Colombo, November 3: the Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, led a five-member official delegation as well as a high-powered business delegation consisting of senior functionaries of leading industry organizations like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICII) to Sri Lanka from November 1 to 3, 2023.
Finance Minister Sitharaman called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena during the visit. She also paid respects to the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters and offered prayers at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Temple in Anuradhapura. She also worshiped at the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in Jaffna.
She was the Guest of Honour at the ‘Naam 200’ event to mark 200 years of the arrival of the Indian origin Tamil community in Sri Lanka and delivered the keynote address at an India – Sri Lanka Business Summit on Enhancing Connectivity; Partnering for Prosperity.
She also inaugurated branches of State Bank of India in Trincomalee and Jaffna during the visit.
The Finance Minister held fruitful discussions with the President of Sri Lanka on 2 November 2023. They witnessed the exchange of bilateral documents, to pave the way for an early commencement of projects under the USD 15 million grant announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the promotion of Buddhist ties between the two countries.
The first project being undertaken under this grant is the solar electrification of places of worship across Sri Lanka with a grant allocation of USD 10 million. An MOU on the details of the project was also exchanged.
The Finance Minister of India announced in the ‘Naam 200’ event that the Government of India would soon send trainers to equip teachers in STEM subjects in the plantation areas of Sri Lanka. As one of the first projects under the SLR 3 billion multi-sectoral package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2023 for the Indian origin Tamil community, qualified trainers from India would be deployed in Sri Lanka for defined periods towards achieving this.
She also outlined several other projects which are being rolled out under the package including solar lanterns for plantation workers, stitching units for women’s self-help groups etc. In the education sphere, she kicked off the supply of notebooks and school bags to 10,000 school-going children in the plantation regions and started a project to distribute RO plants among schools to address drinking water problems in select schools.
Marking a new milestone, she virtually launched the Phase-4 of flagship Indian Housing Project (IHP) for the construction of 10,000 houses for plantation workers along with the President of Sri Lanka.
This is an extension of the third phase of construction under which close to 4000 houses have been built in these regions. It may be recalled that a total of around 50,000 houses have been completed under IHP till date.
The Finance Minister virtually inaugurated the upgraded Thondaman Vocational Training Center in Hatton along with President Wickremesinghe. The Government of India built several facilities at the Center and provided equipment including desktop computers towards imparting employable skills to the youth.
The visit is expected to give further impetus to bilateral engagements in the economic sphere. Industry captains who visited Sri Lanka from several sectors actively sought mutually beneficial investment opportunities and sustainable commercial partnerships in Sri Lanka.
The Business Summit was a meeting of minds platform in which both Indian and Sri Lankan business entities came together to discuss future collaborations.
Finance Minister Sitharaman had strongly advocated for Sri Lanka at IMF meetings in 2022 which was critical in enabling the grant of the IMF package to Sri Lanka. As Finance Minister, her role in fast tracking the multi-pronged support of USD 4 billion by India last year was critical.