13th Amendment: A promise of devolution


    In News

    • Recently, President  Ranil Wickremesinghe said that  The Sri Lankan government would “fully implement” the 13th Amendment.

    About 13th Amendment

    • It is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene, in an attempt to resolve Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict that had aggravated into a full-fledged civil war, between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which led the struggle for Tamils’ self-determination and sought a separate state. 
      • It was passed in 1987.
    •  It provided for setting up provincial governments across the country — there are nine provincial councils — and made Tamil, too, an official language, and English, a link language.
    • It also sought to address the Tamils’ right to self-determination which, by the 1980s, had become a raging political call.
    • Under this, the Sri Lankan government had committed to a power-sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, the right to self-govern.


    •  In addition to assuring a measure of devolution, it is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism from the time Sri Lanka became independent in 1948.
    • Once implemented fully, the provincial councils will have the right to self-govern over issues such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land, and police. 
    • It will facilitate unity among all the communities in the island nation so that they could live as one.

    Why is it contentious?

    • The 13th Amendment carries considerable baggage from the country’s civil war years. 
    • It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
      • The former thought it was too much power to share, while the Tigers deemed it too little. 
      • A large section of the Sinhala polity, including the leftist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which led an armed insurrection opposing it, saw the Accord and the consequent legislation as an imprint of Indian intervention. 
      • Though signed by the powerful President Jayawardene, it was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.
      • The Tamil polity, especially its dominant nationalist strain, does not find the 13th Amendment sufficient in its ambit or substance. 
      • However, some including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) — which chiefly represented the Tamils of the north and east in Parliament in the post-war era until its setback in the recent polls — see it as an important starting point, something to build upon.

    India’s Stance 

    • India has always supported both political and economic stability in the island nation.
    • India called upon Sri Lanka to take the necessary steps to address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community, including by carrying forward the process of reconciliation and the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected
    • India considers the full implementation of the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka “critical” for achieving reconciliation with the minority Tamil community

    Conclusion and Way Forward 

    • In its recent meeting with President Wickremesinghe, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has outlined five steps to immediately implement the Amendment in full, including reversing certain laws that reduced provincial powers. 
      • They see it as a starting point for negotiating greater power sharing and a final political settlement. 
        • Belated, insufficient, but necessary, in their view.
    •  India would “continue to urge” the Sri Lankan Government for the early conduct of elections to the Provincial Councils in keeping with its commitment to devolution of power.

    Source: TH