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Proposed wage-increase for tea plantation workers:

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How it affects the small holders

by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

The Cabinet of Ministers, at its meeting held on 26.01.2021, has decided to amend the Wages Board Regulations (WBR) by making it mandatory for tea plantation workers be paid a minimum of Rs. 1,000.00 a day. This is a follow up to the proposal made by the Finance Minister in his Budget Speech that “I also propose to increase the daily wage of plantation workers to Rs. 1,000 from January 2021”.

 

DEMAND BY THE PLANTATION WORKERS FOR A WAGE INCREASE

Since about 2016, tea plantation trade unions have been demanding that a daily wage of Rs. 1,000 be paid to their workers. However, the regional plantation companies (RPC) were resisting their demands, despite intervention by ministers from time to time. In order to ensure votes from the plantation workers, prior to the election, a pledge was given by those who are in office now, that the plantation worker salaries will be increased. The proposal in the budget speech, as well as the recent amendment to the WBR, were outcomes of this pledge.

Tea is grown in Sri Lanka by two groups, the large plantations managed by the Regional Plantation Companies including other public sector institutes, and the small holders of extent below 10 Acres each. According to the 2015 Annual Report of the Tea Small Holdings Development Authority (TSHDA), the small holders produced about 240 million kg of made tea in 2015, while the large estates produced 87 million kg, which are 73% and 27% of the total production, respectively. According to the TSHDA Report, the number of small holdings below 0.5 ha extent comprise 88% which are mostly managed by family members. The rest up to 10 Acres or 4 ha employ paid workers and they are subject to WBR.

The demand for wage increase came from plantation company workers where salaries paid to workers are decided by the collective agreement between the RPCs and worker trade unions negotiated once in two years. During the last agreement, RPCs have offered an increase of the basic to Rs. 600 a day and increases in some allowances making the total daily wage to Rs. 940.00 subject to good attendance (Daily FT, 26.10.2018). But this was not acceptable to the worker unions.

The RPCs have called for a new wage structure focusing on a revenue share model that could have sweeping productivity-focused reforms in the entire industry. An option favoured by the trade unions is the out-grower model where the workers are allocated small plots of land to grow their own tea to sell to the factories (Daily FT of 19.02.2019). In view of this deadlock, the COM decided to incorporate the LKR 1000 as minimum daily wage payable to tea industry workers which is applicable to both estate and small holding workers.

Despite this Cabinet decision, tea plantation workers across the up-country have launched a token strike demanding immediate payment of the agreed pay hike to them, as some RPCs were hesitant to implement the Government decision. With an annual export earning of LKR 240 billion in 2019, a single day production outage means a loss of over LKR 600 million a day to the country.

 

PRESENT EARNINGS OF PLANTATION WORKERS

Currently, WBR specifies that the tea plantation workers should be paid a minimum of LKR 680.00 a day, subject to satisfactory attendance during the month. In addition, they are paid EPF at 12% of basic salary of Rs. 545.00 and 3% for ETF, making the total wages Rs. 761.75. It should be remembered that plantation workers generally work only for about 6 hours from 0730 h to 1330 h including 30 min for a tea break. They have to stop plucking early so that the day’s collection could be handed over after weighing to the lorry which comes around 1400 h. A plucker works for a maximum of 22 days a month because it takes about a week for a new shoot to develop to be plucked again.

But, on an average, a plucker may work only for about 16-18 days and after deducting his own EFP contribution, may have a take-home pay of about Rs. 12,200 – 13,700 a month. If they pluck above the minimum quota, they may be paid extra at rates varying from employer to employer from Rs./kg 25 to 30, they can earn extra, provided the bushes in the worker’s lot have shoots. Both during dry months (no moisture) and wet months (no radiation), the shoot growth declines and the average yield drops and much extra revenue cannot be expected during these months.

Being daily paid workers, they are not entitled for any paid casual or sick leave unlike monthly paid workers elsewhere. No work means no pay. Unlike other workers in the mercantile sector, tea workers are not entitled for mercantile holidays, neither they have any annual leave. Whereas, in the case of all public sector and mercantile sector workers, the EPF contribution is computed based on the total salary received, in the case of plantation workers, it is computed based on the basic salary only.

The writer believes that this is a violation of the EPF Act. Though workers employed by RPCs may get free housing and free medical facilities, such benefits are not available to the large number of workers employed in the small-holder sector. Hence, there is a need to increase the wages paid to these workers to compensate for the loss of all these benefits.

