Sri Lankan monks protest electricity price hike

Recent increase in electricity bills leaves places of worship in the red amid the country’s worst economic crisis

The city skyline as pictured from the observation deck of the Chinese-built Sri Lankan ‘white elephant’ Lotus Tower after it opened to the public in Colombo on September 15. However, the country’s Buddhist monks are protesting against rising electricity prices and demanding subsidies for places of worship. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 16, 2022 at 10:12 GMT

Updated: September 16, 2022 at 10:13 GMT

Sri Lankan Buddhist monks took to the streets to protest rising electricity prices and called for subsidies for places of worship following the recent tariff hike.

Fri. Omare Kassapa Thera, a veteran cleric, said Buddhist temples have not received additional funds to pay for the rising cost of electricity.

“As Buddhist monks, we hope the government will pay attention to places of worship,” Ven. Kassapa Thera.

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Fri. Madille Pannaloka Thera, secretary general of the Sinhalese National Organization, said her temple’s monthly electricity bill was 7,500 rupees (around $21), but recently went up to 44,000 rupees.

All places of worship in Sri Lanka depend mainly on donations from worshippers. Sometimes they rent out their buildings and land, but there is no stable and adequate income for most places of worship.

The Ceylon Electricity Board is one of the largest loss-making public bodies in the country. The constant financial support of the Treasury to the Ceylon Electricity Board has had a significant impact on the national economy.

There has been no change in electricity prices since 2014. The Ceylon Electricity Board, which has faced a long-term revenue shortfall, raised the charge by 75% in August.

“There is widespread anger at the massive increase in electricity bills amid the worst economic crisis the country has seen in decades. Along with this increase, all production costs have risen. Consumers must pay more for goods,” said Anusha Mallawaarachi, a Catholic student activist.

“Religious places should be treated as social services and exempt from electricity charges,” she added.

Some places of worship, Christians and Buddhists, have already stopped evening services. The places of worship in the villages no longer have a sufficient source of income.

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera recently said that while rising electricity bills are difficult for the public, given the cost of the Ceylon Electricity Board, something needs to be done.

“If the bill is not paid, the electricity will be cut off,” Wijesekera said.

Fri. Omalpe Sobitha Thera said it was not possible to pay her temple’s electricity bill after the recent increase in electricity tariffs.

“The electricity bill which used to be around 58,000 rupees ($166) has increased to 300,000 rupees and we are unable to pay it,” the senior Buddhist monk said.

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