Sri Lanka, an important partner in India’s Neighbourhood First Policy - MEA spokesman | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka, an important partner in India’s Neighbourhood First Policy - MEA spokesman

30 July, 2023
Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani with President Ranil Wickremesinghe in India.
Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani with President Ranil Wickremesinghe in India.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India has reinforced the longstanding friendship between the two countries and explored new avenues for enhanced connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation across sectors.

 India on Thursday said Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe’s visit was a major one as the country has important, multifaceted relations with the island nation.

“This was a very important visit, it is a neighbouring country with which we have a very important relationship, we have multifaceted relations,” said Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi during the MEA weekly briefing.

President Wickremesinghe met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Indian counterpart Droupadi Murmu and Indian officials and discussed various issues of mutual interest.

This was Wickremesinghe’s first visit to India since taking becoming President.

MEA Official Spokesperson Arindam Bagchion said India has discussed with Sri Lanka how closer economic cooperation with India can benefit the island nation

“We have discussed with Sri Lanka issues of how closer economic cooperation, how the growth of our economy, can benefit them,” Bagchi said.

Leaders of the two countries held discussions on common security issues, common areas of development cooperation and new projects in investments. Bagchi said India has been helping Sri Lanka in the face of its economic crisis.

“I think this was a good base to take forward our conversation. This was the first visit of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, as President,’’ he said. Sri Lanka is an important partner in India’s Neighbourhood First Policy and Vision SAGAR.

USD 1 bn Indian credit facility

It has been proposed to operate a passenger ferry between Nagapattinam and Kankesanthurai.

India last week reaffirmed its commitment to the people of Sri Lanka to enable them to use the USD 1 billion Indian credit facility for the procurement of medicine, food and other essentials for one more year.

External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar recently underscored the importance of India’s “Neighbourhood First” Policy and highlighted the significant financial support of USD 4 billion provided by India to Sri Lanka last year.

The EAM said that India was the first nation to extend assistance to Sri Lanka for debt restructuring and played a crucial role in securing financing assurances from the IMF.

Ferry service

The proposed passenger ferry between Nagapattinam and Kankesanthurai in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is expected to operate from October 2023.

The preliminary work on setting up a passenger terminal at the Nagapattinam port has begun and it is learnt that the work will be completed in four to five months, subject to the severity of the northeast monsoon, which is expected to set in by the third week of October.

The Ministry of External Affairs has sanctioned Rs. 8 crore for the project. It is a matter of time before the amount is received by the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board (TNMB), which looks after minor ports such as Nagapattinam, a State government official said.

A journey in the Nagapattinam-Kankesanthurai sector, which is about 64 nautical miles long, is estimated to take three-and-a-half to four hours. A ferry can carry 150-200 passengers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of the service in New Delhi during the visit of President Wickremesinghe.

On July 14, the India-Sri Lanka Joint Committee held a virtual meeting. It discussed the resumption of the ferry service between the two countries from mutually agreed points. Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Rajesh Kumar Sinha, led the Indian team. Secretary, Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Aviation, K.D.S. Ruwanchandra headed the Sri Lankan side.

The announcement has triggered curiosity among observers of India-Sri Lanka relations because it will be after nearly 40 years that regular ferry services will be operated between Tamil Nadu and the Northern Province.

A Singapore-based entrepreneur S. Niranjan Nanthagopan with roots in Jaffna and managing director of IndSri Ferry Services, appealed to the TNMB to expedite the work on the terminal for the service to start before the middle of November.

Speaking from Jaffna, Sritharan Thirunavukkarasu, President of the Social Democratic Party of Tamils, said he does not see any problem in the sector drawing adequate passengers. “Historically, people had travelled on this route. Besides, given the proximity of Nagapattinam to places of religious importance such as Nagore, Velankanni and Chidambaram, people of different religions would like to use the service,” said Thirunavukarsu.

 Indian rupee for local transactions

Sri Lanka is considering the possibility of allowing the usage of the Indian rupee for local transactions just like the dollar, euro and yen to facilitate Indian tourists and businessmen, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said last week.

Sabry was briefing the media here on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India on July 20-21, his first since assuming office last year. He also held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We have considered the possibility of using the Indian rupee like we accept the dollar, euro and yen,” he said.

Permitting its direct use would prevent the need for multiple currency conversions for Indian tourists and businessmen.

The two countries noted that the decision to designate INR as currency for trade settlements between the two countries has forged stronger and mutually-beneficial commercial linkages, and agreed to operationalise the Unified Payments Interface-based digital payments for further enhancing trade and transactions between businesses and common people.

The two countries signed the Network to Network Agreement between NIPL and Lanka Pay for UPI application acceptance in Sri Lanka following bilateral talks between Modi and Wickremesinghe.

 Connecting electricity grids

The leaders of India and Sri Lanka have agreed to improve their countries’ economic and energy ties, and consider building a land link between them.

Modi said the two sides would work quickly to connect their electricity grids and study the feasibility of building a petroleum pipeline and a land bridge between the countries.

Establishing “land connectivity” across the Palk Strait, which in places is only about 25km (15 miles) wide, would give India access to the key ports of Trincomalee and Colombo and strengthen a “millennia-old relationship”, the neighbour said in a strategic document.

The projects to connect the power grids through undersea cables and the oil pipeline were expected to cost about $4 bn, according to officials on both sides. Few details were released on the agreements on renewables.

Wickremesinghe said, “Constructing a multi-product petroleum pipeline from the southern part of India to Sri Lanka will ensure an affordable and reliable supply of energy to Sri Lanka.”

President meets Meet Adani

Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani held a meeting with visiting Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to discuss multiple projects in the island nation during this visit.

The discussions included the development of the Colombo Port West Container Terminal (WCT), the industrialist said.