Adani in an airforce helicopter landing in Mannar, 2021.
Santhosh Jha, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, told journalists in Colombo, that the proposed construction of a wind power station on Mannar Island “should progress after a better negotiation process” after reports that Sri Lanka's Cabinet Appointed Negotiation Committee (CANC) has been "raising concerns over the project components".
“It is a commercial venture by Adani,” Santosh Jha had told reporters in Colombo at a meeting with senior journalists on Thursday (01), Economy Next reported. “It should progress,” he said when asked about the delays in the project.
Initially, the Cabinet approved the implementation of a project to increase electricity generation by installing 6 additional turbines by spending 47 million USD through funding from the Asian Development Bank. “Asian Development Bank funds cannot be used until the government’s foreign debt restructuring program is completed,” Cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardena said during the Cabinet decision briefing in Colombo.
In 2022, Sri Lanka granted provisional approval to Adani Green Energy for two wind projects of 286 MW and 234 MW for an investment of over USD 500 million to be constructed in Northwest Mannar and Pooneryn. The project in Mannar will operate at a total capacity of 250 MW and the project in Pooneryn will operate at a capacity of 100 MW and will both be commissioned in two years, according to the Board of Investment (BOI) Sri Lanka.
The move will see the controversial Adani group, and India, establish a stronger foothold in the Tamil North-East. The Adani Group – headed by chairman Gautam Adani – has long been controversial. The company’s proximity to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and its energy projects have stirred protests not just across India, but Australia too.
The now renewable energy project in the Tamil North-East, is not the company’s first venture on the island.
Last year, the United States agreed to lend US$553 million to build a new container terminal in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo’s port, with construction being led by the Adani group – a deal that that will see Washington work with India on the island as it grows ties across Asia.
Gautam Adani visited Sri Lanka in 2021, where he met with Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his powerful older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. From Colombo, the billionaire businessman went on to visit Mannar – the proposed site of the renewable energy project – on a Sri Lankan air force helicopter.
India's ventures on the island have been dogged with opposition from within Sri Lanka and allegations of cronyism in India, particularly with the involvement of the Adani group. In 2022, protestors gathered outside the Indian High Commission in Colombo, chanting “Stop Adani, Stop Adani!” and “Hands off Sri Lanka”.
Protestors outside the Indian High Commission in Colombo, 2022.
It came after the group won the contract to a separate renewable energy project in the Tamil North-East, reportedly at the behest of Narendra Modi. "BJP’s cronyism has now crossed Palk Strait and moved into Sri Lanka," tweeted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the fallout of the accusations.
Residents in Mannar have been protesting calling on the government to reconsider its plans for the construction of the wind power plants. Illegal development activities destroying the environment in Mannar must be stopped immediately, protestors demanded, as they marched from the Mannar main bridge to the District Secretariat last week.
They held placards that read 'Stop sand mining or Mannar will go underwater’, 'Mannar Island stolen in broad daylight,’ and 'If dredging is not stopped, fresh water will become polluted and salinity will increase’. They demanded that the government halt the sand mining project and construction of wind power turbines, claiming it would cause irreparable damage to the environment, deforestation, and harm to marine resources and land.
In the Sinhala south however, the opposition to Indian involvement on the island follows a long record of hostility towards New Delhi reflected deeper rooted ‘Indo-phobic’ sentiments that have attempted to block Indian commercial access to the island.
Cartoon published in The Island in 2010