By Sarah Hannan
The Department of Prisons is to temporarily occupy the Bogambara Prison complex, which is undergoing renovations and is to be converted into a cultural park and tourism centre, The Morning learnt.
“Due to the present pandemic and taking the advice from the health authorities, we are temporarily going to move up to 1,000 prisoners from the Welikada Prison complex to Bogambara in the coming weeks,” Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya told The Morning.
He further elaborated that the overcrowding in Colombo is too much and that they had to take a quick call on a place they could relocate prisoners in order to maintain physical distance with the prison institutes.
When inquired whether any of the prisoners in the Pallekele Prison complex too would be moved, Upludeniya noted that it too has reached full capacity and due to some management difficulty which had been raised at the Kegalle Prison, several inmates had to be transferred to the Pallekele Prison complex recently.
The repurposing of the Bogambara Prison, which is also an archaeologically protected site in Kandy, would be converted into a cultural park and tourism centre, as drawn up under the Bogambara Prison Development Project.
The project was implemented by the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade and the Ministery of Megapolis and Western Development, Urban Development Authority (UDA), Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB), Central Engineering Services (Pvt.) Ltd. (CES), and the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI).
The development is carried out under the guidance and supervision of the Department of Archaeology in order to preserve the history and culture of the premises.
The Bogambara Prison was Sri Lanka’s second largest prison spanning 13 acres, second only to the Welikada Prison in Colombo. Its 92,000-square-foot main building is three storeys high and houses 382 cells, and is also accompanied by a 9,000-square-foot prison medical building to its west.
The prison complex is one of the oldest buildings in the heritage city and is considered a rich archaeological landmark. It was also one of two prisons in Sri Lanka which saw the implementation of the death penalty and therefore was equipped with gallows.
In order to improve prison conditions and expand the prison network, the Government decided to shutdown the prison in 2013 and transferred all the prisoners to a new prison complex in Pallekele.
After permanently closing its doors on 1 January 2014, the Bogambara Prison property and equipment were handed over to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in order to be used for commercial and viewing purposes as a historical building.
In June 2019, the BOI called a Request for Proposals to develop the Bogambara Prison into a four or five-star hotel. They hoped to attract both foreign and local investors on a design, build, finance, and operate model, offering the land on a lease of up to 50 years.