COLOMBO: An India-led project to modernize a northern Sri Lankan airport has been delayed because of political instability, according to media reports citing an unnamed aviation official.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has yet to give the green light for the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to press ahead with its proposed redesign of Palaly Airport as it is waiting for the political climate to settle, the reports said.
Sri Lanka was thrown into turmoil last October, when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and reinstated his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The power grab triggered international condemnation, and even clashes in Parliament, as the government ground to a halt.
Rajapaksa stood down last month and Wickremesinghe was reinstated.
Jayant Sinha, India’s minister of state for aviation, told Parliament earlier this week that the AAI had signed an agreement with the MEA to prepare a detailed project report for developing airports in Kalay in Myanmar and Palaly in Sri Lanka.
The go-ahead had been given for the Myanmar project but not the Sri Lankan one, he said.
“The delay in getting the MEA nod is due to the current political climate in Sri Lanka,” the unnamed AAI official was reported as saying. “If the relationship between both countries, which is still sort of fragile, gets stronger in the coming months we will definitely get a go-ahead to develop the airport.”
The AAI signed the agreement for Palaly Airport last September, before the Sri Lankan crisis kicked off.
Mano Ganesan, a Sri Lankan government minister, said while there was a conducive political climate for foreign investment on the island there were factions for and against the airport project being carried out by India.
“This has to be sorted out first,” he told Arab News.
Sri Lankan politician and western province governor Azath Salley said it was not a question of India pointing a finger at the island’s political instability, but mixed feelings in the government about whether to accept or reject India’s offer to modernize the airport.
China has been investing heavily in Sri Lanka, developing infrastructure, and India has been eyeing up opportunities in response.