By N. Lohathayalan –
Power Generation: An Excuse for China’s Entry to the North
As China vies for a foothold on islands East of the Jaffna peninsula, India is flexing its muscles to have its own influence on the islands. China in Hambantota is one thing. But in Jaffna? It appears that those affected would be Northern fishermen.
Environment friendly multi-source power generation units were planned in the year 2017 using solar, wind, and battery sources, besides fossil fuels. The intention is to supply the islands of Neduntivu, Analaithivu and Nainathivu. The idea is to supply their workplaces with essentially clean and independent supplies.
A model of the generating station is presently operating in Analaithivu. Upon approval of funding from the Asian Development Bank, to advance to the next stage, project proposals were sought from institutions of international standing and quality. Even though there were many applications the cabinet at its meeting on 18 Jan. 2021 decided to award the contract to China’s M/s Sino Soar Hybrid (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd. It appears from the decision that Sino Soar was favoured without regard to the figure quoted or technical competency of the company as in the cabinet minute shown:
It appears further that Monument at Jaffna University for the war victims was demolished on the orders of higherups as stated by the Vice Chancellor and the order to rebuild came about because of Indian pressure. This award also “has come under Indian scrutiny and having rushed the decision without justification the government is wondering what to do,” said a knowledgeable source.
The Chinese Target Jaffna’s Islands
There is no doubt that the people living on the islands would have adequate electricity from this project. However, China’s foothold just 20 km from India would surely intensify geopolitical wrangling between India and China to the detriment of the people in the locale, the people of Jaffna. There is also little doubt that, knowing with certainty that as a result India would assert its right over Kachchai Thivu, there is growing concern over why Sri Lanka decided to award the job to Chana’s Sino Soar Hybrid. Overcoming the several objections if Sri Lanka gives China foothold on the islands, India surely would use the ongoing protests by Indian fishermen to take back Kachchai Thivu to apply pressure on Sri Lanka, says a geopolitical analyst. There are signs that it is already happening. This year’s Kachchai Thivu festival has been stopped. Next year’s festival, Indian stakeholders teasingly remind us, is under India’s organization. Whatever happens, much of the repercussion of any dispute would fall on the fisherfolk of Jaffna. The people of Jaffna are acutely mindful of this.
These are times when the Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Douglas Dvananda, is treated by the government as the representative of the Northern Province. This has raised the question in many minds why he has shown no concern over the problem and is waiting for things to boil over. Many suspect that it is because if he sides with the fishermen the government would be displeased, and if he sides with the government his vote base will be hurt.
Under this scheme environmentally friendly electricity generation is to take place. For these power plants land has already been allocated on the islands. Plans have been made and drawings finalized. However, acknowledging that the lands are private, the plans are not final yet. In Neduntivu, 12 acres of land have been assigned in Thirulingapuram in Neluvili. Electricity connections have been given.
This pilot plant is seen as a two-year project. It can generate electricity only in kilowatts (and not megawatts) because it is claimed that the needs can be met with kilowatts. This is where the rub is. India, say knowledgeable people, is suspicious about these claims having become aware that its concerns and fears about real motives actuating Sri Lanka are shared in the whole district. Some say that both countries, India and China, are difficult to please as whatever is given to them they feel as if they have been fed bitter margosa oil.
There is little doubt that India would be deeply upset when China is allowed to move to within 20 km of India’s border. Why did Sri Lanka agree to these plants knowing that India would be deeply disturbed? Tamils are in deep fear that it is they who will bear the brunt of any problems between the giants and Sri Lanka’s trigger-happy armed forces.
India Fears that Letting Go of Kachchai Thivu would Harm its Geo-strategic Position
India which stations its troops on its borders with China and Pakistan would be pushed to station troops along the Tamil Nadu coast. This would be costly and also weaken India as troops in the North are diluted and moved South.
