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India Sri Lanka talks on handing over Colombo port terminal to New Delhi called off due to current political situation in the island

The formal talks between India and Sri Lanka over the latter seeking control of the Colombo harbor East Container Terminal (ECT) in terms of an MoU signed in April 2017 has been delayed indefinitely due to the sacking of the UNP-led government President Srisena is understood to be against handing over the East Container terminal to India and is in favor of developing the Colombo port terminal by Sri Lankan Port Authority..

Sri Lankan Port Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said his administration will not abide by the Memorandum of Understanding signed with India last year to hand over the East Container terminal at Colombo Port to New Delhi. The United National Party and its leader Ranil Wickremesighe have erroneously asserted that the MOU covered handing over to India the development of East Terminal the Port Minister was quoted by the Sri Lankan media..

President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP-led administration on Oct 26.

Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe said that planned talks with India couldn’t be held due to the current political situation in the island. Minister Samarasinghe said that he would meet Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu soon after the reconvening of parliament on Nov 14.

At the last Sri Lankan  Cabinet meeting attended by President Sirisena and the then PM Wickremesinghe on Oct 23 before sacking of the government, the UNP leader had requested the final decision on the East Container Terminal be delayed until they discussed the matter with the Indian High Commissioner, Samarasinghe said.

The Country’s Port Minister Samarasinghe had presented a cabinet paper on Oct 16 to give the responsibility of running the East Container Terminal to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

Samarasinghe said that Sri Lanka wouldn’t abide by an MOU finalized in April 2017 in New Delhi in respect of the ECT though the UNP erroneously asserted that it covered the facility.

The then Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj signed the MoU on behalf of Sri Lanka and India, respectively.

According to Samarasinghe, President Sirisena was ready to accept Indian investment on West Container Terminal (WCT) of the Colombo harbor.

Long before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government sought to attract external investments to the Colombo port, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa had secured major private investments.

A consortium running the South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) took over the operation and management of the Queen Elizabeth Quay (QCT) in Sept 1999 on a 30 year Build-Own-Transfer (BOT) contract. SAGT secured 85 per cent of the partnership and the balance held by the SLPA.

President Rajapaksa allowed Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd. (CICT), which is a joint venture involving China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (85 per cent of the partnership) and SLPA the rest. The agreement is for a period of 35 years. At the moment, only the CICT can accommodate the largest vessels and once the SLPA fully equipped the ECT, it, too, will be able to accommodate such vessels.

Currently, SLPA runs Jaya Container Terminal at the Colombo port.

 

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