Learning devolution from our ancestors- Asitha G Punchihewa

Posted by Asitha G Punchihewa on March 13, 2018 at 5:40 AM

Learning devolution from our ancestors- Asitha G Punchihewa

Posted by admin On March 28, 2016 0 Comment

Asitha G Punchihewa

Prior to European colonial rule over Sri Lanka governance, administration and judicial procedures are said to have been operated under the direction of the ruler upon which near unlimited power vested. Although that is the common notion taught to us, it is evident that autonomous and devolved administrative units have existed in the past that ensured autonomy whilst not compromising the sovereignty of the island. It is valid and timely that we investigate deep into the homegrown perspective of devolution rather than walking in dark as ordered by devouring alien nations. Olden Sri Lanka’s system of devolution seems to have broadly addressed many local concerns unlike the systems like Panchayat, Kibuts and Zakath. The time tested system that prevailed in the island was paralyzed during the European conquests and artificially replaced by the Provincial, District, Divisional and electoral system which did not base on a justifiable demarcation. The parachuted alien administrative and governance system designed to leach out resources to benefit a few Europeans no wonder led to prejudice against the local population dominated by the Sinhalese- Buddhists.

Pre-colonial period

It is evident that Siu Hela existed under Rakshas, Yakshas, Nagas and Devas rule which later evolved into Ruhunu, Pihiti and Maya system of devolution during the Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial period. The above demarcations functioning under a sole ruler had a clear compartmentalization of distinct social, economic and cultural differences while allowing provision for optimum utilization of water and land resources mooted with man-made tanks and its cascading canal system. The hydraulic civilization included Ata dahas rata and dolos dahas rata that constituted approximately twenty thousand villages centered around manmade tanks and the Kanda uda rata which was kept untouched to safeguard the sustainability of water resources that fed the tanks in the dryer zone. National policy was not to waste a single drop of water. The water resource ensured that the culture of the country, agri-culture was sustained, so that people living in over twenty thousand villages would be kept well fed. However, the hydraulic civilization evolved for millennia to serve a broader purpose than simply ensuring food and water security. While water was a taxable resource, second to grain tax, hydraulic civilization led to effective devolution of governance and administration into the village level, which would remain a myth under the unlucky 13th Amendment or beyond that is being widely discussed at present.

Ancient civilization

In the ancient civilization, at the community or village level, all activities revolved around the weva, dagaba and pansala. As elaborated above, weva no doubt aided food production while guaranteeing water.

The clay and silt accumulated during the process of entrenching the wewa was ground finely to produce bricks to construct dagaba. While serving a religious purpose that united the people, the dagaba was able to attract rain and repel lightening with the measured technology it had used. Although the Gamladdas and Gamvassas operated as government servants at the village level below Ratiyas, Disanayakas and Nuwara Laddas, dagaba and the wewa of the village came under the custodianship of the Buddhist Bhikku of the village or the “executive representative of the village’s needs” who lived in the pansala (a simple place of public gathering made of palmyrah), unlike today, where Bhikkus tend to build castles in the name of pan-sala. The olden day Bhikku did not have a conflict of interest as he was leading a simple life and no family to support and think of. On the other hand, the Bhikku was solely dependent on the alms offered by villagers during his regular visits to all corners of the village on “Pindapathe” (begging for food), and any misappropriation of resources would have compromised even his food security.

Village council

Vidhanes, or Ministries of the devolved village administrative unit were represented by such as the Vel Vidhane (Minister of land and Agriculture), Wevu Vidhane (Minister of Irrigation) who participated in the village council, or a legislative that took decisions pertaining to village development and wellbeing. The Samatha Mandalaya, the village tribunal or the judiciary was overseen by the Bhikku of the temple led by Grama Bhojaka, a representative of the state judiciary. Cases that require further attention were channeled to regional level Janapada Bhojaka and to the national level Senapathi and the king. However, the most interesting aspect seem to be the treasure, or the “nidhaanaya” which is said to be mapped and kept in a locked secret area and password protected with manthra known only by the Bhikku. While many nidhanaya have been placed in the bed of the wewa, some remained in the temple itself. Having a deposit of gold, jewelry and precious stones that could be unearthed if required increased the village’s economic security. In modern terminology, it is a village based central bank. It is said that there was provision for an appropriate portion of a treasure to be traded collectively only during a prolonged drought by the people to obtain goods and services. It is also said that it was prerequisite that the wewa was to undergo participatory de-silting process during the drought so that a larger extent of land could be cultivated to compensate for the loss incurred due to crop failure and thereby to reinstall the treasure after rains.

Autonomy of governance

It was long before the alien preachers came out of savagehood that a near perfect system devolution had been in place in Sri Lanka. It consisted of an executive, legislative, judiciary and the central bank at the village level and before it was forcefully disrupted it has operated and sustained for millennia. Taking into consideration the giant public cadre employed at the village level, such as Grama Niladhari, “Samurdhi Officer”, Public Health Midwives, and many in the Divisional and District level, re-establishing the ancient system with situational alterations could well provide autonomy of governance and administration. Even a decision on a land situated in a village in far Pottuvila area could be taken by villagers themselves instead of relying on a decision from Colombo or Trincomalee. Even having a Police for each Grama Rajya could be accomplished with a fine tuned community policing program. This system could well go beyond the expectations of the controversial and unlucky 13th Amendment and the 13+ debate that could induce dividing the people along ethnic lines and could even lead to ethno-religious terrorism that would on the other hand become a blessing only for the supporters of the 13th Amendment and federalist models in the long run while not promoting effective devolution



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