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Colombo East terminal will be developed by Sri Lanka says the Islands Port minister

The Sri Lankan government today denied reports in the media that Prime Minister Ranil  Wickremesingh had proposed to the Cabinet India’s participation in Colombo’s East Terminal Project saying government has already decided that the terminal should be developed by the Sri Lankan Port Authority.

The Islands Port minister Mahina Samarasinghe was grilled by the media over reports of a conflict between Prime Minister Ranil and President Srisena over who should run the Colombo’s east terminal. The reports said while the prime minister favored the terminal to be handed over to India for development, the President wanted the project to be kept by the country.

Samarasinghe denied media reports as regards Premier Wickremesinghe submitting a cabinet memorandum on East Terminal development. The media pressed Samarasinghe over the possibility of the UNP hitting back at President Sirisena following his refusal to give East Terminal to India as proposed by the PM. Samarasinghe displayed the Cabinet memorandum submitted by him in his capacity as the Ports and Shipping Minister seeking approval for the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to develop the East Terminal according to SriLankan media reports.

Samarasinghe alleged that a section of the media at the behest of some unidentified UNPer had propagated the lie that India and Sri Lanka (current dispensation) had finalised a MoU on the East Terminal Development. No mention had been made to East Terminal in the MoU signed by Minister Malik Samarawickrema on behalf of Sri Lanka and President Sirisena had repeatedly declared his intention to keep East Terminal under Sri Lanka control.

Responding to media queries, Samarasinghe said that previous plans to operate East Terminal through public-private partnership had been scrapped and the government was now going ahead with moves to invest SLPA funds in the East Terminal.

Of course if India, if it wants to develop a new container terminal, there will be substantial investment in case New Delhi accepted Sri Lanka’s proposal, the Sri Lankan Port minister said.

After a Chinese company had taken over a container terminal at Colombo a few years ago, India has evinced interest in participation in Colombo’s East terminal project. This was confirmed by the Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari while talking to newspersons during his visit to Chennai last year.

Mr Gadkari while replying to questions said participation in Colombo’s East terminal did not mean scrapping of Colachel port project in lands end in Tamil Nadu.  Colachel project is intact he said. Indications were the state owned Container Corporation of India would undertake the development of Colombo terminal project.

The fact of the matter is Colombo port is thriving on transshipment business and 80 per cent of the volumes came from the East coast ports of India. It was for this reason,  Colachel port was planned and given in principle approval by the Union Cabinet four years ago. If India takes up development of Colombo East terminal, the rationale of having a transshipment terminal at Colachel or Vizhinjam gets lost according to industry sources here.

Meanwhile the Tamil Nadu government had pressed the centre to set up a naval station at Kannyakumari which is close to the proposed terminal at Colachel.


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