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Lanka: Nationalisation row on agenda

Oil tank farm

During his two-day visit to Sri Lanka beginning June 29, India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon would convey to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, New Delhi’s deep concerns in regard to some key political and economic developments in the island nation.

In the past few weeks, there have been inspired leaks in the Lankan media about the impending nationalisation of the giant oil tanks in Trincomalee, which were given to the Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) by a bilateral agreement in 2002. LIOC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian public sector oil major, IOC.

On June 9, ‘Ceylon Today’ quoted highly placed sources in the Lankan Petroleum Ministry to say that the government was taking legal opinion on “re-acquiring” the oil tanks on the grounds that the transfer of the 99 tanks was not done in a proper manner. The transfer had taken place when the Opposition United National Party (UNP) was in power.

Lankan Petroleum Ministry officials also pointed out that since the land on which the tanks stood, belonged to the Trincomalee Government Agent’s office, and not to the Petroleum Ministry, the petroleum ministry could not lease out the land to anyone. Indeed, it is now 10 years since the India-Sri Lanka MoU on the handing over of the oil tanks to the LIOC was signed, and yet, no land lease agreement has been signed.  For the LIOC, the situation is very dicey as it has already pumped in US$ 12 million on refurbishing the tanks and is going to spend another US$ 17 million on an upgrade.

India is also concerned about the way in which Lanka is giving projects to the Chinese while trying to scuttle Indian-aided projects like the Sampur power plant.
By PK Balachandran / ENS – COLOMBO

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