External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna concluded his “successful” visit to Sri Lanka on Thursday by handing over the completed section of the Galle-Hikkaduwa railway link to Southern Railway project authorities.
Winding up his four-day visit, during which a host of programmes to increase cooperation were put in place, Mr. Krishna said it was a “testimony to the strength of enduring friendship between the two countries”.
One of Mr. Krishna's achievements was to get Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa reiterate that he would take the “13 Amendment plus approach” to solving the ethnic problem in the country.
With the Tamil National Alliance, an umbrella organisation of Tamil political parties, saying that they would approach the talks with Mr. Rajapaksa's assurance in mind, the stage is set for a fresh approach to the Tamil quest for a political say in the Northern Province.
Phase I of the Southern Railway project, comprising the 42-km Galle-Matara Section, was completed in February 2011. Phase II of the project, which involves the section from Galle to Kaluthara, will be completed by April this year.
IRCON International Ltd, a public sector Indian company involved in railway infrastructure, had completed the 19-km Galle-Hikkaduwa section of the project on schedule.
Tracks have been laid to a stretch of about 45 km on the Galle-Kaluthara section. It will be completed in all aspects once the signalling equipment is in place. The total cost for revamping the Southern Railway line is $167.4 million. India has also extended a line of credit for the project.
Mr. Krishna had, during his visit to the country in November 2010, launched the construction work for the Northern Railway project. “We expect all the projects relating to rehabilitation of the Northern Railway line by IRCON, being funded under an Indian credit line of $800 million, to be completed by the end of 2013,” he said.
He announced a substantial increase in India's assistance in the education sector, amounting to a grant of Sri Lankan Rs.2.5 billion, to aid meritorious students.
Under this programme, scholarships and self-financing slots for undergraduate, masters and doctorate-level courses will be increased to nearly 270 per year. This marks a three-fold increase, and includes 120 slots for undergraduate courses, 25 seats for IT engineering, 50 slots for Masters-level courses, and 40 slots for a highly-subsidised self-financing scheme.
In addition, support for deserving students pursuing their GCE ‘A' level and University degrees in Sri Lankan institutions has been expanded to cover about 500 students every year.