In announcing the proposed wage hike for plantation workers, both the Government and the RPCs are deceiving them by adding the employers’ contribution to EPF and ETF as a part of the daily wage of Rs. 1,000. This is not done anywhere else either in the public or in the mercantile sector. When they announce a salary scale, only the basic salary along with allowances are shown, but not the EPF and ETF contributions. The workers themselves may not have understood the difference, but their unions should have seen the unfairness of this computation.

 

IMPACT OF THE WAGE INCREASE ON THE SMALL HOLDER SECTOR

Small holders get paid for the green leaf supplied to factories at a rate determined by the auction price paid to factories the previous month. Currently, the rate is about Rs. 90 per kilo after deducting for transport and sack weight. In the writer’s experience, a small holding of four acres with an average yield of 1,500 kg of green leaf a month, brings a monthly revenue of Rs. 135,000. The salary bill for four pluckers and a Kankanama will come to an average of Rs. 80,000 a month. This comprises Rs. 30,000 paid to the Kankanama and LKR 12,500 paid to each plucker on an average, including their EPF and ETF contributions. This works out to Rs. 781 a month per plucker, a little over Rs. 762, the minimum specified in the WBR.

The cost of weeding which is done manually, maintenance of drains and retaining walls on an average comes to about Rs. 25,000 a month. The cost of fertilizers and dolomite and their application costs another Rs. 6,000 a month on an average. In addition, there are other costs of infilling, pruning and replanting of unproductive sections which works out to about Rs. 14,000 a month. This leaves only Rs. 10,000 a month as income from the small holding, which is even less than what a worker earnes a month.

Once the WBR is amended to increase the daily wages to Rs. 1000, the Labour Officers will spare no time in visiting the small holdings and insisting the new wages be implemented. If this is done, it will be an added financial burden of Rs. 15,360 a month. This exceeds the amount left in hand after attending to its management properly. Since the small holdings depend entirely on the money paid by the factories, the obvious solution is to increase this amount at least by Rs. 20 a kilo which leaves behind a decent balance in hand. It is obvious that the COM was not concerned about the small holdings when it decided to amend the WBR, but had only the concerns about the RPC workers in mind.

 

INCREASING THE PAYMENT TO SMALL HOLDINGS BY FACTORIES

Tea samples offered at the auctions are purchased mostly by exporters for supplying to overseas buyers. About 3% is purchased for sale locally. According to the Tea Board Directory, there are about 325 exporters. Originally, only the dedicated companies exported tea but lately the factories as well as RPCs have got involved in export of tea considering the high profit margin. According to the Central Bank 2019 Annual Report, the average auction price of tea was Rs./kg 546.67, while the average export price was LKR/kg 822.25, leaving a margin of Rs./kg 275.58. The total tea (made tea) production in 2019 was 300.13 Mkg, while the quantity exported was 292.65 Mkg. Thus, the exporters had made a gross profit of Rs. 80.65 Billion in 2019.

Export of tea is subject to a CESS levied at Rs./kg 10, which works out to LKR. 2.9 Billion. Further, Rs.one billion is collected as Tea Promotion Levy by SLTB from the exporters. Another 1% or Rs. 2.4 Billion has to be paid to Brokers for conducting the auctions and carrying out quality control checks and certifying on samples received. These brokers comprising 8 companies deserve it because they ensure that quality tea is exported. After paying these taxes, the exporters are still left with a profit margin of about Rs. 65 Billion annually after paying Rs. 10 billion as income tax (assumed).

The export companies presently enjoy the benefit of this revenue shared among its staff. Assuming each company has 50 staff members, the total staff strength is about 16,250, and each of them could earn a salary of about Rs. 400,000 monthly. This is while a plucker earns below 1/25 th of this amount after trudging up and down the hills carrying kilos of leaf on their back in sun and rain. It would be in the interest of the exporters to share their profits among the plantation workers also, because if the industry collapses, there is nothing for them to export.

 

SHARING OF EXPORT PROFITS AMONG WORKERS

The number of workers employed in tea plantations are estimated to be about 174,000 in 2017 (ILO Publication on Tea Small Holdings, 2018). If each of them is to be paid an additional Rs. 238 monthly for raising the daily rate from Rs. 762 to LKR 1,000, the annual burden will be Rs. 414 Million. The total production in the small holdings in 2019 was 240 Mkg of made tea according to TSHDA, which is equivalent to 960 Mkg of Greenleaf. If the small holder is to be paid Rs./kg 20 more for Greenleaf, the added burden will be Rs. 19.2 Billion.

