Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment (BOI) has refused to release information asked by a leading environmental policy group, the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) on a proposed Wind Power plant/project of Adani Green Energy Limited in the Mannar District.
Following the refusal late last year, environmental activists petitioned the Right to Information Commission of Sri Lanka stating that the Sri Lankan public needed to know basic details about the project, including if environmental approvals had been given. A Bench of the Commission, Chair retired Supreme Court justice Upali Abeyratne, RTI Commissioners, attorneys-at-law Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and Jagath Liyana Arachchi has directed the BOI to ‘strictly justify’ its decision. The appeal has been fixed for further hearing by the Commission.
Apart from asking for a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Adani Group and the Sri Lanka Government, the EFL also asked as to whether an environmental impact assessment has been done or not for the project, whether a project proposal had been submitted and whether all approvals had been obtained by associated state agencies including the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
Activists said they needed to know the proposed location of the project in order to ascertain if negative impact will be caused to the environment. ‘Even the proposed location of the project is something that we are in the dark about’ activists explained to the Colombo Telegraph.
The BOI has pleaded before the Commission that the Adani Group has refused to give consent to the release of the information on the basis of confidential clauses in the MOU. It has also claimed that disclosure will cause serious prejudice to the economy by prematurely disclosing information on overseas trade agreements between governments. However, activists say that the Adani Group is a private company and is not entitled to take cover under that reason.
Colombo Telegraph learns that RTI challenges to the highly controversial Adani power project may be one of the reasons as to why there is an attempt to convert the project into a Government to Government (G2G) deal.
Last month, Sri Lanka’s local media reported the proposing of a Cabinet Memorandum by Sri Lanka’s Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera to convert the USD 400 million proposal for a 500 megawatt power project into a G2G deal. Picking up on these reports, India’s The Hindu reached out to the Minister for clarifications on the proposed deal but had been unable to contact him. Official sanction for conversion for the project is still pending, sources informed.
Repeated violations of enviromental protections and other legal safeguards are common in projects implemented in Sri Lanka with overseas backing. Earlier an RTI challenge was made by EFL and affected citizens to release the 2016 Port City Tripartite Agreement between state agencies and the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) Port City Limited. After a four year hearing of the appeal, with the Presidential Secretariat (under ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa) seeking to delay the matter by intervening in the hearings, the RTI Commission ordered the Ministry of Investment Protection to publicly release the Tripartite Agreement before 4th May 2023 ruling that confidentiality clauses related only to ‘reclamation works.’
Implementation of the Commission decision was immediately challenged by CHEC in the Court of Appeal leading to a stay of the directive. Environmental lawyers told Colombo Telegraph that a previous order by the Commission to release the environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports had been complied with. However they pointed out that public must have easy access to EIA reports.
In the case of the proposed Mannar power plant project, the Adani Group has itself been in the centre of an ugly mega corruption controversy following international investigations by a global media group, the Organised Crimes and Corruption Reporting Project. As The Hindu reported, this came after after a US based research firm, Hindenberg accused Gautam Adani of pulling off the ‘largest con in corporate history.’ The Hindu pointed to the fact that Sri Lanka’s BOI had granted approval to the Adani Group to go ahead with the project earlier this year just after the company’s stocks crashed.
The proposed Adani deal takes place in a climate where similar investments have been dogged by endemic political corruption in Sri Lanka which have continued despite an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout to the Sri Lankan Government after the country declared bankruptcy in 2022.