PCs exercising land powers will not lead to separation - Sumanthiran | Sunday Observer

PCs exercising land powers will not lead to separation - Sumanthiran

TNA Spokesperson and TNA Jaffna District Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran says, it is not a question of land powers being given to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). It is really a question of land powers being devolved to the Provincial Councils (PCs). The TNA veteran in an interview with the Sunday Observer said, as provided for in the Constitution, land powers should have been devolved, but it has not been implemented since 1987, following the 13th Amendment. In addition to the TNA, six Chief Ministers from the South, members of the UPFA who gave evidence before the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, wanted land powers to be devolved to the PCs. Even the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) member Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thera in his proposals to the President said, land powers should be given to PCs. So it is not a question of the TNA alone asking for land powers, but Chief Ministers of all Provincial Councils in the South and Ven. Rathana thera too, have underlined the need to devolve land powers to PCs.

Q: How many acres or hectares of lands acquired by the Government or the Security Forces during the conflict have been returned to the rightful owners in the North?

A. About 1,000 acres of lands in Sampur in the East, and another 1,000 acres of paddy lands in the Mullaitivu district have been released. Of 6,300 acres in the Palali High Security Zone area in Jaffna, nearly 1,300 to 1,500 acres have been released so far.

Q: How many acres or hectares are yet to be returned in the North?

A. I am not too sure of the exact extent. There are some estimates leading to 30,000 acres in the North. It is difficult to say what the full extent is, but large plots of lands are still being held under military obligation.

Q: The authorities have said that some of the lands are yet to be demined and hence, cannot be returned to the owners. What is the situation with regard to this?

A. There is no land that has not been demined as yet. I think all lands have been demined. In the last phase in Muhamalai, close to Elephant Pass, the demining is almost over. In the Palali High Security Zone, lands have been demined and certificates of demining issued several years ago. So, we know of areas where demining has been completed. In fact, there are paddy lands that the Army is cultivating. There can’t be mines if they are cultivating those private lands.

Q: What is the stance of the TNA with regard to land powers for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC)? Have you given your inputs to the constitution making process in this regard?

A. It is not a question of land powers being given to the NPC. It is really a question of land powers being devolved to Provincial Councils (PCs), not the NPC alone. As in the Constitution, land powers will have to be devolved, but that has not been implemented since 1987, following the 13th Amendment. Apart from the TNA’s view, six Chief Ministers from the South, members of the UPFA who gave evidence before the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly wanted land powers. On Tuesday (February 28) the JHU member Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thera made his own proposals to the President and said that land powers should be given to Provincial Councils. So it is not a question of the TNA alone asking for land powers for the NPC, the Chief Ministers of all PCs in the South, and Ven. Rathana thera say that all PCs should be given land powers.

Q: Some TNA members have called for the total withdrawal of the Army camps from the North, and to release the lands acquired by the military. What is the official stance of the TNA on this issue?

A. No TNA member has called for the total withdrawal of Army camps in the North.

I haven’t seen any TNA member calling for total withdrawal. If anybody is doing that, it would be irrational.

Sri Lankan Armed Forces can be in any part of Sri Lanka, including the North and the East. Nobody has called for the total withdrawal of the Army in the North.

We say, it is the disproportionate stationing of military in the North that should now come to an end, because, now there is no conflict.

Q: Are you satisfied with the response of the Government to your appeals to resolve land issues in the North?

A. The three issues needing immediate attention, Keppapulavu, Puthukkvdiyiruppu and Kilinochchi Mahavidhyalayam, were discussed with the President a few days ago, and have been instantly resolved. I think, the Army is already dismantling their camps in Keppapulavu. The Army has been willing to move out of private lands in Puthukkvdiyiruppu, but they have to be given alternate land which comes under Forest land. Now action has been taken to release that land for the Army and orders issued for them to move out of the Kilinochchi Mahavidhayalam premises. So, prompt action has been taken regarding the three instant issues that we spoke to the President about. But, it is a longstanding issue that several thousands of acres are still under military obligation. We are approaching eight years since the conflict ended. There is no justification for the military to occupy private and civilian lands for such a long period.

