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Sri Lankan President plans to implement 13th Amendment: How is it significant for India? Know about it

The Tamil minority community in Sri Lanka has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for the devolution of power to it.

Ashesh Mallick Edited By: Ashesh Mallick Colombo Published on: August 03, 2023 20:38 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President of Sri Lanka
Image Source : PTI Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe is planning to press ahead with his quest for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment as part of his reconciliation efforts with the nation’s minority Tamil community, officials said.

The Tamil minority community in Sri Lanka has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for the devolution of power to it.

The 13th Amendment (13A) was brought in after the India-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 which created 9 provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

What is the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution?

The 13th Amendment was passed in 1987 in a bid to resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. It was done as part of the India-Sri Lanka Accord which was signed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President JR Jayawardene.

The Tamil insurgency gained momentum, during that time, and later converted into a conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which put forth a demand for a separate Tamil state. It also ran a military campaign before collapsing in 2009 after Velupillai Prabhakaran’s killing.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka have demanded political autonomy in the eastern and northern regions since the country gained independence from British rule in 1948. Notably, all powers in Sri Lanka are concentrated in the Centre.

The amendment gives devolution of powers over education, agriculture, land, police, finances, and housing to the nine provinces of the country. However, it was never fully implemented by successive governments in the country.

It also provided for making English a link language and Tamil an official language.

Why is it significant for India?

Ever since the accord was signed, India has pressed for the implementation of the 13th Amendment.

India has stressed that for the creation of a united Sri Lanka, it was necessary for the devolution of powers to the Tamil regions for a long-term reconciliation of the issue between the ethnic communities.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in a statement after the talks with the Sri Lankan President earlier this year said that India considered the full implementation of the 13th amendment critical for the reconciliation with the minority Tamil.

“It is in Sri Lanka's own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka are fulfilled. That applies equally to the government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th amendment to the Constitution,” Jaishankar had said during his visit to Colombo in 2021.

According to the Presidential officials, Wickremesinghe would deliver a speech in Parliament next week when it is reconvened.

"The President will outline his plan to implement it with all powers that could be granted to provincial councils," an official said.

Wickremesinghe had said during an all-party meeting last month that all powers except for police could be granted to the councils.

He would also submit to Parliament all proposals received from different political parties on the full implementation of the 13A.

However, the main Tamil party — the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) — was adamant about holding the stalled provincial council elections at the talks.

The TNA cited previous Sri Lankan government statements which said full powers would be granted.

The elections for the nine provinces have been on hold since 2018 following a move to introduce electoral reforms.

It now needs a Parliamentary Amendment to enable the elections to be held under the existing proportional representation system.

Wickremesinghe convened the all-party meeting immediately after his recent two-day visit to India during which 13A figured prominently in his wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PM Modi had reiterated India's wish to see the full implementation of the 13A.

PM Modi raises aspirations of Tamils with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

(With PTI inputs)

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