21st Amendment to the Constitution by Sri Lanka

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    In News

    • The PM of Sri Lanka has proposed a constitutional amendment repealing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, and bringing back clauses of the 19th Amendment as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

    Background

    • Economic turmoil: Sri Lanka is grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.
    • The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency: which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
    • One of the demands of recent anti-government protests: has also been the constitutional amendment that reduces the power of the executive. 

    What was the 19th Amendment?

    • The enactment of the 19th Amendment was done in 2015.
    • It had removed the powers of the President to sack the Prime Minister at his discretion.
    • By amending the Articles 46 (2) and 48 of the Sri Lankan constitution, the cabinet ministers could have been dismissed only if the Prime Minister ceased to hold office by death, resignation or otherwise, or only if the Parliament reject a statement of government policy or the budget or if the parliament passes a vote of no confidence against the Government.
    • The amendment also restricted the President’s powers to dismiss Cabinet ministers as he was required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister.

    What was the 20th Amendment?

    • The 20th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 2020.
    • The 20th amendment (20A), which replaced the 19th Amendment (19A), had again enhanced the executive powers of the President in an unprecedented way besides abolishing the independent constitutional council for a Parliamentary Council.
    • It had passed a controversial clause that gave electoral rights to dual citizens.
    • The criticisms on 20A were more severe as it was observed as one that could derail the balance between the legislature, executive and judiciary by centralising maximum powers into the hands of one individual.
    • The 20th amendment had removed the checks and balances on the executive presidency.
      • It abolishes the binding limitations on presidential powers in relation to key appointments to independent institutions through the pluralistic and deliberative process of the Constitutional Council.

    21st Amendment

    • It will remove several key powers of the President, essentially reducing the Presidency to a ceremonial position, like in India.
    • It is expected that the amendment might be retaining the powers of the President on all three armed forces while handing over almost all other key powers including governance, and cabinet ministers to the Prime Minister.

    Major issues/ Challenges faced by Sri Lanka

    • Organic agricultural policy: It cut the government’s tax revenue substantially and rushed into an ‘organic only’ agricultural policy that will likely slash this year’s harvest by half.
    • Policy failure: The weak and debt-ridden economy with the lingering strain of the pandemic and ill-advised policies accelerated the downward spiral.
    • COVID-19 hit Sri Lanka’s key foreign revenue earning sectors hard.
      • Earnings from tourism, exports, and worker remittances fell sharply in the last two years.
    • Country could not stop importing essentials and its dollar account began dwindling.
    • Fast draining foreign reserves, a glaring trade deficit, and a related Balance of Payments problem came as crucial signals.
    • Huge foreign loan obligations and the drop in domestic production compounded the economic strain.
      • Without enough dollars to pay for the country’s high import bill, Sri Lanka continued facing a severe shortage of essentials from fuel, cooking gas, and staple food grains to medicines.
    • Lack of essentials: Consumers could not find the most basic things such as petrol, LPG cylinders, kerosene, or milk in the market.
    • The value of the Sri Lankan rupee has dropped to 300 against a U.S. dollar putting importers in a difficult spot.
    • For the average citizen contending with COVID-induced salary cuts and job losses, the soaring living costs have brought more agony.

    How does the Sri Lanka crisis affect India?

    • India has indicated it would meet the request for the new credit line, to be used for importing essential items such as rice, wheat flour, pulses, sugar and medicines.
    • India extended a $400-million currency swap and a $500-million credit line for fuel purchases to Sri Lanka.
    • India has also sent around four consignments of 40,000 metric tonnes of diesel to mitigate the spike in power cuts in Sri Lanka.
      • India also sent 40,000 tonnes of rice in prompt shipments to Sri Lanka.
    • India is also dependent on the Colombo port: for global trade as 60 per cent of India’s trans-shipment is handled by the port.
    • Trade: India has been one of the largest trading partners of Sri Lanka, and one of the top tourism sources.
      • India has annual exports of $4.8 billion to Sri Lanka, which account for 1.3 per cent of its total exports.
    • India has also invested in areas of tourism, real estate, manufacturing, communications, petroleum retail etc in the country.
    • Economic Aspects: India was one of the biggest sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Sri Lanka.
      • Some of the biggest companies in the country have invested in Sri Lanka.
    • Threat of Chinese Influence: Sri Lankan government has asked for a 2.5 Bn USD emergency aid from China, there is a threat that China may gain its influence in the island country.
    • Refugee Crisis: India witnessed that whenever there is a political or social crisis in Sri Lanka, a large number of refugees come from the Sinhala Land to India through Palk strait & Gulf of Munnar.
    • Rise of Rebel Groups in Sri Lanka: This economic crisis may give a new life to already redundant rebels who are trying to find a cause to fuel up the issue.
    • Humanitarian Crisis: India is the only immediate neighbour of Sri Lanka and as we see, there is a bigger threat of large-scale humanitarian crisis looming over the country.

    Way Forward

    • The government cannot crackdown it as they are well disciplined and peacefully protesting.
    • It is inspiring and giving a morale boost to many sections outside Sri Lanka to replicate a similar model.
    • But even with all this help, Sri Lanka can barely manage. Recovery will neither be fast nor easy.

    Source: IE