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Sri Lanka Adani row: Official quits after alleging link to PM Modi

New Delhi: In a huge controversy over an energy project in Sri Lanka awarded to industrialist Gautam Adani’s group, a Lankan official who had claimed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa acted under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi resigned today.

MMC Ferdinando, the chairman of Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), had yesterday retracted a claim that he was told by President Rajapaksa about PM Modi pressuring him to give the wind power project directly to the Adani Group. The official dropped the bombshell claim on Friday, at an open hearing of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), a parliamentary panel.

The allegations involve a 500-Megawatt renewable energy project in Sri Lanka’s Mannar district. A video of Mr Ferdinando’s comment at the parliamentary hearing has been widely circulated on Twitter.

“On November 24, the President summoned me after a meeting and said that India’s Prime Minister Modi is pressuring him to hand over the project to the Adani group. I said ‘this matter doesn’t concern me or the Ceylon electricity board and this consists of the board of investments’. He insisted that I look into it. I then sent a letter that the President has instructed me and that the Finance Secretary should do the needful. I pointed out that this is a government-to-government deal,” the official said in Sinhala in the video, addressing the panel.

Three days after those comments, Mr Ferdinando has quit. On Sunday evening, following a strong denial by President Rajapaksa on Twitter, Mr Ferdinando had also withdrawn his comments, claiming he had been “overcome with emotion” while facing questions that suggested wrongdoing by him.

President Rajapaksa had tweeted: “Regarding a statement made by the #lka CEB Chairman at a COPE committee hearing regarding the award of a Wind Power Project in Mannar, I categorically deny authorisation to award this project to any specific person or entity. I trust responsible communication in this regard will follow.”

His office issued a longer statement “vehemently denying” the charge. The President has “categorically stated that he had not at any time given authorisation to award a wind power project in Mannar to any person or any institution,” the statement said.

“Sri Lanka is currently in an acute shortage of power and President desires to expedite implementation of mega power projects as early as possible. However, no undue influence will be used in awarding such projects. Project proposals for large-scale renewable energy projects is limited, but special attention will be paid to the selection of institutions for the projects, which will be carried out strictly in accordance with the transparent and accountable system by the government of Sri Lanka,” said President Rajapaksa’s office.

A day later, Mr Ferdinando was quoted by Sri Lankan daily The Morning as apologising and saying that due to “unexpected pressures and emotions”, he was compelled to name the Indian Prime Minister.

The controversy erupted a day after Sri Lanka changed its laws to remove competitive bidding for energy projects. The Adani group figured in the parliamentary debate on the Electricity Amendment Bill before it was passed amid opposition protests.

The opposition accused the government of ramming the bill through parliament to facilitate large renewable energy deals to the Adani group, which signed an unsolicited government-to-government agreement to build the Mannar wind power plant.

The main opposition SJB in Lanka asserted that projects beyond 10 MW capacity should go through a competitive bidding process, but government MPs voted against it.

The Adani Group reportedly won contracts to develop two wind power projects, in Mannar and in Pooneryn, in December.

Gautam Adani had visited Sri Lanka in October and had tweeted about his meeting with President Rajapaksa.

In 2021, the Adani Group had signed a $700 million deal with the state-run Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to develop and run the strategic Colombo Port’s West International Container Terminal.

With this, Sunita got into an argument with the police and questioned why they were being prevented from going to the collectorate on farmers issues. When the police advised them to go in a single vehicle, the former minister expressed his anger over the attitude of the police and slammed the dictorial attitude of government and crossed the barricades and proceeded.

Meanwhile, former MLA Prabhakar Chowdhary was house arrested by the police in Anantapur. Police were alerted in advance over Chalo Collectorate and placed Chowdhary under house arrest by the police.

Prabhakar was incensed that they were protesting peacefully on the issue of agriculture, how can CM Jagan come to the district without solving the problems of the donors. He said CM has the responsibility to answer to the people. “If we are fighting on behalf of the people, they are incensed that it is not right to obstruct and suppress,” Chowdhary said.

Police, on the other hand, were heavily deployed near the district collectorate. Vehicles going in the opposite direction were diverted to the spot and barricades were set up on all sides leading to the Collectorate. Vehicles and persons going into the Collector’s office are thoroughly inspected by the police and allowed inside.