Thus, for increasing the daily wage to workers in both the estates and small holdings, the total added financial burden will be about Rs. 20 Billion annually. If the tea exporters could part this amount from their profits of Rs. 65 billion, the problem could be solved. The Government may do away with the CESS levy on tea exports to assist this process. Concurrently, an effort should be made by the tea industry to increase the revenue from tea exports.

 

INCREASING THE REVENUE FROM

TEA EXPORTS

The writer published an article in The Island of 11th and 13th of November, 2015 describing the strategies to be adopted to increase the export revenue, and also to increase the wage increase. Though it was written more than five years ago and the data little outdated, the reasonings are still valid. The article which appeared in two parts may be accessed via the following links:

http://archive.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=135105

http://archive.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=135203

One strategy is to move away from the manufacture of traditional orthodox tea to CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl) tea which is in high demand in the western countries like the USA and the UK. Both Kenya and India have overtaken Sri Lanka as major exporters because they supply CTC tea while Sri Lanka sticks to orthodox tea. According to Tea Exporters Association data, Sri Lanka has produced in 2019, out of a total of 300 kt of tea, 274 kt (91.3%) of orthodox tea, 23.6 kt (7.9%) of CTC tea and 2.6 kt (0.8%) of green tea. According to World Exporters Site http://www.worldstopexports.com/tea-imports-by-country/, Sri Lanka in 2019 has occupied only 10% of the tea market in the USA while only 4.1% in the UK. The major importers were Kenya, India and China. Today, most Western countries consume tea in the form of tea bags for which CTC tea is necessary. But to cater to these markets, Sri Lanka will have to increase the CTC output.

World’s highest tea importer is Pakistan, but most of the teas consumed in Pakistan are imported from Kenya, India, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Currently Sri Lanka’s market share in Pakistan is only 2-3% of total tea imports. A publication by Sri Lanka’s Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Karachi released in December, 2016 has recommended that “While capitalizing on the taste factor, Sri Lankan tea companies should produce quality strong black CTC teas comparable to East African countries focusing on leaf and liquor in large quantities and offer straight lines such as Garden Originals. Pakistan consumers are very particular about the appearance of tea and prefer to drink thick gold color tea”, if Sri Lanka wishes to increase its market share in Pakistan.

The other strategy is to move into producing more high value tea such as green tea and instant tea. According to Central Bank 2019 Annual Report, Sri Lanka has exported 285 Mkg of black tea at an average price of Rs./kg 797.00, 4.75 kt of green tea at an average price of Rs./kg 1,987.00 and 3.07 kt of instant tea at a price of Rs./kg 1.357.00. Hence, the logical step to increase the export revenue from tea is to offer high value tea instead of traditional black tea. But, instead of doing that the Sri Lanka Tea Board was spending billions of rupees on promoting black tea in existing markets. In 2014, the COM approved a budget of LKR 2.3 billion for promotional activities but the Tea Board could not finalize the project for several years because of disputes it ran into in selecting a suitable advertising company.

 

IMPLICATIONS OF WAGE INCREASE IN THE SMALL HOLDING SECTOR

If the proposed wage increase applies to the small tea holdings without any corresponding increase in the payments made for green leaf supplied to factories, the only option available to the small holder is to give up the tea plantation and consider other options. Among these are shifting to another crop such as cinnamon or pepper along with gliricidea or partition the land into several segments and hand over them to existing workers or others to manage them on their own with no liability to pay any wages to the workers by the land owner.

Gliricidea stems are in demand as a biofuel for use as a source of thermal energy in industries. With the Government giving high priority for renewable energy, industries will have to turn to biofuels as a substitute for oil or gas to generate thermal energy. One barrier they face is the lack of a proper supply chain ensuring continuous supply of biofuels. Already a project supported by UNDP and FAO is assisting the Government to set up fuelwood collecting centres across the country as part of the supply chain improvement. Hence, converting the tea plantation into a gliricidea plantation will help in this venture and provide a source of revenue possibly higher than what the tea plantation provides without any WBR controls.

