Rathana Thera “for Police and Land Powers in the North”

Ven. Rathana Thera’s Statement Thought provoking transformation

M S M Ayub (Daily Mirror)

He says that “there is no need for Policemen to carry weapons in the North, as they were only needed to prevent thefts and other minor offences,” at a time when sophisticated weapons are used in almost all robberies.

Pushes for Police and Land Powers for the North

The Thera’s statement likely to disturb the JHU, which thinks differently.  The party calls for his resignation after his decision to act independently in Parliament

Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Parliamentarian Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera, who is in the centre of a controversy over his recent statement that he would be an independent member in Parliament, has attempted to create another controversy during the inaugural conference of his organisation, the Sri Lanka National Council (SLNC) on Tuesday.

The Thera, possibly the most liberal character in the JHU, had told in the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena that Police and Land Powers should be devolved to the Tamil dominated Northern Province.

“The war is over. Therefore we can give the Tamil people a Police force with civil administrative powers,” he had said adding that there was no need for Policemen to carry weapons in the North, as they were only needed to prevent thefts and other minor offences.

“Instead of the khaki uniformed colonialist Police personnel in the High Security Zones, we could simply deploy Police officers clad in white uniforms in the Northern areas without firearms,” the Thera stated. In fact, Police and land are two subjects already devolved to the Provincial Councils as far back as 1987 through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was promulgated as a result of another contentious political development, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed between Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

However, no President had so far issued a Gazette notification authorizing the formation of a Provincial Police Division and the Provincial Land Commission as provided by the said Constitutional Amendment for the practical devolution of those powers.

Hence, Ven. Thera’s suggestion could be implemented simply with a Presidential order without going through Parliament.

However, even former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who accused former Presidents J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa and D.B. Wijetunga of not issuing the Gazette notification with regard to Land and Police powers to the Provincial Councils, when she was elected the Chief Minister of the Western Province in 1994, did not think it fit to issue it when she was voted in as President later in the same year.

It is interesting to note that Ms. Kumaratunga, who not only has been agitating for devolution of powers to the Provincial Councils since the concept was mooted in 1980s but also faced the anti-devolution violence soon after that did not sign the Gazette during her 11 year tenure as President.  Her husband, the actor-turned-politician Vijaya Kumaratunga had to sacrifice his life partly due to his pro-devolution stance.

The JHU is at odds with Ven. Rathana Thera after he declared recently that he would act as an independent member in the Parliament- a statement tantamount to rejecting the political leadership of the JHU and the leaders of the party including its Chairman Ven. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera- had openly called for his resignation from Parliament.

The party, one of the harshest detractors of devolution of powers in general and Land and Police powers in particular, might have been further provoked by Ven. Rathana Thera’s statement, in favour of granting Land and Police powers to the Provincial Councils.

The Sri Lanka National Council of Ven. Rathana Thera is an entity that emerged prominently during the last Presidential election and expressed views different from those of the JHU.

For instance, the SLNC was then for the abolition of Executive Presidency, whereas the JHU wanted only to prune some of the powers vested in the Executive President.

Revival of this organisation with an idea anathema to the JHU in the wake of an already simmering conflict might further distance the Thera from the JHU.  However, Ven. Thera’s stand on granting Police Powers to the Provinces seems to be problematic in a practical sense.

He says “there is no need for Policemen to carry weapons in the North, as they were only needed to prevent thefts and other minor offences,” at a time when sophisticated weapons are used in almost all robberies.

The general assumption among the large majority of Sinhalese in the country is that devolving Police and Land powers to the Provinces is inimical to the national security and the territorial integrity, in spite of many safeguards that had been included in the 13th Amendment. However, contrary to the popular presumption that a carte blanche has been granted to the Provinces when the Land Power is vested in them, the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that State Land was vested in the Central Government and not in the Provincial Councils. Interestingly, this landmark judgment was delivered five days after the Northern Province polled overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy for the region, with former Supreme Court judge C.V.Wigneswaran at the helm. Similarly, the Constitution provides for so many safeguards in respect of Police Powers as well.

Despite another belief that granting Police Powers meant creating an autonomous Police Independent of the national Police, the Constitution provides “IGP shall be the head of the Sri Lanka Police, which shall be divided into the National Division and a Provincial Division for each Province.”

And the decision making high ranking officers of the Provincial Division from ASPs upwards would be those seconded from the National Division.

The head of the Provincial Division, a DIG would be appointed by the IGP with the concurrence of the Chief Minister of the Province.

Allaying fears of many further the Constitution says “Upon the declaration of an emergency in the Province, the President may assume such powers and responsibilities of the Chief Minister and the Provincial Administration in respect of public order within the Province.”

Also the IGP has also been authorised to deploy units of National Division in any Province, where a State of emergency is declared for the restoration of public order.

Nonetheless, apart from the propaganda by the fear-mongering politicians in the south, Tamil leaders on their part have failed to dispel fears and doubts among the Sinhalese or furthered them with some of their actions taken in times of desperation and rivalries among them.

The best case in point was the cold-blooded murder of 41 Provincial Trainee Police personnel by the ruling party of the North-Eastern Provincial Council in 1989.

When the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) that had been deployed under the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord was ordered to leave the country by President Premadasa in 1989, the administration of the merged North-Eastern Provincial council was left at the mercy of its enemy, the LTTE.

The Chief Minister of the Province Varadharaja Perumal hurriedly recruited Tamil and Muslim youth to the newly formed Civil Volunteer Force (CVF) as a forerunner to his Provincial Police Division, under a Gazette notification issued by the Central Government.

Nevertheless, when the IPKF de-induction from Sri Lanka was started, a desperate ruling party of the Province, the EPRLF singled out 41 Muslim CVF personnel and shot them dead before disbanding of the CVF, for reasons hitherto not known. The then State Minister for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne referring to the incident in the Parliament stated that the Chief Minister had gone mad to such an extent that he had killed his own Police personnel. The recent resolutions adopted by the Northern Provincial Council calling for an international investigation into the Human Rights allegedly violated by the security forces and claiming that Tamils had been subjected to genocide during the war also might have heightened the fears and doubts of the south on the usage of powers devolved to the provinces.

Besides these negative factors in respect of granting Police Powers to the Provinces, one cannot expect President Maithripala Sirisena to tread a path that even President Kumaratunga feared to, in spite of Ven. Rathana Thera’s thought provoking transformation.