President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has paid his attention to amend the Antiquities Ordinance in order to strengthen the preservation of antiquities and historical national heritage.
President has decided to appoint a committee comprising Maha Sangha and experts in the field to study how the amendments should take place.
The proposed amendment seeks to stop the destructions caused to antiquities that has been going on for a long time and to pass on the country’s heritage to the future generation while resolving practical issues.
This decision was taken by the President during the fourth meeting with the Buddhist Advisory Council held at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (24).
Archeological conservation and development were discussed at length.
President Rajapaksa said that no room will be left for anyone to damage the historical heritage or archeological value of any sacred place and all such places will be considered as national heritage and will be protected. Proposals by the Maha Sangha on antiquities and archeological sites will be forwarded to the respective Presidential Task Force, President added.
He also said measures will be taken to increase annual fund allocation to the Department of Archeology and to address the shortage of employees.
The possibility of obtaining the services of the Civil Defence Force in the implementation of programme of conserving archeological sites and antiquities was also explored.
The attention of the President was also drawn to the request made by the Maha Sangha to transfer the cases relating to the artefacts and historical places in the Northern and Eastern Province, to courts in Colombo.
President Rajapaksa instructed the Department of Archaeology to make swift responses to the requests made by Maha Sangha to protect the archaeological and historical sites.
The Maha Sangha pointed out that the artefacts taken away during the colonial period were later found reposited at the British Museum and the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. The Maha Sangha suggested the President to initiate a process to get the artifacts back to the country following consultations with UNESCO.
The Maha Sangha further pointed out that during the past five years significant damages had been done to the artefacts as well as to the historical places. Various groups of people forcibly occupy lands belonging to the temples. The Maha Sangha stressed that due to these kinds of acts a substantial damage was caused to the historical Buddhist heritage.
15 people were recruited when the actual requirement was only for two labourers to work in archeological sites. Furthermore, they even do not possess the required knowledge in this regard.
The Central Cultural Fund had spent Rs.7000 million annually to pay salaries for these people, who were recruited violating the proper procedure.
The approved number of director positions is 11 at the Department of Archaeology. Nevertheless, the Director General of the Department of Archaeology, Senarath Disanayake said that no one has been appointed for these Director posts. The approved number of positions for the post of Assistant Director is 38. But, only one person has been appointed for this post. The Director General further said that under these circumstances he cannot perform the duties and the responsibilities of the Department in a proper manner.
Annually, around 80 Special Degree holders in Archaeology pass out from our universities. President Rajapaksa instructed the relevant officials to take immediate steps to recruit persons who possess theoretical and practical knowledge in Archaeology.
During the previous administration graduates in archeology were recruited and then assigned to work at the Sugathadasa Stadium. President pointed out the need for deploying the individuals with specific expertise in the subject.
Puravidya Chakrawarthy Ven Ellawala Medhananda Thero highlighted the massive damage caused to the antiquities by treasure hunters. “During my 65-year explorations I did not find any valuables such as gold, silver or gems inside antiquities. Therefore, it is vital to give the right knowledge to the people to protect them. Compilation of report on antiquities exploration and mapping is a priority. Legal action should be taken against those distort history and express opinions without proper investigation” Ven. Medhananda Thero said.
Anunakaya Thero of the Malwatta Chapter Most Ven. Niyangoda Vijithasiri Thero emphasized the importance of amending the Antiquities Ordinance. The Thero was also of the view that steps should be taken to recruit those with the knowledge of the subject when filling vacancies at the Department of Archeology.
The Antiquities Ordinance which was enacted during the colonial period looks only at antiquities Anunayaka Thero of the Malwatta Chapter Most Ven. Dimbulkumbure Wimaladhamma Thero said adding that it should be amended to conserve the national heritage and the legacy of Buddha Sasana.
Anunakaya Thero of the Asgiri Chapter Most Ven. Wendaruwe Upali Thero pointed out the importance of Maha Sangha engaged in depth study in the process of the said amendment. The Thero also highlighted the necessity of retaining the portfolio of the Culture under President or the Prime Minister.
Mahanayaka Thero of Shri Dharmarakshitha Sect of Amarapura Most Ven. Thrikunamalaye Ananda Thero said that other communities who destroy antiquities must understand it is not a matter of religious affiliation but a national heritage. The Thero explained the importance of teaching the value of antiquities since there are people who will understand it among other communities and extreme groups.
Ven. Diviyagaha Yasassi Thero presented a ten point set of proposals to protect the artefacts.
‘The President has introduced a new concept to the society on protecting the artefacts. This can be utilized to promote the tourism sector’, said Ven. Prof. Kotapitiye Rahula Thero, Anunayake of the Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagri Maha Sanga Sabha.
Ven. Rekawa Jinaratana Thero, the Chief Adikarana Sanganayaka of North Western Province, said that the propaganda carried out stating that the Buwanekaba Rajasabha Mandapa in Kurunegala had been demolished is a politically-motivated fabrication. The pavilion made of wood has been used to function as hotels called Buwanekaba claiming it is belonging to the Municipal Council. The Thero said that he has all the relevant documents in this regard. Nevertheless, he pointed out that there is no truth in the propaganda carrying out saying that it was built by King Buwanekaba.
Principal Advisor to President Lalith Weeratunga, Secretaries to the Ministries and Officials were present at the meeting.