Three board members of a Tamil temple who were arrested on charges of damaging an archaeological site have had their remand extended until January 11th to give more time to Sri Lanka’s archaeology department and Sampur police to produce actual evidence that the location in question was a designated archaeological conservation site.
The Officer in Charge of Sampur police told the Muthur magistrates judge on Thursday that S. Jegatheeswaran, T. Nijanthan and E. Chandramohan - chair, secretary and treasurer, respectively, of the board of the Kuntrathur Mathalamalai Murugan temple in Soodaikuda - were brought before the court on charges of trespassing on an Anuradhapura-era archaeological site and damaging it.
Lawyers representing the temple board members said that the site in question is a government-registered village temple and that the temple board has even received government aid to rehabilitate the buildings from war-time damages.
There was no prior notice, legal documentation or communication to locals and temple-users to indicate that this was an archaeological site.
The people of Soodaikuda were entirely displaced from 2006, and until 2014 the area was only occupied by military forces.
The lawyers questioned why the residents of Soodaikuda were allowed to resettle if the location was of such archaeological importance.
The temple’s legal representatives said that in truth, there was no evidence or documentation declaring the temple an archaeological site and that the board members had been arrested on sham charges.
When asked by the judge if evidence could be produced to prove the site was in fact an archaeological site, Sampur police requested more time to obtain documentation and evidence.
After the police official said that three days was not sufficient to obtain the evidence, the judge adjourned the case until January 11 by which time the police should submit the gazette notification and any other documentation proving that the location was an archaeological site.
The judge denied bail to the three temple board members, ordering further remand until the 11th.
The judge conceded that all future court communications should be made available in Tamil, after the temple’s lawyers criticised the issuing of an injunction on December 19 to suspend temple works, which was written entirely in Sinhalese and incomprehensible to the temple administration.
The case as well as announcements by the archaeology department that the department would soon be seizing control of the Soodaikuda area has left residents fearing they will lose their lands and again be displaced and destitute.