By S. S. Selvanayagam
The Supreme Court on Thursday issued an interim order restraining until 9 May the Road Development Authority (RDA) from cutting down or removing the Bo tree located in Pannipitiya near the border of the Colombo-Avissawella Road.
The Bench comprised Justices Eva Wanasundera and Anil Gooneratne.
Ven. Weraduwe Sirijothi Thera of the Sri Punnyabiwardana Ramaya, Kottawa and three others filed the fundamental rights petition citing the Minister of Higher Education and Highways, the Divisional Secretary of the Maharagama, the Chairman of RDA, the Attorney General and others as respondents.
Kanishka Vitharana with M. Thilakartne appeared for the petitioners.
The history of the Pannipitiya Bo-tree goes back about 400 years and the story of its origin has been passed by word of mouth through generations, stated the petitioners.
The RDA, they complained, in 2015 tried to cut down the Bo-tree for the purpose of the development of the High-level road, which was foiled by strong public protest. The cutting down or removal of the said Bo-tree, the petitioners further stated, will deprive them their cultural and religious rights and thereby violate fundamental rights to equality, the right that no citizen shall be discriminated against on grounds of race, religion, language, caste, etc, as well as the right to the freedom to manifest one’s religion and the freedom to enjoy and promote one’s own culture.
Such an action, they went on to state, would be a violation of the constitutional responsibility of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana and to give the foremost place to Buddhism as provided in the Article 9 of the Constitution which reads: The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 [Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice] and 14(1)(e)[the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching].