Midweek Review

Language-blind regional development units
by C. Wijeyawickrema,
LL.B., Ph.D.

All human progress has depended on ‘new questions’ rather than on ‘new answers’ to the old questions.

Alfred North White – Science and the Modern World, 1925

The story of water is the story of man [woman].

Question: Is it possible to take a water resources management approach in devolving power (empowerment) to masses (village-level) and to politicians (regional-level)?

Answer: The size and type of the devolution unit both at micro (village) and macro (region) levels is a key issue in this regard. Part I of the answer is discussed below.

Under the Colombo (colonial) paradigm, a group of Colombo ruling families tried to provide answers to an "old problem" that they themselves had created. They mismanaged the separatist demand by a sub-group of Colombo Tamils. Since the early 1920s these Tamil separatists had direct links with the Dravidasthan separatist movement in South India and expected to benefit from British views such as "India is a myth" and "India has two nations" (India and Pakistan). With the colonial divide-and-rule policy, local British governors Manning and Hugh Clifford aided and abetted the separatists in this sinister design (ref. Communalism and language in the politics of Ceylon, Robert Kearney, 1967, p. 37 and the 1977 TULF election manifesto).

Fortunately, the colonial masters in London refused to apply the two nation theory to Ceylon (Donoughmore [1927] and Soulbury [1944] Commissions; Donoughmore Report, pp. 92-93, Soulbury Report, pp. 66-67). Instead, they left the colony with a system of checks and balances and a fine 1947 Constitution which in turn was based on the previous "Ministers’ Draft". The Colombo politicians of UNP, SLFP, CP (Mos-cow party), LSSP (bangawewa party), UNF and PA destroyed this system and in 1978 ended up with a "bahubootha" vyawastava. In desperation, looking for quick fixes, they even addressed the terrorist negotiator (Anton Balasingham) as "His Excellency". The tiny island ended up with many Antho-Jata-Bahi-Jata (mega) problems.

The Colombo crowd faced several humiliating slaps such as the 1987 Indo-SL Accord (from India), 2002 CFA (from Norway) and 2003 ISGA (from Tamil terrorists). Albert Einstein once said, "the significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them". Yet, the Colombo crowd continued to look for answers to their old question, "how can we continue the kolambata kiri, apita kakiri [milk for Colombo, melon for us] social, political and economic system even if that means the breaking up of Sri Lanka"?

The 2005 Presidential Election saved Sri Lanka by a razor-thin margin. The life-sacrificing ground work of the Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera and the JVP-JHU support empowered the rural forces of the SLFP under a new midwife and the Pancha Maha Balavegaya (PMB) of the 1956 fame—buried after 1959 and almost killed after 1978—was resurrected, and a new paradigm—"Mahinda Chintanaya (MC)"—is struggling with birth pains.

Indian model or Pondicherry model?

How can Colombo families as well as non-Colombo masses enjoy the fruits of freedom, peace and prosperity where the entire island is the homeland of everybody? How can the law provide equal opportunities for all its citizens? How can Sri Lanka avoid trying to legislate against geography? What are the "legitimate Tamil grievances which should be accommodated within a devolution plan?"

The size and type of the devolution unit both at micro and macro levels depend on the purpose of (and motives for) devolution. In India, in 1956, language was taken as the basis in deciding the size at the macro level because prevention of further uncontrollable disintegration of India into perhaps hundreds of "fighting" units was the primary purpose (see map 4 for geographical dimensions of 13 major language regions and tribal language areas).

In 1993, Panchayat Raj Institutes (PRI) was enshrined as the micro level unit because the Indian constitutional model with language-based macro level state units failed to deliver socio-economic progress or justice to the Indian masses. The Hindustan Times cites a report (www. hindustantimes.com, October 20, 2006) that puts India behind Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on economic and social progress.

In Sri Lanka during 1995-2000, the late Neelan Thiruchelvam was driven by a desire to give Tamils a homeland (macro level) and therefore he preferred the Indian language-based macro level model, but refused to accommodate the Pondicherry sub-model (micro level) which is part and parcel of the Indian model. In October 2006, Anandasangaree is also silent on the Pondicherry model, but Rauff Hakeem of the SLMC is pitching for a Pondicherry model, (www.tamilnewsweb.com, September 18, 2006) "wherein Muslims can have various Muslim pockets spread over the East (or Beruwala, Akurana, Puttalam or Hambantota?), under one Muslim administration" (Pondicherry has 4 pockets in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, see red dots on Map 2. P-1 = Pondicherry City, P-2 = Karaikal, P-3 = Yanam and P-4 = Mahe).

Panchayat Raj model, Pondicherry model and the gamsabhawa

It appears that Sri Lanka is ready to copy the Indian Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI model) as the basic devolution block at the grass roots level. PRI is closer to the Pondicherry model than to the failed language-based Indian model at the macro level. In Sri Lanka, we have the gamsabhawa (British governor Henry Ward discovered them in 1856) which is similar to the PRI model (ref. The Report of the Local Government Reforms Commission, Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1999, the Abhayewardhana report).

For thousands of years the Sri Lankan socio-economic environment was based on the trinity of gama-vewa-dagoba, village-tank-temple (The Power Pyramid and the Dharmic Cycle by A. T. Ariyaratne, 1988, chapter 7). Our ancient civilization was linked to water. Isn’t it then possible to adjust/align the boundaries of village councils and their wards (in 1981 there were 549 VCs and 7137 wards, (Abhayewardhana report, p. 452) to fit in with boundaries of watersheds or hydrological basins? Then traditional VCs are converted to ecological-political units at the micro level.

