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Home > Tamils: a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution: Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact, 1957 >Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayakam Agreement, 1965 > District Councils, 1968 > District Development Councils, 1979 > Annexure "C" Proposals, 1983> All Party Conference, 1983/84  >Thimpu Talks, 1985 > Indo Sri Lanka Working Paper, 1985 > "December 19th Proposals", 1986 > Exchange of Letters between India & Sri Lanka, 1987 > Indo Sri Lanka Agreement, 1987 > 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka Constitution - Devolution or Comic Opera?, 1988 > Sri Lanka/LTTE Talks 1989/90 > Select Committee - Interim Report,1992 > Chandrika - LTTE Talks: 1994/95 > Chandrika's 'Devolution' Proposals:1995/2001 > Norwegian Conflict Resolution Initiative - 2001 todate.

District Councils White Paper, 1968

[see also Satchi Ponnambalam on the Withdrawal of the 1968 District Councils White Paper]

The proposals for District Councils albeit under the direction and control of the Central Government were contained in a White Paper published on the orders of the Dudley Senanayake Government. The White Paper was presented by Mr.M.Thiruchelvam Q.C., who was the nominee of the Thamil Arasu Katchi in the Sri Lanka Cabinet and who served as the Minister of Local Government. But in the event, in the face of protests by Sinhala opposition groups, the proposals were abandoned and Mr.Thiruchelvam resigned.

From A 40-Year Chronology 1946-1986  by S.Sivanayagam, A TIRU Publication, Madras, 1987:

"1968 June 5: A White Paper on proposals for the establishment of District Councils under the direction and control of the Central Government is tabled in the House of Representatives:

According to a draft bill attached to the White Paper, the government Agent of the District would be the Chief Executive Officer and all employees of these Councils would be public servants under the control of the Government Agent. The District Councils would not be local authorities but would be extensions of the Central Government taking over some of the functions now performed by the Kachcheries.

The Councils, to be constituted in each Administrative District, would consist of ex-officio Councillors consisting of (a) elected M.P.s for each electoral district which lay within such administrative districts, (b) appointed M.P.s, (c) Mayors of Municipalities and Chairmen of local bodies within the administrative district. There would also be not more than 3 nominated Councillors.

The Councils would function under the language laws of the country. The record of the Councils throughout the island would be kept in the official language (Sinhala). In the Northern and Eastern provinces, records would be kept in Tamil also. Correspondence with the central government would be in the official language.

June 8: Walk-out in Parliament. Burning of copies of the White Paper on District Councils. Beginning of Sinhala- Buddhist campaign against District Councils

: The entire opposition in the House, with the exception of three members, walk out of the house burning and tearing copies of the White paper within the Chamber as P.M. Dudley Senanayake rose to initiate the debate on the White Paper ... As they were marching out of the Chamber, some members tear the document and throw the pieces in the air, while a leading member of the S.L.F.P., T.B. Tennekoon, burns his copy ... The members who had earlier walked out, led by the leader of the opposition Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, gather outside the precincts of the Parliament building and make a bonfire of the copies before they disperse.

June 11: Debate on the White Paper.

Opposition coalitionists led by Mrs Bandaranaike continue to boycott the debate, but a Vice-President of the S.L.F.P., R.G. Senanayake, defies the party's decision to keep away and launches an attack on the White Paper. He says he saw in the District Councils the distinct possibility of the division of the Island into two or three parts.

The expelled F.P. member, V. Navaratnam on the other hand, says that the proposal now before the House was a very wide deviation from the agreement that the Party had entered into with the P.M. Not only did it not do any justice to the Tamil people, but it contained "obnoxious and pernicious sections" detrimental to the Tamils. The most vehement attack on the District Councils proposals came from a Tamil member on the Government side, G.G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the Tamil Congress. He calls the proposals a "hideous hybrid monstrosity" and said that the establishment of District Councils would lead to the eventual segregation of the Sinhalese and the Tamils, while the F.P. Members accuse Mr Ponnambalam of betraying the Tamil people.

June 13: Winding up the debate P.M. Dudley Senanayake lashes out at the opposition for "carrying on a false propaganda and spreading communal hatred."

He quotes from the speeches of opposition leaders and points out how they had earlier favoured the establishment of District Councils and even incorporated the idea in numerous Throne Speeches. They could not now face the house and "ran away from the debate."

He says most people spoke very glibly of communal amity; the communal harmony which his cousin R.G. Senanayake was talking about was "the biggest sham perpetrated on the people of the country." The unity some people want is the subjugation of the rest, subjugation of another's culture, language and aspirations, to their dominant force .... May the country be saved from those who speak of national unity, and then do their utmost to prevent it from being achieved."

Commenting on the bitter attack against each other of the Tamil Congress and the F.P., Mr Senanayake says: "The tragedy of the Tamil race is the existence of a set of self-seeking sycophants making the sweet speech of saviours. If the Tamils are ever to regain their birthright in Ceylon, they should send away the present saviours of the Tamil Congress and the Federal Party."

The P.M. does not indicate when he proposes to introduce the legislation in Parliament, which is prorogued after June 18.

Despite efforts made by Dudley Senanayake to dispel what he called the false propaganda against the proposed District Councils Bill, the campaign both in the Press and on platforms against the Bill increases in tempo.

A section of the Press reports under banner headlines that an influential section of the Government parliamentary group would shortly issue an ultimatum to the P.M. either to give up the controversial District Councils Bill or to face a revolt within its ranks. The S.L.F.P., in a circular to its supporters describes the proposed Bill as the consequence of a "secret pact" between the P.M. and the Tamil leader Chelvanayakam. Mass rallies are organized to whip up opposition to the Bill.

It is alleged that the Bill was a "device to divide the country to the detriment of the Sinhala people." The Buddhist Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters, as well as a deputation of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress meet the P.M. to make known their opposition to the proposed District Councils. Various local bodies in the Sinhala areas as well as Sinhala political, social, religious and cultural organizations pass resolutions demanding that the Government give up the proposal. With the mounting, orchestrated campaign against it, it becomes doubtful with every passing day whether the DC Bill would get into the parliamentary agenda.

July 7: No firm commitment is made on the controversial district Councils Bill in the Speech from the Throne - the policy statement of the Government for the current session of Parliament delivered by the Governor-General to the joint session of Parliament today. A watered-down reference that fullest consideration would be given to the view expressed on the White Paper, is widely interpreted in the country to mean that the Government has already bowed to pressure.

July 25: Winding up the debate on the Speech from the Throne, P.M. Dudley Senanayake declares that the District Councils proposals would be abandoned if a majority of the people did not want them. He adds that he had tried to bring together the different communities and that he would continue his efforts."


White Paper presented by Minister for Local Government, Mr.M.Thiruchelvam Q.C. -

Ceylon has had a long history of decentralised administration at district and village levels. The ancient Gam Sabha and Rata Sabha systems were examples. The present system of Local Government, established since the inauguration of the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931, is a continuing link with the past.

During the period of colonial government from 1815 onwards, government from the centre covering the whole Island was established through Chief and Minor Headmen, with the Government Agents as the apex of the system in the Provinces. Chief and Minor Headmen no longer exist, and the remaining symbols of this system now are the Government Agent and the establishment over which he presides, the Kachcheri.

It has been recognised that more effective development is possible in various fields of public activity with peoples' participation, both in formulating the work to be done and in carrying out the work agreed upon, now performed largely through the Kachcheri system of administration.

There is, therefore, a considerable amount of opinion built up during the last forty years, for the substitution of the existing system of Kachcheri administration by decentralised forms of administration in which the people participate.

The colonial system of administration has gradually being replaced by a democratic administration beginning from the village level. During the State Council era the Chief and Superior Headmen systems were abolished. Divisional Revenue Officers selected on a competitive basis replaced the Chief Headmen. Subsequently, the Minor Headmen were replaced by Grama Sevakas.

There is now a complete system of Local Government governed by statute, consisting of Village Communities, Town Councils, Urban Councils and Municipal Councils. Municipal Councils have been functioning in Colombo, Kandy and Galle for a hundred years. Village Communities were established in 1924, and Town Councils and Urban Councils after 1936. While these measures for the extension of local government by popularly elected assemblies, and the replacement of the Headmen system by public servants recruited on a competitive basis, respectively, were being implemented, the colonial administration, through Government Agents and the Kachcheries, has continued up-to-date.

The view that the Kachcheri system should be replaced by a more democratic system has been often advocated, and recently expressed by Dr. N. M. Perera, M.P. for Yatiyantota in June, 1966:-

"What about your proposals to set up Regional Councils? Is the Minister tackling this question or not? It is a matter that is long overdue. Even so long after your so called independence, you are still running the out-dated Kachcheri system. Year in and year out, we have been fighting to have the old Kachcheri system liquidated. Let us have a proper system of local administration.

