The Indian government may no longer have the political clout it had over Sri Lanka like it did in 1987, when the Indo-Lanka Agreement was signed, but its consistent call for devolution of power in the country, via the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, was reiterated by its External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna during his four-day visit to the country.
“The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has, on many occasions, conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers. We look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process,” Minister Krishna said during a media briefing held in Colombo.
But, while the political clout may be somewhat waning, going by the five important agreements signed between the two countries during his stay, India’s economic clout in the country seems set to increase in the years ahead.
In addition to these agreements, the Sri Lanka’s Cabinet, on a proposal made by Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa last Wednesday, decided to recognise the 2x250 MW capacity coal power project at Sampoor in Trincomalee, as a Strategic Development Project to be developed with Indian assistance.
|Krishna meeting President Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees on Tuesday
This project which was mooted more than four years ago, now seems finalised. The investment in this project will be around US$ 500 million, and the joint venture partners for this project are the Ceylon Electricity Board and the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd of India.
The other agreements finalised during the Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit will bring in more Indian investments into several areas including housings, railways and telecommunications.
Among the agreements signed was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the construction of the 49,000 houses project in the north. Speaking at a ceremony in Navaladi, Jaffna, after handing over the first lot of houses to the beneficiaries, under the pilot project for 1000 houses, he emphasised that this project was one of the largest grant assistance projects undertaken by the Government of India in any part of the world. It involved a grant assistance of US$ 260 million.
The other agreements signed included a US$ 382.37 million Line of Credit between the two countries for the restoration of the northern railway services, a buyer’s credit agreement for US$ 60.69 million between EXIM Bank of India and GoSL for financing the Greater Dambulla Water Supply Project- supply, erection and commissioning of water treatment plant and distribution across Dambulla region, as well as an MoU on cooperation in the field of Agriculture.
An agreement between the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) for cooperation in the field of telecommunication was also finalised.
During his stay, Minister Krishna also paid tribute at the memorial to IPKF members killed during peacekeeping operations in the north and east. He is the most senior Indian political leader to visit the memorial situated in Pelawatta, close to the Parliamentary complex.
The Indian Minister noted that the Memorial is an “abiding testimony to the strong bonds of friendship between the governments and the peoples of India and Sri Lanka” and that, “it is also a symbol of India’s commitment to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.”
Additionally, the Indian External Affairs Minister also announced a substantial expansion in the Scholarships currently being offered by the Government of India to meritorious Sri Lankan students.
Under this initiative, the number of Scholarships and Self-Finance slots for Undergraduate/Masters/PhD courses is being increased from the present 113 slots to 270 per year. In addition, Scholarship support to deserving students pursuing their GCE A /L and University Degrees in Sri Lanka is being expanded to cover about 500 students annually.
The Indian Minister wound up his visit by flagging off the first train on the 19-km track on the southern coastal line between Hikkaduwa and Galle, developed with Indian financial assistance.