Why India doesn't want Trincomalee

Sri Lankan Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s comments that talks are on with India for developing the Trincomalee harbour has ruffled feathers in the island nation.

Published: 23rd January 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd January 2017 07:37 AM   |  A+A-

Sri Lankan Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s comments that talks are on with India for developing the Trincomalee harbour, has ruffled feathers in the island nation in the context of a growing opposition to Colombo’s policy of “appeasing” India by offering it big ticket projects to compensate for those offered to China.

Lankan nationalists fear that their country, recovering from a 30-year-war, might become an arena of power politics, putting its hard-won peace and sovereignty in jeopardy. But they are not aware that India is not interested in any harbour in Lanka except the Third Container Terminal in the Colombo port, which, unlike the harbours in Hambantota and Trincomalee, makes business sense. Colombo is an established Indian transshipment hub with huge potential. This is why two Indian firms bid for the Third Terminal.

Though the Trincomalee port is one of the best natural harbours in the world with ten times the water and land area available in Colombo, it is neither on the main Indian Ocean shipping route nor does it have a hinterland. Prospects of it earning money are dim. India does not want to be saddled with a non-performing asset if cash-strapped Sri Lanka defaults on loan repayment. Sri Lanka had to give 80 per cent stake in the Hambantota port to China for 99 years because it couldn’t repay the $ 1.4 billion loan. While China can afford to keep a non-performing asset indefinitely, India cannot.

However, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has plans for the Trincomalee port and its hinterland as it connects the Bay of Bengal with the Indian Ocean, linking ports in Eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Far East. He has got Surbana Jurong of Singapore to do a feasibility study and is to call for a consortium. While the Indian state may be indifferent, the Indian private sector could smell opportunities at least in hinterland development.

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