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Sri Lankan officials hamper Adani wind project in Mannar

Sri Lankan officials disgruntled with India's involvement in infrastructure projects are said to have delayed fast-tracking the Mannar wind farm project. 

“Some officials are stubborn and not helping to fast track the project,” a cabinet minister told EconomyNext when asked the reasons for the delay.

“Most of them are still living in the past and do not trust India despite this project has direct benefit to the country,” the Minister said referring to anti-Indian sentiment among Sri Lankan bureaucrats following India’s role in Sri Lanka’s 26-year armed conflict.

The North-East continues to suffer from a lack of investment, last week the UNDP released its latest Multidimensional Vulnerability Index on Sri Lanka.  The MVI shows a large percentage of individuals in North-East live below the poverty line and have several vulnerabilities, with some of the districts being the worst affected on the whole island.

Overall, the Northern and Eastern Provinces had the highest incidence of multidimensional vulnerability by province, according to data gathered by the UNDP.

Despite this, a Sri Lankan bio-diversity scientists, Rohan Pethiyagoda has called the project “another wasteful scam” and questioned its Environmental Assessment Impact (EIA) as well as the pricing.

Pethiyagoda posted a video on his YouTube channel where he called the project a scam and a whitewash. “Adani will construct 52 wind turbines on the island in Mannar. Each with a generation capacity of 5.2 MW, the project will generate 1000 gigawatt-hours of green energy every year, which is about 6% of Sri Lanka’s current national demand. Sounds great isn't it? But it isn't.” he said. “This is yet another one of those wasteful scam projects that will reduce this country to destitution.” 

Referring to the “EIA as an absolute disgrace” Pethiyagoda said the assessment “overlooks an enormous social, economic, and environmental harm this project will cause.” In a lengthy video, he talks about how the region is declared environmentally sensitive and references to the area being a bird habitat is not just green speak but based on solid evidence. 

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.

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”.

Representatives of Adani have hit back at the allegations citing that it was a vicious campaign. “There appears to be a vicious campaign being run by vested interests against the proposed 250 MW Mannar wind project,” an Adani Group Spokesman had told EconomyNext via a statement. “The project location was chosen after careful consideration and no turbines will be set up along the critical migratory pathways or sensitive habitats.”

“Adani Group will deploy modern technology to not just minimize the project’s potential environmental impact but also deliver it on time and budget.” It also said the project will implement AI-based radar systems to detect incoming flocks of birds and automatically shut down turbines during high-risk periods.

“We will also be installing acoustic and visual deterrents such as the painting of the tip of the blades to deter birds from flying into them, and also use taller turbines with slower blade rotation speeds, reducing collision risks.”

Santhosh Jha, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, also recently 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.

Interestingly enough, despite the opposition and protests over this proposed project, the Ceylon Electricity Board has called for a competitive tender from private developers to build another wind power plant adjacent to this. In a procurement notice published on the CEB website, the national utility provider has called for “a 50 Mega Watt wind power plant, adjacent to an existing wind farm. The investor will have to build a Radar Based Bird Collision Avoidance (RBBCA) system.”

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. 

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