Colombo: Buddhist temples turn off lights against hike in utility bills
by Melani Manel Perera

Electricity costs have jumped by 555%. Monks accuse the government of keeping places of worship in the dark. In rural areas they no longer get offerings from the faithful. Other religious leaders have joined the protest.




Colombo (AsiaNews) - A group of Buddhist monks has called on temples across the island to turn off the lights on the upcoming Poya (full moon) on 9 October, in protest at the 555% increase in bills at places of worship.

The Sangha Sabha (Council of Monks) of the Central Province met in recent days to decide how to deal with the situation. The monks who took part in the discussion expressed strong opposition to the government's decision, arguing that many temples cannot afford to pay the new rates.

Speaking to the media, the monks informed that the lights can be switched off when lay people are present in the temple for the celebration of certain rituals such as Bodhi Pooja. The celebration season of several important Buddhist rituals, including Vesak and Poson, begins in the coming months.

According to various opinions, due to the economic crisis, the income of places of worship has decreased, with temples in rural areas of the country in particular difficulty. Places of worship depend almost exclusively on donations from the faithful.

"With the increase in the cost of electricity, it seems that the government wants to punish religious places," commented Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero, the head of the Sri Bodhiraja temple in Ambilipitiya, which houses about 75 monks. Their bill increased from 60,000 to 300,750 rupees (168 to 840 euro). "Is this therefore not a punishment?" the monk asked.

The Energy Minister, Kanchana Wijesekera, said that places of worship can install solar panels to address the problem.

In a letter sent to President Ranil Wickramasinghe, the monks recalled that according to the Constitution, the government is committed to protecting Buddhism. As a sign of solidarity, Muslim, Hindu and Christian religious leaders held a protest in Colombo on the evening of 20 September to urge the government to reconsider its decision on the bill increase.

Behind Zimbabwe, Lebanon and Venezuela, Sri Lanka is the fourth country in the world with the highest food inflation. For months, Sri Lankans have been facing the worst economic crisis in the post-independence period.