Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has set up a new ministry - the Ministry of Law and Order, it was announced here on Friday.

President Rajapaksa will head the ministry while retired major general Nanda Mallawarachchi has been appointed its secretary. The ministry would be in-charge of maintaining law and order, traffic control, providing effective services to the public and minimising corruption, the Daily News here reported on Saturday.

The police was so far functioning under the Ministry of Defence. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Rajapaksa, has said: "The eradication of terrorism has paved way for far reaching changes in the security apparatus," according to a report in The Island.

The move to establish a separate ministry for law and order comes at a time when many sections in Sri Lanka are expressing concern over the army’s increasing interference in civil matters, the recent incident in Weliweriya triggering another round of debate on the issue.

On August 1, residents of Weliweriya -- about an hour’s drive from Colombo -- took to the streets in large numbers, protesting the delay in action against contamination of water in their locality by effluents from a nearby factory. Soon, a clash between the army personnel and the residents followed, resulting in some of the army personnel allegedly opening fire at protestors, claiming three lives.

Though there has been an ongoing debate on the extent of militarisation in Sri Lanka, this incident evoked strong responses questioning the government’s need to deploy the army for tackling a protest in connection with drinking water supply.

Amid speculation that the move to create a separate ministry for the police force could be in response to such criticism, government sources have maintained that the decision was long-pending, and was part of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a commission of enquiry appointed by the Sri Lankan government after the ethnic war ended in 2009.

The government announcement also comes a couple of days ahead of the visit of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to Sri Lanka. Ms. Pillay arrives in Colombo on Sunday, and has meetings with representatives of the government, army, various political parties and civil society representatives over the next week.