Sri Lanka-India Land Connectivity
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent proposal to establish land connectivity with India rekindles a visionary idea floated two decades ago. The initial concept of a bridge linking Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu) with Talaimanar (Northern Province of Sri Lanka) aimed at fostering regional economic integration. Despite past opposition, the proposal resurfaced in a joint statement between Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, emphasizing the need for a feasibility study and potential economic growth.
GS – 02 (India and its Neighbourhood)
India-Sri Lanka Relations, Tamil National Alliance, Sri Lankan Tamils, Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, Buddhism, Indian Ocean.
How are India’s ties with Sri Lanka?
- India and Sri Lanka, both located in the South Asian region within the Indian Ocean, share a geographical proximity defined by the presence of the Palk Strait, situating Sri Lanka just off the southern coast of India. This close proximity has significantly influenced the dynamics of their relationship, particularly given the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean for trade and military activities, where Sri Lanka’s position at the intersection of major shipping routes makes it a crucial point for India’s control.
- Historically, the two nations have deep-rooted connections encompassing cultural, religious, and trade relations dating back to ancient times. The cultural affinity is exemplified by the strong ties between the citizens, with a notable number of Sri Lankans tracing their heritage back to India. Additionally, Buddhism, originating in India, holds significant religious importance in Sri Lanka.
- Economically, Over 60% of Sri Lanka’s exports benefit from the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, and India is a substantial investor, contributing around USD 1.7 billion in Foreign Direct Investment from 2005 to 2019.
- The defense collaboration between India and Sri Lanka is evident through joint military exercises like Mitra Shakti and naval exercises such as SLINEX. Sri Lanka’s active participation in regional groupings like BIMSTEC and SAARC, where India plays a leading role, further cements their diplomatic ties.
- However, certain challenges persist in India-Sri Lanka relations. The recurring issue of the killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy remains a point of contention. In 2019 and 2020 alone, 284 Indian fishermen were arrested, and 53 Indian boats were confiscated by Sri Lankan authorities.
- Another significant factor affecting the relationship is the growing influence of China in Sri Lanka. China’s substantial economic investments, constituting 23.6% of total Foreign Direct Investment from 2010 to 2019, as opposed to India’s 10.4%, have raised concerns and strained India-Sri Lanka relations. China’s expanding economic footprint, coupled with its increasing political influence, has become a noteworthy aspect influencing the broader regional dynamics.
Dimensions of the Article:
- Power Grid Proposal
- India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement
- Tourism and Trade Disparities
- Land Connectivity and Economic Integration
Power Grid Proposal:
- The article touches upon the historical proposal of connecting the electricity networks of India and Sri Lanka in 1970. Despite a memorandum of understanding signed over a decade ago, the transmission of electricity has not commenced.
- A comparison is drawn with India’s successful energy export to Bangladesh, urging both nations to expedite the establishment of a bilateral power grid.
India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement:
- Highlighting the sluggish progress in economic ties, the article points out the stagnation in the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement signed in 1998.
- Despite talks of an economic and technology cooperation agreement, negotiations have been slow. The need for rejuvenated efforts in bilateral economic ties is emphasized.
Tourism and Trade Disparities:
- While acknowledging India’s regained position as the largest source of imports for Sri Lanka, the article notes the underperformance compared to Bangladesh.
- Bilateral trade with Sri Lanka in 2021 amounted to $5.45 billion, significantly lower than Bangladesh’s $18.14 billion. The potential for increased economic cooperation is underscored.
Land Connectivity and Economic Integration:
- The core of the article revolves around President Wickremesinghe’s proposal for enhanced land connectivity. The vision of utilizing Colombo port to meet the supply needs of southwest India and Trincomalee port for southeast India is highlighted.
- The historical context of the proposal and its revival reflect a commitment to regional economic integration.
The article urges Sri Lanka not to be deterred by historical opposition and nationalist sentiments, citing Bangladesh’s model of a mutually beneficial economic relationship. Recent positive developments, including air services resumption, ferry services, and a joint venture in the dairy sector, should serve as momentum for sustained efforts. It is important for Sri Lanka to prioritize economic growth, leveraging its historical stability and high standard of living to foster a prosperous future in collaboration with India.