Writing in the Hindu, Meera Srinivasan highlights ongoing uncertainty over who will run the India-funded Jaffna Cultural Centre which currently remains vacant despite being completed in early 2020.
The towering structure is the tallest building in Jaffna town and is located next to the historic Jaffna Public library. It was built with an $11 million grant of India and stands at 11 floors which includes an auditorium that can seat 600 persons, a conference hall, an amphitheatre and a digital library.
The site is intended to be a public space to “promote, preserve and foster the cultural heritage of Jaffna”, and serve as “a hub of cultural activities” in Sri Lanka.
In February 2021, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a rally in Chennai, "we hope to open it soon" however there has been little movement despite India offer to absorb the administrative costs of the centre for five years. Well-placed anonymous sources informed the Hindu that India made this offer to deter any involvement from Sri Lanka's army.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Government of India and Sri Lanka in 2014 maintained that the facility would be handed over from the Government of India to the Government of Sri Lanka that would, in turn, hand it over to the Jaffna Municipal Council. This arrangement would see the local municipal authority manage the facility as opposed to the central government.
Whilst concerns have been raised over Jaffna municipal council's ability to cover these expenses; the Mayor of Jaffna has insisted that the local authority will be able to.
“I have written to the Indian High Commission, and the offices of the President and Prime Minister, asking for the building to be handed over to us. We have estimated an annual cost of LKR 34 million for that, and I have even made a budgetary allocation from the council’s total budget of LKR 1,466 million for 2022,” Mayor V. Manivannan told The Hindu.
He further noted that during a visit from India's foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the foreign secretary recommitted his pledge for India to support "supporting the centre for five years gives us time to stabilise, use the facility, and make some revenue from it".
Despite this local reporters have raised concerns over attempts to hand over the facility to the army which manages the ‘Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre’ in Colombo.
Speaking to the Hindu, S. Raghuram, department head of Media Studies at Jaffna University relayed the concerns of local communities and their desire for a strong provincial government to have a greater say in development activities.
“The cultural centre ought to be managed by either the Provincial Government or the local municipal authority for it to function as a people’s asset. There are fears that the Central Government might gobble up this facility too” he said.
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