India has sought Sri Lanka’s cooperation in swift completion of joint ventures, amidst anxiety in South Block over apparent delays in taking India-assisted projects in the island forward.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, here on a one-day visit, called on President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday, and conveyed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s keen interest in seeing the projects expedited, sources said.
The talks, both with Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe, were largely focussed on key Indian projects, such as the proposed joint venture to run the Mattala airport in the island’s Southern Province; an LNG terminal near Colombo, and the joint development of the oil storage facility in the eastern port town of Trincomalee, The Hindu reliably learns.
Earlier this month, Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala De Silva told parliament that India had offered to help revive and run the loss-making airport, near Hambantota where China has a 99-year-old lease on a huge port, and discussions were on to finalise the joint venture. However, New Delhi has been concerned about the pace at which the projects are moving and has conveyed that on different occasions in the past.
This is Mr. Gokhale’s first visit to Sri Lanka after he assumed charge as Foreign Secretary in January. Widely regarded as a “China expert”, Mr. Gokhale urged Sri Lankan authorities to keep “India’s interests in mind”, even as he pledged further support to partner Sri Lanka not just in the economic front, but also in the spheres of culture and spirituality, a top government source told The Hindu.
He said India was willing to explore avenues for further investment, including in the war-affected north and east. India’s ongoing housing programme – India is building about 60,000 houses in the island – figured in the discussion between Mr. Gokhale and Mr. Wickremesinghe, a source in the Prime Minister’s office said. “India has also offered assistance to build roads and highways,” the source told The Hindu.
Meeting with Tamil leaders
Leader of Opposition and veteran Tamil politician R. Sampanthan met Mr. Gokhale, and sought India’s push to the new constitution. Expressing concern over the delayed attempt at drafting a new constitution, he told the visiting Foreign Secretary that the Tamils looked up to to India, which had been a party to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, that recommended devolving some power to the provinces, including Tamil-majority areas.
Mr. Sampanthan also sought Indian investment in the war-battered north and east, and India’s assistance in ensuring the smooth return of Sri Lankan refugees in India. “The Indian foreign secretary conveyed that the Government of India is willing to give any support in assisting the returnees,” a statement from the Tamil National Alliance said.
Mr. Gokhale also met Tamil leaders representing the hill country community.