The resumption of direct air connectivity between Chennai and Jaffna, along with the observation of India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay on the early re-commencement of ferry services, has rekindled hopes of the much-awaited economic reconstruction of the Northern Province, Sri Lanka, among a cross-section of people of Jaffna.
Welcoming the relaunch of air services, Ayathurai Santhan, a bilingual writer from Jaffna and recipient of the prestigious Premchand Fellowship of Sahitya Akademi of India, narrates his personal experience to explain how people in Jaffna will now find it easier to travel to Chennai. Six months ago, when he had to go to Shimla to attend a writers’ meet, his first stop was Chennai. “Due to the fuel shortage at the time, there was no transportation available. I had no choice but to hire a van and travel for LKR 35,000 (approximately ₹7,940 at the present rate of exchange) to reach Colombo in the western part of Sri Lanka, about 400 km away,” he says, pointing out that the Palaly international airport in Jaffna is just 8 km from his house and less than 25 km from anywhere on the Jaffna peninsula.
Mr. Santhan adds that sections of the Tamil diaspora, who had been avoiding visiting Sri Lanka as they had to come via Colombo, would now feel psychologically comfortable to visit the country of their origin.
Appreciating Mr. Baglay for his announcement to support a project of upgrading and expanding the facilities at the Palaly airport, Kandiya Sivagnanam, chairman of the Northern Provincial Council, appeals to the Indian government to provide a full grant to the project.
Emphasising that the restoration of the connectivity has taken place at a time when India in general and Tamil Nadu in particular are much more economically stable than what they were in the past, Thirunavukkarasu Sritharan, president of Social Democratic Party of Tamils, says that greater exposure to Tamil Nadu, which has emerged as an important player in Information Technology (IT) sector, can transform of lives of the people. He hopes that the economic might of India can ensure sustainability of the air services.
S.Niranjan Nanthagopan, Singapore-based entrepreneur having roots in Jaffna, identifies IT and textiles as two areas where Indian investment can be supportive of the Northern Province in a substantial manner. “If required, Indian IT firms can provide appropriate training to the manpower available in Jaffna and make it more suitable for their requirements.” The entrepreneur, whose firm is awaiting permission of the Indian authorities to operate ferry services between Kankesanthurai and Karaikal after having obtained the nod from the Sri Lankan government, says that as the idea is to allow baggage of 100 kg, the movement of people and goods from Tamil Nadu can pave the way for bringing down the cost of living in Jaffna and other parts of the province.
V. Niranjan, an investment- consultant attached to the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce, says the connectivity will, in the long run, benefit the entire island, and not just one province. Joint venture projects can be worked out with Tamil Nadu in the sectors of hospitality and tourism.