India denies talks are on to take over development of Sri Lanka's Trincomalee port

Critics of the present Sri Lankan government says it is eager to give Trincomalee harbor to India to balance the grant of stake in Hambantota harbor to a Chinese firm
India denies talks are on to take over development of Sri Lanka's Trincomalee port

COLOMBO: Indian official sources on Friday denied Sri Lankan Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s contention that Sri Lanka and India are in talks for developing the Trincomalee harbor in the Eastern coast of the island nation.

Fonseka had made the claim on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi earlier this week, touching off adverse comments in Sri Lanka on the dangers of trying to balance China and India and making Sri Lanka an arena of big power politics.

Opposition propaganda here is that the present Sri Lankan government is eager to give Trincomalee harbor to India to balance the grant of 80 per cent stake in Hambantota harbor to a Chinese state-owned company for 99 years.

Indian sources clarified that India is not at all interested in such balancing deals and that it is not interested in Trincomalee port as it is not going to yield an income for a long time.

In fact, India had earlier rejected an invitation to build the Hambantota port for the same reason.

Even now, Hambantota port is being maintained and its liabilities are being met with earnings from the country’s only profit making port – the Colombo port. The Colombo port will be further weakened financially, if Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai ports are added to the list of dependent non-performing ports.

India’s only interest is in seeing that any foreign presence in Sri Lanka is not a security threat to India, sources said. It does have a fear that the current deal with the Chinese company on Hambatota port could at some point be a security threat to India as the port will be in de-facto if not de-jure control of the Chinese government for the next 99 years.

This was the fear behind the Indian opposition to the Rajapaksa government’s decision to give land to China in the Colombo Port City on a freehold basis. Alarm bells rang in New Delhi when a Chinese nuclear submarine docked in Colombo harbor without letting India know in advance.

The Indian source however made it clear that India is not against Chinese development projects in Sri Lanka, no matter what they are, so long as they are not a security threat to India.

As regards development plans for the Trincomalee harbor, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has already given the basic contours and India is not in the picture.    

Speaking in Singapore on July 18, 2016, Wickremesinghe said that Trincomalee harbor will be turned into a modern one by the Singapore-based company, Surbana Jurong.

With 40 years’ experience in infrastructure development, Surbana Jurong will prepare a Master Plan for Trincomalee harbor and its environs, which will include shipping, manufacturing, and tourism, he said.

“An area of 175 sq km  south of Trincomalee will be developed as a high end tourist resort area ,” he added.

Surbana Jurong was the master planner, engineering consultant and project manager for Jurong port in Singapore. Jurong Port serves over 7,000 vessels of up to 150,000 deadweight tones every year, with 23 berths that can accommodate vessels with drafts of up to 16 meters and is equipped with super post-panamax quay cranes and gantry cranes to handle containerized cargo.

Surbana Jurong is also preparing a concept paper on Mumbai’s development.

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The New Indian Express