A top Sri Lankan official withdrew his statement on Sunday two days after he said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “pressured” the island nation’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to award a power project to the Adani Group, The Hindu reported on Sunday.
At a hearing of Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises on Friday, the Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman MMC Ferdinando said that Rajapaksa had told him that Modi was insisting that a 500-megawatt wind power plant project be allotted to the Adani Group, The Wire reported.
A day later, Rajapaksa denied the claim.
“Regarding a statement made by the 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,” Rajapaksa said in a tweet on Saturday. “I trust responsible communication in this regard will follow.”
Later, the president’s office released a statement, “vehemently denying” Ferdinando remarks, Sri Lankan news website Ada Derana reported.
“Sri Lanka is currently in an acute shortage of power and President desires to expedite the implementation of mega power projects as early as possible, however, no undue influence will be used in awarding such projects,” read the statement. “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 carried out strictly in accordance with the transparent and accountable system by the government of Sri Lanka.”
On Saturday evening, Ferdinando retracted his remarks, claiming that he made a false statement as he got “emotional”, reported Sri Lankan news organisation The Morning.
“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,” Ferdinando said. “Hence I wish to withdraw the relevant statement and record my apology unconditionally.”
The controversy erupted after the Sri Lankan Parliament passed an amendment to the 1989 Electricity Act to remove the provision of competitive bidding to award power projects.
The country’s main Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya wanted power projects beyond 10-megawatts capacity to go through a competitive bidding process, Sri Lankan news website News First reported.
However, a majority of the MPs voted against the proposal.
After the Electricity (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament on Thursday, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya alleged that the main reason to amend the Act was to make way for the “unsolicited” Adani deal.
Incidentally, Gautam Adani, the chairman of the Adani Group had visited Sri Lanka in October and said that he was looking forward to “other infrastructure partnerships” with the country apart from the Colombo port project.
In March, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya had said the Indian businessman was making a “backdoor entry” after Adani Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding for two renewable energy projects in Mannar and Pooneryn districts, The Hindu reported.
The party had accused Rajapaksa of “pampering Modi’s notorious friends”.
The island nation is battling its most devastating economic crisis since 1948.
An inflation rate spiralling towards 40% along with shortages of medicines, milk powder, cooking gas, kerosene and other essential items have sparked nationwide protests.
It has depended on India for fuel, medicine and food items. India has already extended over $3 billion to the cash-strapped country through currency swaps, credit lines for essentials and loan deferments.