The Hon. J.R. Jayewardene: Are you for District Councils?

Dr. N. M. Perera: I am for it. I am one hundred per cent in favour of District Councils. If you do not have Regional Councils, you cannot get rid of the Kachcheries in `these areas. We are having an obsolete system of Colonial administration side by side with a democratic system."

Donoughmore Commissioners' Recommendations-1928

The first significant study of the problem of decentralisation, and the extension of Government by the people was made by the Special Commission on the Constitution (The Donoughmore Commission) in the year 1928." In view of the urgency of the problem, the Commission made certain recommendations on this subject in order to facilitate its consideration under the new constitution itself.

The Commission recognised the special aptitude for popular government on the part of the Ceylonese, and felt that one of the schemes which was clearly necessary, and which the Government should explore, was the creation of co-ordinating bodies to which certain administrative functions of the Government could be delegated. The establishment of provincial councils, so that a large part of the administrative work carried out by the centre may come into the hands of persons permanently resident in the country districts and thus more directly in contact with their needs, was recommended by the Commission.

With regard to the constitution, powers and duties and financial arrangements of the Councils, it was suggested that some of the questions that may arise such as, whether members of the Legislative Council in each Province should be members of the proposed councils and so form the connecting link between the Central and provincial administrators; whether other members should represent local bodies in the districts; whether the Government Agent should be Chairman and Executive Officer of the Council with the officers of the Technical Departments serving as advisers; whether the powers delegated by the Centre should be with regard to public works and communications, irrigation and agriculture, medical and sanitary services, education, finances and general administration-should be properly examined.

In view of the difficulties of providing the necessary funds from local taxation, it was suggested that the funds required by the Councils be provided from the genera] revenue raised by the Central Government.

State Council Motion-1940

This proposal was taken up for consideration by the Government, and the following motion of Mr. R. S. S. Gunawardene was debated in July 1940 in the State Council:

"This Council is of opinion that immediate effect should be given to the recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission with regard to the establishment of Provincial Councils."

The Report of the Executive Committee of Local Administration on this motion, presented by the Minister of Local Administration, the Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, contemplated that the functions of the councils were to be of three main classes namely,

(1) supervisory (including controlling, co-ordination and default powers)

(2) direct (executive)

(3) advisory,

and that these functions should relate to a number of Ministries with all of whom these councils would have to deal directly. The motion was agreed to after debate, but the War and its exigencies delayed any further action on the subject.

Speaking in the Budget Debate in December 1947, the Minister of Local Administration in the new Parliament, Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, said:

"I do not think I shall be able to introduce the Bill relating to Provincial Councils before January next year. I propose to establish these Provincial Councils with a view to co-ordinating, supervising and controlling the work of local bodies in the district or province concerned. The Bill is ready, but as it impinges on the functions of my colleagues in the Cabinet, I have to obtain their consent to all the implications of the Bill before I can introduce it in this House."

Choksy Report-1955

The generality of the views expressed before the Commission of Local Government (Choksy Commission) in 1955 was overwhelmingly in favour of the establishment of Regional Councils. There was a very large measure of unanimity that one of the reasons for recommending the establishment of Regional Councils was to take over the functions which are exercised by the Kachcheries with a view to the elimination of the Kachcheri system. The view expressed was that whilst the Kachcheri system may have been appropriate in the days of a colonial regime it was completely out of place in the democratic set up of modern times.

The Choksy Commission declared that whilst it is true that Parliament, and such local authorities as have been set up, provide some opportunity for the people themselves through their representatives to be brought into touch with the business of Government, it is necessary, and it should be possible, to offer more opportunities than are available at the present time to associate the people more closely with the administration.

If the business of Government is always to continue to remain in the hands of the officials controlled from the Centre, then the gap that has existed in the past between those who were governing and those governed, will remain as wide as it has been, if it does not become wider. The Commission recommended that District Co-ordinating Committees be reconstituted into Regional Committees, so as to provide an unofficial majority.

It was not the suggestion that the Kachcheries should be wound up immediately and their functions and staff handed over to a new local organization. The proposal was for the gradual transfer of the various powers and functions presently exercised by the Kachcheries in order that in the course of time, the Kachcheries will be replaced by a more democratic body drawn from, and therefore more closely identified with, the local areas themselves over which they function. These new bodies could help the Government in more effective and systematic planning, and fuller development of the Kachcheri areas, as they will be more representative of the wishes of the people of the areas themselves.

