India’s Adani group considers alternative plan for port

by Jonathan Adams
Adani group

Discussions between the Adani group and the Sri Lankan government come even as New Delhi maintains its position that Sri Lanka honour the commitment on developing the ECT

India’s Adani group is considering an alternative proposal to invest in Colombo port’s West Container Terminal (WCT), according to two people aware of the development, as several rounds of discussions between the Sri Lankan, Indian and Japanese governments to revive its investment in the East Container Terminal (ECT) did not seem to yield results.

Discussions between the Adani group and the Sri Lankan government come even as New Delhi maintains its position that Sri Lanka honour the commitment given to the governments of India and Japan on developing the ECT.

The pact was signed in 2019, with India and Japan holding 49% stake in ECT. But in February, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said the ECT would be operated by Sri Lanka Ports Authority, resulting in friction in relations between the countries. According to news reports, the Sri Lankan government’s move comes in after intense protests from port employees’ unions, with other unions also joining the campaign demanding the cancellation of the pact with India.

The Sri Lankan cabinet had instead approved a proposal to develop the WCT in conjunction with India and Japan, which India was not keen to consider at the time.

The Adani group is now considering the merits of investing in the WCT, said one of the two people cited above, both the people spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Colombo port is a key trans-shipment hub for goods coming to India and acquiring a terminal here would be a significant development for the group, which operates 12 ports along India’s west and east coasts, reflecting 24% of India’s port capacity.

In recent years, the group has been keen to expand its port operations and container terminal network within India’s neighbourhood and the Colombo port is among the busiest harbours for container traffic in the region.

The Indian government is keen that Sri Lanka sticks to its original commitment of handing over the ECT for development by India, Japan and its nominees.

A person familiar with the matter pointed out that the pact for developing the ECT was an “international commitment on the part of the Sri Lankan government”. If this was not adhered to, “what is the guarantee that the WCT project will not hit the same hurdles?” the person cited above said.

Given that almost 60-70% of trans-shipment involves goods to India, it is essential that we have a presence” at the Colombo port, the person said. It was not only India, Japan was also of the view that Sri Lanka should keep to its international commitments, the person said.

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