in connection with  the Sinhalese and Muslims, especially  in the Northern Province.  

It is also to be noted that all land and off-shore sea resources of a country - be it fuel, gems, mineral or fish -  belongs to the whole country, and not to a province though it may be geographically adjacent to such lands / resources.  Any problems related to these issues have to be negotiated and controlled by the Centre and not by the authorities of a Province.                              It was recently reported, during the Provincial Elections, that the TNA, when it comes to power, would settle the problem of Fishing Rights between India and Sri Lanka through negotiations with the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. However, such statements, like many other election promises, be it in the North or South, should be taken in that context.  
On the other hand, the following excerpts taken from an article by Raja Balasubramaniam, a human rights campaigner in London, should be given serious consideration. “As Sri Lankans we have the right to live equally. We do not have to be divided. Less than 4% of the Sri Lankan Tamil population is calling for separation which will never happen …………Some Tamils in Tamil Nadu also say it is the verdict of Tamils in the North to get Eelam! Wigneswaran should know that the North is part of Sri Lanka, one of nine provinces which has a Tamil majority but more Tamils live in the South than in the North.

Whatever he asks must be within the law of the land. ……… Asking for police and land powers is not the immediate issue. People must be resettled properly. The youth should be given educational opportunities. Wigneswaran must be seen as a leader of Sri Lankan politics and not as  a leader of nationalistic Tamil politics”  
The analysis of the relevant Articles of the Constitution and the unanimous judgment of the Three Bench Supreme Court, consisting of the Chief Justice, and Justices K. Sripavan and Eva Wanasundera, published very recently, is that the land of the State belongs to the Central Government, and that the Central Government can divest land to be utilised for a provincial council purpose.        
It is this context, the policy for Land and Land Development should be negotiated with adequate safeguards for preserving the Unitary Status of Sri Lanka.  




The Centre
It is absolutely important and vital that the Centre commands the trust of all the people in all the provinces, and takes steps to justify its status as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which ensures democratic and socialist rights and privileges to all the people in each and every province, and not only for the supporters of those in power.   

In this connection, the following tenets of democracy should be always upheld and practised:

1. A system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.

2.  The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.

3.  Protection of the human rights of all citizens, with special emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of religious worship.

4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.(Adapted  from “What is Democracy?’’ Lecture at Hilla University for Humanistic Studies )






The Issues:     
a)  The Northerners insist on autonomy and devolution of power As previously stated it has been reported that the TNA, when it comes to power, would negotiate with Tamil Nadu (only a state of India) for settlement of various issues, e.g.   Fishing rights.  The fear is: Would it stop at that? Would the ultimate goal be to form a separate Tamil country, consisting of the Tamils in India and Sri Lanka?  India, take note;  perhaps, this is not a wild dream.                                 
                                              
“We hope that Vigneswaran, as the Chief Minister, will work with many of his opponents, irrespective of differences, to bring peace and harmony to the Tamils in the North and all people in Sri Lanka’’ - Rajes Balasubramaniam  

b) The Muslim population is seeking power in the Eastern Province, while coming to terms with the significant Tamil and Sinhala population therein   

c) The provincial councils and their members would want to maintain the status quo which has granted them power and enormous privileges.  It is almost impossible, especially at a time of political crisis such as this, to completely withdraw all the privileges that have already been granted and enjoyed.

d)It is reported that a politician from the North has recently stated that a Federal structure for the country was first suggested by SWRD Bandaranaike. He has also mentioned that Prof G.L. Peiris, has ‘agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka”. The key words are : “federal”  and “historical habitation”.
Chamber’s dictionary defines ‘federal’ as “a union or government in which several states, while independent in home affairs, combine for national or general purposes”

Webster’s Dictionary: “pertaining to or of the nature of a union of states under a central government distinct from the individual governments of the separate states”
The word ‘federal’ which has so many interpretations seems to be anathema to most Sri Lankans, as they interpret it as a situation which would open the doors to separation. The word “Unitary State’ with all the privileges that have been proposed would, therefore, be more appropriate and acceptable.

As for ‘historical habitation’, please refer the Historical introduction to this presentation  

 The writer can be contacted on  herbapons@gmail.com



SUGGESTIONS   AND  RECOMMENDATIONS

 
Considerations:
 1. It is of the utmost importance to preserve the unitary status of the country with the peaceful co-existence of the three groups referred to above.

