|Sunday, 8 September 2002|
New legislation under way: 'Stateless' persons issue to end soon
by P. Krishnaswamy
Sri Lanka will close the chapter on 'stateless persons of Indian origin' with the grant of citizenship to the remaining 180,000 under new legislation to be enacted shortly.
Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) leader and Minister of Housing and Estate Infrastructure, Arumugan Thondaman, said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had given him an assurance on that issue. He added that representation from political parties of the hill country people at the forthcoming talks in Thailand was not necessary.
The citizenship status of the stateless persons remained in abeyance for several years due to the civil strife and political instability of the country. The grant of citizenship and franchise is a milestone in the history of the plantation workers, political observers commented.
There was an estimated number of 975,000 'stateless' persons of Indian origin at the time of signing the Indo-Ceylon Agreement four decades ago. A total of 506,000 had applied for Indian citizenship under this agreement and under the subsequent 1974 agreement. India had granted Indian passports to 400,000 with 320,000 of them and their offspring leaving for India. But 80,000 of them could not leave for India due to the suspension of ferry service between Sri Lanka and India following the '83 communal riots. The balance 106,000 who had applied for Indian citizenship but could not obtain Indian passports, remained here. Thus, a total of about 180,000 have not received Sri Lankan citizenship.
According to political sources, the 1964 agreement had lapsed after 20 years. Therefore, the grant of citizenship to affected persons of Indian origin should be decided by the Sri Lankan government.
Meanwhile, the 'Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons (Special Provisions) Act. No. 39 of 1988, granted Sri Lankan citizenship to the number of persons of Indian origin who remained here except the 5 lakhs who had applied for Indian citizenship.
Both the UNP and the PA in 2000 agreed to grant citizenship status to all stateless persons under a proposed constitutional amendment which did not 'materialise'.
Produced by Lake House