Former Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Jagath Dias and two other retired officers, Brigadier Athula Hemachandra de Silva and Lt. Col. Anil Sumeda Amarasekera have petitioned the Court of Appeal against the government’s decision to release state land around the historical Kurundi temple in the former LTTE bastion, the Mullaitivu District.
Dias served as the General Officer Commanding 57 Division, deployed on the Vanni West front during the humanitarian mission.
The petitioners have sought to prevent the government from removing the boundary stones already planted by the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province. The case will come up for support tomorrow (20).
Declaring that over 300 acres has been now identified to be of archaeological value that needs excavation and gazetting under the provisions of the Antiquities Ordinance No. 09 of 1940, the petitioners alleged that a survey of the area was stopped by the second respondent Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister Vidura Wickramanayake last September following interference by separatist elements.
The first respondent is the Secretary to the Ministry, Somaratne Vidanapathirana. Subsequently the then Director General of Archaeology, Prof. Anura Manatunga, who is the third respondent, resumed the survey and was proceeding according to a plan when President Ranil Wickremesinghe intervened.
The petitioners have submitted to CoA a letter, dated January 11, 2023, sent by the Secretary to the President to the Director General of the Archaeological Department, directing that he obtain the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers before declaring any site to be an archaeological site or monument.
The survey was launched after the eradication of the LTTE in May 2009 following a three-year long combined security forces campaign.
The petitioners pointed out that as the power to declare an archaeological site and/or monument is a power granted to the DG, Archaeology under section 33 of the Antiquities Ordinance No. 09 of 1940. Therefore, the directive issued by the Secretary to the President is an unlawful encroachment of the powers conferred by an Act of Parliament to the Director General of Archaeology.
They also said that the DG, Archaeology tendered his resignation after being humiliated by President Wickremesinghe in the presence of a delegation of TNA MPs at a meeting held in the Presidential Secretariat on June 08, 2023.
Subsequent to that meeting, a directive has been issued to alienate land, surrounding the Kurundi temple, to cultivators, who were cultivating the surrounding lands, and to remove the existing boundary stones placed by the Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province without investigating and to place the stones after the identifying the archaeological sites. (SF)