(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – Given the renewed vigour provided by high-level visits in the past few months, India-Sri Lanka engagement has expanded and intensified in the past few months. In times of volatility, globally and particularly for Sri Lanka, both countries have best demonstrated that their ties extend far beyond lip-service of good neighbourliness.
‘Friend in need’
Underlining the excellent neighbourly relations, Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa is expected to visit New Delhi later this week, his second visit since December last year.
Ahead of the visit, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had last week held a telephonic conversation with Finance Minister Rajapaksa and had said that New Delhi will continue to support Sri Lanka in all possible ways.
Jaishankar had also given the same assurance to his Sri Lankan counterpart GL Peiris when the two held bilateral talks in New Delhi last month. An MEA statement had said that EAM conveyed that India would always stand with Sri Lanka during its times of need.
With the saying of ‘friend in need’, manifesting in different ways as Colombo faces its worst economic crisis, India true to its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ has been forthcoming in addressing Sri Lanka’s needs.
The visiting Sri Lankan Minister is expected to sign a USD 1 billion financial assistance deal with India during his upcoming visit to New Delhi. The credit facility of US $ 1 billion will help Sri Lanka in importing food, essential items and medicines.
It may be recalled that during the last visit of the Sri Lankan Finance Minister to India in December, the two countries had adopted a four-point package of economic cooperation that included a line of credit to cover the import of food and medicines and a currency swap arrangement.
Delivering on its promises, India extended over USD 900 million facilities to Sri Lanka in line with its strong commitment to stand with Sri Lanka for economic recovery and growth. This includes deferment of Asian Clearing Union settlement of over USD 500 million and currency swap of USD 400 million.
Following EAM Jaishankar’s virtual meeting with Finance Minister Rajapaksa in January, India again lent support for fuel imports by Sri Lanka from India, through the LOC of USD 500 million was in response to the Government of Sri Lanka’s urgent requirement.
Revival of long-pending bilateral projects
As economic cooperation between the two countries grew, bilateral projects that were pending for a long time also came through.
The Sri Lankan Cabinet at the beginning of the new-year had given its nod for a deal with India to develop 99 Trincomalee Oil Tank Farms of World War-II era leased out to Indian Oil Corporation.
Similarly, last week India and Sri Lanka signed an agreement to develop a 100 MW Solar Power Plant at Sampur in the island-nation’s eastern port district of Trincomalee, that was first mooted as a coal power plant under President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006 and was subsequently kept on hold by President Maithripala Sirisena.
Besides energy projects, last month, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers granted approval to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with India to obtain a grant to implement the Unitary Digital Identity framework.
Apparently modelled on India’s Aadhaar card, the Rajapaksa government will prioritise the implementation of the UDI framework as a national level programme.
It was during the bilateral talks between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Modi in December 2019 that the Government of India had agreed to provide a grant to implement the Unitary Digital Identity framework.
Roadmap to Sri Lankan recovery via India
Sri Lanka’s envoy to India Milianda Moragoda had told The Times of India in January that President Rajapaksa was leading efforts to restructure the Lankan economy and that India was going to be a key to this process.
Again, speaking at an event in New Delhi hosted by a think-tank in February, High Commissioner Moragoda stated that it was critically important to develop eight thrust areas in moving Sri Lanka-India relations from a transactional phase to a strategic phase, in keeping with the fourth pillar of the four pillar-cooperation package announced during the December visit of the Sri Lankan Finance Minister to India.
The Sri Lankan High Commissioner’s statements underline the importance of the current phase of bilateral relations between the two countries, when India and Sri Lanka are turning no stone unturned in intensifying their engagements which have paved the path for auguring the much-needed shift in relations.
The upcoming visit of the Lankan Finance Minister to India will be a historic one in this sense.
India News Network