Colombo, August 119 (newsin.asia): The Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, has said that Sri Lanka is “one of the most valued partners” in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Neighborhood First” policy.
“The verse from Panchatantra, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a family), engraved at the entrance of the Indian Parliament, encapsulates all that India stands for, today, tomorrow and forever. The spirit of global good is reflected in India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. Sri Lanka is one of India’s most valued partners,” the High Commissioner said that at the Indian Independence Day function here on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka as the Chief Guest at the International Day of Vesak in May, at the invitation of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, took India-Sri Lanka relations to “new heights”, he said.
“The visit was a reflection of the shared Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka that go back to several centuries. It also marked our respect towards the Buddha and His teachings, which have contemporary and universal significance,” he added.
“The Prime Minister’s address at the public gathering of Sri Lankans living in the Upcountry area, particularly Indian Origin Tamil people at Norwood in the presence of President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was a testimony to the warm ties of friendship between our leaders, as well as between our two great nations,” he stressed.
Helping Hand During Disasters
Referring to the helping hand extended by India, when Sri Lanka was shaken by natural disasters, envoy Sandhu said: “The oceans that separate us are the oceans that connect us. As a true friend and neighbor, India has always responded swiftly to needs of Sri Lanka, be it drought, tsunami or floods.”
“Indian Naval Ships touched Sri Lankan shores within hours of receiving the request from Government of Sri Lanka, when Sri Lanka was hit by floods in May. Indian Navy worked hand in hand with Sri Lankan Navy in relief and rescue operations, and providing relief materials and medical assistance to the victims.”
Development cooperation has been the corner stone of India’s ties with Sri Lanka.
“In May 2017, the world also witnessed Sri Lanka becoming a proud partner in the South Asia Satellite, designed and launched by India to help participating countries in South Asia to achieve their economic and developmental goals. Following the launch of South Asia Satellite, the Prime Minister of India was joined by President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena and other leaders of participating South Asian countries in a video conference, which was termed as a mini SAARC summit. This proved that not even the sky is the limit to our partnership, ” envoy Sandhu said.
“The vision of our leaders has guided us to chart a blueprint for future engagement. We consider the MoU for cooperation in joint economic projects signed during the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to India in April this year as an important milestone in our bilateral economic engagement. The MoU identifies specific projects for cooperation in Sri Lanka in sectors such as energy, power, roads, ports, railways, etc. We are closely working with Sri Lankan leadership for timely implementation of these projects.”
“India-Sri Lanka development partnership remains an important facet of our close friendship. India has committed over $ 2.6 billion in development assistance to Sri Lanka, with over $ 460 million as outright grants.”
“Indian projects span diverse areas. The Indian housing project, which now aims to construct 60,000 houses on grant basis, is proceeding well with over 45,000 houses constructed till date. We would soon commence building next phase of 10,000 houses, as announced by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi during his visit to upcountry areas.”
‘An Emergency Ambulance Service, funded under Indian grant, covering Southern and Western Provinces of Sri Lanka, allowing patients quick access to ambulances, free of charge, would now be extended to all parts of Sri Lanka, as announced by Prime Minister during his visit to Sri Lanka in May.”
“The Prime Minister also dedicated to the people of Sri Lanka a new building complex of District Base hospital Dikoya built with Indian grant assistance in presence of President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. ‘
“A Line of Credit Agreement for $ 318 million was signed in June for the Sri Lankan railway sector between EXIM Bank of India and Sri Lankan Treasury. India will continue to provide all possible assistance to support Sri Lanka’s developmental efforts,” Sandhu said.
On forging direct relations between the peoples of India and Sri Lanka ,the envoy said: “People-to-pfeople contacts remain the bedrock of our relationship, and connectivity is crucial to strengthening people-to-people ties. We are happy that Sri Lankan Airlines recently became the largest foreign carrier to India, making use of India’s Open Sky policy.”
“We are equally delighted that an Air India flight connecting Colombo and Varanasi is now operational, realizing the commitment made by our Prime Minister during his visit to Sri Lanka in May.”
“There are now more than 150 flights a week connecting Colombo with India. Sri Lanka also contributes significantly towards Indian tourism, with an estimated 300,000 Sri Lankans visiting India annually. India is the largest source country for Sri Lankan tourism with more than 350,000 Indian tourists visiting Sri Lanka during 2016. Let us take more and more advantage of our geography.”
On the unique cultural dimensions of the relationship, Sandhu said: “Our linguistic and cultural interactions have interwoven us into a unique tapestry. Is it any wonder then that the classes in Indian music, dance, Hindi and Yoga offered at the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo are so popular?”
“To showcase the common thread of yoga running through the tradition and culture of both countries, thousands participated in yoga events held across Sri Lanka to commemorate the International Day of Yoga. It has been an honor for us to have President Maithripala Sirisena join thousands of yoga enthusiasts at Independence Square on 17 June to celebrate the International Day of Yoga 2017. “
Education and Innovation
Education has become an important dimension of India-Sri Lanka ties.
“Both countries attach high importance to education and innovation. I am happy to note that India now offers more than 200 scholarships annually to Sri Lankan students to study in India, at undergraduate, postgraduate and research levels, apart from 500 scholarships to students pursuing education in Sri Lanka at Advanced and undergraduate levels.”
“Under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Scheme and the Colombo Plan, India also offers 370 slots annually to Sri Lankan nationals for short term training in India. We have also recently opened up our Medical Colleges and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) to foreign students. For the first time, IITs’ Joint Entrance Examination (JEE Advanced Level) was held in Colombo in May. We hope to create more bridges between our two countries.
Strong Security Partnership
In the light of the need to protect the sea lanes from terrorism and other disruptive elements India and Sri Lanka have forged a strong defense partnership.
“India and Sri Lanka continue to enjoy a strong defense partnership. Common security concerns, especially the protection of important sea lanes in our immediate maritime neighborhood, guide our bilateral defense engagement, marked by regular high level exchange of visits, joint training and exercises as well as ship visits.”
“Of all the threats that are global in nature and should concern us all, terrorism is clearly the most serious. The heinous attacks around the world in the last few months are stark reminders of this dark reality. It is our firm conviction that no belief, justification, political cause or argument can be used to justify acts of terrorism. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks, as well as the States that support and sponsor or provide safe havens to terrorists or terrorist groups, must be held accountable.”
“India sees itself as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region. We also see ourselves as the First Responder in Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief operations in the region. Our defense and counter-terrorism cooperation must take into account the geopolitical realities of today and must equip us to for a better tomorrow,” Sandhu said.
Commitment to Sri Lanka’s Unity
The envoy assured Sri Lanka that India will stand by it when its security and unity are threatened.
“ India has an abiding interest in the security of Sri Lanka and remains committed to Sri Lanka’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have always supported efforts to preserve Sri Lanka’s character as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper and fulfill their aspirations.”
“India will continue to remain engaged with Sri Lanka and offer our support in a spirit of partnership and cooperation. With investments in each other’s countries in infrastructure, manufacturing, health, education, science and technology, we are positioning ourselves well for further deepening our cooperation,” Sandhu envoy said.
(The featured image at the top is that of Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka)