Nilanga Dela Plays Pandu With Temple Lands
By Nirmala Kannangara in Kandy - Pictures by Thusitha Kumara
Startling revelations have come to the fore as to how the traditional rajakariya lands of the Dalada Maligawa have been ‘sold’ to property developers by the lay custodian of the Temple of the Tooth contravening the Service Tenant Ordinance.
Eye brows have been raised as to how Diyawadana Nilame (DN) Pradeep Nilanga Dela decided on the lifetime value of rajakariya for two lands and allowed Prime Lands (Pvt.) Ltd. in 2007 and Commercial Credit Ltd. in 2011 to re-sell the rajakariya lands without any restrictions.
According to documents in the possession of The Sunday Leader, the lifetime value of rajakariya for the Polgodahena land in Megoda Kalugamuwa had been set at a mere Rs. 300,000. This land is one acre one hundred and twenty nine perches in extent and was given to Commercial Credit Ltd. on April 5, 2011. The lifetime value of rajakariya for the Udagedarawatte land in Peradeniya which is two and a half acres in extent had been placed at Rs. 30,000 and the land had been given to Prime Lands (Pvt.) Ltd. on September 27, 2007 by the lay custodian.
Polgodahena and Udagedarawatte are two rajakariya lands that belong to Dalada Maligawa. Both these lands were subsequently blocked and re-sold without informing the buyers that they are rajakariya lands nor were they given any rajakariya deeds by these two property developers.
“When we first met Nilanga Dela, we were asked to give rajakariya deeds to our buyers. Then he valued the rajakariya and wanted us to deposit the money in fixed deposits in favour of Dalada Maligawa and said that it is not necessary for us to give rajakariya deeds to our buyers,” Legal Officer Prime Lands (Pvt.) Ltd Dalugodage Jayaratne and Chairman Commercial Credit (Pvt.) Ltd B. Premalal told The Sunday Leader.
Under the Service Tenants Ordinance, the value of rajakariya could be decided every year if the tenants fail to perform their duties to the Dalada Maligawa.
On condition of anonymity, a senior officer in the Department of Buddhist Affairs told The Sunday Leader that the Maligawa trustee cannot ‘sell’ the rajakariya panguwa but could only claim annually that the tenant had not performed his/her duty to the Maligawa.
“Money for the rajakariya panguwa is obtained to cover up the expenses to hire people to perform the said rajakariya. Neither the DN nor the Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs can take a lump sum from the tenants and suspend them from rajakariya work for a lifetime. In these two cases although there is a clause that these two companies are bound to pay more money for rajakariya on a later date if necessary, what will happen if these companies do not exist by that time? If the DN has informed these two companies that there is no necessity to give rajakariya deeds to the buyers then how can the Maligawa ask the tenants to pay for the rajakariya in the future? In the same context the Maligawa can at any time take back the lands from the tenants if they fail to perform their duties, and this would be a loss to the buyers,” said the source.
According to Senior Attorney-at-Law Channa Galappaththige, there are no provisions for the Maligawa custodian to sell the rajakariya panguwa. “The rajakariya fee has to be obtained annually. There are no provisions where the trustee can take a lump sum and suspend the tenants from performing their rajakariya for a lifetime,” Galappaththige told The Sunday Leader.
An employee at the Dalada Maligawa on condition of anonymity voiced the following concerns to The Sunday Leader: “What was the reason for the DN to sell this rajakariya panguwa to these two companies, officially? Although these companies have been advised to deposit the money in the Maligawa account as the annual payments for rajakariya, how much has Dela received unofficially from these transactions? Who has authorized the Commissioner General Buddhist Affairs (CGBA) to give his official consent for these illegal transactions?”
According to the sources, although the DN has no authority to sell rajakariya panguwa, (Sri Lanka’s Tenurial system of land holding) Buddhist devotees may have still accepted it if these lands had been ‘sold’ at the market value and the monies deposited in the Maligawa account.
“Why did the DN and the CGBA decide to sell the rajakariya panguwa – something which has never happened before? At least these lands could have been donated on par with our religion to those who do not have a place to live. It is up to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption and the government auditors to hold a proper investigation to find out as to how much these two companies have remitted to the personal accounts of the DN and the CGBA as ‘gifts’ to carry out such an illegal transaction,” alleged the sources.
Meanwhile The Sunday Leader visited Udagedarawatte in Peradeniya, and met the parties who have purchased the land. “We were shown the list of past owners of this land and since the deeds were clear we bought this. We were not told that this is a rajakariya land owned by the Dalada Maligawa,” B. M. P. Balasooriya told The Sunday Leader.
Asked as to how much it cost him to purchase this land, Balasooriya said that one perch had cost him over Rs.100,000. When he had contacted Prime Lands to find out whether this is indeed rajakariya land and if so why the company had failed to notify the buyers at the time of purchase, Prime Lands had confirmed that it is rajakariya land but had failed to explain why they have misled the buyers.
