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Sri Lanka top court suggests changes to Colombo Port City Commission Bill

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has suggested a series of changes to set up a Colombo Port City Commission to run a special economic zone on land reclaimed by a Chinese company so that the law complies with the constitution.

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker read out the changes suggested by the Supreme Court to avoid a two-thirds majority or a referendum.

The Court has suggested that the authority of regulatory agencies be preserved allowing them to make decisions and communicate the decisions instead of giving concurrence by compulsion as contained in the bill.

The SC also proposed changes preventing tax exemptions from being allowed outside the Colombo Port City area.

The proposed changes are as follows:

The determination of the Court as to the constitutionality of the Bill titled “Colombo Port City Economic Commission” is as follows:

(i) The provisions of Clauses 3(6), 30(3) second proviso, 55(2) and 58(1) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 12(1) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution.

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows:

Clause 3(6)

Page 3, Line 33- Delete the words “provide such concurrence” and substitute therefore the words “communicate its decision”

Existing Clause 3(6)

“The relevant Regulatory Authority from whom such concurrence is being sought by the Commission, shall as soon as practicable in the circumstances, as a matter of priority, provide such concurrence to the Commission.” 

Clause 30(3) second proviso

Page 30, Line 15 – – Delete the words “render such concurrence” and substitute therefore the words “communicate its decision” 

Existing Clause 30 (3) second proviso

“Provided further, the relevant Regulatory Authority from whom such concurrence is being sought by the Commission, shall as soon as practicable in the circumstances, as a matter of priority, render such concurrence to the Commission,” 

Clause 55(2) 

Page 49, Lines 16 and 17- Delete the words “provide such concurrence” and substitute therefore the words “communicate its decision” 

Existing Clause 55(2)-

“The Condominium Management Authority, shall as a matter of priority in the circumstances, provide such concurrence to the Commission.”

Clause 58(1) 

Page 52, Lines 9 and 10 – Delete the words “render such concurrence” and substitute therefore the words “communicate its decision”

Existing Clause 58(1)-

“Where the concurrence of the Securities and Exchange Commission is sought by the Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission shall as soon as practicable in the circumstances, as a matter of priority, render such concurrence to the Commission.”

 

(ii) the provisions of Clauses 3(5) proviso, 3(7), 6(1)(b), 30(3) first proviso, 71(1) and 74 [interpretation “Regulatory Authority”] of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 12(1) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution. 

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows: 

Clause 3(5) proviso

Page 3, Line 27- Add the words “by the Commission” after the word “implementation” 

Existing Clause 3(5)- 

“The Commission shall, in the exercise, performance and discharge of its powers, duties and functions, where so required by the respective written laws applicable to any Regulatory Authority, obtain the concurrence of the relevant Regulatory Authority in respect of the subjects vested in or assigned to, such Regulatory Authority and to the extent specifically provided for in this Act: Provided that, the concurrence of the relevant Regulatory Authority sought shall be limited to the implementation, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, of the respective written laws applicable to such Regulatory Authority.”

Clause 6(1)(b)

Page 6, Line 27- Delete the word “overall” Page 6, Line 32- Delete the words “as the Commission considers necessary” 

Existing Clause 6(1)(b)-

 “to facilitate and exercise overall regulatory supervision and control over all investments and businesses in and from the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, in terms of this Act, with the concurrence, of the relevant Regulatory Authority, as the Commission considers necessary: Provided that, the concurrence of the relevant Regulatory Authority sought shall be limited to the implementation, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, of the respective written laws applicable to such authority;”

 Clause 30(3) first proviso 

Page 30, Line 9- Add the words “by the Commission” after the word “implementation” 

Existing Clause 30(3)-

“The Commission shall obtain the concurrence of any relevant Regulatory Authority in the process of granting such registration, licence, authorisation or other approval, where so required by the respective written laws applicable to such authority, in respect of the subjects vested in or assigned to, such Authority and to the extent specifically provided for in this Act: Provided that, the concurrence of the relevant Regulatory Authority sought shall be limited to the implementation, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City,”

Clause 71 (1)

 Page 62, Line 7- Delete the words “as is considered necessary”

Existing Clause 71 (1)-

“The President or in the event that the subject of the Colombo Port City is assigned to a Minister, such Minister may, in consultation with the Commission and any relevant Regulatory Authority as is considered necessary, make regulations in respect of all matters for which regulations are required to be prescribed or authorised by this Act to be made.”