 

CONCLUSION

In order to meet the demand made by tea plantation workers, the Government has decided to incorporate the proposed increase to the WBR rather than limiting it to the Collective Agreement between RPCs and Trade Unions. This affects the small holders as well who depend on payments made by factories for green leaf supplied to them. Unless there is a corresponding increase in this payment rate, the small holders have no option other than to give up planting tea.

It is also proposed that the Government should intervene to get the enormous profits earned by exporters to share their profits with the workers enabling the RPCs and small holders to implement the proposed wage rise. Concurrently, the factories should endeavour to produce high-value tea products to increase the export revenue.

 

 



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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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Marked stress on Asia in US foreign policy

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US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he arrives at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea May 20, 2022

US President Joe Biden’s recent tour of some Asian powers is indicative of a renewed and enhanced interest the US is beginning to take in the Indo-Pacific region. In this his first Asian tour the President chose to visit Japan and South Korea besides helming a Quad meeting in Tokyo and there is good reason for the choice of these venues and engagements.

The first phase of these bridge-strengthening efforts by the US began in late August last year when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South-east Asia in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides being driven by strong economic compulsions, the US intention was also to ensure that too much of a power vacuum did not open up in the region, following its pull-out from Afghanistan, since China’s perceived expansionist designs are a prime foreign policy concern of the US.

However, the US President’s recent wide-ranging tour of East Asia seems to have been also prompted by some currently intensifying trends and tensions in the wider stage of international politics though the seeming power vacuum just referred to has a significant bearing on it. The immediate purpose of the US President’s tour seems to have been to bolster his country’s backing for Japan and South Korea, two of the US’ closest allies in East Asia. This is necessitated by the ‘China threat’, which, if neglected, could render the US allies vulnerable to China’s military attacks on the one hand and blunt US power and influence in the region on the other.

While Taiwan’s airspace has reportedly been frequently violated by China, sections in Japan have reasons to be wary of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in Japan’s adjacent seas. Moreover, many of China’s neighbours have been having territorial disputes with China, which have tended to intensify the perception over the decades that in the Asian theatre in particular China is a number one ‘bogey’. For historical reasons, South Korea too has been finding the increasing rise of China as a major world power considerably discomforting.

Accordingly, the US considers it opportune to reassure South-east Asia in general and its allies in the region in particular of its continuous military, economic and political support. Though these are among the more immediate reasons for Biden’s tour of the region, there are also the convulsions triggered in international politics by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consider.

Whereas sections of international opinion have been complacent in the belief that military invasions of one country by another are things of the distant past, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year proved them shockingly wrong. We have the proof here that not all authoritarian rulers are prepared to adhere to the international rule book and for some of China’s neighbours the possibility is great of their being attacked or invaded by China over the numerous rankling problems that have separated them from their economic super power neighbour over the decades. After all, China is yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is increasingly proving an ‘all weather friend’ of Russia. Right now, they are the strongest of allies.

The ‘China threat’ then is prime among the reasons for the US President’s visit to East Asia, though economic considerations play a substantive role in these fence-strengthening initiatives as well. While South-east Asia is the ‘economic power house’ of the world, and the US would need to be doubly mindful of this fact, it would need to reassure its allies in the region of its military and defense assistance at a time of need. This too is of paramount importance.

President Biden did just that while in Tokyo a couple of days back. For instance, he said that the US is ‘fully committed to Japan’s defense’. Biden went on to say that the ‘US is willing to use force to defend Taiwan.’ The latter comment was prompted by the perceived increasing Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air space. After all, considering that Russia has invaded Ukraine with impunity, there is apparently nothing that could prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it. Such are the possible repercussions of the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly carrying on with its development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. On this issue too, South Korea would need to have US assurances that the latter would come to its defense in case of a North Korean military strike. The US President’s visit to South Korea was aimed at reassuring the latter of the former’s support.

However, as mentioned, economic considerations too figured prominently in the US President’s South-east Asian tour. While being cognizant of the region’s security sensitivities, bolstering economic cooperation with the latter too was a foremost priority for the Biden administration. For example, the US is in the process of formalizing what has come to be referred to as the Indo-Pacific Trade Treaty. The US has reportedly already inducted Japan and South Korea as founding members of the Treaty while, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as prospective members to the treaty.

