Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

A top member of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) informed a parliamentary panel that a renewable energy project in the island’s northern Mannar district was handed to the Adani Group after Prime Minister Narendra Modi “pressured” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

CEB Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando made the comment before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) on Friday, but quickly retracted it, claiming he had been “passionate.” Mr. Gotabaya issued a tweet on Saturday that read, “Regarding] a remark made by the #lka CEB Chairman at a COPE committee meeting on the award of a Wind Power Project in Mannar, I completely reject authority to grant this project to any specific individual or business.” I am certain that responsible communication will follow.”

Following that, the President’s office issued a statement “vehemently refuting” the CEB official’s claims. “Sri Lanka is now experiencing a severe power crisis, and the President wishes to speed the execution of megapower projects as soon as feasible.” However, in granting such projects, no undue influence will be employed. Project proposals for large-scale renewable energy projects are restricted, but special attention will be made to the selection of institutions for the projects, which will be carried out rigorously in line with the government of Sri Lanka’s open and accountable system.”

The news comes only days after Sri Lanka revised its power law, effectively removing competitive bidding for energy projects. Opposition and government opponents slammed the action. According to the Colombo-based Sunday Times, during the parliamentary discussion on the Bill, which was later enacted, Opposition MP Nalin Bandara expressed worry that competitive bidding was being eliminated “to make room” for projects like the Adani Group’s.

This is not the first time Sri Lankans have raised concerns about the Adani Group’s entry into the island’s energy industry, or mentioned Mr. Modi’s name in this context. Following an agreement between the Group and the CEB in March 2022 to carry out renewable energy projects in the northern Mannar and Pooneryn districts, Sri Lanka’s main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Force) claimed the Indian businessman was making a “backdoor entry,” accusing Mr. Gotabaya of “pampering” Mr. Modi’s “notorious friends.”

The energy project is the Adani Group’s second big engagement in Sri Lanka, following a critical port terminal transaction in Colombo. After Colombo unilaterally terminated a trilateral agreement between the governments of Sri Lanka, India, and Japan to jointly develop the East Container Terminal at the same port, the Group was invited in to execute the West Container Terminal project at the Colombo Port with majority interests. According to Sri Lankan Ministers, the Adani Group was the Indian government’s “nominee” in both cases, implying that there was no competitive bidding procedure. Similarly, there is no evidence of a competitive procedure preceding the Group and CEB’s energy deal.

Even yet, neither party publicly announced the deal, which became public only when Sri Lankan media reported on it.

All recent high-level discussions between India and Sri Lanka, including former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s meeting with Mr. Modi in March, highlighted bilateral cooperation in renewable energy. At March, India’s National Thermal Power Corporation agreed to collaborate with the CEB to build a solar power plant in Sampur, in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee district.

In addition, after displacing a Chinese energy project, India is implementing hybrid energy projects on three islands off the coast of Jaffna Peninsula. Despite the fact that China had won the contract through an Asian Development Bank-backed international competitive offer, Sri Lanka chose the Indian aid project in response to New Delhi’s “concerns” about a Chinese project on India’s southern coast.

By adele rose

Adele Rose is the senior editor and employee of WGBS Pvt Ltd Digital wing.

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