The Sangha’s lament and temple blackouts | Daily News

The Sangha’s lament and temple blackouts

Sri Lanka’s Sangha community has come out strongly against the recent decision to increase the electricity tariff, which they say most temples could not afford. Consequently, the Bhikkus have decided to switch off the lights of all temples on Vap Full Moon Poya Day with the threat of continuing with the practice indefinitely unless the authorities reduce the tariff.

They are indeed not demanding for the tariff to be brought down to the previous levels, only that temples and other places of worship be given concessions to tide over the difficulty. After all, a majority of monks, particularly in rural temples, depend on the Dayakas (patrons) for survival.

How then can these Bhikkus pay electricity bills which they claim have been jacked up to astronomical levels? Hence, the Sri Lanka Ramanna Mahanikaya’s Central Province Sangha Sabha has decided to turn off the lights of all temples during the upcoming Poya Day as a mark of protest against the increased electricity tariffs, according to Chief Sangha Nayaka of the Central Province Most Ven. Godamune Pannakiththi Thera.

The decision was taken by a special resolution passed at the Rajopavanarama Temple in Getambe on Monday. Other religious clergy too have joined the Sangha to protest the electricity tariff hike.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday told Parliament that the Government was in no position to continue with subsidies while adding that of the 48,000 places of worship in the country, the electricity tariff is being increased only marginally in 36,000. The solution lay in providing solar power to temples as a means of overcoming the problem, he stated.

However, the proposed temple blackout is not going to sit well with the devout and religious among the Buddhist public who follow temple rituals and other practices to the letter. This was seen even during the pandemic days when devotees flocked to temples despite warnings by the Health authorities.

The blackout now would mean there would be no rituals such as Aloka Poojas and even Poya Day sermons relayed by temples over loudspeakers would be a thing of the past.

Ditto for other places of religious worship. Although the Catholic clergy have not spoken of blackouts in the Churches, they too are bound to follow the Maha Sangha’s line before long. If that is the case, there could even be Church blackouts during Christmas midnight services.

The Government should address the situation with the seriousness it deserves. If not, the Sangha could possibly bring the country’s Buddhist population on to the streets heralding another Aragalaya which the authorities would find difficult to contain. By and large the Maha Sangha did not participate in the previous Aragalaya.

But this time around there could be a huge mobilization of the Sangha backed by the country's Buddhists which would pose a problem for the authorities. Hence the need for finding a speedy solution to the issue. After all, the Constitution gives Buddhism pride of place with the duty devolved to the Government to protect the Buddha Sasana. This guarantee should be upheld at whatever cost.

Of course, not all the temples need to be given concessions. There are temples in the cities which could afford to settle their electricity bills regardless of the tariff. It is the poor isolated temples in rural areas that need assistance. Let alone paying electricity bills, these temples hardly find it possible to survive and depend on handouts from the village dayakas, who are themselves poor.

Blacking out temples would also mean depriving spiritual nourishment to the faithful which in turn could have its negative repercussions. The people, more than at any other time, need blessings and intervention from whatever Gods to survive the ordeals they are being put through.

Not just places of worship, but all other establishments and individuals are being dealt a cruel blow by the steep rise in electricity tariffs. TV showed a trader shutting down his deep freezer after receiving his monthly electricity bill, risking destruction of all the frozen food. The student population would now have to put in less hours of study at home and teachers will have to give them less homework. Otherwise they will run up high electricity bills. For average middle-class parents already forking out double fare for school vans, this certainly would be too much to endure.

Foreign investors too are bound to give Sri Lanka a wide berth and foreign businesses already in the country are going to look elsewhere where the electricity costs are much less. Local exporters too will be forced to increase the prices of their export products to match the electricity tariff hike, thereby running the risk of losing their export businesses. All sectors are going to be affected across the board by the power hike, made worse by the high costs of raw materials and other cost adjustments.

True, the Government is in a bind unable to offer concessions given the dire state of the economy. In any case, the removal of subsidies and other cost-cutting measures are central to the IMF and other lenders granting financial assistance. Thus the Government is certainly placed in an unenviable position.


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