 Clause 74

Page 70, Lines 11 to 16- Delete the words commencing from “to the extent” to “Colombo Port City”

Existing Clause 74 page 70 Lines 1 to 16-

“Regulatory Authority” includes the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the RegistrarGeneral of Companies, the Director-General of the Central Environmental Authority, the Controller of Immigration and Emigration, the DirectorGeneral of Customs, and such other regulatory authority or approving authority, and in whom the powers, duties and functions relating to the respective subjects which are dealt with in this Act are vested in or assigned to, in terms of any applicable written law to the extent provided in this Act. The relevant Regulatory Authority shall be limited to the implementation of the respective written laws applicable to such authorities, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City;”

Clause 3(7) 

To be shifted after Clause 73 of the Bill and re-numbered as Clause 74. 

The new Clause 74 will now read as follows: 

“74. Nothing in this Act shall, unless otherwise specifically provided for in this Act, be deemed to restrict in any way the powers, duties and functions vested in such Regulatory Authority by any written law in relation to the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City.” 

Clauses 74 and 75 Present Clauses 74 and 75 be re-numbered as Clauses 75 and 76 respectively

 

CLAUSES REQUIRING A REFERENDUM AND SPECIAL MAJORITY

 (iii) The provisions of Clauses 3(4), 6(1)(u), 68(l)(f) and 68(3)(a) are inconsistent with Article 76 read with Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution and approved by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83.”

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows: 

Clause 3(4) 

Page 3, Line I4 – Delete the word “for” and substitute therefore the words “to facilitate” Page 3, Lines I6 and I7- Delete the words “and Development Control Regulations”

Existing Clause 3(4)-

“The Commission shall be responsible for preparing, developing, amending, updating, publishing and enforcing all Community Rules and Development Control Regulations applicable within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City.”

Clause 6(1)(u) 

Page I0, Lines I4 to I5 – Insert the words “enforce the” before the words “Development Control Regulations”

Existing Clause 6(1)(u)-

 “to prepare, develop, amend, update, publish and enforce all Community Rules and Development Control Regulations as may be prescribed for applicability within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City;”

Clause 68 (1)(f)

 Page 60, Lines I to 3 – Delete in its entirety 

Existing Clause 68 (1)(f)-

“contravenes or fails to comply with any rule, code, direction or guideline made or issued in terms of this Act,

Clause 68(3)(a) 

Page 60, Line 25- Delete the words “rule, direction, order or requirement issued or imposed”

Existing Clause 68(3)(a)-

 “Notwithstanding the provisions contained in any other written law, any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of this Act or any regulation, rule, direction, order or requirement issued or imposed thereunder commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction after summary trial before a Magistrate to a fine of not less than rupees five hundred thousand and not more than rupees one million or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three months and not exceeding one year, or to both such fine and imprisonment”

 

CLAUSES REQUIRING A REFERENDUM AND SPECIAL MAJORITY

(iv) The provisions of Clause 52(3) read with Clauses 52(5) and 71(2)(p) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 148 of the Constitution read with Articles 3, 4 and 76 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution and approved by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83.”

 However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows: 

Clause 52(3) 

Page 44, Line 20- Add the words “in accordance with the Regulations made under this Act … ” after the words “granted thereto ” 

Existing Clause 52(3)-

“Upon a business being so identified as a Business of Strategic Importance, exemptions or incentives as provided in this Part may be granted thereto, in so far as it relates to its operations in and from the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City. In the case of tax-related exemptions, such exemptions may be granted, either in full or part, and from all or any of the enactments set out in Schedule II hereto.”

Clause 52(5) 

Page 44, Lines 29 to 3I -Delete in its entirety and replace with the following: 

“(5) Regulations may be made prescribing guidelines on the grant of exemptions or incentives, as provided for in this Part of this Act.”

Existing Clause 52(5)-

Regulations may be made prescribing any further guidelines as may be necessary on the grant of exemptions or incentives, as provided for in this Part of this Act”

Clause 71 (2)(p)

Page 65, Line I -delete the words “any further” 

Existing Clause 71 (2)(p)-

“specifying for the purposes of section 52, any further guidelines on the grant of exemptions or incentives to a Business of Strategic Importance;”

 

CLAUSES REQUIRING A SPECIAL MAJORITY

(v) The provisions of Clauses 30(1 ), 33(1 ), 40(2) and 71 (2)(1) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 14(1)(h) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution.

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows: 

Clause 30(1) 

Page 29, Line 24- Delete the words “or to visit”. 

Existing Clause 30(1)-

“Subject to Part VII, Part VIII and section 33 of this Act, the Commission shall be the Single Window Investment Facilitator responsible for the consideration and determination, in an expeditious and coordinated manner, whether to accept or reject for good reason, any application made to the Commission for a registration, licence, authorisation or other approval as may be necessary, to engage in any business in, to invest in, to reside in, to be employed in, or to visit, the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port city.”

Clause 33(1)

Page 31, Lines 32 and 33- Delete the words “or to visit” 

Existing Clause 33(1)-

“The Commission, as Single Window Investment Facilitator shall accept an application for and facilitate the processing of, any visa, entry permit or work permit, and other approvals as may be required by an authorised person, any consultant of, or any person specially authorised by an authorised person or an employee of an authorised person, and a person who intends to engage in business, to invest in, to reside in, to be employed in, or to visit the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, as may be necessary.”

Clause 40(2) 

Page 35, Line 37- Delete the words “when leaving” and substitute therefore the words “to be taken out of’ 

Existing Clause 40(2)-

“Any levy as may be required to be paid by a citizen of Sri Lanka or a resident on goods purchased at retail facilities as set out in subsection (1), when leaving the Area of Authority of Colombo Port City, shall be as prescribed.”

Clause 71 (2) (l)

Page 64, Lines 11 and 12- Delete the words “at the time of leaving the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City”

Existing Clause 71 (2) (l)-

“specifying for the purposes of section 40, any levy as may be required to be paid by a citizen of Sri Lanka or a resident on goods purchased at retail facilities within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City at the time of leaving the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, and the procedure applicable to the conversion of payments made by a citizen of Sri Lanka or resident when using retail facilities or services at restaurants, cinemas, entertainment facilities, shopping facilities, or parking facilities, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, into any other designated foreign currency;”

 

CLAUSES REQUIRING A REFERENDUM AND SPECIAL MAJORITY

(vi) The provisions of Clause 53(2)(b) read with Clause 53(3)(b) of the Bill is inconsistent with Article 76 of the Constitution read with Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution and approved by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83.”

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows: 

Clause 53(2)(b) 

Page 45, Line 20- Delete the words “the specific enactments from those listed in” and substitute, therefore, the words “the specific exemptions from those enactments listed in”  Page 45, Line 22- Delete the words “exempted from being”

Existing Clause 53(2) and 53(2)(b)-

(2)The President or in the event that the subject of the Colombo Port City is assigned to a Minister, such Minister, may, having considered such recommendations, and having

regard to the national interest or in the interest of the advancement of the national economy, in consultation with the Minister, assigned the subject of Finance, take such steps as are necessary to inform the Cabinet of Ministers, of –

(2)(b)the specific enactments from those listed in Schedule II to this Act, that are proposed to be exempted from being applicable to such Business of Strategic Importance and any other incentives;

Clause 53(3)(b) 

Page 46, Line 10- Delete the words “the specific enactments from those listed in” and substitute therefor the words “the specific exemptions from those enactments listed in” Page 46, Line II- 

Delete the words “exempted from being” 

