[lg policy] Sri Lanka: Comprehensive project plan needed for implementation of Tamil as an official language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 15 16:04:35 UTC 2011

Comprehensive project plan needed for implementation of Tamil as an
official language
13 December 2011, 9:16 pm

by M.I.M. Mohideen

According to Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Democratic
Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Sinhala and Tamil are the Official
Languages. They are also called National Languages. English is the
link language.

Failure on the part of the Government institutions to comply with the
Constitutional provisions, Cabinet directives and Public
Administration circulars relating to the Official Languages have
caused immense inconvenience and hardships to the members of the
public who are not conversant with Sinhala and this amounts to the
denial of the Tamil speaking citizens their fundamental rights.

Public services are the focus of implementation of the Language
Policy. According to provisional estimates the total number of
employees in government institutions is about 1.3 million. The Tamil
speaking state employees is only 8.31% which is very much below their
population of 26% in the country.

61% of the Tamil speaking people i.e. Tamils, Muslims and Tamils of
recent Indian origin are living in the Sinhalese areas outside the
North East provinces.

The institutions where language is found to be an obstacle are the

45 Ministries,
97 Government Departments,
9 Provincial Councils, Provincial Ministries and Departments,
24 District Secretariats,
309 Divisional Secretariats,
19 Municipal Councils,
42 Urban Councils,
270 Pradeshiya Shabas,
38 Corporations,
38 Boards,
22 Commissions and 32 Universities (Source: Sri Lanka Telecom
Telephone Directory 2011)

In terms of the language policy, it is a requirement that all name
boards, sign boards, direction boards, instruction displays etc., in
all government and semi-government offices should be in all three
But only about 40% of the government offices carry the name boards in
all three languages. In every government institutions almost all the
specified forms are available in one language only.

It was found that no establishment had requested funds from the
national budget or from the institutional budget for matters
pertaining to the implementation of the language policy. The
bi-lingual Divisional Secretaries Divisions which have been directed
to use both Official Languages as Languages of Administration, have so
far failed to provide a satisfactory service to those speak the Tamil

Mere direction that both Sinhala and Tamil Languages should be used as
the Language of Administration of a given Divisional Secretariat area
is useless unless facilities for its implementation are provided. This
unsatisfactory situation need to be rectified. In the light of the
above, the following overall conclusions can be arrived regarding the
state of affairs prevailing at present with regard to the
implementation of the language policy.

The degree of awareness among all categories of public servants,
corporation employees is very poor.
The awareness of the language rights among the concerned sections of
the general public is extremely poor and some are not even concerned
with their rights. Many government/semi-government establishments do
not even possess the minimum resources to fulfil the needs for the
implementation of the language policy.

However, due to various reasons certain obstacles have arisen in
implementing the Languages Policy. Hence the necessity of setting up
monitoring units in every government institution has arisen to
implement the constitutional and legal requirements in a satisfactory
manner. The Official Languages Commission (OLC) was created in 1991 to
supervise and monitor the implementation of the Official Languages
Policy and to engage in activities connected with its promotion:

(i) The internal component which relates to the state employees
serving the respective institutions

(ii) The external component which relates to the members to the public
who interact with respective government institutions.

(iii) Over 20 years planned and sustained efforts have not been made
for the successful implementation of the Languages Policy.

This necessitates the drawing up of a comprehensive project plan based
on the present realities and the problems that have to be surmounted.
Such a plan should stipulate a time-frame and clearly lay down stages
and the infrastructure facilities required. The overall power of
monitoring and supervisions of the implementation of the Languages
Policy is with the Ministry of National Languages and Social
Integration and the Official Languages Commission as provided by the
Constitution and the Official Languages Commission Act No. 18 of 1991.


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