Buddhist Temple And Residents Fight Over Land in Sri Lanka

The Sunday Leader
Waruni Karunarathne
May 25, 2014

Muslims in Arisamale, Pulmuddai is still in a state of flux as the Arisamale temple has claimed 500 acres of land surrounding the temple as temple property. As the survey department went to demarcate the land for the temple at the end of last year people campaigned against the move and put the work on hold – yet people expressed fear that they will have to vacate their houses when required by the temple or the Navy who allegedly work in collaboration with the temple to acquire their property.

Chief incumbent of the Arisimale temple Ven. Panamure Thilakawansa Thera told the Sunday Leader that the site has important historical and archeological value. According to the thera and some Buddhist beliefs, Tapassu and Bhalluka traders carrying a lock of Lord Buddha’s hair had entered the country through the Arisimale port and deposited the sacred relic of Lord Buddha in Girigaduseya stupa in Thiriyaya.

The Thera added that there are so many ancient ruins belong to early Anuradhapura era that scattered around this area and we have made  requests to relevant authorities to get the land back to the temple – however surveys are not yet being done to demarcate the land that belongs to the temple. He added that the extent of land belongs to the temple could be either 500 acres or 1000 acres but that is to be decided after locating all the ruins scattered across the land after a proper survey.

According to the Thera, his chief monk at the time Ven. Dodanduwe Kassapa Thera had come to reside in that area in 1977 and Sinhala community lived around the area during that time.

“In early 1980’s when late Cyril Mathew was the minister of Industry, he developed 100 temples in North and East and the Arisimale temple came under that development project.” He added that due to the conflict they had to move to the South and he was travelling back and forth to see the temple till the conflict ended. He added, “My chief monk handed over the temple to me with proper legal documents.

The building complex of the temple was damaged during the war and it is now being repaired by the Navy.” He also said that the ancient ruins in the area prove that the inhabitant of the area were a Buddhist community since ancient times. According to the sources, the Cyril Mathew had plans to allocate 500 acres of land to the temple and to call it a sacred town.

However, according to the residents of the area, when they moved in during late 1980’s there was hardly any sign of a temple. There have been around 80 families who lived and engaged in agricultural activities in the area even during the conflict, residents claimed. According to the residents, the Muslim community in the area has been living there for nearly 30 years with land permits produced by the Divisional Secretariat – when the area was affected by tsunami, under the North Eastern Housing Development Project (NEHD) houses were built for the permit holders to the land.

A female Muslim resident of Arisimale added, “My family came to live in Arisimale area in 1989. When there were conflicts in the area, we were moving back and forth to Pulpuddai town. Often during day time we came to look after and tend the land in Arisimale and at night we stayed in Pulpuddai with friends or relatives.”

Another resident added, “These areas were affected by tsunami and under the NEHD project they built us houses.” However he noted that four houses built under the NEHD project are now inside the 100 acres which is already acquired by the temple with the support of the Sri Lankan Navy. Residents complained that those families who have been removed from the 100 acres taken by the temple are not yet being resettled.

According to the residents, the Chief Incumbent of Arisimale temple has claimed 500 acres of land in total as the property of the temple and residents were asked to vacate when required.

According to Navy Spokesman Kosala Warnakulasooriya, the Sri Lankan Navy has only requested the government to demarcate certain areas in Arisimale close to the northern boundary of the harbour to be given to the Navy. He added, “We have only made a request. Besides the land we requested is state land and do not belong to any private party. ”

He added that it is important for the Navy to have the coastal stripe close to the Trincomalee harbour as it is crucial to strengthen naval power and security of the country. He said that if anyone is making wrong complains saying that the Navy has acquired any land illegally they can go to courts as the Navy has followed the correct procedures.

Mr. Thilakawardena of the Department of Archeology added that the Department of Archeology has located ancient ruins dating back to early Anuradhapura era in the surrounding area of the Arisimale temple and they have listed the ruins.

Accordingly in a gazette issued in 2013 August 16 under no 1823/73, those ruins were identified and taken under the Department of Archeology to be preserved. However, according to Thilakawardena, the area was not claimed as an archeological site. When he directed the Sunday Leader to an officer who had worked in the Arisimale site, he added that the Department of Archeology has put their demarcations in the identified area which spreads up to at least 800 acres.

He added that they have avoided the existing houses – besides the site does not spread up to the residential area and it is only along the coast and includes a jungle area. He said, “We have marked that area as a property of the temple. But the legal survey has not yet been done. We have only identified the area with ancient ruins but the legal survey has to be done by the Survey Department.”

According to Survey General Nihal Gunawardena, the Department of Survey accepts contracts upon requests made by government organizations. He added, “Sometimes back there was a request from the Kuchchaweli Divisional Secretariat to carry out a land survey in Arisimale area to demarcate 500 acres of land for the Arisimale temple. We are not aware of who had taken the decision – we only acted upon the request made by the Divisional Secretariat.

At the end of last year when our team went to carry out the survey people of the area had campaigned against it. So we had to stop the work and we informed the relevant authorities that once they remove all those obstacles we would continue our work. We have not heard from them since then.”

When inquired the Acting District Secretary of the Kuchchweli Division C. Krishnendran about the legal aspect of the land permit given to the residents in the area he added that some residents have claimed that they have permits. He added, “Unfortunately, due to a fire that broke in 1990 most of the documents were burnt and we could not ascertain who have received proper permits.” He added that since he was appointed recently he was not well aware of the Arisimale issue and therefore could not provide accurate answers to many of the questions.

However from what he gathered he added that there had been a request to allocate 500 acres of land to the temple in Arisimale area last year but they could not finalize it – when the Department of Survey tried to carry out the survey, residents in the area have interrupted them and now the work is on hold. According to him, the case is now being processed in court and since then the Divisional Secretariat had not given any orders to any authorities or individuals related to the case.

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