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What is the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and why is it contentious?

  • 06 September, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

What is the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and why is it contentious?


  • Several Cabinet ministers and state ministers in the current Sri Lankan government have called for the abolition of provincial councils after the new government took charge.

About 13th amendment:

  • The 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, which was signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene.
  • The 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution was part of an attempt to resolve Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamilians.
  • It had resulted in a civil war between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
  • The LTTE was seeking the right to self-determination and a separate state.
  • The 13th Amendment mandates a measure of power devolution to the provincial councils established to govern the island’s nine provinces.
  • This entailed providing a form of self-government. Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police were to be devolved to the provincial administrations to provide them with more autonomy.

Significance of the 13th amendment:

1. It solves the ethnic clashes:

  • It sought to conclusively resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The autonomy within the constitutional framework of Sri Lanka was expected to meet the demands of the tamilian minority without disturbing the unity of the island nation.
  • The 13th Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question.

2. Decentralization of political power:

  • The provincial councils were expected to lead to a higher grassroots presence and participation in Sri Lankan democracy.

3. Homogeneous development:

  • The northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka which had to bear the wrath of the civil war lag in socio economic development.
  • The autonomy was expected to lead to a faster development process in the region.


  • The restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President, the provincial administrations have not been effective in ensuring better lives for their citizens.
  • The provisions relating to police and land have never been implemented.
  • Notably, the 13th amendment had been opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
  • The Sinhala nationalist parties thought it was too much power to share and the Tamil polity have deemed the provisions of 13th amendment as too little.
  • The Sinhala nationalist parties see the accord and the consequent legislation as an Indian intervention into Sri Lankan domestic issues.
  • The election season often witnesses the leaders from the Sinhala nationalist parties making wielded attacks on India for political mileage.
  • After the Rajapaksas’ emphatic win in the November 2019 presidential polls and the August 2020 general election, there are calls for the abolition of provincial councils as against the provisions of the 13th amendment.

Arguments against the provincial councils:

  • The people in favour of abolition of the provincial councils argue that the working of the councils entails huge costs and there seems to be very little improvement in governance despite this.
  • They argue that in a small country the provinces could be effectively controlled by the Centre and there is no need for decentralization in such a scenario.
  • The 13th Amendment issue has been politicized and this spells trouble for comprehensively addressing the long pending ethnic issue in the island nation.

Way forward:

  • There is the need to adhere to the spirit espoused by the 13th amendment. However, it is worth noting that the 13th amendment is only an important starting point, something to build upon.

Source: TH


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