COLOMBO: The Trincomalee-based Social Development and Research Organization (SDRO) has demanded the establishment of a separate province for Tamils in Eastern Sri Lanka in case it is not possible to re-unite the Northern and Eastern Provinces to form a single Tamil-majority North Eastern Province.
At meeting with the Public Representation Committee on the new constitution at Trincomalee on February 24, SDRO Executive Director A.Jathindra said that it is necessary for the three communities in the Eastern Province, namely the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese, to have separate provinces. He argued that the three communities, which have had a history of conflict, can strike fair deals with each other only when they interact as equals. Territorial autonomy will assure equality.
The Northern and Eastern Provinces were merged following the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 to form a single Tamil-majority province. The Muslims opposed it on the grounds that they would lose power, but did not try to annul it. However, a Sinhalese nationalist group filed a case in the Supreme Court against the merger. In 2006, the court ordered de-linking on the grounds that the way the merger took effected was illegal.
In the separated Eastern Province, the Tamils see themselves as being disadvantaged because they can be marginalized if the Muslims and Sinhalese unite.
On the question whether the new constitution should be “federal” or “unitary”, the SDRO said that nomenclature is not important. What is essential is to ensure that the powers devolved to the provinces are not taken away. It stressed the importance of giving powers over land and added that the provinces must be given powers to get investors without going through Colombo. While seeking police powers, the PDRO said that the Central government need not fear and quoted former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as saying that even at the height of Tamil militancy, no Tamil police or army man had defected to the rebels.
On the question of state religion, the PDRO said that it has no objection to primacy being accorded to Buddhism, but the constitution should explicitly say that it will protect the rights of other religions also. At present, the government rushes to the help of a Buddhist temple if its lands are grabbed, but turns a blind eye to encroachments on Hindu temple lands.