The cable car project from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya that was to be initiated as a further step towards increasing the tourist attraction in the Nuwara Eliya District has come under heavy criticism for irregularities where a group of racketeers including a government bigwig is allegedly seeking millions of euros in commissions, government sources said.
They noted that the project was first introduced in 2017.
Although the 'Nanu Oya - Nuwara Eliya Cable Car Project' was scheduled to be constructed at a cost of 38 million euros (Rs. 8,930 million) in 2020, a revised cost of 58 million euros (Rs. 13,690 million) has been submitted for the implementation of the same project.
Accordingly, the cost for the project has increased by a staggering 20 million euros despite having no changes from the bid that was submitted earlier with commissions to be divided between a powerful minister and several racketeers, the sources further said.
The project was proposed to cover a 6km stretch from the Nanu Oya train station to the Nuwara Eliya Race Course.
An Austrian company based in Germany and its local partner had submitted a proposal to initiate the first-ever cable car project in Nuwara Eliya. Sources said that Adeesh De Silva is the local agent of the Austrian firm.
After obtaining the relevant approvals for the project from the government, the Austrian company had planned to source their investment through a bank loan.
It is also reported that the company is planning to sell its license to another company after obtaining government approvals.
Furthermore, in order to recover their investment, the Austrian company has proposed to charge Rs. 5000 per person for a cable car ride from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya. They also plan to lease out the dedicated restaurant and lounge area spaces that are to be constructed in parallel to the project to the private sector.
As relevant line ministries and agencies including the Department of Railways, Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council, Forrest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation had been reluctant to provide the necessary land plots under their respective institution's purview for the project for free, the government had decided to take over the said land plots and place it under the purview of the Urban Development Authority (UDA).
Accordingly, the government has decided to submit a cabinet paper to allow the UDA to acquire the necessary land plots.
Even amidst an economic crisis, the President has decided to accelerate a number of development projects in the Matale, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya Districts in a bid to boost the economy in the Central Province as well as to revive the tourism industry in the region.
Although there was a clause in the initial Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which stipulated that the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council would receive 10% of the profits from the project, this clause has now been removed.
Meanwhile, sources at the Ministry of Tourism questioned how this cable car project that was estimated to cost Rs. 8,930 million initially had been revised to Rs. 13,690 million, an increase of Rs. 4760 million, without any new additions to the project. They also noted that the racketeers are using the President's name to further their interests.
An opposition lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity said that a complaint will be filed with the CID and that further details related to this fraud will also be revealed to the media.