2. A repeal of the 13th Amendment is likely to aggravate the problem, both nationally and internationally

3.  It has now become obligatory to grant devolution of power to the North and the East

4. While the demand for the devolution of governance at provincial level is primarily for political reasons in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, the same does not apply to the other provinces, where there were no such demands.

5 .However, it would now be difficult, or almost impossible, to abolish the present system completely.

6. It is not obligatory or sacrosanct, or even a compelling need, to continue the division of the country into the existing nine provinces.

7.  There is no historical, legal or other  impediment or detriment  to the peaceful  co-existence of  small provinces or states together with large ones(vide in USA, the state of California has a population of 37 m; Texas, 22m; while Rhode Island has a population of a mere 80,000).

8. It is noted that the Union Cabinet of India has approved the division of the state of Andra Pradesh to create Telangana as its 29th state. This means that India acknowledges the right of a country to divide or combine its constituent states according to the prevailing needs. Thus there should be no objection from India or for that matter from any other country, if Sri Lanka considers it necessary to demerge the Northern and Eastern provinces that were temporarily merged under the 13th Amendment.    

9. Statesmanship by our leaders, as opposed to personal political power, is the dire need for reconciliation and compromise.

10. The expenditure on a Provincial Council is enormous, and a reduction of the number of Provinces, could be utilised for much needed projects such as bridges and roads in the underserved rural areas.
11. It is on these considerations, and for these reasons, that it is being suggested that the country be divided into five provinces, as shown below                  


                                                                                   

In this connection note the Article in the Accord; Chapter XVIIA - 154A (3):
Notwithstanding anything in the preceding visions of this Article, Parliament may, by or under any law provide for two or three Provinces to form one administrative unit  adjoining with one elected Provincial Council, one Governor, one Chief Minister and one Board of Ministers..

It is further suggested that strategic areas and their environs listed in the Reserved List should include, in addition to Colombo Port and Sri Jayawardenapura, all points of entry/exit, such as Katunayake Airport, Hambantota Port, Mattala Airport, Trincomalee Port, Oruvil Port,  Palaly Airport, Kankesanthurai Port.    





 Language Policy   
This has been an important issue in the conflict between the North and the South. The following suggestions are made in this connection:

a) Totally reject the concepts of ‘Sinhala Only’ and ‘Tamil Also’

b)  Accept and implement in toto the late Dr Colvin R. de Silva’s pithy dictum, “One language, two nations; two languages, one nation” ; add “English Also”

c) Take meaningful steps to implement and ensure that both Sinhala and Tamil are given equal status in all parts of the country, together with English as an unifying language for both national and international purposes; this has special reference to all public places and public documents     
 
d) Give special credit for passes  in  all these three languages at the GCE ‘O’ Level examination,  after a reasonable period.





Concluding Remarks  
If by any sad chance, the Tamils succeed in their demand for a state of their own, a large number of Tamils may be obliged to move out of their present places of residence – including assets, and other interests - to the so-called homelands.  Have those who are clamouring for full autonomy considered all these implications, or do they believe in a Utopian state of forming a Tamil speaking country together with the Tamils of India?         

If the funds, especially the billions of dollars that are now being spent on a “new kind of  misguided struggle for Independence”, can be diverted to develop the North and the East, Sri Lanka would soon qualify to be a place with a high “happiness index”, for even the Tamil Diaspora to consider coming back to the land  and culture of their forefathers, instead of being armchair critics, enjoying a  comfortable life  in foreign lands.                                                                                                                                
It is difficult, very difficult, to forgive and forget the ravages of a bloody conflict of 30 years. Hatred cannot be conquered by hatred. May it be said that herein is a challenge to statesmen and the right-thinking Diaspora, on both sides of the divide, to enter into a spirit of give and take (reconciliation), and make Sri Lanka a place where “her sons and daughters” could live in         “peace within its borders”, and live with dignity and pride among the nations of the world.
“For the Healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord, For a just and equal sharing Of the things that earth affords.

To a life of love in action Help us rise and pledge our word
All that kills abundant living, Let it from the earth be banned. Pride of status, race, or schooling, Dogmas that obscure your plan. In our common quest for justice, May we hallow life’s span”

Let our goal be a ‘UNITED DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA’

 
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  Comments - 1

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  • m.vithiyananthanesan Sunday, 01 December 2013 12:29 AM

    it is a good idea


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