Sri Lankan cabinet nod for suspending Chinese port city project

Updated - April 02, 2016 08:55 am IST

Published - March 05, 2015 05:35 pm IST - COLOMBO

A view of the construction of a Chinese real estate project of a port city in Colombo on Wednesday.

A view of the construction of a Chinese real estate project of a port city in Colombo on Wednesday.

A week ahead of the scheduled arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sri Lankan cabinet decided to “temporarily and immediately” suspend the controversial Chinese funded port city project in Colombo.

Addressing the media on Tuesday, Cabinet spokesperson and Health Minister Rajitha Seneratne said work would be suspended for two weeks, as an interim report pointed to pending approvals and environmental clearances.

The decision comes at a time when Sri Lankan government representatives have been expressing contradictory views on the $1.34 billion port city project funded by a Chinese firm.

Prior to the country’s January 8 presidential polls, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had announced that the project will be scrapped should his alliance come to power, citing environmental concerns. The new government, a month after it was formed -- Maithripala Sirisena took over as President and appointed Mr. Wickremesinghe Prime Minister -- announced that it would go ahead with the project, since the necessary environmental clearances had been obtained. Soon after, the Prime Minister said no decision had been taken on proceeding with project and that the government would study its feasibility.

Thursday’s cabinet decision, top sources in Colombo said, was keeping in mind Mr. Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka from March 12-14. It was important for Colombo to strike delicate balance, a top official observed, as President Sirisena was scheduled to visit Beijing end of March.

Modi to address parliament

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the Sri Lankan parliament during his visit later this month, Mr. Senaratne said. He is the third Indian leader to be given the special honour.

The last time an Indian leader addressed the Sri Lankan parliament was in 1979 when then Prime Minister Morarji Desai visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of President J.R. Jayawardene to attend the island’s National Day celebration. Prior to that in 1973, Indira Gandhi spoke at the Sri Lankan parliament. The two leaders gave their address at what is now called the ‘old Parliament building’ and serves as the presidential secretariat on Colombo’s sea-facing Galle Road, before the new parliament complex was inaugurated in 1982.

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