Digawapi Buddhist site: Counter affidavit filed

By Janaka Perera, Asian Tribune, Sept 8, 2008

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The petitioners in the Digawapi land allocation case have prepared a counter affidavit to be submitted to the Supreme Court when the case comes up for hearing on Tuesday September. 9. The case concerns the alleged infringement of the rights of Sri Lanka's Buddhists, especially those residing in the Digawapiya area in the East. The counter affidavit is in response to an affidavit filed by some of the respondents.

The petitioners are (1) Venerable. Ellawala Medananda, Chief Incumbent, Sri Sumangalaaramaya and Siri Ranasinhaaramaya, Mawathagama. (2) Ven. Kirindiwela Somarathana Chief Incumbent, Ampara Mahavaapi Viharaya and Registrar, Ampara District Sangha Sabhawa.(3) Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero, Bodhiraja Dharamaayathanaya.(4)Ven. Nannapurawe Buddha Rakkhitha Chief Incumbent, Digawapiya Rajamaha Viharaya,Digawapiya. (5) R. L. K. Keerthi Ranasinghe, President, Digawapiya Surakeemey Sanvidhanaya (6) K. L. Rukman Chandanakantha, Vice President, Digawapiya Surakeemey Sanvidhanaya and (7) P. H. P. De Silva Treasurer Digawapiya Surakeemey Sanvidhanaya.

The first petitioner is presently an MP and the third petitioner a former parliamentarian who represented Jathika Hela Urumaya, (JHU). The first and third petitioners are respectively the JHU's Leader and the General Secretary.

The respondents include Housing and Development Minister Farial Ashroff, Agriculture, Lands and Land Development Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga, National Housing Development Authority, Plan Implementation Minister P. Dayaratne, the Attorney General, the Commissioner General of Lands and Hingurana Sugar Corporation General Manager M.M. Ifthikar.

The petitioners cite among other issues the following:

(i) Ever since the colonial invasion, the Buddhist sacred site Digawapi in Ampara has been subject to wanton damage and destruction and more recently by State action.

(ii) To achieve their objective of destroying Digavapi, a well planned scheme was carried out by interested parties by destroying the Buddhist monuments in the area, by settlement of non-Buddhists on Digavapi land preventing further expansion of Buddhist settlers and depriving existing Buddhist settlers of their basic necessities.

The petitioners state that the ancient Digawapiya village was situated in the lower part (right bank) of the Galoya valley consisting of present DS Divisions of Samanthurai, Eragama, Addalachchena and Akkaraipattu. With time, this ancient village had shrunk with encroachments on Deegavapiya land, according to them. At the time development of the right bank of Galoya valley commenced in the early 1960s, the entire area between Muslim settlements along the coast on the East and Eragama on the West consisted of the Buddhist Temple, its surrounding monuments and the Buddhist villages. Illegal encroachments seriously affected the historical Deegavapiya area and limited it to two Grama Niladari Divisions in the Addalachchenai District Secretary's Division and the area South of Deegavapi GN Division II which the Sugar Corporation owned and possessed. Most of the resident employees of the Sugar Corporation were Buddhists who occupied Sugar Corporation houses South of Digawapi GN Division.

The petitioners further state:

"A few weeks after the Tsunami destruction the Government declared a buffer zone 200 meters from the coast line restricting any construction within the zone. Thereafter the buffer zone was reduced to 100 meters and subsequently to 65 meters from the coast."

According to the petitioners, the respondents who falsely claim land in Digawapi do not need them since the houses in which they were living when the tsunami struck should have been reconstructed on the same land if their houses were destroyed by the disaster.

"We state that for every Tsunami affected DS Division two separate programs were initiated by the Government for the purpose of building houses for Tsunami victims. Namely

(i) Donor driven housing program

(ii) Home owner driven housing program.

Home owner driven housing program was initiated for Tsunami victims to rebuild or repair the damaged houses themselves on the land which the houses stood at the time of the Tsunami and Donor driven housing program was initiated to build houses on land provided by the State for tsunami victims who could not build their houses on the land they were living at the time of the Tsunami, due to the buffer zone limitations".

The petitioners point out that the objection to non-Buddhist colonization in Digawapi dates back to many decades. They recall that attempts to relocate Muslims in the Eastern coastal areas in the Digawapi village inland commenced with the launch of the Gal Oya Project.

The petitioners note:

"In the late 1940's the Galoya Development Project was launched and to facilitate the said project the Galoya Development Board Act no.51 of 1949 was enacted on or about 15th December 1949. The Galoya Development Board was established by the aforementioned Act for the purpose of developing primarily the Galoya Valley.

