By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | ROME (IDN) – Shivering immigrants pulled from icy Mediterranean waters huddled under aid workers' blankets hardly move the hearts of wealthy nationals in developed countries these days.

But the story of 26 young African women whose bodies were recovered near a smuggler’s boatload of migrants caused some heads to turn and tears to fall.

Their bodies were plucked from the sea on November 5 in one of four separate rescue operations that brought 400 people to the Italian port town of Salerno.

- Photo: 2021

Indo-Lanka Ties Back on the Rails

By Sugeeswara Senadhira*

COLOMBO (IDN) — Following the recent visit to Delhi by Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, a four-point package agreed to with India to help overcome the island nation’s current economic problems, has put the traditionally close relations between the two South Asian neighbours back on rails.

India acceded to Sri Lanka’s plea for a line of credit to cover the import of food and medicines and a currency swap arrangement, to deepen economic cooperation.

The package was finalised during two meetings that visiting Sri Lankan finance minister had with his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman and external affairs minister S Jaishankar on December 1 and 2 in New Delhi.

Realising the need to keep top-level contact open, Basil—brother of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa—and Sitharaman and Jaishankar agreed to open direct lines of communication and to be in direct and regular contact with each other to coordinate on this initiative.

Indian media quoting official sources said that it was significant that both Sitharaman and Jaishankar participated in the two rounds of discussions with Rajapaksa. They said this reflected the importance India attaches to the relationship with Sri Lanka.

The currency swap offered to Sri Lanka is expected to be made under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) facility and would be worth $400 million.

Rajapaksa’s meeting with India’s Petroleum Minister Hardeep Singh Puri resulted in India extending a line of credit to cover the import of fuel from India. Puri, who served as First Secretary in the Indian High Commission in Colombo from 1986 to 1989, helped then Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit to finalise the draft for the controversial Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, which was signed by President J.R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Defence and security cooperation
Another important meeting Rajapakse held in New Delhi was with the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who holds the rank of a Cabinet Minister. They engaged in an extremely cordial conversation and discussed a range of issues pertaining to the mutual strategic interests of both countries. They expressed satisfaction over the agreement by India to extend funds for early modernisation of  the Tank Farm adjacent to the eastern port of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.

During the discussions it was stressed that India is an important economic partner and in 2020, India was Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest trading partner with the bilateral merchandise trade amounting to about $ 3.6 billion. India is also one of the largest contributors to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Sri Lanka.

A number of leading companies from India have invested and established their presence in Sri Lanka. FDI from India amounted to about US$ 1.7 billion during the period 2005 to 2019. The main investments from India are in the areas of petroleum retail, tourism and hotel, manufacturing, real estate, telecommunication, banking and financial services.

During the virtual bilateral summit between Indian Prime Minister Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in September 2020, the two leaders agreed to deepen cooperation in renewable energy with particular emphasis on solar projects under the US$ 100 million Line of Credit from India.

On June 16, 2021, the agreement in this regard between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Export-Import Bank of India, was exchanged by the High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay, and the Secretary to the Treasury, S.R. Attygalle, in the presence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Defence and security cooperation figured prominently during Basil Rajapaksa’s talks with Ajith Doval. “The Indian National Security Adviser extended a warm welcome to Minister Basil and engaged in an extremely cordial conversation with him, discussing a range of issues pertaining to the mutual strategic interests,” the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda stated.

Earlier the High Commissioner explored avenues of further augmenting Defence and Security cooperation with India, when he met Defence Minister of India Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on November 30. Moragoda thanked the Defence Minister for the support that the Indian defence establishment has been extending to Sri Lanka over the years in many spheres.

He also thanked India for assisting in controlling the disastrous fires onboard MT New Diamond and MV Express Pearl off the coast of Sri Lanka, which would have resulted in unimaginable marine pollution in the region, had they not been controlled in a timely and efficient manner.

On September 3, 2020, MT New Diamond a very large crude carrier caught fire about 65 kilometres off the western coast of Sri Lanka, resulting in the death of a Filipino crew member. After burning intermittently for almost a week, the fire was reported extinguished by 1September 11. At the time, the ship was carrying 270,000 tonnes of oil from Kuwait to the Paradip refinery in India.

A major fire ignited onboard MV X-Press Pearl, a container carrier ship anchored about 9 nm from Colombo port on May 20, 2021. The vessel was enroute from Hazira to Colombo and loaded with 1486 containers carrying about 25 tons of hazardous nitric acid and other chemicals. Facing a major environmental disaster, Sri Lankan authorities sought Indian Coast Guard assistance towards firefighting and for augmenting pollution response measures in the light of Oil Spill, which was successfully controlled.

Joint Military and Naval exercises
The High Commissioner also thanked India for the training opportunities accorded to Sri Lankan military. It was noted that at any given time there are around 700 Sri Lankan military students undergoing training in India.

Sri Lanka is the largest single recipient of Indian training berths in the defence sector. The High Commissioner suggested that the possibility be explored for the provision of further training opportunities for Sri Lankan military students in India.

India also sent military aircraft with medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, transporting much needed medical grade oxygen to Sri Lanka by INS Shakti and facilitated transportation of the same by SLNS Shakthi. In this context, the offer by the Indian Navy to donate a large-scale oxygen generator to Sri Lanka was also appreciated.

After it was revealed recently that there was a shortage of fetilizer for the farming sector in the island, a consignment of urgently required nano-nitrogen fertiliser was airlifted by transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force recently.

The two sides took note of the annual bilateral Joint Military and Naval exercises and discussed avenues through which the existing bilateral defence and security cooperation could be further strengthened.

Since President Rajapaksa came to power in November 2019, the increasingly close relationship between Sri Lanka and China has ruffled some feathers in New Delhi. But, the success of Basil Rajapaksa’s visit to put bilateral relations back on a warm footing, could be summarised in the statement that the Indian Ministers expressed about New Delhi’s solidarity with Colombo. They reiterated that India has always stood by Sri Lanka and, in the current situation, would be guided by its “Neighbourhood First” policy”.

* Sugeeswara Senadhira is a senior Sri Lankan journalist and an international media advisor to the office of the President. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 December 2021]

Photo: Indian National Security Chief Ajit Doval (right) presents a gift to visiting Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa (left) keeping the spirit of friendship high. Credit: Indian National Security Office.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

We believe in the free flow of information. Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, except for articles that are republished with permission.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top