A massive protest march organised by the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) and HNDA students against the privatisation of free education began at the Sri Jayewardenepura University in Nugegoda and ended outside the University Grants Commission (UGC) yesterday – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
The Government has decided to reinstate the Public Administration Circular 46/90, which was repealed by the Rajapaksa regime, and to recognise Higher National Diploma in Accountancy (HNDA) as equal to a Bachelor of Commerce degree program.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe turned down opposition allegations of charging the demonstration of unarmed university students, alleging that political forces behind the scene created a tense situation by motivating students who shouldn’t have resorted to a protest march, having got to know the Government decision.
“I thank the Leader of the Opposition Rajavarothiam Sampanthan for taking this matter up in the House regardless of its nature and the place in the Southern part of the island. I am sure that he will continue to bring up public issues taking place in all parts of the island even in the future. In the backdrop of the Government having decided to reinstate the 46/90 circular, some political groups fuelled the issue, which led to this. But why don’t the opposition talk about Rathupaswala anymore? It is highly visible that a few opposition members are trying to capitalize on a dead body. However, I will take personal responsibility to table the report of the commission appointed to investigate the attack on HNDA students in this House,” PM Wickremesinghe said, expressing his willingness to meet student representatives if they are eager to discuss the matters through meeting lawmakers inside the Parliament premises.
Leader of the Opposition Rajavarothiam Sampanthan raising the issue of the police attack on HNDA students last week under section 23 (2) of the Standing Orders said: “In a democracy, people have the right to protest their grievances. The unarmed students marched peacefully till the barricades. With the water cannons being fired, they retreated. The police baton charged the students who retreated towards them. This is unacceptable and pathetic.”
Joining the heated debate, opposition lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena accused Speaker Karu Jayasuruya for ordering the military and police forces to gather in front of the Parliament entrance to stop the students marching inside the complex. “The previous Speaker made entry to this House easy and free. We saw police and forces gathered at the access way to this Parliament. Who warranted this? Why prevent student leaders from meeting political leaders. You as the Speaker should be held responsible for this,” charged MP Gunawardena.
JVP MP Anura Dissanayake said: “We know protestors act violently on most occasions. But this time it was the police who acted violently. The current government should know why pervious government were toppled. In many instances protestors were shot and attacked during the previous Government’s time. The current Government, having pledged to protect human rights at Geneva is now violating human rights? Who gave the order to attack? The previous Government appointed committees failed to table the reports in this House. Now this has become a habit followed by the current Government. If the Prime Minister knew the issue so well, why were they attacked? The person sitting on the fifth chair cancelled the 90 circular.”
Minister Thilak Marapana said: “We accept the right to stage protest. But the police too have their responsibilities. As a responsible Government, the police commission is now investigating to see if the police have over reacted. This diploma was given equal status as a degree but it was scrapped during the last Government. Current Government plans to give equal status. We have realised there is a communication issues between students and the Government. Law and order is equal to all. The Government will not avoid the criticism mounted against it and will face it responsibly. Our aim is to develop education, which is also in our key plans. However, the Government feels that this is organised behaviour led by certain people against the Government.”
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said: “Dinesh charged me for bringing in the military. I haven’t done this and have no control over military or the police. None of the members here in this House have given an order to do so. You made a serious allegation. I request you to behave with care and responsibility in this House.”