Sunday, October 15, 2017

Better to Stay away from investing in ‘Mattala International’ Airport

Check-in Counters, Photo by Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne
China’s One Belt One Road(OBOR) is one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever initiated by any country. Probably its only rival may be Marshall Plan for post-world war reconstruction of Western Europe. India is not comfortable with it, as OBOR also sets up transportation points (which may be used in future for military purpose as well) across Indian ocean. More importantly the USD 48bn CPEC corridor pass through Pak Occupied part of J & K (PoK).

It’s not that OBOR is a smooth success everywhere. It ran to trouble in Sri Lanka, where Chinese built seaport-airport complexes at Hambantota during the reign of Chinese friendly Rajapaksa regime. Discussions are also on for a refinery and investment zone. The main attraction of Hambantota is its closeness international shipping routes. China is running Hambantota seaport with a 99-year lease and proposing 6000 hectares investment zone. If realized, this will be the largest of such project in Sri Lanka.

Now India is proposing to invest in an international airport at Mattala near Hambantota. On paper, it looks like a good decision. After all, we are going to sit next to Chinese projects; getting a bigger footprint in Sri Lanka, from where India was practically out during the reign of Rajapaksa.

But on the ground, there are bigger problems. This international airport is also dubbed as the emptiest international airport in the world. Built almost nowhere, this project was opposed by a government agency in the beginning itself. Now hardly any flights come to this airport. Major visitors to this airport are wild animals. Approach road is already taken over by cattle. In 2016, 300+ soldiers, police officers were deployed to clear the airport from wild animals.

In addition to that, Rajapaksa wing is protesting against Indian control of Mattala airport. They call it as handing over national assets to India which is nothing but a big white elephant. In such a situation do we really need to invest, which is nothing but a wastage of money and other resources? Our desire to counter rising Chinese influence in the immediate neighborhood should not result in owning a white elephant.

Chinese outlay for OBOR is good. To an extent all Chinese investments are safe. Everything is in the form of loans to countries; not development assistance or grants. Interest rates are also not so low. All those countries at some point in the future will face difficulties in servicing the loan. Sri Lanka is already facing it. We can help Sri Lanka, and we should help; but not by investing in white elephants like Mattala airport.


No comments:

Post a Comment