Confusion is worst confounded over the tug-of-war on re-opening the A-26 Road in Kandy adjacent to the Dalada Maligawa with the Temple. Kandy has only three entrances and exit gateways – William Gopallawa Mawatha and Peradeniya Road for Colombo bound traffic, Trincolmalee Street for North bound traffic and the Thennekumbura-Ampitiya gateway for Mahiyanganaya, Ampara, Batticaloa, Hanguranketha traffic. All three gateways bring a massive influx of the migrant population of the Kandy City.
The Kandy Environment and Health Protection Organizationwhich demands the opening of the Kandy – Mahiyanganaya Main Road, adjacent to the Sri DaladaMaligawa/Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, claimed that traffic in Kandy was worse than in Pettah, Colombo
Earlier this gateway was serviced by two routes on either side of the Kandy Lake bund, facilitating ease of movement. The closure of one of these vital arteries is now causing a traffic congestion sometimes causing a vehicle to be stuck for over 60 minutes. Environmentalists and protestors putting forward various reasons that embrace health issues, prestige of the religious place and day-to-day human problems as a result of the road remaining closed.
The Kandy Environment and Health Protection Organization which demands the opening of the A-26 Road (the Kandy – Mahiyanganaya Main Road), adjacent to the Sri DaladaMaligawa/Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, claimed that traffic in Kandy was worse than in Pettah, Colombo.
The A-26 Road is under the purview of the Road Development Authority (RDA).
On February 19, the Kandy Environment and Health Protection Organization with civil society organizations, intellectuals, and student organizations (like the Inter-University Students Federation) and citizens conducted a protest in Kandy near the Dharmaraja College Junction, to pressurize the relevant authorities to open the A-26 Road. The protest has been planned three months ago, Co-Convener of the Kandy Environment and Health Protection Organization, Ananda H. Stephen said.
Prior to the presidential election in 2015, incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena made a pledge that once he assumed power he would open the Road but later met with opposition from the Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters, he recalled.
Parties affected by the closure of the road being include schoolchildren from Hillwood College, Mahamaya Girls’ College and the D.S. Senanayake College, older generation, patients and doctors (the female Principal of the Sirimalwatta Navodya Maha Vidyalaya died in the ambulance, which got stuck in a traffic jam, on the way to the Kandy General Hospital and the doctors had said that she could have been saved had she been brought an hour earlier), garment factory workers and office staff, he claimed.
‘We discussed the matter with the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter and he had no objections though the former Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter who passed away vehemently opposed it, he pointed out.
He noted that it was the Sangha Sabhawa of the Asgiriya Chapter that was giving lame excuses stating that exhaust fumes from vehicles affected the food that is being served at the Maligawa as gilanpasa, when the Kandy Environment and Health Protection Organization put forward the citizens’ grievances using scientific evidence pertaining to the levels of pollution.
“Discussions with regard to getting the A-26 Road opened have been going on for quite some time now. We conducted a house to house campaign along with a poster campaign. The barricades were placed after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam attacked the Maligawa. We gave Sirisena one year and it has nothing to do with religion. Traffic is a big problem in the mornings and the afternoons. The protestors were assaulted and cellophane bags containing chilli powder were thrown at them”, he lamented. We are going to continue our struggle, he maintained.
“We respect the Maligawa. The Asgiriya Chapter is located above the Asgiriya International Stadium and they are not affected as they do not come down to the Maligawa,” Stephen opined.
This is all due to an alternative not being provided by the Government in an expeditious manner,
Committee Member of the AsgiriyaChapter; Ven. Dr. Medagama Dhammananda Thera said, adding that a small road near the Kandy Municipal Council could be widened as a solution.
The latter solution is being opposed by certain groups who protest that trees will have to be cut to make such a change, he pointed out.
The road should remain closed so as to allow Buddhists to worship in peace; he explained adding that the Chapter too acknowledged that there was an issue when it came to day-to-day travel which needed to be addressed via a viable alternative solution.
“The present situation is that Kandy is densely populated. Before the terrorist attack the road was open. Our present opposition is not due to the issue of terrorism. According to our surveys, environmental pollution is mainly in the Kandy City Centre near Torrington and the clock tower. The wind from the Kandy Lake blows and there are also the vibrations, which affect the Maligawa.
In 1986, former President J.R. Jayewardene closed it. It was at various times opened afterwards. Those who conducted the protest were not those who genuinely represented the rights of the people of Kandy but instead were representatives of Marxist political parties. The proposal for a bridge to be put up across the Lake was halted, he elaborated.
Director General of the RDA, M. Pushpa K.L. Gunaratne and Working Director of the RDA, J.T.S.P. Kariyawasam were not available for a comment.