The perceived threat posed to Western interests in South-east Asia by China needs to be factored in while trying to unravel the reasons for this region-wide endeavour in economic cooperation. It needs to be considered a Western response to China’s Belt and Road initiative which is seen as having a wide appeal for the global South in particular.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having a divisive political and economic impact on the world, international politics will increasingly revolve around the US-China stand-off on a multiplicity of fronts in time to come. Both sides are likely to try out both soft and hard power to an exceptional degree to exercise foremost influence and power in the world. As is already happening, this would trigger increasing international tensions.

There was a distinct and sharp note of firmness in the voice of the US President when he pledged defense and military support for his allies in Asia this week. Considering the very high stakes for the US in a prospering South-east Asia, the US’ competitors would be naive to dismiss his pronouncements as placatory rhetoric meant for believing allies.

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A Majoritarian Constitution

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1972 Constitution in Retrospect – II

By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel

In this the second part of a three-part article on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic, the writer submits that the 1972 Constitution paved the way for constitutionalising majoritarianism in multi-cultural Sri Lanka.

The unitary state

Although Tamil parties expressed their support for the Constituent Assembly process, they were to be disappointed by the substance of the new constitution.

Basic Resolution No. 2 proposed by the Government called for Sri Lanka to be a unitary state. The Federal Party (FP) proposed an amendment that ‘unitary’ be replaced by ‘federal’.

In a memorandum and the model constitution that it submitted to the Steering Committee of the Assembly, the FP proposed that the country be a federal republic consisting of five states made up as follows: (i) Southern and Western provinces, (ii) North Central and North Western provinces (iii) Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces (iv) Northern Province and the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and (v) Ampara district. The city of Colombo and its suburbs were to be administered by the centre. A list of subjects and functions reserved for the centre, with all others going to the states, was included. Interestingly, law and order and Police were to be reserved subjects.

However, Assembly proceedings show that the Tamils were clearly for a compromise. Dharmalingam, who was a main speaker of the FP under Basic Resolution No. 2, stated that the existing constitution had failed as it was not designed for a multi-ethnic country. He pointed out that in ethnically heterogeneous countries where unitary constitutions had been in operation, concessions to the federal principle have been made to meet the demands and aspirations of the minorities. Where there has been a refusal to concede the federal principle, there have been movements for separation. The FP distanced itself from secessionists such as C. Sunderalingam and V. Navaratnam, referring to them by name, and stated that it was not asking for a division of the country but for a division of power.

Dharmalingam made it clear that the FP’s draft was only a basis for discussion. Stating that the party was only asking that the federal principle be accepted, he suggested that as an interim measure, the SLFP, LSSP and CP should implement what they had promised in the election manifesto, namely that they would abolish Kachcheris and replace them with elected bodies. He stated: “If this Government thinks that it does not have a mandate to establish a federal Constitution, it can at least implement the policies of its leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, by decentralising the administration, not in the manner it is being done now, but genuine decentralisation, by removing the Kachcheris and in their place establishing elected bodies to administer those regions.”

Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, the first political party in the country to propose federalism, in 1944, followed Dharmalingam and stated that ‘federal’ had become a dirty word not because of the federal system of government but because of what the FP had advocated. He was clearly referring to the FP’s association with the UNP and the conservative policies it had followed, such as voting against nationalisations, the takeover of private schools and the Paddy Lands Bill. Seemingly oblivious to the offer that Dharmalingam had made, he asked why the FP had not used the phrase ‘regional autonomy.’ Speakers from the UF who followed Muttetuwegama made it clear that the UF was in no mood to consider the FP’s offer to settle for much less.

Consequently, Basic Resolution No.2 was passed, and the FP’s amendment was defeated in the Steering and Subjects Committee on 27 March 1971.

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, under the UF Government, and played an important role in the constitutional reform process, has said that the first draft prepared under the direction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not contain any reference to a ‘unitary state’. However, Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike proposed in the Ministerial Sub-Committee that the country be declared a ‘unitary state’. The Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not consider this to be necessary and argued that while the proposed constitution would have a unitary structure, unitary constitutions could vary a great deal in form. Nevertheless, the proposed phrase found its way to the final draft. ‘In course of time, this impetuous, ill-considered, wholly unnecessary embellishment has reached the proportions of a battle cry of individuals and groups who seek to achieve a homogenous Sinhalese state on this island’ Dr Jayawickrama observed. ‘Reflections on the Making and Content of the 1972 Constitution: An Insider’s Perspective’ in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice vol 1 (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2012) 43.