The Regional Committee was to be composed of Local Heads of Departments, certain number of members representing the Local Authorities, and the Members of Parliament in the District, appointed ex-officio. Among the functions to be transferred to the Regional Committees were the following items:-

(a) Social welfare and relief of distress,

(b) Settlement of people on peasant and middle class allotments other than colonisation schemes,

(c) Rural development,

(d) Co-ordination of agricultural activity,

(e) Minor irrigation and food production,

(f) Organisation and supervision of public health measures,

(g) Road development and Regional Planning.

It was also contemplated that Regional Committees should not be vested with power to levy any taxes or contributions from local authorities, and that the funds required by the Committees should be met by the Government. The Commission envisaged that after a period of five years, the time would be ripe to consider whether the scope and functions of the Regional Committees should be further enlarged to enable the District Administration to be fully controlled by new regional councils.

Draft Regional Councils' Bill-1957

In May 1957 the Government of Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Prime Minister, published a draft of the proposed Bill which made provision for the establishment of Regional Councils and for matters connected therewith. This draft Bill provided for the establishment of Regional Councils which could cover the whole or part of an Administrative District, or the area consisting of the whole or part of two or more administrative districts. The Draft Bill further provided; for the election of Regional Councillors by local bodies, and for ex officio Regional Councillors among whom would be Members of Parliament; for the election of a Chairman by the Council; for the appointment of a Regional Commissioner who was to be the chief executive officer of the Council; for the transfer or delegation to the Council of powers, duties, and functions which may be exercised by Ministers.

In addition to these powers the Regional Council could establish public utility services, promote, develop, and assist in the development of agriculture and food production; exercise certain supervisory powers over local bodies and advise the Minister in regard to the exercise of his powers over them. The Regional Council had also the right to appoint its own staff, to create its own fund, impose taxes, raise loans, etc. The Central Government had the power to suspend or dissolve Regional Councils.

Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact - 1957

In the Joint Statement of the Prime Minister, Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and the Representatives of the Federal Party known as the B-C Pact, dated 26.7.1957, it was agreed as follows:-

"(A) That the Draft Bill on Regional Councils be amended in the light of this Pact.

(B) Regional areas to be defined in the Bill itself by embodying them in a schedule thereto.

(C) That the Northern Province is to form one Regional area whilst the Eastern Province is to be divided into two or more Regional areas.

(D) Provision is to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate even beyond provincial limits; and for one region to divide itself subject to ratification by Parliament. Further provision is to be made in the Bill for two or more regions to collaborate for specific purposes of common interest.

Direct Elections

(E) Provision is to be made for direct election of regional councillors. Provision is to be made for a delimitation Commission or Commissions for carving out electorates. The question of M.P's representing districts falling within regional areas to be eligible to function as chairmen is to be considered. The question of Government Agents being Regional Commissioners is to be considered. The question of supervisory functions over larger towns, strategic towns and municipalities is to be looked into.

Special Powers

(F) Parliament is to delegate powers and to specify them in the Act. It was agreed that Regional Councils should have powers over specified subjects including agriculture, co-operatives, lands and land development, colonization, education, health, industries and fisheries, housing and social services, electricity, water schemes and roads. Requisite definition of powers will be made in the Bill.

Colonisation Schemes

(G) It was agreed that in the matter of colonisation schemes the powers of the Regional Councils shall include the power to select allottees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also power to select personnel to be employed for work on such schemes. The position regarding the area at present administered by the Gal Oya Board in this matter requires consideration.

Taxation, Borrowing

(H) The powers in regard to the Regional Councils vested in the Minister of Local Government in the draft Bill to be revised with a view to vesting control in Parliament wherever necessary.

(I) The Central Government will provide block grants to the Regional Councils. The principles on which the grants will be computed will be gone into. The Regional Councils shall have powers of taxation and borrowing. "

The Policy of the Governments of Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister

In July 1963 the Government announced in the Throne Speech "that early consideration would be given to the question of the establishment of District Councils to replace the Kachcheries." In pursuance of this decision, the Government appointed a Committee on District Councils consisting of Mr. W. D. V. Mahatantila, Commissioner of Local Government, Mr. C. J. Serasingha, Secretary, Public Service Commission; and Mr. C. Suriyakumaran, Senior Research Officer, Department of National Planning.

The Committee forwarded its report to the Minister of Local Government" in February 1964, recommending the creation of District Councils to replace the Kachcheries and suggested ways of decentralising some of the functions performed by Government Departments in Revenue Districts for the purpose of establishing these Councils. The report also contained the draft of a proposed Bill to make provision for the establishment of District Councils and for matters connected therewith.

