India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri
Lanka to operate the country's loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International
Airport in Hambantota, the island nationís Civil Aviation Minister has told the
Sri Lankan Parliament. The 210 million USW Dollar facility, 241km south-east of
Colombo, is described as the "world's emptiest airport" due to a lack
India would operate the airport as a Sri Lanka-India joint venture, Sri Lanka's
parliament was told. The joint venture would see India gain a major stake of
the airport, he said.
Minister of Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, speaking at the adjournment
motion moved by the Opposition, said: "We need to revive this dying
airport which caused a massive loss of rupees 20 billion." The final terms
of the agreement, however, remains to be worked out, the minister said.
Opposition legislator Kanaka Herath asked if the Mattala airport and adjoining
Hambantota seaport are to be handed over to India and China to please the super
powers. Mr De Silva responded by saying that in 2016, the government had
invited proposals from interested international investors to run the airport.
"Only India offered to help us. Now we are in discussion with the Indians
for the joint venture," Mr de Silva said.
Mattala airport, named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was one of the
major infrastructure projects of Mr Rajapaksa's nearly a decade-long rule. The
project was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport
was declared opened in March 2013.
only international flight operating from the airport to the Gulf was stopped
three months ago due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.
The airport has the capacity to handle one million passengers a year and is
expected to handle five million passengers, 50,000 tonnes of cargo and 6,250
air traffic operations per annum by 2028. The government in 2017 invited
investors to turn the airport into a profit-sharing joint venture. However no
proposals were received to operate, manage and maintain it.
The seaport built in Hambantota, another one of Mr Rajapaksa pet project, has
been leased to China to set off Chinese loans as equity. The Hambantota port
was a major Chinese-assisted infrastructure project in the home district of Mr
Rajapaksa, whose nearly a decade-long rule was ended by President Maithripala
Sirisena in 2015.
The Rajapaksa-led Opposition has called the Hambantota seaport deal a sell-out
of national assets to China.