Stressing the need to work with India on energy development projects, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Friday that Sri Lanka would not have faced an energy crisis, which lead to a political catastrophe expelling a President and a government, had Trincomalee oil tanks in the island's eastern port city been handed over to the neighbouring country under the 2003 agreement.
Joining a special discussion on the Trincomalee District Development Plan, he said Sri Lanka is working with India on renewable energy projects to make the eastern port city, Trincomalee, an energy hub.
"Many objections were raised by the trade unions since 2003 against the provision of the oil tanks to India. Had the Trincomalee oil tank farm been given to India, we would have had fuel; we would have neither had to stay in queues nor to resort to riots. These problems arose because of the shortage of fuel. If we had given the oil tank farm to India back then, there would not have been any problems today," Wickremesinghe contended, referring to the recent political crisis with street fights starting from March which toppled the last government leading to then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quitting and fleeing the country.
The President recollected the objections raised when the Trincomalee oil tanks were to be handed over to India, adding that the country would not have faced a fuel crisis if the decision to provide the oil tanks had received the green light to be fully implemented.
In 2003, as the Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe worked on handing over 99 giant World War II-time tanks at Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm to Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) PLC, an overseas venture of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, on a 35-year lease for an annual payment of $100,000. However a section of the same Government lead by the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was working against the decision to give all the tanks to India and protesting trade unions took to streets against Wickremesinghe's decision.
President Wickremesinghe, who said that currently, India is discussing several energy projects with Sri Lanka, reiterated that they would not be stopped despite obstacles.
"We have to continue with the work on the Sampur Power Plant. If there are objections to it, we will have no choice but to take them directly under the government and continue with the work," he said.
He said with the development of renewable energy with India, there would be value additions such as green hydrogen and green ammonia. "
Therefore, we need a port to export green hydrogen. As such the potential in Trincomalee should be taken into consideration.
"When considering the North, North Central and Eastern provinces the Trincomalee port should be the central hub. Perhaps, in the future, this would pave a route to Singapore. There is immense potential for such improvement," the President noted.
He said working with India, Trincomalee should be transformed into a strategic deep water port.
"It is important that we work together with India when we plan these activities because India is located much closer to us.
"It will take another 10-15 years to achieve that development. Thailand's development has yet to reach the western Bay of Bengal region. It is yet to kick off in Myanmar. This development has just started in Bangladesh; accordingly, work is being done in Java and Sumatra. It will become a significant port only in the next 10-15 years. Our endeavour is to make Sri Lanka a strategic port," President Wickremesinghe said.
He also said that India has agreed to develop industries in Trincomalee region. "We should create an industrial zone. I have proposed a joint mechanism between India and Sri Lanka towards this endeavour. Then, the port will also be connected to it and we are planning to establish a joint task force for this purpose," he said.