In the Throne Speech of the Coalition Government of 1964 it was stated as follows:

"A Draft Bill to implement the proposals to establish District Councils will be placed before you for consideration."

The Policy of the Government of Hon. Dudley Senanayake, Prime Minister

When this Government assumed office, in its first Throne Speech in April 1965, it stated:

"My Government will examine the existing structure of the machinery of Local Government with a view to increasing its efficiency and harnessing the co-operation of all classes of citizens in the administration. With this objective in view, earnest consideration will be given to the establishment of District Councils which will function under the control and direction of the Central Government."

This policy statement has been repeated in the Throne Speeches of 1966 and 1967. The Government has now after careful consideration prepared a Draft Bill which is annexed to this White Paper.

Principles of Draft Bill -1968

The draft Bill approved by the Cabinet provides for Councils to be constituted in each district, meaning an Administrative District.

Composition.-The District Council will consist of ex-officio Councillors, namely, (a) elected Members of Parliament for each electoral district which lies within such administrative district, (b) Appointed Members of the House of Representatives, (c) Mayors of Municipalities and Chairmen of Local Bodies within the administrative district. There will also be not more than three nominated Councillors.

Executive committee.- The Council shall elect the Chairman. There shall also be an Executive Committee for each District Council consisting of not more than seven Councillors elected by the Council. The Executive Committee shall-

(a) formulate the programme of work of development and put it for approval before the Council,

(b) conduct the administration of the Council,

(c) exercise, discharge and perform such powers and duties as shall be delegated by the Council.

Powers and Functions.- These Councils may also

(1) formulate and recommend to the Government development schemes of importance in the district;

(2) raise loans with the approval of the Minister of Finance for works or public services to be undertaken by it;

(3) perform and discharge the functions and responsibility in respect of the subjects for the time being specified in the Schedule of the Draft Bill.

Government Agent - chief executive.- The Government Agent of the district shall in addition to his own duties be the Commissioner for each Council. He shall be the chief executive officer of the Council.

Taxes and Loans.- Councils shall have the power to levy taxes and loans as may be prescribed by the Minister of Finance.

Central Government Control.- Every District Council shall function under the general direction and control of the Government. The appropriate Minister may, from time to time, issue general or special directions to the Commissioner, and it shall be the duty of the Commissioner to carry out such directions, and the Council shall be bound to adopt such action as may be necessary to comply with such directions, notwithstanding anything in any other provisions of this Act.

Language.- District Councils will be governed by the language laws of the Country, viz., Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956, and the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act, No. 28 of 1958.

Local Bodies.- The Draft Bill does not provide for any powers to be exercised by these Councils over Local Bodies.

Conclusion

The concept of District Councils always followed the principles of democratic decentralisation until 1957, when the Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Prime Minister, sought to amend his Regional Councils Bill of 1957 to accommodate some of the requirements of the Federal Party's Policy of federalism. The Joint Statement reads as follows:-

"At this stage the Prime Minister suggested an examination of the Government's draft Regional Councils Bill to see whether provision could be made under it to meet reasonably some of the matters in this regard which the Federal Party had in view."

In the present draft Bill it is proposed that these Councils should function under the control and direction of the Government. The Minister in charge of the function of District Councils will be the Prime Minister himself. The Government Agent of the District will be the Chief Executive Officer and all employees of these Councils will be public servants under the control of the Government Agent, there being no District Service.

These Councils will not be local authorities but would be an extension of the Central Government activities taking over some functions now performed by the Kachcheries. Such functions would be vested in these bodies by the Ministers in charge of the functions, and the Ministers will have the power to direct and control the Councils in the exercise of the powers so vested in the Councils by them.

The Councils will function under the Language Laws of the country. The records of the Councils throughout the Island shall be kept in the Official Language. In the Northern and Eastern Provinces records shall be kept in Tamil also. Correspondence with the Central Government shall be in the Official Language. A Member of the Council can speak in one of the three languages, Sinhala, Tamil or English.

Regional Councils, as envisaged by the Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike would have been empowered to amalgamate with each other. A Regional Council in the North for instance, could have expanded its area of control by amalgamation with the Council in the East. No such powers of amalgamation will be vested in the proposed District Councils.

Regional Councils would have had the authority to select settlers for the colonisation schemes in the areas under their administration, and powers over land development and colonisation. All these functions have been excluded from the subjects which will be allocated to District Councils. District Councils will have no "district services". They will be served by public servants.

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