Monk in contempt now in land row

By Damith Wickremasekara

The monk who was recently remanded on a charge of contempt of court in connection with a case of noise pollution and later released is now asking the President to grant him legal ownership of the land on which his temple stands.

The temple at Welikada, Rajagiriya is an unauthorised structure built on 40 perches of land that belongs to the Urban Development Authority. The land was privately owned before it was acquired by the UDA.
Ven. Pannala Pannaloka Thera, who lives on the temple premises, acknowledged taking the land without authority, but said that was to prevent another group from taking the land.

He said he made his request for the land when he met President Mahinda Rajapaksa soon after his release on Monday. “The President assured me he would discuss the matter with Urban Development Minister Dinesh Gunawardena,” the monk told The Sunday Times.

An UDA spokesman, however, said the authority had made several unsuccessful attempts to repossess the land. The UDA had also attempted to demolish the temple building as it was an unauthorised structure, but this move too had been blocked by the monk.

According to the UDA official, a perch of land in the area is worth about Rs. 2 million. He said the UDA would continue to press for repossession of the land. But Ven Pannaaloka Thera said he was determined to stay on, despite attempts by various “religious forces” to oust him from the neighbourhood.

Referring to the noise pollution case, the monk claimed he was falsely charged, and that he had not used loudspeakers outside the daylight hours stipulated by the Supreme Court. The reason he failed to appear in court, he said, was that his lawyer had given him the wrong date for his court appearance.
The monk was in remand custody for more than one week until Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva ordered his release last Monday, following an appeal made on his behalf.

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