The Sunday Leader

Govt. Stance Unclear On Amendments Called By PCs

  • Town And Country Planning Ordinance Amendments

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The controversial amendments to the Town and Country Planning Ordinance hang in the balance with the Provincial Councils calling for further amendments to the Bill presented by the central government.
The central government has not yet made any official comment on it except for an agreement between Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and members of the Eastern Provincial Council over making some changes to the proposed amendments to the Town and Country Planning Ordinance.
The amendment Bill is to be discussed at length during the meeting of chief ministers scheduled to be held in Kandy this weekend (18th and 19th).
Most of the Provincial Councils have postponed the passing of the Bill due to the need to further discuss the amendments and its impact on the provincial council system.
Opposition political parties and several government allies like the SLMC and TMVP have charged that the proposed amendments were a move by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration to take over powers currently vested with PCs under the 13th Amendment.
The first hurdle faced by the Rajapaksa administration in getting its legislation to bulldoze its way through the legislature was the Supreme Court directive that the proposed amendment Bill needed the consent of the PCs since it dealt with subjects under the Provincial Council list.
The next hurdle was the stance by a majority of the members in the Eastern Provincial Council to approve the proposed legislation. The opposition and a majority of the governing party members in the council including Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan claimed they would vote against the Bill.
Realizing that the Bill could not be taken to parliament without the consent of all the Provincial Councils, the government has had to take a step back.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa has reportedly said Articles 6.2 and 21.2 of the bill concerning Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Ministry on acquired lands for religious purposes would be amended.
Nevertheless, there has not been any official communication on the matter or any moves to re-draft the Bill to present a fresh one to the Provincial Councils.
In the event the government decides to further amend the amendment Bill, a fresh Bill would have to be presented to the provincial councils or the councils would have to make the changes to the bill when approving it.
Chief Minister Chandrakanthan speaking to The Sunday Leader said he would not support the proposed amendments to the Town and Country Planning Ordinance if the amendments proposed by him and the Eastern Provincial Council is not included in the Bill.
“The government agreed to make changes to the amendment Bill at the meeting with Minister Basil Rajapaksa. I will support the Bill if the changes proposed are included in the Bill,” he said, adding that the 13th Amendment needed to be fully implemented and steps should not be taken to take back powers that have already been vested with the PCs.
Chandrakanthan and the Eastern Provincial Council propose that Articles 2,3,4 and 6 in the amendment Bill be removed while Articles 5 and 7 are amended.
“The central government should get approval from the Provincial Councils if it is to utilize a land in the provinces and the religious institutions referred to in the bill should be expanded to cover all religions and not only Buddhism,” Chandrakanthan observed.
The Bill is to be taken up in the Eastern Provincial Council on the 27th.
The SLMC has also said it would oppose the Bill in the Eastern Provincial Council in its present form.
SLMC General Secretary M.T. Hassan Ali told The Sunday Leader that there has not been any proper outcome with regard to making changes to the amendments Bill.
“The government has reportedly agreed to make the changes, but there has not been any normal communication on the matter,” he said.
The SLMC High Command is scheduled to meet today (19) and several issues including the amendments to the Town and Country Planning Ordinance are to be taken up for discussion.
“We are yet to be informed officially of the government’s agreement to make changes to the amendment Bill,” Hassan Ali observed.
The TMVP and SLMC maintain that their support for the amendment Bill would be based on the changes made to the Bill.
Several attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact the Acting Cabinet Spokesperson, Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa for comment on the matter failed.
The Bill has so far been passed in Western and Southern Provincial Councils.
The Western Provincial Council was the first to pass it by a majority of 23 votes with 43 members voting for it and 23 against. The Council however, passed the Bill with an amendment that the central government needed to seek the approval of the PCs when taking charge of a land in the province.
The Southern Provincial Council last week approved the Bill by a majority of 15 votes.
The North Central Province also took up the Bill last week but decided not to pass the amendments until a comprehensive discussion was held on the matter. The Central Provincial Council  also maintained that more time was needed to discuss the amendment Bill.
The government is to establish a National Physical Council under the amended Bill to prepare national physical policies and national physical plans to achieve the objectives of the Bill.
According to the proposed amendments, it is possible for the authorities concerned to declare land areas as conservation areas, protection areas, architectural and historical areas and sacred areas.  The subject Minister can declare a protection area within an urban or municipal limit for the protection of natural amenities and a conservation area for the conservation of natural resources and the protection of places of natural beauty and archaeological sites.

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