The Controversy Surrounding the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka's Constitution

The 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, passed in November 1987, is the only legislative guarantee of a measure of power devolution to the island’s provinces. It provided for setting up provincial governments across the country and made Tamil an official language, along with English as a link language. It was, in some measure, an antidote to the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ of 1956, one of the most discriminatory laws passed targeting the island’s Tamil minorities. However, for successive governments, devolving power to the provinces as per the 13th Amendment, including in the Tamil-majority north and east, was hardly on their ‘must do’ list.


  • The 13th Amendment was passed months after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene signed the Indo-Lanka Accord. It sought to address the Tamils’ right to self-determination which, by the 1980s, had become a raging political call.
  • With the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom laying bare violent Sinhala majoritarianism and racism, it was hard for the world and India not to appreciate a legitimate demand.

Problems with Implementation

  • Despite public promises, leaders from the Sinhala-majority south failed to implement in letter and spirit what was already in the Constitution. Detractors construe the 13th Amendment as an “Indian imposition”, despite it being an outcome of a bilateral Accord signed by J. R. Jayewardene, one of the island’s most powerful Presidents.

The provincial councils function, but nominally. The rule book gave provinces legislative power over agriculture, education, health, housing, local government, planning, road transport and social services.

Written by IAS POINT

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