Q: What was the outcome of the discussions that your leader R.Sampanthan had with the President on the land issue in the North?

A. The three issues needing immediate attention, that I mentioned in my response to your previous question were resolved. I also participated in the discussion. The President immediately gave orders to the Air Force to move out from Keppapulavu; to the Army to give back Puthukkvdiyiruppu private land and for the Army to vacate Kilinochchi Mahavidhyalayam.

These were the specific issues that we raised. But, overall vacating civilian lands and enabling the people to resettle in their original premises is an assurance the President gave us during his election campaign. He, very specifically said, all private lands will be given back to the people for their resettlement. That has not been done yet, though a very little of it has been carried out.

So, we have pointed out to the President that the phase of returning lands is very slow and that it is leading to discontent among our people who have started agitating. They are not only blaming the Government, they are blaming the TNA as well for the Government’s inaction or the very slow progress. So, we are calling for swift action on this matter.

Q: There is vehement opposition from Southern extremist parties to your land proposals and they say it would lead to federalism. What is your comment?

A. I don’t think anybody in the South would oppose the people being given back their own lands. I have not heard anybody saying so. It is a question of returning paddy lands and residential lands which people occupied, to them. They were evacuated from those places due to the fighting and various military installations and operations. Now, it is over and many years have passed since its end.

Therefore, the people must be resettled and I don’t think anybody in the South would be opposed to that. But, if the people in the South are being told that by giving land powers, the country is going to be divided, that is a lie. The people are being misled into thinking that Provincial Councils or Local Authorities exercising powers in respect of land will lead to a separation of the country. That is a total lie.

Q: The TNA is reported to have written to the UNHRC not to grant more time to Sri Lanka to set up human rights and accountability mechanisms. What is the reason for this objection?

A. The TNA has not written to the UNHRC. I read some news reports to the effect that eight TNA MPs have signed a letter. I have not seen that letter. I have asked one or two of the MPs, but I haven’t received a reply yet. So I don’t know whether it is a fact, and what was contained in the letter if such a letter has been sent. But, the TNA’s official stance is not that. Our stance is that everything containing in the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of October 1, 2015 must be implemented. The fact that it has not been implemented so far does not mean that the Government can escape its obligation. Those who say don’t give further time are playing into the hands of persons who want to escape that obligation.

Because, if no further time is given, the Government doesn’t have to do anything. So, I see a sinister plot between some sections in the Government, but I don’t mean the President, Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister who have given us the assurance that everything will be implemented.

But, there are forces within the Government trying to escape from their commitment to implement the obligations they voluntarily undertook in October, 2015. In our polity, the people who say don’t give the Government time are also supporting that. Because, if the Government is not given any further time, it will be the end of the implementation of all obligations that the Government undertook in 2015.

So the TNA will not act foolishly. We have made our position very clear. It is not a question of granting further time, it is the continued obligation on the part of the Government to implement everything contained in that Resolution which the Government co-sponsored. They haven’t executed it yet, so that further time must be given. We also say that the ‘further time’ shouldn’t be a blank cheque. It must be based on a particular time frame and be subject to robust monitoring by the UNHRC.

Q: What is the progress of the constitution making process? What are the issues you agree on, and those you disagree on, in the constitutional proposals?

A. There were 12 issues that were identified. Six of the issues were given to six separate Sub Committees and they have come up with their recommendations, which have been made public. The other six issues were left with the Steering Committee.

Now, the Steering Committee has met 50 times. In our 40th meeting, we reached agreement on almost all matters. In regard to some, there were certain details that were not agreed upon. However, more than 90 percent of the issues have been discussed and general consensus reached. We are now in the process of drafting and finalising an interim report to the Constitutional Assembly.

That report will tell the Constitutional Assembly and the country, what agreements we have reached. So, when it comes out, the position will be made clear. There may still be a few unresolved issues, but they are negligible, and wouldn’t be even one percent of the total agreements reached.