Bilateral Engagement between India and Sri Lanka

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    In Context

    • Recently, India and Srilanka’s foreign Minister met as part of the ongoing high-level, and increasingly frequent, bilateral engagement.

    Major Intiatives to strengthen bilateral engagement.

    • The relief extended by India from the beginning of 2022 totals over $1.4 billion
      • Sri Lanka is further negotiating a $1 billion assistance from India to help the near 22 million-strong country as it faces an unprecedented economic crisis.
    • Four pillars of co-operation: In December 2021, both the countries agreed on “four pillars of co-operation” for the short term. These are 
      • Emergency support for food and medicine, and that is a $1-billion credit line.
      • Providing help for petroleum supply, a line of credit of $500 million was announced and to collaborate with India on the Trincomalee tank farm and look at how both countries could work together for energy security and storage. 
      •  India supported by giving a deferral of two months on dues to the Asian Clearing Union, and that was $500 million, and the other was a $400-million swap. 
      • It focused on investment and tourism as India is Srilanka’s largest tourism market — 20-25 per cent of our tourists came from India before the pandemic.
    • Unitary Digital Identity framework:  India has agreed to provide a grant to Sri Lanka to implement a ‘Unitary Digital Identity framework’, apparently modelled on the Aadhaar card. 
    • Supply of two Dornier aircraft 
      • Both the countries are discussing a proposal for the supply of two Dornier aircraft for the Sri Lankan military.
    • The Dornier is a twin-engine multi-purpose aircraft, used by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard for maritime surveillance.
      •  It is also used by the Indian Air Force. It is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd under licence from Swiss company RUAG and is a showpiece of the government’s “Make In India” programme.
    • Finalisation of  memorandum of understanding
      • Both were looking to finalise more immediately a memorandum of understanding on an Indian $15-million fund for the refurbishment of Buddhist temples, and another agreement on collaboration between the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service and the Colombo-based Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute. 

    Sources of tension 

    • The main sources of tension between the countries include the sudden cancellation of the 2019 agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal in Colombo along with Japan,
      • However, Colombo soon offered what it called a “compromise deal” to India, roping in the Adani Group as the main investor in a neighbouring West Container Terminal.
    • Fishermen issue: Given the proximity of the territorial waters of both countries, especially in the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar, incidents of straying of fishermen are common. 
      • Bilateral talks between governments and fisher leaders have proved unsuccessful so far, with Tamil Nadu fishermen reluctant to move away from the practice of bottom trawling that yields high profits.
    • China’s increasing closeness to Sri Lanka is a matter of concern for India. It poses a threat to India’s regional security concerns.
      • China also provided about 80% of the vaccines administered by Sri Lanka, where about 65% of the population is fully vaccinated. 

    What needs to be done?

    • The need for national reconciliation through a political settlement of the ethnic issue has been reiterated by India at the highest levels. 
    • India is in favor of a negotiated political settlement, which is acceptable to all communities within the framework of a united Sri Lanka and which is consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights
    • The Indian Government should ensure assistance to the states so that fishermen can find alternative livelihoods to fishing in Palk Bay.
    • Sri Lanka and India are looking at “closer integration” of their economies in sectors such as ports, energy, tourism and hospitality, and pharmaceuticals.
    • Sri Lanka and India were now seeking to “transform the character of the relationship, elevating it from a transactional level to strategic partnership”.
    • The two sides were planning a joint working group during the visit by Jaishankar in the second half of March 2022, which would include the two foreign ministers, the two fisheries ministers, and possibly some representation from Tamil Nadu.

    Brief on India – Sri Lanka Relations 

    • Historical: India and Sri Lanka have a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction and the relationship between the two countries are more than 2500 years old. 
    • Overview  
      • Trade and investment have grown and there is cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defence.
      •   In recent years, significant progress in the implementation of developmental assistance projects for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and disadvantaged sections of the population in Sri Lanka has helped further cement the bonds of friendship. 
      • The nearly three-decade long armed conflict between Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE came to an end in May 2009. 
        • During the conflict, India supported the right of the Government of Sri Lanka to act against terrorist forces. 
    • Political Relations 
    • Political relations between the two countries have been marked by high-level exchanges of visits at regular intervals. 
    •  Commercial Relations 
      • Both countries enjoy a vibrant and growing economic and commercial partnership, which has witnessed considerable expansion over the years. 
      • The entry into force of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) in 2000 contributed significantly towards the expansion of trade between the two countries.  
      • In 2020, India was Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest trading partner with the bilateral merchandise trade amounting to about USD 3.6 billion.  
        • India is also one of the largest contributors to Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka.
    • Projects under Lines of Credit 
      • 11 Lines of credit (LOC) have been extended to Sri Lanka by the Export-Import Bank of India in the last 15 years. 
        • Important sectors in which Projects have been executed/ are under execution, under these LOCs include Railway, transport, connectivity, defence, solar.  
    • A US$ 100 million LoC for undertaking solar projects in Sri Lanka has been signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and EXIM Bank in June 2021.  
    • Cultural relations
      • In contemporary times, the Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed by the Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka in November 1977 forms the basis for periodic Cultural Exchange Programmes between the two countries.  
      • A USD 15 million grant from India for promotion of bilateral Buddhist ties and an inaugural international flight carrying Sri Lankan pilgrims to the sacred city of Kushinagar, after Kushingar’s recent designation as international airport, were announced at the Virtual Bilateral Summit (VBS). 
    • People-to-people ties 
    • Buddhism is one of the strongest pillars connecting the two nations and civilizations from the time when the Great Indian Emperor Ashoka sent his children Arahat Mahinda and Their Sangamitta to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha at the request of King DevanampiyaTissa of Sri Lanka.  
    •  Tourism: Tourism also forms an important link between India and Sri Lanka. The Government of India formally launched the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme for Sri Lankan tourists on 14 April 2015. 
    • Human resource development: India now offers about 710 scholarship slots annually to Sri Lankan students. 
      • In addition, under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Program, India offers 402 fully-funded slots every year to officials in various Ministries of Government of Sri Lanka and also to other eligible citizens for short term training programs in a wide variety of technical and professional disciplines to enhance skill sets.
      • Indian institutes under the ‘Study in India’ Program provide technical expertise across a diverse range of courses and include programs in niche disciplines such as Ayurveda, Yoga, and Buddhist Studies. 
    • Defence :
      • India and Sri Lanka conduct a joint Military exercise named  ‘Mitra Shakti’ and a Naval exercise named SLINEX.  

    Source: TH