India asks Sri Lanka to devolve powers to Tamil minority, hold provincial council elections

Published on Oct 06, 2021 01:08 AM IST

The matter was raised by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla during a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the final day of his three-day official visit to Sri Lanka.

Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. (ANI)
Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. (ANI)

India on Tuesday called on Sri Lanka’s leadership to devolve more powers to the country’s Tamil minority by fully implementing the 13th constitutional amendment and holding provincial council elections.

The matter was raised by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla during a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the final day of his three-day official visit to Sri Lanka. Shringla also said India attaches importance to taking forward mutually beneficial projects, including proposals to enhance air and sea connectivity.

Shringla “reiterated India’s position on complete implementation of the provisions under the 13th amendment to the Constitution, including devolution of powers and the holding of provincial council elections at the earliest,” said a statement issued by the Indian high commission in Colombo.

Rajapaksa referred to the “urgent need to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th amendment and act accordingly,” said a statement posted on the Sri Lankan president’s official Facebook page. Rajapaksa told Shringla he wished to create an environment conducive to the return of Tamils who had left Sri Lanka, and said he had invited the Tamil diaspora and Tamils living abroad at the UN General Assembly to support his government’s efforts in this regard.

The devolution of powers to the Tamil minority also figured in Shringla’s meetings with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) and Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC). Shringla reiterated India’s long-standing support for reconciliation that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil minority for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka and in accordance with the 13th amendment, the Indian statement said.

The Indian side has been pushing Sri Lanka for the full implementation of the 13th amendment, which is an outcome of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka peace accord. The Sri Lankan leadership has shied away from committing to full implementation of the amendment and indicated it won’t go against the wishes of the Sinhala majority while working on any resolution in Tamil-inhabited areas.

Rajapaksa also informed Shringla of the steps taken by his government for the development of Tamil-inhabited areas in the north and east and said more than 90% of lands acquired during the civil war for security purposes had been released. The families of missing persons are being compensated and Rajapaksa explained the need to expedite the resolution of other issues that arose during the war.

Besides the president, Shringla also met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, foreign minister GL Peiris, state minister for estate housing and community infrastructure Jeevan Thondaman, foreign secretary Jayanath Colombage and defence secretary GDH Kamal Gunaratne.

The two sides agreed to take forward joint projects, including those under loan and grant assistance extended by India, and to work jointly to tackle the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact.

During his discussions with Shringla, President Rajapaksa said that “Sri Lanka would not be allowed to be used for any activity that could pose a threat to India’s security”. He also explained Sri Lanka’s relationship with China in a comprehensive manner and informed Shringla “not to have any doubts about it”.

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