Do we need Provincial Councils? | Sunday Observer
The infamous 13th Amendment

Do we need Provincial Councils?

7 February, 2021

I served in the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) for almost 30 years and retired in 1990. I was the Director of Ground Operations from 1980 to 1987. The security of all air force bases and stations was under my purview. This obviously included Palaly, Jaffna.

On the morning of June 4, 1987 the Officer Commanding Palaly contacted me by phone and said that there were unidentified aircraft flying over the area. I was aware that a couple of days prior to this, the Indian authorities attempted to send a flotilla of boats purportedly carrying food items which they said were for the starving population in the Jaffna peninsula. Our Navy fairly and swiftly repulsed these boats.

I instructed the Commanding Officer to block the runway. A couple of hours later he called to say that the Indian Air Force transport aircraft escorted by fighter aircraft [which I subsequently heard were Mirage 2000] were in the process of para dropping supplies to the Jaffna area. The Air Force Commander who had been summoned to the Ministry of Defence called me to inform Palaly that our aircraft which in fact were only helicopters not to get airborne. I requested permission to get a helicopter airborne to video this gross infringement of our air space. He very curtly told me “nothing is to get airborne”

Indian foray

He returned to the Air Force Headquarters a little later and summoned me to his office. He produced a publication listing the capabilities of the Mirage 2000 Fighter Bomber. He said that the armament carried in these four aircraft had the capability of flattening almost half of Colombo. Needless to say all of us were thoroughly disgusted with ourselves on being bullied by India. In May that year, the Army under the Command of Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne had broken out of their defensive positions in the general area Vadamarachchi and were steadily advancing towards Jaffna city which was dominated and held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE) led by Velupillai Prabakaran.

The Indian Government unequivocally told President J. R. Jayewardene to cease this operation or face dire consequences. He had no option other than to order the ceasing of this advance which of course had Vellupillai Prabakaran in its sights. In hindsight, it is emphasised that in this period between mid-1987 and the annihilation of the LTTE in May 2009 [22 years later] the direct and indirect casualties of our citizens exceed 100,000. Is it not logical to place the responsibility for this human tragedy at the feet of our so-called ‘Friend’ India? Is it any surprise that the rest of the country was helplessly seething at this undisguised interference with our sovereignty?

Infamous Accord

In late July, we were informed that the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi was to arrive in Sri Lanka to sign an agreement. He did come, and the infamous Accord was signed. Our country went up in flames due to the activism of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna [JVP]. They assassinated the Member of Parliament for Tangalle, Jinadasa Weerasinghe. I was ordered to proceed to Hambantota and assume duty as the Coordinating Officer.

I drove to my home in Negombo that evening to collect my personal items to proceed to Hambantota the following morning by helicopter as all roads were blocked. En route to Negombo that night I dropped in at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). It was all agog with Indian military aircraft. The impression was that the Indians had taken over the airport.

President Jayewardene was being unmercifully criticised for signing the ‘Accord’ viz the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The reality is that he had no option other than to sign it. If he had refused, there is no doubt that the Indian services would have invaded our country and we would have been another state of India.

Much water has flown since then down the Ganges and the Mahaweli. Over three decades have passed and the Governments of both countries have changed.

To my mind by what stretch of imagination is an agreement signed under mental and physical duress valid as per international law? The Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties 1969 which presumably India and Sri Lanka would have signed indicates the grounds on which the validity of the Accord may be challenged. In keeping with the doctrine of sovereign equality, Article 52 VCLT provides that a treaty procured by ‘coercion of a state’ will be void.

We have had these so called ‘Provincial Councils’. Have they been of use to any of the nine provinces except perhaps to their membership and a few others? In such a situation, is it not prudent and logical to do away with these colossal ‘white elephants’that will be a drain on our already depleted finances? Pending a determination by an International Court, it is quite reasonable and logical that this vexed problem which was ‘thrust down the throats’ of our then legislators must be resolved.

Hence, these elections to the nine Provincial Councils should be held in abeyance.