Human Security And Peoples’ Sovereignty
By K Vigneswaran - Chief Minister, Northern Province
India’s aim was to get powers devolved to the Tamils while maintaining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. But the 13 Amendment to the constitution and the Provincial Councils Act which the Accord gave rise to, were fashioned in a hurry without considering whether the distribution of powers between the Centre and the Provinces was just and equitable. In the Provincial Councils Act, powers given to the provinces by one hand were taken away by the other. Powers given to the Provincial Councils were diluted by the powers given to the Governor.
Although the Provincial Councils Act was applicable to all provinces, its flaws did not bother the people outside the North and East. This was because they belonged largely to one ethnic group, spoke the same language and often supported the same political party. But the Act gave the people in the North a lot of problem.
In 1987 itself, the leaders of the Tamils had foreseen the problems the Tamils would face. In a letter written to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dated October 28, 1987, they had said the government in Colombo would separate the North and East which the Accord had united to form a single Tamil-speaking province. Indeed, the North and the East were separated (in 2006). They predicted that the powers given to the Provinces would be diluted. That too happened. It was also predicted that the ceremonial Governor will eventually acquire powers to control the provincial administration. That too happened. The Tamil leaders condemned the 13th.Amendment as an empty shell. This is what we of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said during the last elections (in 2013) and are still saying.
Sri Lanka’s unitary constitution clearly points to the Central government as the centre of power. We cannot have a just distribution of power under a unitary constitution. The provinces cannot work for their development under a unitary constitution. With political power in its hands and with the help of the armed forces, the Central government is bringing in the majority community to change the ethnic composition of the Northern Province. This had happened earlier in the Eastern Province. The government’s intention is to put obstacles on our path and prevent us from doing what we want to do in our province.
Rationale of contesting
You may ask why we fought an election to get into the Northern Provincial Council which has no powers. It is a valid question. Because the TNA boycotted the Eastern Provincial elections earlier, the Tamils had suffered a lot. At the time of Sri Lanka’s independence, the majority community (Sinhalese) was only 5 percent of the population in the Eastern Province, but now they are 30 to 35 percent. And because the Muslims had joined the Sinhalese there, the Chief Minister is a Muslim and the Speaker is a Sinhalese. Only the Leader of the Opposition is a Tamil. We were keen that the Northern Province should not meet the same fate. That is why we contested the elections even though the 13 Amendment gives little or no powers to the provincial council.
The government was bragging that it had build roads with foreign money and built railways with Indian money, and that through these, spring had been ushered into the North. With some power in our hands, we have been able to keep the activities of the army in check to an extent. But despite this, the government is settling Sinhalese in the North. The government is also building houses for the armed forces. Instead of appointing Tamil-speaking persons as Government Agents, the government is appointing Sinhalese. However, using our limited powers, we are preventing a full scale Sinhalisation of the North.
Our Chief Secretary functions as a puppet of the Governor. As such, we are not able to exercise even the limited amount of power given to us by the Provincial Councils Act. Due to the rule that the Chief Secretary need not go by the orders of the Chief Minister, I have little or no power. The decisions of the Chief Minister and the Board of Ministers can be implemented only by the Chief Secretary and the Departmental Secretaries. But since these officials come under the Governor and the Central government, decisions which are contrary to Central government’s views are not implemented. Because appointment and promotion of provincial officers are done by the Governor, officers are not able to function independently.
Because of the centralisation of powers, provincial officers not only go by the diktat of the Governor but also by the wishes of the local representatives of the ruling alliance at the Centre. The provincial public service commission acts as per the wishes of the Governor and the Central government. This has weakened us greatly.
The Northern Provincial Council is facing great difficulty in enacting statutes to run the administration. For example, the council has not been able to set up a Chief Ministers’ Fund. The Council itself has a Fund, but that is administered by the Chief Secretary. But there are four provinces with a Chief Minister’s Fund. When asked why the facility has been denied to the North, the Central government said that those facilities had been sanctioned before the present regime came into being and that the present regime had not sanctioned the setting up of any more such funds.
Keeping fear of LTTE alive
The government is creating the fear of the LTTE’s return to station 150,000 troops in the North. The troops interfere in the lives of villagers. The army is grabbing our lands, cultivating them and selling the produce to our own people. Sinhala fishermen from the South come to our shores and fish, using banned methods of fishing. If Tamil fishermen use such methods, they are caught and jailed. In Weligamam alone army has grabbed 6,000 acres of land. The army has pulled down houses and temples to build stadia, swimming pools and golf courses. But the Tamils displaced from these areas are living in temporary accommodation. Difficult living conditions in their settlements have resulted in cultural degradation.
We have to be very circumspect in voicing our views. If we are outspoken, we are dubbed as a ‘Tiger’ and taken for questioning. While some leaders of the “movement” (LTTE) who had committed grave crimes are allowed to live in luxury, petty cadre of the Tiger movement are languishing in jail for years undergoing mental trauma. All our efforts to get them released have failed.
During the last 30 to 40 years of war and displacement, many people in the North had lost their land documents. When they go to their lands now to reclaim them, they find them occupied by squatters. If officials are approached, they ask for the land deeds. If the deeds are not there, they cannot get their lands back. I wish to warn that Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India will face this problem when they go back to their villages in Sri Lanka. The government of India should bear this mind and see that they get some land back home in Sri Lanka.
The North has over 18,000 disabled people, more than a 100 000 widows and several orphans. There are people traumatised by the war. There is a need for medical workers and counselors. There is child malnutrition. Young men and women are jobless, despite having talents.
Houses given under the Indian housing scheme have not been given to the really deserving but to politically connected people. The method of choosing beneficiaries, the choice of beneficiaries and the money to be distributed was decided before we came to power in the Northern Province. The Indian government launched this scheme to benefit the people, but it is reeking with corruption. We have brought this to the notice of the Indian High Commission.
What we want is true devolution. Even an improvement of the 13 Th Amendment will not do. The constitution should be changed to replace the unitary system by a federal system. It should include the Tamils’ right to self determination. The Government of India has the moral duty to bring this about. Do not forget that you (India) signed the 1987 Accord on behalf of the Tamils. If the developments subsequent to the signing of the Accord are not to your satisfaction, you have the right to voice your concerns. You should press for changes that are required by us. You could ask for a referendum in the North and East (on the need for unification). India could demand that the Tamils should be allowed to live their lives without outsiders’ interference.
Delivering the K.G.Kannibiran Memorial Oration held under the auspices of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) at Chennai.