India expects Sri Lanka to implement the Thirteenth Amendment and ensure a “life of respect and dignity” for its Tamil population, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday. Welcoming Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to India, Mr Modi informed that both sides have held talks on a number of infrastructure projects that can ensure greater connectivity between the two countries and announced a development assistance package for the Tamils of Indian origin who are marking 200th anniversary of their arrival into the island nation. Mr. Wickremesinghe expressed his government’s “profound appreciation” for the support that India extended to Sri Lanka over the last year that he described as the “most challenging period in Sri Lanka’s modern history”.
“We also talked about reconstruction and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. President Wickremesinghe presented his inclusive approach. We hope that Sri Lanka will fulfil the aspirations of the Tamils. We expect that Sri Lanka will take forward the process of rebuilding for equality, justice and peace. We hope that Sri Lanka will fulfil its commitment to implement the Thirteenth Amendment and to hold Provincial Council Elections,” said Mr. Modi delivering his remarks in Hindi.
Mr. Modi and Mr. Wickremesinghe spoke at the end of bilateral talks held at the Hyderabad House where the two sides exchanged documents on cooperation in the field of animal husbandry, renewable energy, development projects in Trincomalee district in eastern Sri Lanka, and online payment services between the two sides. The MoU on Trincomalee is aimed at developing the port and its nearby areas as a “regional hub for industry, energy, including renewable energy,” said Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra briefing the media about the ongoing visit. The agreement on digital transaction was signed between Lanka Pay and ECI International to facilitate acceptance of India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in Sri Lanka.
The 13th Amendment is a three decade old Sri Lankan legislation that pledged devolution of power to the nine provinces which is yet to be fulfilled. Two days before the arrival of President Wickremesinghe to India, the issue came to the centre-stage after the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) “categorically rejected” the promise of the present government to implement the amendment sans police powers. The TNA has described the move as “another hollow promise” by the Wickremesinghe-led government.
“We hope Sri Lanka’s government will ensure a life of respect and dignity for the Tamil people of the country,” said Mr. Modi reminding that the community of Indian origin Tamils are marking the 200th anniversary of their arrival into Sri Lanka this year which is also the 75th anniversary of India-Sri Lanka diplomatic ties.
Mr. Modi announced a package of ₹75 crores for various development projects for the Tamil community of Indian origin. India will also contribute additionally for development programmes in the northern and the eastern parts of Sri Lanka. PM Modi noted the financial difficulty that Sri Lanka has been facing since last summer when the country was brought to a standstill by an unprecedented energy crisis which was accompanied by high inflation and near depletion of its foreign currency reserve. PM Modi said security and development of Sri Lanka are connected to each other. “We should work together while recognising each other’s security and developmental needs,” said Mr. Modi.
The two sides adopted a vision document to enhance maritime, energy and people to people connectivity. Mr Modi announced that a passenger ferry service will be launched soon to connect Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam and northern Sri Lanka’s Kankesanthurai. “We have decided to fast track the work of connecting the electricity grids of both countries,” announced PM Modi. He announced feasibility studies for building a “land bridge” as well as for a petroleum pipeline. Mr Modi informed that the two sides discussed the issue of fishermen and urged the matter should be viewed through a “humanitarian perspective”.
Conveying his commitment to development of Sri Lanka President Wickremesinghe said that his plan will “benefit all segments of Sri Lankan society” and added, “I have set Sri Lanka firmly on the path of economic reform and that Sri Lanka is already witnessing the stabilising outcomes of these measures and the revival of confidence internally and externally in the progress of the country.” Mr Wickremesinghe said he has invited leaders of all political parties to come forward to work towards “consensus”. The visiting President said Sri Lanka is focused on an economic growth path. He welcomed the Chennai-Jaffna air connectivity.
Mr Kwatra informed that India and Sri Lanka are exploring possibilities of connecting southern India with Trincomalee, Batticaloa and other destinations in the island nation. He informed that President Wickremesinghe presented his ideas to boost inflow of Indian tourists into Sri Lanka. In this regard, promotion of Ramayana trail and the Buddhist-Hindu pilgrimage circuits were discussed. In the run up to the delegation level talks, President Wickremesinghe was met by External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.