Many sites in the country are
gazetted as protected monuments, but very little is done after that,
resulting in neglect and ruin
By Chandani Kirinde and Sachitra
Even though the Archaelogical Department has declared many places
in the country as protected monuments, an investigation by The Sunday
Times revealed that most of these places remain neglected and are
absence of markings proclaiming their status as protected sites
and lack of regular inspection have led to some of these places
being destroyed or left to deteriorate.
than 600 sites have been gazetted upto 2002 as protected monuments
under the Antiquities Ordinance which gives powers to the Cultural
Affairs Minister to declare them so, if in his opinion "any
ancient monument on any land other than Crown land is in danger
of destruction or removal, or damage from neglect or injudicious
treatment, and that it is in the public interest that such monuments
should be protected." Places that are more than 100 years old
can be included in such a declaration.
the requirement that officials in regional offices of the Department
visit the sites that are declared ancient monuments from time to
time, this does not happen regularly. A shortage of staff and insufficient
funds have hindered the work of the Archaeological Department. Apathy
among members of the public to safeguard such places has also not
helped. Archaeology is not taught as a subject in schools but is
limited to university curricula. An official in the Archaelogy field
said it was necessary to inculcate an early interest among the future
generations to ensure these ancient monuments are not destroyed.
the ancient monuments gazetted in Colombo is the General Post Office
building in Fort but the interior of the building has been neglected
for several years and hardly any restoration work has been carried
out on it. The building is now confined to the high security zone
place is the Obeysekara "Walawwa" in Rajagiriya which
was gazetted as a monument in 1992 but has been neglected since
the death of its last owner in 2001. Since then, it is alleged that
some people have occupied the house illegally and there is an on
going legal battle regarding the property. It is alleged that the
place is being used as a car sale centre.
house which is over 150 years old is said to have been the abode
of famous personalities such as a former Governor of Ceylon Sir
Edward Barnes, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Anagarika Dharmapala. It
was purchased by Donald Obeysekera at the beginning of the last
century. Relatives of Mr. Obeysekera charge that some of the valuable
ancient wooden beadings in the house have been removed and that
it is being gradually destroyed paving the way for its final demolition
They also say that there are loopholes in the relevant legislation
as it does not make it mandatory for the Archaeological Department
to notify such a declaration to the appropriate Land Registry which
in turn would make relevant buyers and notaries aware of the restrictions
and encumbrances on such property they wish to purchase.
official of the Land Registry in Colombo, confirmed there was no
such legal requirement and said they go by the documents submitted
by a notary for registration.
Vishvamatha, Additional Director General of the Archaelogical Department
told The Sunday Times that the Department does not buy land, so
there was no necessity to notify the Land Registry.
we do is just declare it as a protected area and get it gazetted.
The land belongs to its real owner. We do not buy the land, nor
pay any compensation. But we do not let them do any renovations
without our permission," Mr. Vishvamatha said.
the Antiquities Act, no person can carry out any work of restoration,
repair, and alteration or addition in connection with any protected
monument except with the authority of the Archaeological Commissioner.
ancient building in Colombo-which houses one of Sri Lanka's leading
Buddhist schools-was declared an ancient monument by the Archaeological
Department in 1999, but now they are in a dilapidated condition.
Henry Steele Olcott, a pioneer in founding schools for children
to do their studies in a Buddhist atmosphere once lived in this
building. It was put up in the 19th century and now it is in a decaying
state. The President of Parama Vignanarta Buddhist Association,
S. P. Weerasekara told The Sunday Times that the building belongs
to the Association.
Archaeological Department has promised to restore the building but
they say they do not have funds," Mr. Weerasekara said. He
said the Archaelogical Department will carryout the repairs next
year with funds provided by the association. "Although the
building has been declared a protected site by the Archaeological
Department, they put off the repairs till the Association came up
with the funds," Mr. Weerasekera charged.
boutique owner now illegally occupies one part of the building and
the Association has gone to courts against the boutique owner. As
the case is pending, the boutique owner continues with his work.
Meanwhile the usual passing of the buck continues with the Archaeological
Department charging that it was the Parama Vignanarta Buddhist Association
that had rented out the building to some people while the association
says that the building had been occupied forcibly.
Shailabimbaramaya in Galle is another such site, that requires urgent
repairs. The 100 ton, Buddha statue in the temple is believed to
have been brought from India. The temple also has some ancient inscriptions
and paintings, but these are fast deteriorating because the roof
of the building is crumbling. Residents in the area say that the
Archaelogical Department had brought some tiles to the premises
in 1997 and they were still lying there untouched and unused.They
also charge that some inferior quality wooden planks had been brought
to the premises early this year, but there was no sign of any restoration
work. The Archaelogical Department defends its move saying they
have putoff the restoration work till they find the exact matching
also appears to be a sense of disinterest on the part of the public
but this is mainly because of a lack of knowledge regarding the
value of these archaelogical sites. The Department has now decided
to put up new signboards at these archaelogical sites with a warning
that those who damage those places would be prosecuted.
officials also say that it is not possible for them to oversee all
the ancient sites, but will take action if they get to know of any
serious damage to any of the sites.
people say ancient buildings such as the Rajamaha Viharas are totally
neglected. We cannot be responsible for all of them. We attend to
it depending on the merits of each case," Mr. Vishvamatha explained.
on the Grand Oriental Hotel in Fort, he said although it was a protected
site, there were no regular checks on whether authorities were abiding
by the requirement of not making any structural changes to the building.
He also said that the Department had the power to take legal action
against those who flout the law regarding any declared site.
In the Colombo district, 33 places have been declared as protected
monuments by the Archaeological Department. These include the old
railway station in Fort which is being used as a railways store
house, the Dutch museum in Pettah, the GPO, an ancient tunnel in
Kotte in the premises of the Kotte Ananda Shastralaya, the wall
round the Fort, the Old Standard Chartered Bank building as well
as the Walker's Building in Fort. A total of 324 sites were gazetted
in July this year by the present Minister of Cultural Affairs and
National heritage Vijitha Herath.
the Antiquities Act, once a gazette notification is issued, time
is granted for objections to be filed by those who own or occupy
the buildings so named as protected sites. Even though objections
to the latest list had to be made by September 15 this year, an
extension has been granted due to the large numbers of objections
that have come from the residents of the Galle Fort.
new list gazetted includes several buildings in the Kandy town including
the Queen's Hotel and the Empire Hotel buildings. The old church
within the Methodist church yard in Rawatawatta as well as the jubilee
post in Nugegoda are gazetted as well.