India, Sri Lanka unveil vision for deeper economic ties; PM Modi pushes for fulfilling aspirations of Tamil community

New Delhi: India and Sri Lanka on Friday unveiled a vision document to significantly expand connectivity and economic ties even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed to the island nation’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe the need to ensure a “life of dignity” for the Tamil community in that country.

Following talks between Modi and Wickremesinghe, the two sides announced a raft of initiatives including expediting work to connect their electricity grids, starting talks on an economic and technological cooperation pact, conducting a feasibility study for a petroleum pipeline and examining the viability of a land bridge to boost connectivity between the two neighbours.

In his media statement, Modi said the security interests and development of India and Sri Lanka are “intertwined” and it is essential to work together keeping in mind each other’s safety and sensitivities, in remarks that came against the backdrop of concerns in New Delhi over China’s attempts to expand influence over Colombo.

An agreement between NPCI International Payments Limited (NIPL) and Lanka Pay for acceptance of the UPI application in Sri Lanka and an MoU for cooperation in the field of renewable energy were among five key pacts inked between the two sides.

Wickremesinghe arrived in Delhi on Thursday on a two-day trip which is the first visit to India by a senior Sri Lankan leader since the island nation was hit by an unprecedented economic crisis last year.

The Sri Lankan president said he conveyed to Modi Colombo’s “profound appreciation” for the solidarity and support rendered to the country by India during the economic crisis that he described as undoubtedly the “most challenging period in our recent history”.

Modi said the issues relating to the livelihood of fishermen figured in the talks and it was agreed that it should be dealt with a humane approach.

The two sides also decided to start passenger ferry services between Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and Kankesanturai in Sri Lanka. It is learnt that the proposal for a land bridge between the two sides came from the Sri Lankan side.

Modi also announced that various projects worth Rs 75 crore will be implemented for the Indian-origin Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka and that New Delhi will also contribute to the development programmes in the northern and eastern region of that country.

Referring to the economic crisis faced by Colombo, Modi said the people of India are with the island nation in their hour of struggle and noted that a stable, secure and prosperous Sri Lanka is not only in the interest of New Delhi, but also for the entire Indian Ocean Region.

“We also talked about reconstruction and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. President Wickremesinghe told me about his inclusive approach. We hope that the government of Sri Lanka will fulfill the aspirations of the Tamils and advance the process of reconstruction for equality, justice and peace,” he said.

The prime minister hoped that Colombo would fulfill its commitment to implement the 13th amendment and hold provincial council elections besides ensuring a “life of respect and dignity” for the Tamil community of Sri Lanka.

The Tamil community in Sri Lanka has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that provides for devolution of power to it. The 13th amendment was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.

In his media statement, Wickremesinghe said he shared with Modi the “comprehensive proposal” he presented this week for “furthering reconciliation, power sharing through devolution and the multiple elements of the Northern development plan.” Foreign Secretary Kwatra said at a media briefing that Modi conveyed to Wickremesinghe that India continues to look forward to a political solution that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, self-respect within the framework of a united and prosperous Sri Lanka.

He said challenges faced by both countries in the maritime domain were discussed and indicated that China’s increasing forays into the Indian Ocean was touched upon.

“We are neighbours. We have a long-standing and comprehensive relationship. It is natural to speak about concerns,” Kwatra said when asked whether Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean figured in the talks.

On last year’s economic crisis in Sri Lanka, Modi said, “being a close friend, as always, we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Sri Lanka in this hour of crisis.” The vision document for economic partnership is aimed at strengthening maritime, air, energy and people-to-people connectivity besides accelerating mutual cooperation in areas of tourism, power, trade, higher education, and skill development.

Modi described the vision document as India’s long-term commitment to Sri Lanka.

“We have decided that talks on the economic and technological cooperation agreement will be started soon. This will open up new possibilities of trade and economic cooperation for both the countries,” he said.