Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he embarks on his first visit to Sri Lanka with great joy and confidence and this visit will make India’s relations with Sri Lanka even stronger, in the larger interest of people between the two countries.
“Robust ties with Sri Lanka signifies the importance India attaches to the South Asian neighbourhood”, he said in a Facebook post.
My visit comes after President Sirisena’s visit to India during which substantial ground was covered on taking our ties forward. I am eagerly looking forward to meeting President Sirisena once again.
Our ties with Sri Lanka have stood the test of time. We have a shared history, heritage and values. And yes, both our Nations share a love for cricket!
India is committed in its support for Sri Lanka’s development and am sure together we are going to script a golden chapter in the history of India-Sri Lanka relations, the Indian PM said.
Meanwhile, India's Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar said Monday that during the PM's visit, India will be looking at strengthening economic cooperation, discussing trade, discussing investments both ways, scaling up development cooperation, particularly in infrastructure and rehabilitation, India supported reconstruction activities covering areas of housing, rail track construction and repair and starting new projects in the energy sector,.
"Obviously the intent is to strengthen our overall ties with Sri Lanka. This has many aspects because we have a very broad based substantive relationship with that neighbor," Dr. Jaishankar said.
He said India clearly wants to promote and encourage the reconciliation process, support democracy and reform, and expand people-to-people contacts including tourism, travel between the two countries.
Recalling that there were four high-level visits already this year after the new government in Sri Lanka took over, the official said four visits in such a short space should really tell the importance India places on its relationship with Sri Lanka.
Speaking of the India-funded development projects in Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary said India had a commitment to build 50,000 houses in Sri Lanka - 42,000 would be in the Northern Province, 4,000 in the Eastern Province, and 4,000 in the Central and Uva Provinces. So far 27,000 houses have been built and some of them will be handed over to the displaced in Jaffna during the PM's visit to North.
While noting that India already operates as part of Indian Oil-CPC collaboration, 15 lower tanks in the Trincomalee oil farm, the Foreign Secretary said India is now getting ready to build the 500 MW thermal power plant in Sampur.
He said in terms of connectivity within Sri Lanka and infrastructure, most of India's activities have centered on railway reconstruction. And most of the US$ 800 million credit line India has given has gone to the railways sector.
"We have rebuilt the southern line which was affected by the tsunami from Kalutara-Galle-Matara. We have done the northern line from Omanthai to Kankasanthurai. The northwestern line I spoke to you about from Thalaimannar to Medawchchiya. We have done the KKS harbor rehabilitation, the Palaly runway rehabilitation. As you can see, we have been a fairly significant contributor to the rebuilding of Sri Lanka." the official said.
Dr. Jaishankar said the trade and economic cooperation feature fairly strongly in India's agenda. Last year the trade stood at US$ 5.2 billion with trade balance heavily favoring India. Sri Lanka's exports to India were US$ 600 million and US$ 4.6 billion were imports.
"We are sensitive to the concerns of Sri Lanka. We have been looking to see how we can expand their exports to India. We have taken some measures to actually assist in some ways by allowing greater Sri Lankan imports of apparel, of processed meats and of some categories of fruits," he noted.
The official said India plans on expanding investment and creating employment in Sri Lanka and looking to scale up big investment projects. He hoped that Prime Minister Modi's meeting with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce would be helpful in that regard.
In terms of connectivity between India and Sri Lanka, the official noted that India operates 118 weekly flights and India is the largest source of tourists to Sri Lanka. Roughly about 16 per cent of Sri Lanka's tourism comes from Indians which is about 200,000 people while about 260,000 Sri Lankans visit India every year.
"Again we want to make travel easy, we want to create both the regulatory side of travel as well as the mechanisms of travel. We are looking to see how we can expand that," Dr. Jaishankar emphasized.
Addressing questions regarding the status of the government of Sri Lanka, the Foreign Secretary said there is a very clear government in place and there seems to be no reason for concerns for signing any decisive agreements with the Sri Lankan government.
"There is a President in place, there is a Prime Minister in place, we always deal with a government in place. As to whether they are planning any changes, that is really for them to work out. As a visiting delegation, any discussions, negotiations, understandings we have with the government in place, and I think there is a very clear government in place. So I do not see any reason for that confusion there," the Foreign Secretary said.