SL president ‘targets’ judiciary on provincial autonomy
By P K Balachandran | Published: 15th October 2012 10:40 AM |
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is viewing with trepidation some recent actions of the judiciary which indicate that it may uphold provincial autonomy as envisaged in the much-despised, India-imposed, 13th Amendment of the constitution, and also assert its independence on the basis of the principle of “separation of powers”.
A fear of judicial activism eating away its powers is making the Executive, headed by Rajapaksa, think of impeaching the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake.
The assault on the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Justice Manjula Tilakaratne, on October 7, is widely seen as a reaction to the assertion of independence by the JSC.
Although the Leader of the House, Nimal Sriupala de Silva, told the media that government was not thinking of impeaching the Chief Justice, a Cabinet Committee is said to be looking into the possibility of doing so. Many pro-government lawyers are clamouring for it.
Justice Bandaranayake had irked the President by asking the Speaker of Parliament to refer the controversial “Divi Neguma” bill to the provincial councils for their prior approval.
The CJ felt that the bill was eroding the powers of the provinces guaranteed by the 13th Amendment. The bill had enabled the Centre to take over the poverty alleviation programmes now administered by the provinces.
An angry Rajapaksa remarked that the CJ’s action showed the growing influence of the supporters of provincial autonomy and the 13th Amendment (which had been imposed by India in 1987). Reflecting the President’s view, his brother and Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, told The Sunday Island that it was time the “separatist” 13th Amendment was either fully scrapped or amended to give the Centre over-riding powers. A strong supporter of the President told Express that prior to becoming a judge, CJ Bandaranayake had written articles suggesting devolution of powers beyond the 13th Amendment.
President Rajapaksa’a displeasure with the judiciary stemmed from the latter’s wish to be independent of the Executive. There were disputes over appointments. And when the President invited the CJ and some members of the JSC to meet him, they did not respond, perhaps fearing that they might have to compromise their independence. But the President saw the boycott as an affront.