Existing Clause 53(3) and 53(3)(b)-

(3)Within two weeks from the date on which the Cabinet of Ministers approves the designation of a business as a Business of Strategic Importance and the granting of the exemptions or incentives so approved, the President or in the event that the subject of the Colombo Port City is assigned to a Minister, such Minister shall, by Order published in the Gazette, specify – 

(3)(b)the specific enactments from those listed in Schedule II to this Act, that are exempted from being applicable to such Business of Strategic Importance and any other incentives granted;”

 

CLAUSES REQUIRING SPECIAL MAJORITY

(vii) The provisions of Clauses 60(c) and Clause 60(f) of the Bill is inconsistent with Article 148 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution.”

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as follows:

Clause 60(c)

Page 53, line 14- delete the word “taxes” and substitute therefor the word “rates” 

Existing Clause 60 and 60(c)-

The Estate Manager shall act under the direction and supervision of the Commission and exercise, perform and discharge the following powers, duties and functions,

(c)to facilitate the collection of area related taxes and levies imposed by the Commission within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, as authorised by this Act, and collect fees and charges for services provided within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, including management fees, utility charges, vehicle parking charges, user fees and such other fees or charges from authorised persons, employees of authorised persons, residents, occupiers and visitors within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City;”

Clause 60(f)

 Page 54, line 2 -delete the word “taxes” and substitute therefor the word “rates” 

Existing Clause 60(f)-

“to collect on behalf of the Commission, the local rates, taxes, levies and such other charges imposed by the Commission and applicable within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, and credit the total of the sum so collected to a bank account as directed by the Commission;”

 

CLAUSES REQUIRING A SPECIAL MAJORITY

(viii) The provisions of Clause 37 of the Bill is inconsistent with Article 12(1) and 14(1)(g) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the special majority provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution.

 “However, the said inconsistency will cease if a new sub-clause is added to Clause 37 of the Bill restraining such authorised person making use of any exemptions or incentives granted under this Bill when conducting business outside the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City to the detriment of similar businesses conducted outside such Area of Authority but within the territory of Sri Lanka.

We have examined the rest of the clauses of the Bill and determine that they are not inconsistent with the Constitution.” 

(Colombo/May18/2021)

 

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Sri Lanka undershoots inflation target in first quarter despite VAT hike

Sri Lanka undershoots inflation target in first quarter despite VAT hike

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s inflation is expected to lower than initially projected in 2024, despite a value added tax hike, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe has said

“When we looked at the last two monetary policy reviews… we had an inflation path a little elevated to what was realized, ” he told reporters following a March 50 basis point rate cut.

“Mainly because our projection factored in the VAT increase in January and some of the short-term food price increases, we have seen in December and January.

But what we have seen the actual inflation realization, is that the impact of VAT has not been that much and also the reduction in electricity prices also has helped, as well as the supply conditions, especially food supplies has been better.

“As a result, inflation outcome has been much lower than we expected.”

Sri Lanka’s central bank has been conducting broadly deflationary policy, except perhaps in December 2024, when a private credit spike appears to have been accommodated by standing facilities on top a seasonal real demand for cash.

The central bank has also allowed the currency to re-appreciate departing inflationist policy generally seen since 1978, analysts say.

“In our projections, we see in the next 12 to 18 months, inflation will remain well below our target range between 4-6. In our expectation it will remain around 4-5 percent in the next 12 to 18 months.

“That is one of the reasons we saw we had some pace to reduce our policy rate.”

The central bank cut its policy corridor 50 basis points to 8.50 and 9.50 percent, and has allowed excess liquidity to build up in money markets from a balance of payments deficit (net dollar purchases) at the current market interest rate structure.

Though money is being injected through various tools allowing some banks to trade without deposits, overall, there is a sell down of its domestic securities holdings.

Sri Lanka has a reserve collecting central bank currently subject to IMF forex reserve targets and domestic asset sell down target (which are essentially complementary), an inflation target of up to 7 percent and an implicit potential output (printing money for growth) target.

The central bank currently providing exceptionally monetary stability not for many years, and cautiously lowering rates, as well as reversing some of the inflation it has created in the past in food prices and energy.

Since September 2022, when deflationary policy started to show up in the balance of payments, the central bank has only created 3.9 percent inflation according to the widely watched Colombo Consumer Price Index.

However, analysts have warned that in the past, deeply flawed operational frameworks involving multiple and contradictory anchors have tended to trip up when private credit recovered when rates are cut claiming inflation is low.

Sri Lanka also does not have a penalty rate for standing facilities, unlike countries with tighter operational frameworks, which are less prone to crises. (Colombo/Apr14/2024)

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Sri Lanka eyes on speedy debt resolution at IMF/WB Spring Meetings: State Finmin

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is looking forward to have discussions for a speedy debt resolution and restore debt sustainability at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) starting on Monday (15) in Washington, State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe said.

Minister Semasinghe is leading the Sri Lankas delegation for this year’s IMF/WB Spring Meetings that includes Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana.

The island nation expects to conclude the debt restructuring negotiation with its private creditors and sovereign bond holders and formalize the already agreed deal with bilateral creditors by end of the first half of this year, government sources have told EconomyNext.

Sri Lanka also expects to receive the third tranche of the IMF by mid this year after the completion of the second review of a $3 billion loan program last month.

“We expect fruitful engagements that will pave the way for unlocking the next tranche of essential funding and a speedy debt resolution which will enhance economic stability, confidence, sustainable growth, restore debt sustainability and ultimately, improving the welfare of every Sri Lankan citizen,” the Minister said in his X (Twitter) platform.

“Sri Lanka’s journey to its current state of stability and progress is due to the invaluable support provided by the IMF, World Bank and international partners during the most severe economic crisis we faced since 2022. “

“As we navigate the complexities of global economic challenges, we will engage closely with the IMF and aim to contribute to broader international economic cooperation with our partners.”

“Through dialogue, partnership, and concerted efforts, we are confident that we will achieve brighter economic future for Sri Lanka,” Semasinghe said.

The Monday’s Spring Meetings come as President Ranil Wickremesinghe government is facing a presidential election after long delayed local government and provincial polls.

Some government officials have said there could be likely slippages in the IMF targets during the election period as majority of Sri Lankans feel their struggling has risen due the implementation of IMF conditions including increased taxes.

The government has already started to relax some of the tough conditions it has maintained to boost the state revenue amid an increase in the tax revenue.

However, President Wickremesinghe has vowed to continue the IMF-led reforms as they are citing they are the only solution to come out of the current unprecedented economic crisis. (Colombo/April 14/2024)

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LGBTQIA+ Rights: Europe and South Asia See Similar Discriminatory Practices

ECONOMYNEXT – The rights and protections of the LGBTQIA+ community have been fraught with challenges and continue to be so, despite the many gains achieved in recent years.

Nor are those handful of rights universally applied, a recent discussion which looked at the European and South Asian perspectives on same-sex rights and unions revealed. Most developed nations have introduced protections for those identifying as LGBTQIA+, and a view from a distant lens paints a picture of tolerance. Yet, a closer look at the European arena throws up the many gaps that are evident in the application of the law.

In the so-called conservative South Asian nations, changes to legislation are slow to be implemented. That may come as a surprise, for, contrary to popular belief, same-sex relationships were culturally acceptable in the South Asian region and is not a Western concept points out Ruhaan Joshi, a Public Policy Practitioner from India.

Society’s view on same-sex relationships dimmed with the imposition of Western values and the criminalisation of such relationships with the advent of colonial rule.

While the LGBTQIA+ communities in South Asian countries currently battle to have same-sex relationships decriminalised and their unions legally accepted, the irony is that countries that first made such relationships punishable by law have moved on to be more welcoming, though some discriminatory practices continue.

