New Delhi: The Congress accused the Centre on Sunday of “lobbying” in favour of the Adani Group for projects in Sri Lanka and “foisting” the business conglomerate on the important neighbour of India.
The opposition party has been persistent in its attack on the government, weeks after Adani Group stocks took a beating on the bourses in the wake of US-based short seller Hindenburg Research making a litany of allegations, including fraudulent transactions and share-price manipulation, on the conglomerate headed by industrialist Gautam Adani.
The Adani Group has dismissed the charges as lies, saying it complies with all laws and disclosure requirements.
Posing a set of three questions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the party’s “Hum Adani ke Hain Kaun” series, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said they had previously asked Modi on his “apparent haste” to “enrich the Adani Group at the expense of Bangladesh and now, want answers on how he has been “foisting” the business group on another important neighbour, Sri Lanka.
“Parliament resumes on March 13. We are preparing for our interventions to be expunged. But what cannot be erased out is ‘Hum Adanike Hain Kaun’-26 bringing the total of direct questions of the PM so far to 78,” Ramesh tweeted.
He said the governments of India, Japan and Sri Lanka (then headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe) signed a memorandum on May 28, 2019 to develop the East Container Terminal in the Colombo South port.
A year later, on June 9, 2020, the Sri Lankan cabinet headed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that India had “selected” Adani Ports as its foreign terminal operator, Ramesh said.
He added that following the unexpected cancellation of the deal, the Rajapaksa government instead offered Colombo’s West Container Terminal to India and Japan under a 35-year build, operate and transfer lease, which was finalised on September 30, 2021.
“A Sri Lankan cabinet spokesperson said that India had ‘nominated’ Adani Ports as the partner. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry described it as a ‘government-to-government’ port project in a 5 March 2023 interview. On what basis did you ‘select’ and ‘nominate’ Adani Ports for this government-to-government deal?” Ramesh asked in his statement addressed to Modi.
“Did any other Indian firms have the opportunity to consider investing or did you simply reserve the deal for your close friends?” he asked.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s 2002 decision not to invest in the strategic Hambantota port cleared the path for Chinese firms to enter Sri Lanka’s ports sector, he alleged.
Ramesh said India’s investment in Colombo is partly driven by the need to counter China’s expansion in the immediate neighbourhood.
“However, as we pointed out on March 3, 2023, the Adani Group has disturbing connections with Chinese nationals such as the Adani family confidant Chang Chung-Ling (aka Lingo-Chang) who has been involved, among other things, in violating UN sanctions against China and Pakistan’s ally North Korea,” he said.
Are these connections not worthy of investigation by “ordinarily hyperactive investigative agencies”, the former Union minister asked.
He accused the prime minister of indulging in “hectic lobbying for his cronies”, including for a 500-megawatt wind power project in Sri Lanka’s Mannar district.
“The former head of the Ceylon Electricity Board, MMC Ferdinando, testified on June 10, 2022 before the Parliament of Sri Lanka that on October 24, 2021, ‘the President (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) 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’,” the Congress leader alleged.
Although he retracted the comments under pressure, Ferdinando’s remarks had completely exposed the nexus of crony capitalism, he said.
“Are you under the impression that your main job is to secure contracts for your friend Gautam Adani, in India and outside, rather than work for the people of India?” Ramesh asked the prime minister and urged him to break his “silence” on the issue.