COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's Opposition parties, civil society groups and labour unions have filed multiple petitions in the Supreme Court against proposed controversial legislation on the China-backed USD 1.4 billion Port City in Colombo, alleging that it violated the country's sovereignty, the Constitution and labour rights.
The bill titled the Colombo Port City Economic Commission was gazetted on March 23 and the ruling Rajapaksa administration tabled it in Parliament last week.
The bill aims to provide for a special economic zone to establish a commission to grant registrations, licenses, authorisations and other approvals to operate business in such economic zones.
Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya has appointed a 5-member bench of the highest court to hear petitions next week, officials said.
The port city, a pet Chinese project of the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and touted by the government as an investment hub for foreign capital, commenced in 2014 to build a financial centre on reclaimed sea land in extent little less than 3 kilometres at Galle Face seafront in the heart of Colombo.
The project was suspended in 2015 with Rajapaksa's defeat and was revived by the successor Maithripala Sirisena's government after a pause.
It was completed in 2018.
However, Sri Lanka's Opposition parties, including the United National Party (UNP), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), civil society organisations, trade unions, on Thursday challenged the constitutional validity of the proposed legislation for the Port City.
The petitioners against the bill claimed that a number of provisions in the bill violates the Constitution and violates labour rights.
In their petitions, the petitioners asked the Supreme Court to rule that the bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and by a referendum if it is to become law.
The petitions said that the Port City Commission to be established will be empowered under the Act to the detriment of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.
The Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China's ambitious 'Maritime Silk Road' project in India's backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development ever in the island.
Sri Lanka, in recent years carried out various development projects with an estimated USD eight billion loans.
The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally after Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota port to China in 2017 as debt swap amounting to USD 1.2 billion for a 99 years' lease.