June 16, 2001

Chief Priest slams authorities over Dambulla Stadium controversy

Rex Clementine Fernando

Mahanayake of the Asgiri Chapter, the Most Ven. Udugama Sri Ratnapala Buddharakkitha Thera, has criticised the commissioner of Buddhist affairs for creating a storm over the lease of the land which is home to the Dambulla International cricket stadium.

At a media briefing yesterday in Kandy, the Chief Priest said the right protocols were followed in the lease of the land to build the stadium.

It was upon the recommendations of the commissioner of Buddhist affairs, who declared the leasing could not be approved, that the interim committee of the board of control for cricket in Sri Lanka decided to shift the matches in the triangular series involving New Zealand and India away from Dambulla.

The Ven. Inamaluwe Sri Sumangala Thero, with whom the ousted executive committee negotiated the leasing of the stadium also blamed the authorities. Sumangala Thero, speaking at the briefing, said that all the higher authorities in the country, including the president, Her Excellency Chandrika Kuamarathunaga, then minister of Sports S.B. Dissanayake, and Buddhist affairs minister Lakshman Jayakody were made aware of the matters pertaining to the lease of the land and the construction of the stadium.

The confusion has arisen because the Buddhist commissioner, who has created the controversy by saying the leasing couldn't be approved, had written to the then president of the BCCSL asking to finalise the matters pertaining to the leasing of the land with the Mahanayake of the Asgiri Chapter.

At the moment Sri Lanka is hosting a four-day game against Pakistan A at Dambulla which was built at an estimated cost of close to 400 million rupees in 175 days. But the three matches of the one-day triangular tournament have been taken away from the ground because of legal matters pertaining to the lease of the stadium.

What the Buddhist monks argue is that everything was carried out with the blessing of the higher officials. They say the agreement was signed in front of a large number of people and published in the media the very next day. They say there was nothing secret about it and that it is ridiculous to question matters pertaining to the leasing after everything is over.

The move to shift the games from Dambulla could have its consequences; the matches are being played during a season when it usually rains in most part of the country and Dambulla being a dry zone can host the games without much trouble. Removing the games from Dambulla could lead to more games being washed out.

Close to 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists and the Asgiriya chapter earns the utmost respect of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. When the Mahanayake has declared right measures were followed in leasing the land, if the authorities are going to stick to the recent decisions they have taken after being quiet for so long, that is not going to stand in their favour.