Sri Lanka coughing up a container terminal


Public disillusionment with the incumbent government is palpable. Among its bitterest critics are many of those who ardently supported the SLPP and worked tirelessly to ensure its electoral victories; they include a number of prominent Buddhist monks. The consternation of the disillusioned laymen critical of the government reminds us of Nanda Malini’s popular song—Pem lovadi dutu ohumada me, ohutada ma anda une; it is about a rueful retrospection by a hapless woman who has become disenchanted with her spouse, having loved him madly during their passionate courtship. The SLPP backers also naively expected their government to be truthful and faithful to them only to be disillusioned.

Port workers have sunk their political differences in a bid to defeat what they call a government move to sell the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port to India. Before the last presidential and parliamentary polls, the SLPP condemned the yahapalana regime for selling state assets, and even vowed to take them over after forming a government. It has reneged on that promise.

The current administration says the ECT will not be privatised. Some ministers have said the government will opt for a partnership instead, and hold the majority stake in the venture because the country cannot afford to operate the terminal. They remain silent on the media reports that a Cabinet paper has recently been approved for a partnership with India’s Adani Group to operate the ECT.

Curiously, the SLPP leaders take pride in having built an inland port at Hambantota and never miss an opportunity rake their yahapalana counterparts over the coals for leasing it to China. The same grandees now claim that their patriotic government is not equal to the task of operating the newly built terminal under its own steam!

The government has blotted its copybook on the environmental front as well. Environmental degradation continues unabated. Some ministers are openly encouraging forest encroachments and the destruction of mangroves. Rishad Bathiudeen, who is responsible for destroying a section of the Kallaru forest reserve, is receiving kid-glove treatment. Instead of dealing with the destroyers of forests, the government has taken on the environmentalists, who are struggling to save the country’s rapidly receding forest cover. It has also opened the ‘residual’ forests for exploitation by removing them from the Forest Department’s purview and placing them under the District and Divisional Secretariats full of malleable officials.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa went out of his way to have cattle slaughter banned and received praise from the Maha Sangha and animal rights activists. Now, the government is reported to have allowed South Asia’s biggest meat processing factory to be set up here. It advertises its commitment to fostering Buddhism, and its leaders often fall at the feet of Buddhist monks, in public, and pay homage to sacred shrines. They took their oaths at Ruwanweliseya, Sri Dalada Maligawa and the historical Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, making a public display of their love of Buddhism. But they are apparently strong adherents of another ism—Machiavellianism. They are going by Machiavelli’s advice that the rulers should consider the promise given as a necessity of the past, and the word broken as a necessity of the present.

The JVP has demanded to know why the government has proposed a venture with the Adani Group instead of inviting investors if its claim that it is looking for foreign investment is true. The government is obviously under pressure from New Delhi.

Some commentators have argued that the meteoric rise of the Adani group has been possible due to its owner Gautam Adani’s friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Adani threw in his lot with Modi when the latter incurred opprobrium of the Indian business community over the anti-Muslim riots in Gujrat in 2002, when he was the Chief Minister of that state. They have since been inseparable friends. Adani has come be to be dubbed Modi’s Rockefeller.

There are various allegations of questionable business practices against Adani’s conglomerate. This year, the Central Bureau of Investigation of India booked the Adani Power Ltd. bigwigs and their counterparts from 25 other companies for allegedly causing a staggering loss to the state coffers. The Modi government has come under heavy criticism for the manner in which the Adani group was allowed to secure contracts for operating six Indian airports. It is said to have enabled companies without any experience in the field to bid so that the Adani group, which was among them, would benefit. The Adani Group has been fined in Australia for misinterpreting environmental approval conditions at its mine in central Queensland, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

The Colombo Port workers are not alone in protesting against the Adani Group. Indian farmers who are currently struggling to scuttle a set of draconian farm laws have accused it of exploiting them, a charge it has vehemently denied. Members of the ‘Stop Adani movement’ recently gathered outside the Sydney Cricket Ground during the first one-day international between Australia and India in protest against the company’s mining project, and two of them even invaded the pitch.

Are the Sri Lankan leaders trying to worm their way into Modi’s affections by offering the ECT to the Adani Group apart from reaping other benefits from the deal?

When the yahapalana government leased out the Hambantota Port to China, The New York Times said China had made Sri Lanka cough up a port. As for what is happening at the Colombo Port, will the western media say India is making Sri Lanka cough up a container terminal?
Source: The Island



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