Joshi was part of a discussion themed ‘On Being Queer and LGBTQIA+ in South Asia and Europe, held in Germany on April 9 this year. The discussion which included the release of two papers which examined the rights and protections of the LGBTQIA+ community in Europe and South Asia, respectively, was organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Joining Joshi in the discussion were lawyer and parliamentarian Premnath C Dolawatte from Sri Lanka, Milosz Hodun, President, Projekt Polska Foundation, Poland, Michael Kauch, a Member of the European Parliament and RENEW Europe Group and Inaya Zarakhel, a Dutch-Pakistani actress and an activist on Queer Rights, who moderated the discussion. The two papers were presented by Hodun and Joshi, respectively.

In his opening remarks, Kauch pointed out that while the view of the liberals is that the rights recognized in one member nation of the EU must be accepted by all member countries, that is not the ground reality, the issue of Rainbow families being a case in point.

In the context of the European Union, though the Court of Justice has ruled on the freedom of movement of those in same-sex partnerships and their families, the ruling is not universally applied by member nations.

In Italy, and some European nations, surrogacy which helps childless couples to become parents is illegal. In other situations where same-sex parents are of different nationalities a child in that union faces restriction of movement or the possibility of being stateless if one parent hails from a country where such parental rights are not recognised.

Hodun meanwhile stated that in Poland transgender persons must first sue their parents for the gender assigned to them at birth, to have their gender marker changed on documents.

Some countries such as Russia and Azerbaijan resort to State-sponsored homophobia, and in many instances politicians and political parties promote such biases to boost their voter base it was pointed out. Even where laws are in place for the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights, there is no political will to implement them.

In Europe where migrants arrive in droves seeking asylum, and are frowned upon by many of those countries, LGBTQIA+ members face even more discrimination Hodun says, both by other refugees and governments, where most often the state ignores the situation despite the guidelines issued by the UN and the European Court of Justice. Hate speech and hate crimes too are on the rise he adds stating that at least 80 per cent go unreported.

Increasingly the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced a diminishing of their safe spaces as right-wing and populist governments are elected across the globe. Taking a dig at feminism, meanwhile, Kauch states that though feminists uphold a woman’s right to opt for an abortion, they take a different approach on the topic of surrogacy.

Dolawatte who waded into unchartered waters when he presented a Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise same-sex relationships through an amendment to section 365 of the Penal Code and the repealing of section 365A in its totality, is hopeful that the Bill will pass its third reading. It’s been an uphill battle he says, referring to the case filed in the Supreme Court against the Bill. The court ruled in his favour.

He had little or no support from his own party members, but says the President of the country, and younger party members are with him on this issue. Apart from making Sri Lanka a safe space, it would encourage foreign nationals identifying as LGBTQIA+ to visit without fear, and thus boost tourism he opines.

As Joshi states society has come a long way from when LGBTQIA+ were made fun of and were subject to violence to the positive portrayal in movies. Such movies are also well-received by society. Transgender identity has a distinct recognition in South Asian religious beliefs. Hijra, Khwaja Sara or Kinnar are some names given to transgender folk and they have, since ancient times been an accepted group in society. On the one hand, there’s Afghanistan and the Maldives which make no allowances for the LGBTQIA+ community, while Nepal became the first South Asian nation in 2023, to register a same-sex marriage, Joshi states. In most South Asian nations, the courts have ruled in favour of relaxing the rules against this community, and, like in Europe, it is the governments that drag their feet.

For governments to change their stance, society must take the lead in fighting for the unconditional dignity of the individual, freedom of movement, and safeguarding the tenets of democracy, he says adding that it must also run parallel with the LGBTQIA+ community looking beyond themselves at issues that impact democratic values, and the societal restrictions non-LGBTIQIA+ groups face, such as opposition to inter-caste marriage and the right to adopt outside their caste systems and equal access to many other privileges.

While the panellists advocated working together across the global divide as a step towards achieving equal rights for all, Dolawatte also called for caution; too much pressure on such issues from Europe he said may not be welcome, and must be handled with care.

With right-wing and populist governments getting elected across the globe, Kauch claims the forthcoming EU elections will prove crucial in deciding how future and current governments ensure tolerance and diversity amongst their citizenry.

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