India’s problem got accentuated on 18 Jan. 2021. A boat belonging to 4 Indian fishermen was registered in the town of Jegatab. The boatmen were stationed in Rameswaram. On that day, between Neduntheevu and Kachchaithivu, 8 nautical miles West of Neduntheevu, the boat was rammed or otherwise hit by one of the Sri Lankan navy’s Devora craft and sunk. The four men on board lost their lives. Indian fishermen report that the Indian fishing trawler had a wireless set and had asked for help from other trawlers in the area. Ominously Indian fishermen also report that there were at least three navy seacraft present in the area.
As the incident occurred, the Sri Lankan navy released the information that one of their Dvora craft had sunk. They backed the claim with photos. This prompted Indian fishermen to come up to the sea borders with Sri Lanka on the 19th in search of their men. On the 20th morning 15 fishermen on three boats went in search. They were informed by Sri Lankan navy personnel on a boat with the letters P420 that all 4 men had been rescued and that they should therefore go back. So assured the men gave up their search operations and returned to Tamil Nadu. They were stunned to hear later that evening that their friends’ bodies had been recovered, said Fishermen’ Association head Jesurajah, who added that they suspected some foul play.
Tamil Nadu Fisherfolk ask for Justice for their Dead
It was established that those who died in the Dvora ramming were Tamil Nadu fishermen. One of the bodies recovered on the 20th was established as that of a Jaffna’s Gurunagar man. He had fled to India in 2009 because his life was in danger here. This young man was living as a refugee in Mandapam. He had joined the unfortunate crew of this boat on a daily-wage basis for that day. The bodies of the remaining two were recovered on the 21st. It is a matter of further suspicion that the navy men on the Dvora who suffered no losses could not save the unfortunate four and then on top of that took three days from the 18th to the 21st to recover the bodies.
Indian fishermen protest that Sri Lanka’s navy is stopping them from fishing in places where they have fished for generations. In protest they plan to carry out a protest demonstration tomorrow 22nd and are preparing their boats with black flags. On the basis of these disturbances geostrategies that centre on the international sphere are shifting to Jaffna. India is asserting its rights ad safety. A person well-versed in geostrategies held forth that asserting the rights of fishermen to fish in Kachchai Thivu would make their income fall drastically: “it is our life earnings that will fall and the sense of deprivation will be enhanced in Tamil Nadu”. This spokesman-strategist figures that it will be Tamil Nadu people who will turn bitter. To avoid this, this strategist felt, India would try its best to assuage the feelings of Tamils by assigning space in India for the protests.
In these circumstances, the Sri Lankan navy stated that their Dvora craft had crashed into the Indian vessel on the 18th and that the 4 Indians aboard had lost their lives and further that their bodies had washed ashore in the Kachchai Thivu area. So reporting, the Navy tried to make arrangements to hand over the bodies to the Indian Coast Guard in mid-sea. However, India asked for the bodies to be handed over together with a postmortem report. As a result, this trouble bodes ill and the bodies have been taken to Jaffna. Indian fishermen are said to be in a rage.
Sri Lanka is continually upsetting India like this, but Sri Lanka seems emboldened by the support it gets from China. As many countries eye a piece of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka too seems to try to gain from foreign overtures like China’s without bothering about implications to its sovereignty. That is playing with fire, say analysts.
Already in the northeast the ethnic distribution is being altered through Sinhalese settlements, Buddhist temple erections and land acquisitions. Said an observer that he would not be surprised if China, India and even Pakistan poke their fingers into this troubled ethnic cauldron fomented by China, thereby provoking the beginning of a geopolitical competition for a foothold.
India’s Special Interest
Unlike for China, Jaffna is India’s backyard. Any military activity in Jaffna would hurt the people of India but not China. Said a political analyst, “India cannot let go. It has a justifiable right to insist on its safety in this matter. No reasonable person can deny this pre-eminence to India in its backyard.” Sri Lanka is asking for trouble in making trouble for India in the name of its sovereignty. Concluded the political analyst, “Those who play with fire get burnt.”