Barely a week after Sri Lanka held its first ever northern provincial council elections, the Supreme Court has ruled that powers over land are vested in the Central Government, and not the provincial councils.

The verdict assumes significance in the wake of the Sri Lankan government’s apparent reluctance to devolve land and police powers – which were stated in the 13th Amendment that followed the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 – to its provinces.

A bench comprising three judges and led by Chief Justice Mohan Peiris – who was nominated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa following the controversial impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake – gave Thursday’s ruling after concluding in three separately reasoned judgments that land powers were to remain with the Centre.

Given in regard to an appeal made by the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the ruling is perceived as a fairly telling judgment on the extent of power provincial councils have over land. It pertains to an older case filed at the Kandy High Court by a petitioner who was reportedly evicted from state land, according to local media reports.

The Daily Financial Times quoted Attorney at Law Gomin Dayasri, who appeared on behalf of the Plantations Ministry, as saying “The judgment comprehensively settles the question of land powers under the 13th Amendment.”

The report also quoted Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian and lawyer M.A. Sumanthiran -- appeared as counsel for the petitioner, as saying: “The issue before the Supreme Court was not so much land powers under 13A but the jurisdiction of the provincial high court over land issues.”