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Sri Lanka Adani row: Official quits after alleging link to Modi

Opposition in India pounces on M.M.C. Ferdinando’s statement to allege another instance of crony capitalism on PM’s watch
Narendra Modi.
Narendra Modi.
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Anita Joshua   |   New Delhi   |   Published 14.06.22, 04:43 AM

The chairman of Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board resigned on Monday amid a controversy triggered by his since retracted statement before a parliamentary panel that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pressured President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to award a renewable energy project to the Adani Group.

The Opposition in India had pounced on M.M.C. Ferdinando’s statement to allege another instance of crony capitalism on Modi’s watch.

Ferdinando’s resignation was confirmed by the island’s power minister, Kanchana Wijesekera, in a tweet: “I have accepted the letter of resignation tendered to me by the CEB Chairman Mr MMC Ferdinando. Vice Chairman Nalinda Ilangaokoon will take over as the New Chairman CEB.”

Sri Lankan newspaper The Morning had on Sunday reported: “Ferdinando on Friday told the parliament’s committee on public enterprises (COPE) that the tender for the wind power plant in Mannar had been given to India’s Adani Group as a result of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi exerting pressure on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

An already embattled Gotabaya had been quick to publicly contradict Ferdinando with a tweet and a statement issued by the President’s office, trying to cap a controversy that could sour relations with the Modi government, which had bailed out Colombo amid a financial crisis.

Subsequently, Ferdinando withdrew his statement to the parliamentary panel and apologised unconditionally.

Ferdinando said: “In regard to the clarification made by me at the COPE meeting held on 10 June 2022, in replying to the allegation made against me on the proposed Mannar and Pooneryn wind and solar projects with Adani Green Energy Limited to generate renewable energy of 500MW, I explained the circumstances behind my letter dated 25 November 2021.”

“During this discussion I became so emotional due to pressures and unreasonable allegations levelled against me to issue this official letter of request. Therefore, due to unexpected pressure and emotions, I was compelled without limitation to express the word ‘India agamathi bala kara bawa kiwwa (stressed by the Prime Minister of India)’, which is totally incorrect. Hence I wish to withdraw the relevant statement and record my apology unconditionally.”

The allegations levelled against the CEB had gained currency because Colombo had last week amended an electricity law to do away with competitive bidding. The Sri Lankan Opposition had alleged the law had been amended to benefit people close to the government.

“SJB (Samagi Jana Balawegaya) MP Nalin Bandara noted that many had concerns that competitive bidding was being done away with to make way for large-scale renewable energy projects such as the ones planned by India’s Adani Group in Sri Lanka, which may cause millions of dollars in losses,” the Sri Lankan newspaper, Sunday Times, reported.

Gotabaya’s tweet of Saturday evening had said: “Re a statement made by the #lka CEB Chairman at a COPE committee hearing regarding the award of a Wind Power Project in Mannar, I categorically deny authorisation to award this project to any specific person or entity. I trust responsible communication in this regard will follow.”

This is not the first time that entities within the Sri Lankan government had indicated a pro-Adani nudge from the Modi government.

On March 2 last year, while awarding the project to develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at Colombo port to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZ Consortium), the Sri Lankan cabinet had said it was in accordance with a proposal submitted by the Indian high commission.

“The proposal presented by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZ Consortium) has been approved by the Indian high commission,” the note had said.

India later said the Sri Lankan government had directly engaged with APSEZ Consortium while clearing the proposal to develop the WCT with Indian and Japanese investors.

“Our high commission in Colombo has already conveyed to the Government of Sri Lanka that their media release insofar as the reference to the approval of the high commission was concerned, is factually incorrect,” then external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said.

“We understand that the Government of Sri Lanka has engaged directly with investors on this project.”

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