Addressing the Lok Sabha on 18 March 2015, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said “India stands with Sri Lanka in its efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all sections of society, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka.” The visit provided an opportunity to strengthen ties with a very close neighbour she said.
The visit to Sri Lanka took place on 13-14 March 2015. It was the fourth high level engagement with that country since the election of President Sirisena on 9th January 2015. The House will recall that President Sirisena paid his first visit abroad to India later in February. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and I did reciprocal visits before and after that of the President.
The Prime Minister was received by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He held talks with President Sirisena and senior members of the Government. Prime Minister also met the leadership across the political spectrum including former Presidents Kumaratunga and Rajapaksa. He addressed the Sri Lankan Parliament and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
The visit expressed India’s strong support for democracy and reform in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister noted in his address to the Parliament that recent elections reflected the collective voice of the nation – the hope for change, reconciliation and unity. He expressed confidence in the future of Sri Lanka, defined by unity and integrity, peace and harmony, and opportunity and dignity for everyone. He underlined, that for India, the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka are paramount.
Prime Minister’s talks with the Sri Lankan leadership covered a very wide range of issues. He conveyed India’s sincere support and good wishes for Sri Lanka’s new journey of peace, reconciliation and progress. India stands with Sri Lanka in its efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all sections of society, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka. Prime Minister also declared that we believe that the early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna. Prime Minister unveiled the foundation stone of the Jaffna Cultural Centre to be built under a grant offered by India. He handed over certificates to the beneficiaries of the Indian Housing Project for internally displaced persons. At Talaimannar, he flagged off the inaugural train on the track to Madhu Road. Prime Minister also visited the ancient temple of Naguleswaram at Jaffna.
The problems of fishermen were also discussed during the talks. Prime Minister pointed out that this was a complex issue involving livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides, India and Sri Lanka need to find a long term solution. Fishermen’s associations of both countries must meet at the earliest to work out a mutually acceptable arrangement.
During his stay, Prime Minister underscored our common Buddhist heritage. He visited the Mahabodhi Society in Colombo, offered ‘Dana’ to monks and planted a sapling. Prime Minister also offered prayers along with President Sirisena at the venerated Sri Mahabodhi Tree at Anuradhapura.
On the economic side, Prime Minister addressed the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce where he spoke of new purpose and clarity in our policies. He pointed out the benefits of regional economic cooperation and urged Sri Lankan business to take advantage of the opportunities that India is creating for its neighbours.
Among the main outcomes of the Prime Minister’s talks in Sri Lanka were: a) inclusion of Sri Lanka in the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme from 14th April, coinciding with the occasion of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year; b) setting up of a Joint Task Force to develop the Trincomalee Upper Oil Tank Farm; c) announcement of a fresh line of credit for US$318 million for Sri Lanka’s railway sector; d) extension of currency swap facility of US$1.5 billion by Reserve Bank of India to Sri Lanka’s Central Bank; e) creating a Joint Task Force for cooperation in the Ocean Economy; f) direct flights between Delhi and Colombo by Air India to begin this summer; g) holding of a Festival of India in Sri Lanka; and h) cooperation in development of a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and the Buddhist circuit in India.
Four agreements/ MOUs were signed during the visit: on customs cooperation; visa exemption for diplomatic and official passport holders; youth development; and construction of an auditorium in Ruhuna University in Matara, Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka visit by Prime Minister provided an opportunity to strengthen ties with a very close neighbour and a fellow SAARC member. Recent developments in that country have created new openings and opportunities on many longstanding issues. From our side, the intent was to assure all sections of Sri Lanka that India wishes them well in their quest for peace and prosperity; this was fulfilled in Prime Minister’s visit.
I am confident that this House welcomes Prime Minister’s visit to these three important countries in the Indian Ocean which has promoted greater understanding and cooperation in this region. (MEA)