Lanka official says PM wanted Adani to get the project; Withdraw, Gotabaya denies

A senior Sri Lankan official claimed before the Sri Lankan parliamentary panel that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi He reportedly pressured President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to award a power project to the Adani Group, but withdrew the statement a day later as the controversy escalated. Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa “strongly” denied the allegation.

The withdrawn claim pertains to a 500 MW renewable energy project in the island country’s North Mannar district. Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) chairman, MMC Ferdinando, appearing before a parliamentary panel in Colombo on Friday claimed that during talks with Rajapaksa, the President had told him that Modi asked him to hand over the project. pressure was exerted. Adani Group.

Addressing the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Ferdinando can be heard saying that Rajapaksa “told me he was under Modi’s pressure”. The senior official told the committee that the President had asked them to hand over the project to an Indian company.

He also told the committee that Lankan officials say that the prime minister wanted Adani to get the project; Withdraws, Gotabaya denies that CEB has never in the past made unsolicited offers on a government-to-government basis. The discussion between Rajapaksa and Ferdinando reportedly took place when the president called him after a meeting chaired by him.

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But a day after appearing before the panel, Ferdinando withdrew his statement, claiming that he had become “emotional” because of some of the questions that were asked of him that appeared to be wrongdoing. Were.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa earlier issued a swift denial on Twitter, where he said: “With regard to the award of a wind power project in Mannar, I expressly ask the authority to award this project to any specific person or entity.” I refuse. I am sure that responsible communication will be followed in this regard.”

Later, his office issued a lengthy statement, which made a “strong denial” of anyone influencing him in delivering the project. The statement said Rajapaksa “categorically stated that he had not at any time given authorization to any person or institution in Mannar to award a wind power project.”

“The President strongly denies the statement made in this regard by the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board in the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises.”

The statement also said: “Sri Lanka is currently in acute power shortage and the President wishes to expedite the implementation of mega power projects at the earliest. However, any undue influence in granting such projects Project proposals for large scale renewable energy projects are limited, but special attention will be paid to the selection of institutions for the projects, which will be done strictly according to a transparent and accountable system by the Government of Sri Lanka.

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The controversy comes days after Sri Lanka changed its laws to eliminate competitive bidding for energy projects. The opposition Samagi Jan Balvegaya Party alleged in Parliament during the passage of the amendment that the changes were made with the intention of regularizing the award of the Mannar contract to the Adani group.

SJB MP Nalin Bandara pointed to concerns that competitive bidding was being done away with “making way” for projects like the Adani Group. Another party member, Harsha da Silva, proposed an amendment to ensure that projects over 10MW go through a competitive bidding process, adding that eliminating competitive bidding would open the door to corruption.

The CEB unions are also angry and have threatened a nationwide strike. But they turned it off after the President’s order to declare electricity an essential service.

“The gifting of the largest wind power belt in the country is being arranged at a rapid pace,” the CEB Engineers Union said in a statement.

It demanded that the government “stop handing over the country’s wind and solar resources to the Adani Group without following a competitive bidding process”.

There was no immediate reaction from India or the Adani Group regarding the dispute.

Adani Group has been expanding its presence in Sri Lanka over the years.

Last year, it won a contract to develop and run Colombo Port’s strategically important Western Container Terminal with a 51 per cent stake.

Last October, Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani visited Sri Lanka and held talks with President Rajapaksa about investment opportunities. He visited the Northern Province, which includes coastal Mannar, Jaffna and Kilinochi districts. There are already a few wind farms in the area.

Six months after the visit, the Adani Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up two renewable energy projects in Mannar district and Poonrin in Kilinochi district.

The terms of the agreement signed between the Lankan government and the Adani Group on March 12 are not public. This came at a time when the Indian government started providing aid to its troubled southern neighbour.

The signing was reported by a Sri Lankan newspaper. The lack of transparency had raised concerns at the time as well.

In the Sri Lankan parliament last week, Electricity and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara said the amendment bill was an excellent opportunity to clear the legal hurdle that has been going on since 2013, according to the Sunday Times newspaper.

The country could no longer depend on coal and diesel plants. Minister Wijesekara claimed that many of the ongoing Acts actually hinder renewable energy projects and a section of officials regularly tries to use the existing laws to implement such projects.

Sri Lanka also sees this as a power trade opportunity with India. in an interview with Indian Express Earlier this year, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India Milinda Moragoda said that Mannar is the ideal location for this. “Mannar has a wind power capacity of 5,000 MW. If it can be exploited… that is something both sides are looking at. Then we can consider exporting electricity to India. And we can import electricity from India, because [undersea] Cable laying is no big deal. Right now, we are one of the few countries with which you do not have energy relations – in the north you have Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal,” Moragoda said.

With inputs from Nirupama Subramaniam

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