COLOMBO: The Buddha Sasana Karya Sadhaka Mandalayala (BSKSM), an organization of leading Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, has said that the Interim Report of the Steering Committee drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka has, within it, the seeds of separatism.

Ven.Katugoda Dhammawansa Mahanayake Thero; Ittapane Dhammalankara Nayaka Thero; Thirukonamale Ananda Nayaka Thero; and Ven.Prof.Bellanwila Wimalratna Nayaka Thero; issued a statement on Friday saying that the Interim Report dilutes State support for Buddhism besides retaining objectionable clauses in the present constitution which give powers over land and police to the provinces.

There could be secession if powers over land and police were given to the Tamil minority dominated Northern Province, they said.

“The whole exercise (of drafting a new constitution) is a plan to pursue the needs of separatists,” the monks alleged.

Place of Buddhism

As Buddhist prelates, the monks’r first concern was about the status of Buddhism under the new constitution.

They pointed out that in the existing constitution, Art 9 says that the “Republic of Sri Lanka” shall ensure that Buddhism enjoys the foremost place among all religions. But in the draft of the new constitution it is said that “Sri Lanka” will protect the foremost place given to Buddhism.

“The removal of the term ‘Republic of Sri Lanka’ will necessarily do away with the State’s responsibility to give Buddhism the foremost place,” the monks pointed out

They also objected to the addition of the provision that the State will not “discriminate” between religions.

“It is impossible to give Buddhism the foremost place without treating other religions differently. It is obvious that this is an attempt to alter the meaning of Article 9 which gives Buddhism the foremost place,” the monks said.

Disguised Federalism

The prelates said that the Interim Report is but an attempt to give Sri Lanka a Federal constitution in place of the existing Unitary one.

They pointed out that in the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, the term used for the Nature of the State was “Unitary” (Ekiya Raajya in Sinhalese and Ottrai Aatchi in Tamil). But in the intended constitution, the Nature of State is described as “Undivided and Indivisible” in English and as “Orumittha Naadu” (which means “united and indivisible”) in Tamil.

The English term “Unitary” and its Tamil equivalent “Ottrai Aatchi” have not been used.

The English term “Unitary” and the Tamil term “Ottrai Aatchi” found in the existing constitution should have been retained, if the authors of the Interim Report were honest about retaining the Unitary character of the Sri Lankan State.

The monks criticized the bid to satisfy opponents of federalism by saying that Sri Lanka will be an “indivisible” State. They pointed out that federal states can also be indivisible (like India). Their objection was to the kind of division of power between the Center and Provinces which federalism envisages.

Objections About Devolution

The monks’ objection was to devolution of power between the Center and the Provinces under a federal constitution.Under federalism, power that is devolved is guaranteed by the constitution and cannot be taken back.

This being so, the term “Unitary” or “Ottrai Aatchi” should have been used because in a Unitary state, power that is given to the Provinces can be taken back by the Center as the constitutional repository of all power.

Devolution of Powers Over Land and Police

The monks expressed their “deepest disappointment” that the 13 th.Amendment (13A), enacted in 1987 as a follow up of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, has been retained.

13A allows the devolution of power of land and the police to the Provinces and also the amalgamation of provinces. The monks fear that devolution of power over land and police will led to secession of the Tamil-speaking North and East.

It was due to the 13A that the Northern and Eastern Provinces were amalgamated to form a single Tamil-majority North-Eastern Province. But to the chagrin of the Tamil minority, the two provinces were de-merged in 2016 by a Supreme Court order.

No To Abolition of Concurrent List

The monks said that the abolition of the “Concurrent List” of subjects on which both the Center and the Provinces can legislate is meant to serve the “separatists’ agenda.”

The fact that the sub-committee on Center-Periphery relations was headed by a Tamil National Alliance member showed that the government is going to act as per the demands of the “separatists” the monks said.

The TNA has been voicing the Tamils’ demand for a federal constitution with autonomy for a united Tamil speaking North-East Province..

The monks ended their statement saying: “ We are constrained to point out that the advice given by the Maha Sangha on various occasions not to engage in such a distorted constitutional process has been ignored.”

President Sirisena’s Assurance

Even as the monks issued a statement against federalism, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said in Polonnaruwa on Friday that under no circumstances will he allow a federal constitution to be enacted and separatism facilitated.

But despite Sirisena’s assurance, 13 members the North Central Provincial Council belonging to his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) defected to the opposition camp led by his rival, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

They said on Friday that they are joining the Sri Lanka Podjana Peramuna (SLPP) floated by G.L.Peiris, a Rajapaksa loyalist.

Rajapaksa, who is becoming popular among the Sinhalese Buddhist masses as a result of the lackluster performance of the Sirisena-led coalition government, is expected to field candidates under the SLPP banner in the forthcoming coming local bodies and Provincial Council elections.