Colombo, January 27 (newsin.asia): The Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who will be leaving the island soon to take charge as India’s Ambassador in the United States, has said that 2019 had been a “momentous year for India-Sri Lanka relationship.”
Speaking at a reception to mark India’s 71 st.Republic Day here on Sunday, Sandhu gave an impressive list of achievements in diverse fields.
“Together we completed establishing the pioneering 1990 Suwaseriya Ambulance Service, which is now available in all 9 provinces of Sri Lanka. Commercial Flight operations resumed between Jaffna and Chennai with Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, starting operations. India and Sri Lanka also entered into agreements to set up a cold storage warehouse in Dambulla for the farmers of Sri Lanka, to upgrade the railway track from Maho to Omanthai. Many trains and locomotives were delivered to Sri Lankan railways under concessional financing agreements.”
“Under the Indian Housing Project, which is the largest grant project of India in any country, India has committed building 63000 houses. By last year, we had constructed and handed over houses to nearly 47,000 families in Sri Lanka.”
The envoy further said: “From the Cultural Centre in Jaffna to the University Auditorium in Ruhuna University, from the tri-lingual school in Polonnaruwa to the hospital in Dickoya, India and Sri Lanka have together finished 70 community development grant projects while 20 other are still on going.”
“These community development projects are based on the priorities identified by the Government of Sri Lanka and directly impact the lives of people. Envoy said that the India-Sri Lanka relationship is centered on our people.”
Scope Of Economic Cooperation
On economic cooperation, Sandhu said: “India and Sri Lanka are growing economies of young people. And it is our endeavor to create opportunities for our youth to develop, to think, to connect. In the next decade, India is poised to emerge as a five trillion dollar economy. This growth will be backed by a strong culture of innovation, clean governance and responsibility towards the environment. “
“On the one hand, India is emerging as the third largest hub of start-ups in the world, on the other we are also spearheading efforts in the world towards clean energy through the International Solar Alliance. India has undertaken a complete digital overhaul of its governance and service delivery systems and by next year, our space research organization will be sending a manned mission to space.”
“Through programs like Skill India, India is training nearly 400 million people, to turn the demographic dividend into actual growth. By the middle of this century, India would be the largest market on earth, a country which no power would be able to ignore and whose economy would be closely linked to product markets around the world through global value chains.”
The envoy added that Sri Lanka can benefit immensely from this growth story unfolding next door. “India is one of the largest trade partners and investors in Sri Lanka. India is also the largest source of tourism for Sri Lanka. Our economies are already connected, and our democratic models of governance and social structures are similar. The opportunities are boundless and only limited by our imagination.”
Defense Cooperation To Meet Threats
Sandhu pointed that there were threats facing the two countries.
“While we are partners in growth, we also face common threats and challenges. Terrorism and extremism have emerged as the biggest threats to our societies, to our way of life. To meet these challenges, India will continue to strengthen its cooperation with Sri Lanka in the field of counterterrorism and intelligence sharing. The defense relationship between our two nations continues to go from The defense relationship between our two nations continues to go from strength to strength through extensive training and close linkages between our Armed Forces.”
“I am happy to note that more than half of the foreign military training slots in India, are provided to Sri Lanka. The commonality of our strategic concerns, especially the shared perspective on security of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) including the safety and security of Sea Lanes of Communications form an important part of our ongoing defense cooperation activities. Regular high level exchange visits, training assistance, joint training and exercises, ship visits and sports I am particularly happy that we were able to organize pilgrimage visits to Bodh Gaya for members and families of Sri Lanka Armed Forces utilizing a special Indian Air Force C-17 aircraft in the last two years,” the High Commissioner said.
India has an abiding interest, in the security and development of Sri Lanka, the High Commissioner said.
“During the recent visit of His Excellency President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to India, India has committed further assistance of 400 million US Dollars for development of Sri Lanka and 50 million US Dollars for security and counter terrorism in Sri Lanka. I am confident that these will play an important role in the growth story of Sri Lanka. We look forward to working closely with President Rajapaksa for the progress of both countries and peace, prosperity and security in our entire common region.”
In his reply to the High Commissioner’s address, the Chief Guest, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunarawardena, said: “Sri Lanka had always been accorded a special place in India’s external relations. Beginning from the mythical legends, even as back as in the third century, during the Mauryan Empire, Emperor Asoka had taken personal interest to send his family as religious emissaries to Sri Lanka to share the Buddha’s message of peace. Over time, the interaction between the two countries has manifested in shaping Sri Lanka’s heritage and culture and contributed for the formation of our nation’s identity.”
“In the post-colonial period, our nations were shaped by great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru and cultural icons in the caliber of Rabindranath Tagore, who together brought an era of regaining the ancient values and wisdom in our region. Our two countries forged a strong bilateral partnership as newly independent nations of British rule with the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1948. Since then our relations grew further, in many fields encompassing diverse areas bound by the principles of democracy and freedom.”
Need For Economic Cooperation
“Economies such as Sri Lanka could reap immense benefits from the economic successes of India which stands soaring as a global economic giant. India is expected to be the second largest global economy by 2050. We, in Sri Lanka, look forward to forge a robust partnership with India through manifold activities by improving air connectivity, defense cooperation, enhanced investments, people to people contacts and cultural exchanges,” Minister Gunwardena said.
“In this context, we appreciate the Indian government’s assistance for the development of the Palali Airport in the Northern Province as Sri Lanka’s third international airport. Chennai-Jaffna flights have commenced after 40 years, and there are plans underway to extend the air services connecting the cities of Bangalore, Cochin, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Additionally Sri Lankan Airlines at present covers 14 Indian cities, facilitating people-to-people connectivity in a more tangible way. Sri Lanka received the largest number of tourists from India that amounted to 355,000 last year,” he added.
The Lankan Minister said that India and Sri Lanka have “close and strategic” cooperation in the fields of defense, maritime security, as well as national security.
“The annual defense dialogues including Galle Dialogue, Sri Lanka -India Defense Dialogue and Trilateral Maritime Security Mechanisms have been beneficial for both countries to share their security concerns.”
“We are also grateful to the Indian Government for sharing intelligence in addressing the rise of terrorism and extremism. Under the new Sri Lanka leadership, we remain hopeful in cooperating with India towards sustainable peace and security in the region through collaborations.”
On bilateral trade, Gunawardena said: “India is Sri Lanka’s biggest trading partner, 3rd largest export destination and the largest import sourcing destination. The total bilateral trade between India and Sri Lanka in 2018/19 was USD 6.2 billion with an increase of more than 18% compared to 2017/18.”
“India is also one of the major development partners in Sri Lanka. We appreciate the continued assistance that India offers in the form of loans, grants, credit lines and technical assistances that exceeded US $ 2.5 Billion.”
“We are also appreciative of the Indian government assisted housing projects and as of today 47,000 houses have been completed out of 60,000 throughout the country. It is regarded as one of the largest projects undertaken by the Government of India abroad.”
Sandhu’s Work Lauded
Paying tribute to the envoy, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, the Foreign Minister said: “Last, but not least, let me extend my sincere appreciation to His Excellency Taranjit Singh Sandhu, for his yeoman service and commitment for the enhancement of bilateral ties between our two countries. On behalf of my government, and on my own behalf, I wish you every success, as you soon leave our shores to assume new responsibilities.”
“Also, let me take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka for their continued support and cooperation,” Gunawardena added.
(The featured image at the top shows Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in conversation with High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu and Padma Shri award winner Vajira Chitrasena)