In a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Mahanayake Theras of Malwathu, Asgiri and Ramanna Chapters requested for a methodical and concessionary electricity tariff policy for places of religious worship. While informing the President about severe difficulties faced by religious places of worship, due to the new electricity tariff revision, they stated that it is regrettable that the concessional electricity tariff system that was given to religious places until now has been cancelled.
Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekara, after months-long negotiations and arbitrations between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the country’s utility regulator, Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL), announced an increase in electricity tariff for the consumers. A move that indeed sent ordinary people, who were struggling to provide at least two proper meals per day, to their loved ones, from the frying pan into the fire. With heavy hearts and no sign of relief in sight for their woes that keep getting added one by one with each passing day, the electricity consumers were compelled to bear the expenses. Except for an agitation here and there, nobody actually bothered to raise their voices for their own good or on behalf of someone else. However, this silence broke when majority of the religious places, especially the Buddhist temples allegedly started receiving bills that came in five digit numbers.
Buddhist Monks threatened to not pay increased electricity tariff and to display their protest said they would keep temples in the dark and not use electronic sound systems to deliver dhamma sermons on Wap Poya Day.
Stressing that there are no separate power plants to generate electricity at low cost for religious places, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekara said in Parliament that concessions for electricity bills for religious places were provided so far after increasing bills of the general public.
Instead of giving into the pressure, the minister said religious places with high electricity bills should adopt renewable energy systems. Relevant officials have been instructed to look into a loan system from India and China to bring solar panels to Sri Lanka, he added.
He also revealed that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had paid electricity bills of 148 religious places so far. “However, the Public Utilities Commission has advised the CEB not to do that anymore and the CEB will adhere to that guideline. If the Finance Ministry decided to provide a concession for religious places, we do not have any problem with that,” he added.
Speaking further, the minister said measures are being taken to provide electricity via floating solar power plants to low-income families and religious places.
He said selections have been made to provide electricity for low-income families and religious places via two units of 10 megawatt floating solar power plants.
All brave and progressive political decisions taken in the past, be it the discussion on legalising abortion for the victims of grave sexual harassment or decimalising homosexuality or even a development project that would benefit the country in many years to come, had to be put off amidst agitation and protest by Buddhist monks or the Catholic Church.
By no means have we classified that increasing electricity tariff, at these difficult times, a progressive move. Yet, we cannot stop admiring the guts of young Minister Wijesekara to collide head on with all powerful religious clergy and remain steadfast in decisions he takes.
This, we witnessed even during the measures the Power and Energy Ministry took to end months-long fuel queues and three-wheel fuel mafia by insisting on issuing fuel on QR code. Though he failed at times, he and his ministry officials were determined and remained focused on achieving the end result even at the cost of losing popularity. Though Wijesekara’s politics may not be acceptable to most of us this country undoubtedly needs political leaders who remain true to their words and act on those without making those sheer utterances.
Similarly, State Minister Diana Gamage, irrespective of whether her plans and views are endorsed by the majority, was seen proposing unconventional and unpopular measures to take the economy forward. Even though, she was criticised, insulted and ridiculed by some groups including her own Cabinet and Parliament colleagues, the woman must take a pat on the back for remaining steadfast on what she said and believed was right. A rare quality shown by her peers and predecessors who bit their own tongue, went back on their words and wrapped up projects even when they witnessed a protest by 10 -20 people in fear of losing voters.