Colombo, July 16 | The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has fixed the hearing of a rights petition filed to stop selling lands in the strategic locations in Colombo to foreigners with Singapores Temasek Holdings model special purpose vehicle (SPV) company for September 21.
Filing the petition, Secretary of the Professional’s National Front Sri Lanka (PNF), a group comprising professionals, stated that in May last year, the Cabinet had approved the handing over of state-owned properties in Colombo and few other places to Selendiva Investments Ltd, a newly-formed company in which the Treasury holds 100 per cent shares.
The Cabinet had allowed the firm to set up investment portfolios under the public private partnership (PPP) model to bring multiple properties, including hundred acres of prime land in the capital, most of which are close to the Colombo Port which are handled by the state-run Urban Development Authority (UDA).
The PNF Secretary complained that Selendiva is trying to sell some heritage buildings listed in the City of Colombo Development Plan 1999 and warned that it would not only damage the cultural heritage of the country, but also threaten the island nation’s sovereignty and violate the fundamental rights of the citizens.
The ear-marked investment properties included British Colonial buildings, Hilton hotel, and present Foreign Ministry building which were within the close proximity of Colombo Port, and an Air Force camp in the heart of the city.
Marxist opposition party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), charged that the move to sell prime lands in Colombo is connected to the Port City Bill, which was passed in the Parliament to run the Chinese owned Port City, an artificial island reclaimed from the sea next to the strategic Colombo Port.
The critics have complained that the move was meant to allow Chinese companies to get hold of prime lands around its Colombo Port City project and the new SPV would help Beijing to seize strategic control of Sri Lanka’s capital city, ports and financial activities. However, government authorities have denied the allegation but had said that it would not discriminate investors.
Highlighting the geo-political consequences of selling strategic locations in Colombo to other countries, economic expert and opposition MP Eran Wickramaratne told IANS that Sri Lanka should not provide any opportunity to outsiders to be a threat to India’s security.
“This is important because we are just geographically so closely linked,” Wickramaratne said.
“It was always recognised that India is in our doorstep and they have legitimate concerns and we should be addressing them. On the other side, India has one of the largest growing markets in the world and Sri Lanka can be a gateway.
“We should build on that opportunity to getting into Indian market both for our products as well as we can become the transhipment point. Already more than 50 per cent of trade to India goes through the Colombo Port,” he said.
Stressing the need that Sri Lanka should get back its 1960 non-align policy introduced by former PM Sirimavo Bandarnaike, Wickramaratne said that for the external defence of the country, “Sri Lanka’s foreign policy must be clearly in the old use of the word ‘non-aligned’ and in the new use ‘friends with everybody’.”