Harsh Shringla meets Lankan leadership, reaffirms support to post-Covid recovery
The foreign secretary’s visit to Colombo is being seen as an opportunity to get bilateral ties back on track after recent problems.
Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla held talks with Sri Lanka’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Monday to review bilateral ties and development cooperation during a visit aimed at giving impetus to relations against the backdrop of China’s growing presence in the island nation.
Ten Sri Lankan ministers, including foreign minister GL Peiris, joined Shringla for the inauguration of several India-funded development projects in the housing and education sectors. Shringla reaffirmed that India will stand with the Sri Lankan government in its efforts for post-Covid-19 recovery.
Two days before Harsh Shringla began his visit to Sri Lanka on October 2, state-owned Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) inked a deal with India’s Adani Group to develop and run the strategic Colombo Port’s West Container Terminal. This came some eight months after Sri Lanka reneged on a 2019 deal with India and Japan to operate the East Container Terminal, angering both countries.
Adani Group and its local partner John Keells Holdings will jointly have an 85% stake in the West Container Terminal, giving India a much-needed strategic presence at Colombo port, where almost 70% of operations involve shipments bound for India.
The foreign secretary’s visit to Colombo is being seen as an opportunity to get bilateral ties back on track after recent problems such as the scrapping of the MoU on the East Container Terminal, and to assess Sri Lanka’s development assistance requirements.
Peiris, who was recently appointed foreign minister, and Basil Rajapaksa, the younger brother of the premier, who was appointed the finance minister, are seen as strategists who understand the importance of India at a time when Sri Lanka is facing financial pressures due to declining forex reserves and shortages of food items.
India’s relationship with Sri Lanka is seen as one of the most important in the neighbourhood, though there has been some heartburn in New Delhi over Colombo speedily clearing China-funded projects amid the Covid-19 pandemic while going slow on India’s proposals such as the development of the oil storage facility at Trincomalee.
The Indian high commission said the four projects in the housing and education sectors that were jointly inaugurated by Shringla Peiris exemplified “India’s strong and multifaceted development cooperation profile”.
The Indian side handed over 1,235 houses built under the third phase of the Indian Housing Project (IHP), which is part of the largest grant aid project for constructing 50,000 houses at a cost of ₹1,372 crore. A total of 4,000 houses will be built in the third phase, and more than 3,500 have already been completed.
The Indian side also handed over 24 houses built for low-income families in Vavuniya district under the Model Village Housing Project. A total of 600 houses will be built in 25 districts under this project.
The two sides also inaugurated the Vada Central Ladies College at Vadamarachi in the Northern Province and Saraswathi Central College at Pusellawa in Kandy district.
Shringla reviewed bilateral cooperation during a delegation-level meeting with Sri Lankan foreign secretary Jayanath Colombage, and discussed economic and commercial ties and post-pandemic economic recovery during his meeting with finance minister Rajapaksa.
During his meeting with foreign minister Peiris, Shringla focused on the early conclusion of projects and enhancing connectivity to help accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. The Indian high commission also tweeted that Shringla had a productive discussion with the Sri Lankan premier on “further consolidating the multifaceted India-Sri Lanka partnership”.