It is significant that the FP continued to participate in the Constituent Assembly even after its amendment was rejected. Records show that its leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, regularly attended the meetings of the Steering and Subjects Committee.

With the advantage of hindsight, it could be said that acceptance of the FP’s proposed compromise for a division of power would have proved to be a far-reaching confidence-building measure on which more could perhaps have been built later. Moreover, such an acceptance would have ensured the continued participation of the FP in the Constituent Assembly. Even had the FP, as the UNP eventually did, voted against the adoption of the new constitution, their participation in the entire constitution-making process would have resulted in greater acceptance of the 1972 Constitution by the Tamil people.

Although they discontinued participation at a later stage, Federal Party MPs nevertheless took oaths under the new Constitution. Tamil parties soon united under the banner of the Tamil United Front (TUF), which later became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At the famous Vaddukoddai conference of 1976, the TULF embraced separatism and adopted a resolution calling for a separate state called ‘Tamil Eelam’ in the Northern and Eastern provinces. At the 1977 elections, the TULF contested on a separatist platform and swept the Tamil areas.

The place of Buddhism

According to Dr Jayawickrama, Dr. de Silva’s original proposal called for the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion to every citizen. However, the Prime Minister requested that this proposal be added with a provision for the protection of institutions and traditional places of worship of Buddhists.

Basic Resolution No. 3 approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’: ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be given its rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Basic Resolution 5 (iv).’

Basic Resolution 5 (iv) referred to read: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have and adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

But by the time the final draft was approved, the proposal had undergone a further change. Article 6 of the 1972 Constitution is as follows: ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).’ Section 18 (1) (d), in the chapter on fundamental rights, assures to all citizens the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

To the question of whether constitutionally guaranteeing special status to Buddhism not available to other religions of the land might adversely affect the non-Buddhists, Dr de Silva retrospectively responded in the following manner: “The section in respect of Buddhism is subject to section 18 (1) (d) and I wish to say, I believe in a secular state. But you know when Constitutions are made by Constituent Assemblies they are not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I myself would have preferred (section 18(1) (d)). But there is nothing…And I repeat, NOTHING, in section 6 which in any manner infringes upon the rights of any religion in this country. (Safeguards for the Minorities in the 1972 Constitution (Young Socialist 1987) 10.)

Dr Jayawickrama has been more critical. ‘If Buddhism had survived in the hearts and minds of the people through nearly five centuries of foreign occupation, a constitutional edict was hardly necessary to protect it now’, he opined. (‘Colvin and Constitution-Making – A Postscript’ Sunday Island, 15 July 2007).

Language provisions

Basic Resolution No.11 stated that all laws shall be enacted in Sinhala and that there shall be a Tamil translation of every law so enacted.

Basic Resolution No.12 read as follows: “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act No. 32 of 1956. (2) The use of the Tamil Language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958.”

Efforts by the FP to get the Government to improve upon Basic Resolutions Nos. 11 and 12 failed. On 28 June 1971, both resolutions were passed, amendments proposed by the FP having been defeated. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam informed the Constituent Assembly that they had met with both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and while the meetings had been cordial, the Government had refused to make any alteration to the Basic Resolutions. He stated that the FP would therefore not attend future meetings. “We have come to the painful conclusion that as our language rights are not satisfactorily provided in the proposed Constitution, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly. By taking this step, we mean no offence to anybody. We only want to safeguard the dignity of our people.” There was not even a dramatic walk out. ‘We do not wish to stage a demonstration by walking out’, he added.

That Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who prophetically stated in 1955, ‘one language, two countries; two languages, one country’, should go so far as to upgrade the then-existing language provisions to constitutional status has baffled many political observers. In fact, according to Dr Jayawickrama, the Prime Minister had stated that it would be unwise to re-open the language debate and that the better course would be to let the ordinary laws on the subject operate in the form in which they were. By this time, the Privy Council had reversed the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G. v Kodeswaranthat a public servant could not sue the Crown for breach of contract of employment and sent the case back for a determination on other issues, including the main issue as to whether the Official Language Act violated section 29 (2), as the District Court had held. Dr. de Silva did not wish the Supreme Court to re-visit the issue. ‘If the courts do declare this law invalid and unconstitutional, heavens alive, the chief work done from 1956 onwards will be undone. You will have to restore the egg from the omelette into which it was beaten and cooked.’ He had, however, resisted a proposal made by Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike that Sinhala be declared the ‘one’ official language of Sri Lanka.

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