Sri Lanka is set to buy at least 10,000 tonnes of food from India, to be shipped from Chennai to shortages-hit Jaffna in the island's north, according to informed sources.
Arrangements are on to buy a wide variety of food items used in Tamil kitchens and transport them by the sea from Tamil Nadu. Separately, food items may also be shipped from Nagapattinam, also in Tamil Nadu, to Kayts Island, off Jaffna.
The decision follows meetings in New Delhi late last month when President Mahinda Rajapakse and Social Services and Social Welfare Minister Douglas Devananda of Sri Lanka urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to help overcome food shortages in Jaffna peninsula.
The Sri Lankan government's closure of the only highway linking the mainland to the northern peninsula and the Tamil Tigers' refusal to provide security guarantees to ships coming from Colombo to Jaffna have led to widespread shortages in the Tamil region.
According to aid workers, Jaffna residents queue up for hours to buy whatever is available in the government-run cooperative stores, and what else is sold in the market is too costly for everyone to afford.
The sources said that Sri Lanka had decided to buy in Tamil Nadu dry chili, coriander, rice flake, cumin seed, mustard, jaggery, iodine salt, tamarind, potato, black gram, green gram, turmeric, Soya, pappadam, dry fish, fenugreek and wheat flour.
These are said to be most in demand in Jaffna, with some items going completely off the market. This would total 10,000 tonnes and may be shipped from Chennai to Point Pedro in Jaffna in two or three ships.
The unloading operations are expected to take several days, the sources said.
Simultaneously, food items may be taken from Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam port to Kayts, one of the bigger islands off Jaffna peninsula.
In Jaffna, the food taken from Tamil Nadu would be given to the region's Government Agent, the senior most civil servant, for distribution through state-run cooperative stores at controlled prices. The Sri Lankan assessment is that it is cheaper and quicker to get food from Tamil Nadu, rather than Colombo.
It is not clear whether Indian or Sri Lankan ships would be used in the operation. It is also not known if private traders would anyway be associated with the transactions or if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would like food coming from India.
Sri Lanka has told the Indian government that it is doing this due to "humanitarian reasons".
The closure of the A-9 highway between the Sri Lankan mainland to Jaffna came about in August following heavy fighting between the military and the LTTE. Since then, the issue has become a major stumbling block to the resumption of any peace talks between the two sides. The LTTE wants the highway reopened to traffic.
Tamil Nadu is separated from Sri Lanka by a narrow strip of sea. The deteriorating security situation, where fighting this year alone has claimed over 3,000 lives, is starting to stir up emotive reactions in the sprawling state.