The Indian government will facilitate a meeting between representatives of fishermen associations in India and Sri Lanka at the earliest, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said in Colombo on Monday.

Addressing a joint press conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris, he said that the Sri Lankan government had dealt with Indian fishermen in a compassionate and humanitarian way. Since it was a livelihood issue, India had asked Sri Lanka not to insist on the technicalities. Sri Lanka had released most of the arrested fishermen, Mr. Khurshid said, placing on record his “gratitude and appreciation”.

The meeting between fishermen could look at what the governments had put in place in 2008 and see if it could be implemented more effectively and fortified, or arrive at some other working method through consultation, he said, adding, “We [the two governments] agreed on the need to deal with it in a humane manner without resorting to violence under any circumstances,” he said. Over the last few months, Sri Lanka had repeatedly pointed to the delay in India's response to holding the meeting.

Bringing in the perspective from across the Palk Straights, Mr. Peiris was quick to add that the Government of Sri Lanka had consistently emphasised the need for some concrete action to reduce substantially the numbers of boats and fishermen coming into Sri Lanka’s territorial waters, because it has to do with the livelihoods of the fishermen in the north – people who have been deprived of their livelihood for a long time.

CHOGM

In response to a question on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka this November, he said that India’s commitment to the Commonwealth was complete and profound. Deeming CHOGM “a very important movement in world governance”, he said an announcement would be made by the Prime Minister’s office at an appropriate stage.

The Prime Minister, looking at the prevailing conditions, looking at the importance of the two countries’ relationship and at [other] conditions will make an announcement, Mr. Khurshid said. “We will keep Sri Lanka posted. I will myself obviously come as part of the delegation as Foreign Minister, but the rest of the announcement will be made by the Prime Minister’s Office. We will let you know,” he said.

“Meaningful devolution”

On the 13th Amendment Mr. Khurshid said the Government of Sri Lanka had on many occasions conveyed its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, and building on it. “We look forward to an early resumption of the dialogue process, in order to address this issue in a timely manner.”

He said he hoped that the newly-elected TNA Council would work closely with Centre to arrive at a working arrangement that empowers and gives a sense of satisfaction to everybody. Referring to the “successful culmination” of the recent Northern Provincial Council elections, the Minister said India hopes that it would usher a new beginning towards a better future for the people in the north. “India has been consistent in calling for an early political settlement and national reconciliation through meaningful devolution of powers, so to ensure that all citizens of Sri Lanka, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, would lead a life marked by equality, justice, dignity and self-respect,” he said.

Meaningful devolution, he said, is one that is arrived at from consensus through dialogue. To this, Mr. Peiris added that the Parliamentary Select Committee — working on the issue of devolution — encapsulated the “consensus” Mr. Khurshid was talking about.

Sampur power plant

Timed with Mr. Khurshid’s visit, Sri Lanka and India on Monday signed an agreement finalising the power plant that is to come up in Sampur, Trincomalee with Indian assistance.

A coal-based 500 MW plant will be set up at a cost of Rs. 4,000 crore in Trincomalee. The project — which didn't take off initially due to some disagreements — will be carried out jointly by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

The External Affairs Minister said work on the plant would be completed by 2016. The two countries also signed an MoU for India’s technical assistance in support of the 10-year national plan for a trilingual project in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Khurshid will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa over breakfast on Tuesday and then proceed to Jaffna.