Since watersheds/basins have a hierarchical order of progressively increasing in area/size they can become a large River Basin Region at macro level. Seven such River Basin Regions (see map 1) could replace the present arbitrary nine Provincial units. In New Zealand, a small country with small river basins like in Sri Lanka, under the Resources Management Act of 1991, local governments units follow river basin boundaries (ref. www.dia.govt.nz/www.stats.govt.nz).

Sri Lanka has 319 AGA divisions, 257 Pradeshiya Sabhas, and 38,259 "villages" (www. statistics.gov.lk, 2002 data). Until the 1990s it had about 4000 GSN divisions, which is now a mind boggling number of 14,009. By selecting river basins/watersheds as the lowest PRI-type administrative unit for Sri Lanka this GSN number could be decreased to an ecologically appropriate, socially equitable and economically efficient number. The water tanks inventory prepared by the late Chief Justice Hema Basnayake could be useful in this regard.

Failure of the Indian ‘F’ model

It took India 50 years and nine Five Year Plans to finally accept the failure of the Indian model of language-based state demarcations, and to grant constitutional teeth to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments of 1993. Indian Five Year Plan documents are replete with information on the socio-economic failure of the Indian model (ref. Planning Commission, Government of India: Five Year Plans, www.planningcommission.nic.in/plans). The Indian constitution could not make a significant dent on the misery and poverty of millions of Indians living in villages other than creating a super rich affluent class living in Delhi and state capitals who receive praise in books such as The World Is Flat.

The language-based homelands path became a formula of "feeding a cancer to cure it" for India. Original 13 language-based states are now increased to 24 (on map 2 each black dot is a state capital). This slippery path has no end in sight. Just to give two examples; in Assam the Indian army is fighting with the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (Daily News, September 27, 2006). In Tamil Nadu, Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S. Ramadoss is demanding a separate state within Tamil Nadu for the Vanniyar castes. As a reaction to this demand the Dalits in Tamil Nadu are also demanding a separate state. Unlike Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu is large enough for such separate states (ref. www.hinduonnet.com, Frontline vol. 19 [17] August 17, 2002).

Indian model and river basins

During the colonial period some native and foreign engineers made proposals to demarcate India on the basis of its major river basins. In this regard it is useful to compare the major river basins map of India (map 5) with a similar map of Sri Lanka (map 1). It is not easy to use rivers as boundaries for Indian states because India is so big and it is a sub-continent comparable in size to Western Europe.

But India has come to wrestle with river basins from a new state boundary-nullifying perspective. Rivers do not respect language boundaries and water resources are a state government subject. But if the Delhi government decides to manage water shortages and water conservation issues as a national priority then states borders become insignificant. Just like India is excited about its PRI path (for the past 11 years) it is even more excited about its mega Inter Basin Water Transfer Link Project (map 6). The Indian President, Indian Supreme Court and the Indian government are all promoting the project that will cost between 112-200 billion USD. There will be 30 water links. The project has already started and is expected to be completed by 2016 (Central Water Commission, http://cwc. nic.in; National Water Development Agency, http:// nwda.gov.in).

River basin model for Sri Lanka

One of the first major river basin management plans in the modern world was the Tennessee Valley Authority in USA. The TVA model was copied for the first time outside USA in Sri Lanka to develop the Gal Oya Valley in the Eastern Province. In Gal Oya as well as later with the Mahaweli project local views to undertake them as smaller projects rather than mega projects were ignored to unwanted misery and suffering to the people. However, the Mahaweli project has now become the water resources anchor of Sri Lanka. There are 15 river basins now considered as the Mahaweli Project Area (Transformation towards Mahaweli River Basin Management Authority, P. T. Senaratne and D.C.S. Elakanda, 2004).

On map 1, Professor of Geography C. M. Madduma Bandara (chapter 4 in Fifty years of Sri Lanka’s independence: a socio-economic review, edited by A. D. V. de S. Indraratna, 1998, p. 83; The Island, February 7, 2001) has proposed Seven River Basin Regions (this writer superimposed the Eelam boundary on his map). They are: 1. Yalpanam 2, Rajarata,3.Dambadeni, 4. Mahaweli, 5. Digavapi, 6. Kelani and 7. Ruhunu.

Under this scheme each unit has access to the sea. Yalpanam is totally within the boundary of Eelam and Digavapi is also largely within Eelam borders. No one unit is exceptionally larger compared to other units. As stated earlier the beauty of this kind of demarcation is that the lowest unit (PRI-village-GSN unit) is ecologically linked with the largest unit and any religious and language promotion activities could take place independent of the boundary lines of even the highest seven spatial units. On the other hand at the lowest level the ancient trinity could be transformed into a multicultural trinity of village/town-tank/oya-church/mosque, where one village/town community does not have to suspect another village/town community for infringing upon each other’s aspirations. If the rain water falling on to the two sides of the roof of the Ginigathhena police station goes to two rivers, Kelani and Mahaweli, it does not matter if Tamils, Muslims or Sinhalese live below.

As the Supreme Court decision which declared the merger of N-E null and void states, the equal protection of the law unifies people on the basis of the Rule of Law (unlike the divisive ethnic yardsticks such as language, religion or caste). A system of water resources-based administrative units ideally fits with this Supreme Court thinking.

It is unfortunate that the university teachers, the social science unit of the National Science Foundation or other numerous NGOs in Sri Lanka have not shown any interest in the concept that map 1 has proposed. This writer found only two newspaper articles on this subject in the past. (River basins as administrative divisions, L. M. Samarasinghe, President Soil and Water Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, Daily News, November 14, 2005; Devolution and water flow, V. R. Nanayakkara, Former Forest Conservator, The Island, September 25, 2006).

Because "The World Is Flat" (economic liberalization) only for the rich, and for the poor "the world is flood" (global warming) it is important that lawyers and constitutional experts listen to conservationists and geographers who take a holistic perspective on human-environment conflicts.



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