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In Sri Lanka, provinces (Sinhala: පළාත, Tamil: மாகாணம்) are the first level administrative division. They were first established by the British rulers of Ceylon in 1833. Over the next century most of the administrative functions were transferred to the districts, the second level administrative division. By the middle of the 20th century the provinces had become merely ceremonial. This changed in 1987 when, following several decades of increasing demand for a decentralization, the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. Currently there are nine provinces.
After the British took control of the entire island of Ceylon in 1815 it was divided into three ethnic based administrative structures: Low Country Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese and Tamil. In 1829 the British established the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission to review the colonial government of Ceylon, including its administrative structures. The Commission recommended that the existing three ethnic based administrations be unified into a single administration divided into five geographic provinces. Accordingly on 1 October 1833 five provinces under one administration came into being:
The number of provinces remained static until September 1988 when, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord, President Jayewardene issued proclamations enabling the Northern and Eastern provinces to be one administrative unit administered by one elected Council, creating the North Eastern Province. The proclamations were only meant to be a temporary measure until a referendum was held in the Eastern Province on a permanent merger between the two provinces. However, the referendum was never held and successive Sri Lankan presidents issued proclamations annually extending the life of the "temporary" entity. The merger was bitterly opposed by Sri Lankan nationalists. On 14 July 2006, after a long campaign against the merger, the JVP filed three separate petitions with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka requesting a separate Provincial Council for the East. On 16 October 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the proclamations issued by President Jayewardene were null and void and had no legal effect. The North-East Province was formally demerged into the Northern and Eastern provinces on 1 January 2007.
All population data are from the most recent census of Sri Lanka, in 2001. The Northern and Eastern provinces were not fully covered in this census because of security reasons. Therefore, the population statistics for these districts are estimates. These are marked by a * symbol.
|Name||Area map||Provincial capital||Date Created||Land area||Inland water area||Total area||Population||Population density[N 1]|
|Central||Kandy||1 October 1833||5,575 km2 (2,153 sq mi)||99 km2 (38 sq mi)||5,674 km2 (2,191 sq mi)||2,423,966||435 /km2 (1,127 /sq mi)|
|Eastern||Trincomalee||1 October 1833||9,361 km2 (3,614 sq mi)||635 km2 (245 sq mi)||9,996 km2 (3,859 sq mi)||1,419,602*||152 /km2 (394 /sq mi)|
|North Central||Anuradhapura||1873||9,741 km2 (3,761 sq mi)||731 km2 (282 sq mi)||10,472 km2 (4,043 sq mi)||1,104,677||105 /km2 (272 /sq mi)|
|Northern||Jaffna||1 October 1833||8,290 km2 (3,200 sq mi)||594 km2 (229 sq mi)||8,884 km2 (3,430 sq mi)||1,040,963*||117 /km2 (303 /sq mi)|
|North Western||Kurunegala||1845||7,506 km2 (2,898 sq mi)||382 km2 (147 sq mi)||7,888 km2 (3,046 sq mi)||2,169,892||275 /km2 (712 /sq mi)|
|Sabaragamuwa||Ratnapura||1889||4,921 km2 (1,900 sq mi)||47 km2 (18 sq mi)||4,948 km2 (1,910 sq mi)||1,801,331||364 /km2 (943 /sq mi)|
|Southern||Galle||1 October 1833||5,383 km2 (2,078 sq mi)||161 km2 (62 sq mi)||5,544 km2 (2,141 sq mi)||2,278,271||411 /km2 (1,064 /sq mi)|
|Uva||Badulla||1886||8,335 km2 (3,218 sq mi)||165 km2 (64 sq mi)||8,500 km2 (3,300 sq mi)||1,177,358||139 /km2 (360 /sq mi)|
|Western||Colombo||1 October 1833||3,593 km2 (1,387 sq mi)||91 km2 (35 sq mi)||3,684 km2 (1,422 sq mi)||5,381,197||1,461 /km2 (3,784 /sq mi)|
|Total||62,705 km2 (24,211 sq mi)||2,806 km2 (1,083 sq mi)||65,511 km2 (25,294 sq mi)||19,837,934||316 /km2 (818 /sq mi)|
|Name||Area map||Provincial capital||Time Period||Land area||Inland water area||Total area||Population||Population density|
|North Eastern||Trincomalee||September 1988-
31 December 2006
|17,651 km2 (6,815 sq mi)||1,229 km2 (475 sq mi)||18,880 km2 (7,290 sq mi)||2,460,565*||130 /km2 (337 /sq mi)|
In an attempt to end the Sri Lankan Civil War the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed on 29 July 1987. One of the requirements of the accord was that the Sri Lankan government to devolve powers to the provinces. Accordingly on 14 November 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987. On 3 February 1988 nine provincial councils were created by order. The first elections for provincial councils took place on 28 April 1988 in North Central, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, and Uva provinces. On 2 June 1988 elections were held for provincial councils for Central, Southern and Western provinces.
The Indo-Lanka Accord also required the merger of the Eastern and Northern provinces into one administrative unit. The accord required a referendum to be held by 31 December 1988 in the Eastern Province to decide whether the merger should be permanent. Crucially, the accord allowed the Sri Lankan president to postpone the referendum at his discretion. On September 2 and 8 1988 President Jayewardene issued proclamations enabling the Eastern and Northern provinces to be one administrative unit administered by one elected council, creating the North Eastern Province. Elections in the newly merged North Eastern Province were held on 19 November 1988. On 1 March 1990, just as the Indian Peace Keeping Force was preparing to withdraw from Sri Lanka, Annamalai Varatharajah Perumal, Chief Minister of the North Eastern Provinces, moved a motion in the North Eastern Provincial Council declaring independent Eelam. President Premadasa reacted to Permual's unilateral declaration of independence by dissolving the provincial council and imposing direct rule on the province. The province was ruled directly from Colombo until it was dissolved on 31 December 2006.
The proclamations issued by President Jayewardene in September 1988 merging the Northern and Eastern provinces were only meant to be a temporary measure until a referendum was held in the Eastern Province on a permanent merger between the two provinces. However, the referendum was never held and successive Sri Lankan presidents issued proclamations annually extending the life of the "temporary" entity. The merger was bitterly opposed by Sri Lankan nationalists. The combined North Eastern Province occupied one third of Sri Lanka. The thought of the Tamil Tigers controlling this province, directly or indirectly, alarmed them greatly. On 14 July 2006, after a long campaign against the merger, the JVP filed three separate petitions with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka requesting a separate Provincial Council for the East. On 16 October 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the proclamations issued by President Jayewardene were null and void and had no legal effect. The North Eastern Province was formally demerged into the Eastern and Northern provinces on 1 January 2007.
Eastern Provincial Council Elections for a provincial council for the demerged Eastern Province were held on 10 May 2008. The Northern Province continues to be governed from Colombo.