The Galoya Valley Development program consisted of 2 schemes, namely, The Left Bank Development Project and the Right Bank Development Project. The Galoya stream which originated from the Senanayake Samudraya flowed in the direction of East coast. The left bank was the area north-west of Deeghavapiya and the Right Bank was the area where the Deeghavapiya and surrounding villages were situated.

The development of the Left Bank was completed after about 10 years and thereafter in the early 1960's the development of the Right Bank commenced. When the Left Bank was developed, 5132 Muslim and Tamil families were settled, whilst only 3402 Sinhalese families were accommodated. Sinhala peasants were thus discriminated in the allocation of the land in the Left Bank.

In the early 1960's when the Right Bank was to be developed, once again an attempt was made to discriminate Sinhalese peasants. At the instigation of Muslim politicians in the area, 25 zones were to be allocated to Muslims whilst only two zones were reserved for Sinhala Buddhists in Deeghavapiya… Consequent to the grievances of Sinhala Buddhists in Deeghavapiya being brought to the notice of Sinhala Buddhist leaders and organizations at that time, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and more particularly Sir Lalitha Rajapakse made numerous representations to the then Government of this discriminatory treatment meted out to Sinhala Buddhists.

Notwithstanding the said representations, the Galoya Development Board attempted to proceed with the relocation of non Buddhists in Deeghavapiya, bringing Muslims from the coastal areas to be colonized in the Deeghavapiya village."

The petitioners states that with the launch of the Galoya Valley Development Project, the entire Galoya valley was developed and zoned displacing the Sinhala peasants who were historically living and cultivating lands.

"We state that all Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim citizens had a legitimate expectation in getting lands in newly irrigated Galoya valley. However, at the instigation of Muslim politicians, Muslim residents in the coastal areas obtained Manavari permits purely for the purpose of making a preferential claim for settlement. These permits were obtained regularly within this period for this purpose."

"It was the position of the Buddhists that land closer to Buddhist places of religious worship should be given to Buddhists whilst there was no objection to land being given to the other communities away from these Buddhist temples. We annex hereto the following documents in proof of the representations made by Sinhala Buddhists of their grievances."

The petitioners insist that for the purpose of maintaining the Deeghavapiya Raja Maha Vihara it is necessary to settle Buddhists in and around the Deeghavapiya Chaittya.

"We state that notwithstanding the just demand made by the Sinhala Buddhists, Sinhalese politicians connived with Muslim politicians and have settled Muslims from the East coast in the interior parts of the Eastern Province totally violating the provisions of the Land Development Ordinance and the State Land Ordinance..."

"Thereafter at the instigation of Muslim politicians, permits have been granted to Muslims to settle in the Deeghavapi area and more recently in 1996 a Muslim colony was created forcibly by late Minister Ashraff which is called "Ashraff Nagar" in the vicinity of the Deeghavapiya Raja Maha Vihara on the eastern side. We state that Muslims have also been settled in the western side in Eragama in Kachchena and Alankulam now coming within the administration of GN Division Addalachchena 17. Muslims have been living in the northern side in Samanthurai and the only available land to settle Buddhists is to the South of Deeghavapiya."

"We state therefore that if the only remaining land to the south of Deeghavapiya is colonized exclusively by Muslims the Sinhala Buddhist village of Deeghavapiya would not be able to expand with the population increase and would definitely lead to the detriment and destruction of the Viharaya."

"We state that there are large number of landless peasants in Deegavapiya and Ampara who had not been given lands. Many landless peasants have complained to the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress of their grievances."

"We state that right through we have been requesting land from the State for Buddhists without success."

"We state that pipe borne water is channeled from Senanayake Samudraya via Ampara tank, through Ampara Town, Akkaraipattu Road, Eragama, Alankulam (addalachchenai 17) to Akkaraipattu coastal areas avoiding Deeghavapiya GN Divisions 01 and 02. We state that this discriminatory action against the Buddhists was taken at the instigation of extremist Muslim politicians with a view to discourage Buddhists living in the Bauddha janapadaya in Deeghavapiya."

The petitioners have reminded the respondents that in the Eastern Province Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities lived in their respective areas peacefully until extremist politicians and officials damaged such ethnic and religious harmony by allowing Muslim settlements in Deeghavapi which had been exclusively a Sinhala-Buddhist area.

"We further state that unlawful allocation permits and/or grants to Muslims around the historical Deeghavpiya janapadaya has caused disharmony among the communities. We further state that when allocating vacant State land such as the land this project was carried through in Norochcholai, ought to have been done in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the other laws governing State land. Thereby we state that the Respondents have failed to uphold the rule of law in violation of Article 10 and 12 (1) of the Constitution."