Colombo, May 11 (newsin.asia): The Professionals’ National Front (PNF) of Sri Lanka has raised a number of contentious issues, including the Trincomalee oil tank farm and the proposed bridge to link Sri Lanka with India, in a letter addressed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrives here on May 11 to inaugurate the International Vesak Day celebrations.
Vesak Day marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha and is being celebrated in Sri Lanka this year as a UN-backed project.
In the letter submitted to the Indian High Commission here on Wednesday, the PNF said that Sri Lanka’s professionals “oppose and condemn” the Indian government’s “insistence” that Sri Lanka sign an Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, despite “strong opposition” in Sri Lanka.
Explaining the opposition, the letter said that because of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) that operate through the Indian State governments and other such measures, the existing Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), which became operational in 2000, has been “almost of no use” to Sri Lankan exporters.
“As a result, the trade imbalance between Sri Lanka and India has expanded exponentially over the years with Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with India standing at more than $ 3.5 billion in 2016,” the letter pointed out.
“As professionals, we cannot agree on your government’s influencing the Sri Lankan government to enter into a new Free Trade Agreement (ETCA) to include services in addition to trade, without taking any tangible steps to solve the existing serious issues with the prevailing ISFTA,” the PNF said.
Objecting to the understanding reached between India and Sri Lanka on the oil tank farm in Trincomalee on April 25 during the visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesingh to India, the PNF said there this understanding cannot be implemented as there is a case filed in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka seeking a declaration that the occupation of the oil tank farm by the Indian Oil Company (IOC) is illegal.
“In such a context we cannot agree with your government forcing Sri Lanka to hand over the oil tanks to a joint venture between Sri Lanka Petroleum Corporation and Indian Oil Company (IOC) and to hand over the land where the oil tank farm is established, including all access roads to the Indian Oil Company (IOC),” the PNF said.
It accused the government of India of influencing the Sri Lankan government to agree to the “questionable” project to construct a highway connecting Trincomalee and Talaimannar across sparsely populated areas.
Even during the reconstruction of the railway line from Thalaimannar to Medawachchiya under an Indian Line of Credit, a lot of pressure was exerted on the Sri Lankan government to extend the line up to Trincomalee though it would be used very poorly.
“Even today, the Talaimannar-Medawachchiya line is used by very few passengers,” the PNF pointed out.
Danger of Separatism
Expressing fears of a resurgent Tamil separatism using the proposed roads and railway lines, the PNF said: “Under the circumstances that separatist threats are still present in our Motherland, this highway (and the railway) can eventually become a dividing line between the North and the South of the country.”
The PNF sees the Indian government’s ambition to connect Trincomalee harbour to India through this highway and the Hanuman Bridge, which connects Thalaimannar and Danushkody (in India), as a “great threat to the independence and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.”
Finally it said: “While appreciating the efforts being made by you to make India a powerful nation, we humbly request you not to exert influence on the rights of our citizens to determine the future of our motherland. We earnestly hope and wish that India will be a great friend of Sri Lanka.”
The letter was signed by PNF President Anuruddha Padeniya and Secretary Kapila Perera and handed over to Political Counselor Ramesh Babu.
(The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan professionals demonstrating against economic pact with India)