By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Days after being severely criticised by the President during a meeting, Director General of the Department of Archaeology, Professor Anura Manatunga, tendered his resignation to the Secretary of the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, during the said meeting on 8 June, asked Prof. Manatunga, when an issue pertaining to the allocation of lands to an archaeological site came up, “Are you trying to teach me history? Or do you want me to teach you?”
Several Tamil politicians from the North and the East, including MPs M.A. Sumanthiran, S. Sritharan, Shanakiyan Rasamanickam and ITAK General Secretary Mavai Senathirajah met Wickremesinghe to discuss various issues related to the Tamil people. During the meeting a team from the Department of Archaeology, headed by Prof. Manatunga, also spoke about the acquisition of lands that they claimed were heritage properties in Thannimurippu and Thiriyaya in the Eastern Province
During the discussion, the President posed several questions to Prof. Manatunga regarding the alleged acquisition of a massive 300,000-acre land, without the approval of the Archaeology Department. The Professor clarified that they do not have the authority to own such lands, but there is an issue concerning land in the Eastern Province where they have only demarcated the area without taking it over.
The Archaeology Department explained that some portions of the land were originally designated as forest and wildlife areas, but they are currently occupied by a Buddhist temple. They assured that they would revisit the site to take necessary action. The President expressed concern over the occupation of such a large land by a temple on state-owned land. The Professor reiterated that they have not claimed any ownership of the land in question.
The President further questioned whether the Archaeology Department could teach him Sri Lanka’s history, or if he should be the one teaching them. This particular discussion gained significant attention on social media platforms.
The acquisition of land by the Archaeology Department in the North and East has sparked controversy in the region in recent times.
During the meeting the President informed Archaeology Department to follow Cabinet policy and to refrain from seizing lands belonging to the public and to remove border marker stones.
While the specific reasons for Professor Manatunga’s resignation have not been disclosed, Buddhasasana Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka confirmed that he has submitted his resignation letter to the Ministry Secretary.