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No unanimous recommendations on contentious issues by constitutional reforms panel

An official committee on constitutional reforms has not been able to arrive at a consensus, while making recommendations on many contentious areas such as the nature of State, national flag, religion, merger of provinces and land powers.

Despite this, the 20-member committee has come up with an exhaustive Bill of Rights and curtailment of powers of the office of Governor, a subject that has been of great interest to the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Lal Wijenayake, chairman of the committee, told The Hindu on Thursday that the Bill of Rights as proposed by his panel, if accepted by the country, would be “the most modern” in the world. It covered 32 types of rights, ranging from right to life (not included in the 1978 Constitution) to freedom of religion to right to fair administrative action to rights of people with diverse sexual and gender identities to animal rights.

Running to over 320 pages, the panel’s final report, (available on http://www.yourconstitution.lk), acknowledged that the panel could not make unanimous recommendations. It stated that “in many ways, views of the committee also presented a microcosm of diversities of views and positions in society. We agreed that it was important to allow those diversities and differences to be reflected in our report for the Constitutional Assembly to reflect upon and discuss.”

The proposed preamble of the Constitution could incorporate references such as “the necessity to heal the divisions of the past,” “ensuring wider sharing of power “ and “enshrining democratic values, rule of law, social justice, human dignity and fundamental human rights.”

On religion

On the sensitive issue of religion, the committee pointed out that despite the existing Constitutional position of providing Buddhism “the foremost place,” the Supreme Court called Sri Lanka a “secular State.” One of its suggestions was that all religions be given equal status while protecting and fostering Buddhism.

On the issue of national flag, the committee was for retaining the present flag or designing one without reference to ethnicity, while representing Sri Lankan collective life, or framing a new flag symbolising the equality of all ethnic groups.

Nature of the State

As for the contentious matter – nature of the State, the panel suggested three formulations, one of which had no reference to unitary or federal. Another, using the term “unitary,” talked of “multi-tier governance systems.”

Terming the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces “the most controversial,” the panel conceded that most people were not aware of the clause in the existing Constitution, allowing merger of two or three adjoining provinces. While noting that Muslims in the East were opposed to the merger as this would make them a minority, the committee made six recommendations, one of which was to allow the existing strength of nine provinces with Constitutional provisions for power-sharing at the provincial level that would take care of the interests of minorities. Also, National Land Commission had been proposed to prepare policies on land use and decide on land alienation.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 6:44:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/No-unanimous-recommendations-on-contentious-issues-by-constitutional-reforms-panel/article14380407.ece

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