The government is likely to call it quits in a state-funded 450 million-rupee hotel project in Jaffna that continues to draw opposition from residents. This comes in the wake of a recent unrest staged in the area against the construction of the hotel in a very sensitive location in close proximity to the historic Nallur Kovil, Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka (MBSL) Chairman M.R. Shah told the Business Times. The land was held previously by The Finance Company (TFC) and acquired MBSL when it was the managing agent of TFC in 2008-2010. Last month, the TFC was taken over by a new group.
IPO still on
The state had plans to open up Jaffna's first share offer through this new hotel project.
This is likely to be continued even if the location of the hotel is to be shifted with the authorities already in search of new lands in the area, Mr Shah said.
Plans previously were derailed when the Municipal Council raised objections over the construction of such a building without the prior approval of the Archeological Department as the 80-room hotel is situated in a culturally sensitive area.
The first ever IPO in Jaffna that the government was keen on venturing into by attracting the people from the area would take place only after the completion of the project.
It was pointed out that unless MBSL is assured of obtaining the confidence of people it is unlikely that the project might get off ground.
The project if established in Colombo is likely to make a return of 30% over a period of one year but in Jaffna the same return is possible within two years, he said.
An investment that is likely to create new employment opportunities for youth in the area is tipped to be shifted from its present location if protests continue for the next two to three months as well, Mr Shah explained.
The project has drawn protests and concerns ever since the foundation stone was laid for the hotel, a year ago in April (2010).
Mr Shah noted that currently they are adopting a “wait and see” policy to ascertain how best residents will react over time.
The hotel is to be constructed on a 100 perch land worth nearly Rs.36 million. If Jaffna is unyielding due to the concerns it has over the construction of a hotel in close proximity to the famous Nallur Kovil then the land will be sold, he said. Due to the tense situation that has arisen due to the hotel project, the bank is now exploring other locations to set up similar projects in Kalpitiya and Arugam Bay, MBSL said.
The bank met with the public in Jaffna about two months back over the concerns expressed but have left it to them to decide. “We can’t go to Jaffna from Colombo and fight it out with them,” he said adding that they also did not intend to use force to go ahead with the construction of the hotel. On the other hand, they only await the support of the public in the area.
The controversial Hotel Nallur that is learnt to have started out with no concrete approval from local authorities.
Problems started based on concerns that the project was being constructed within the reservation of the surrounding archeological area designated by the Archeological Department for the Nallur Kovil.
But, according to regulations the hotel project cannot be constructed within the designated area of the archeological site but must be situated 100 metres away.
Construction of the hotel was to be completed within a period of 8-10 months and plans to develop this hotel came about following an issue of a disputed property in Jaffna owned by TFC.
Residents through a civil society group with the political backing of one Tamil political party had raised objections over the establishment of this hotel in a culturally sensitive area with strong cultural values and located about one and a half kilometers from the historically renowned Nallur Kovil.
Over 500 residents of Jaffna demonstrated in protest last year against the construction of the hotel in an area of cultural and historical significance.
This temple is a socially important institution for the Sri Lankan Tamils Hindu identity of north Sri Lanka. In the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, many temples have been built in Europe and North America using the same name as a cultural memory.