New Delhi, December 13 (The Print): The bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka has been “complicated” since the time of the Ramayana, but leaders of the two countries have always had an “open, transparent and direct dialogue since independence” according to Asoka Milinda Moragoda, Sri Lanka’s new high commissioner to India.
In an exclusive interview with ThePrint, Moragoda, who took charge as Colombo’s new envoy in September 2021, said even as he explained some of the recent decisions taken by the Sri Lankan government that led to tensions in bilateral ties.
“The relationship has been complicated from Ramayana until now. When you have a giant neighbour, it is an asymmetrical relationship,” he told ThePrint.
“But I think compared to many other countries we have far fewer tensions, in the regional context. We are both democracies and untidiness in decision-making can be inherent in democratic processes. Still, since independence all our leaders have always had open, transparent, and direct dialogue,” he added.
Explaining the rationale behind Colombo’s sudden decision to scrap the $500-million East Container Terminal (ECT) project — signed as a government-to-government deal among India, Japan and Sri Lanka — in February this year, and instead hand over the West Container Terminal (WCT) development plan to the Adani Group, the high commissioner said this was done from an investment point of view.
In the ECT, we were only able to provide 49 per cent to India and Japan — that was the arrangement — while 51 per cent was with Sri Lanka Port Authority. Of course, India and Japan could have a say in the management. In the WCT’s context, 85 per cent of the equity has been made available to Adani Group and its local partner,” he said.
He also emphasised that the Sri Lankan government is keen to have more advanced technology in its ports, and thus wanted to go for a private deal.
“The technologies in the ports are leapfrogging. This is now a technology-driven business, unlike older times. So to that extent, the transaction is even better.”
Moragoda also said, “Private investment is preferable to purely strategic investments,” adding that “strategic investments eventually become unsustainable”.
“So for me, an investment by a private investor in the West Terminal is far better than investing money purely for strategic reasons.”
Elaborating on the economic aspect of the Colombo Port, he said that 80 per cent of the business the port does is that of transshipment, of which 70 per cent goes to India. Out of this 70 per cent, 35 per cent goes to Adani Ports.
“So from an investment point of view, this makes perfect sense,” he said.
In March 2021, the Adani Group signed a $700-million deal with the state-run Sri Lanka Ports Authority to develop and run the strategic Colombo Port’s West International Container Terminal.
The Adani Group will have a 51 per cent stake, and the agreement to build, operate and transfer (BOT) will be valid for 35 years.
The terminal will come up just next to China’s jetty at the port.
During the last visit to Colombo by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in October, India did push for the ECT to go through as New Delhi views it as a strategic deal, considering Beijing’s growing influence there.