Another buyer, W. Ariyaratne too had spent his hard earned money to buy a plot of land at Udagedarawatte from Prime Lands. “We were not told that this is rajakariya land and were given a deed of transfer. We were shown the names of the past owners but Prime Lands did not mention anything else,” Ariyaratne told The Sunday Leader.
Meanwhile Senior Attorney Channa Galappaththige told this newspaper that the parties concerned could take legal action against Prime Lands and Commercial Credit for misleading them. Since Nilanga Dela declined to meet this reporter to furnish details, The Sunday Leader met with Krishantha Sanjeewa Hiswella Director Media, Dalada Maligawa and the Land Officer Ranjith Dayanath Kahandawala.
Speaking on the suspicious land deal by Nilanga Dela, Hiswella and Kahandawala refuted the allegations levelled against Dela. They told The Sunday Leader that DN has had no hand in selling rajakari panguwa to Prime Lands and Commercial Credit.
“When the DN came to know that two rajakariya lands had been sold to land sale companies he immediately summoned the two parties to his office. When he realized that these two companies had bought these two lands, on the recommendation of the CGBA, the DN ordered Prime Lands to deposit Rs. 30,000 and Commercial Credit Rs. 300,000 in the Maligawa account as the rajakari fee. Apart from this there may be many more lands that have been sold to land sales companies without the knowledge of Maligawa officials. We should be thankful to DN for being so vigilant about the Maligawa properties,” said Kahandawala.
When asked as to how the DN decided on the price for the annual rajakariya and as to why he obtained a lump sum to wave off the rajakariya duty for a lifetime, Kahandawala said that there is nothing wrong in obtaining a lump sum as the lands in questions have been re-sold to many parties.
“If it was sold to one party then the Maligawa could have asked them to perform the duty or pay rajakariya panguwa. But since there are many more owners now it is difficult to decide what the rajakariya could be,” said Kahandawala.
When asked as to why DN had allowed Prime Lands and Commercial Credit to give away deeds of transfer to the buyers instead of rajakari deeds, Hiswella said that the issue has to be probed. “It is up to the CGBA to find out whether Prime Lands and Commercial Credit had sold the land on rajakari deeds or deeds of transfer. If they have issued deeds of transfer it is illegal and stern action can be taken against the company. All this has to be done by the CGBA and not the DN,” said Hiswella.
All attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact CGBA Chandraprema Gamage, failed. Although a text message was sent to Gamage asking for a comment on the matter, the CGBA did not respond.
Funding the Rajakariya
Chairman Prime Lands (Pvt.) Ltd. B. Premalal responding to queries by The Sunday Leader said that they have followed Diyawadana Nilame Nilanga Dela’s guidelines and paid the Maligawa the due payments for rajakariya.
“When we were developing this land in question, the Dalada Maligawa informed us that this is a rajakariya land and wanted us to deposit Rs. 30,000 in a fixed deposit in lieu of discharging rajakariya by the Dalada Maligawa, an instruction which we complied with,” Premalal told The Sunday Leader.
When asked as to why Prime Lands failed to offer rajakari deeds to their clients as instructed by the Deputy CGBA Kandy I. K. G. Muthubanda by letter dated December 22, 2006, Premalal, said that there was no necessity to offer rajakari deeds once the payment was made to the Maligawa for rajakariya.
“On behalf of our clients we established a fixed deposit for Rs. 30, 000 in favour of the Maligawa. Once the money is paid for rajakariya there is no necessity for us to offer rajakari deeds,” said Premalal.
However, Premalal accepted his failure to let his clients know that Udagedarawatte is a rajakari land and added that neither he nor his company had any underhand transaction with the Maligawa.
Meanwhile, the Legal Officer, Commercial Credit Dalugodage Jayaratne too accepted his failure to inform his clients that there lands are subjected to rajakariya by the Maligawa
“I accept that I have failed to abide by the Deputy CGBA Kandy’s instructions to offer rajakari deeds to the clients and gave deeds of transfers instead. I will immediately correct this by issuing deeds of rectification,” added Jayaratne.
Jayaratne also said that it was Nilanga Dela that decided the ‘price’ for rajakariya. He added that although the Dalada Maligawa ‘sold’ the rajakariya panguwa to his company for a lifetime, the Dambulla Temple and Maranduwawa Temple in Kurunegala never sell the rajakariya for a lifetime. “When I was working for another property developer before I joined Commercial Credit, we purchased temple lands that belong to the Dambulla Temple and Maranduwawa Temple in Kurunegala. However they did not sell the rajakariya to the people and instead directed them to perform rajakariya for the temple or to pay the annual rajakariya fee,” said Jayaratne.