Sri Lanka’s Northern Province CM calls for bigger role in India-assisted development projects

CV Wigneswaran

Sri Lanka’s Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has sought greater collaboration between the Government of India and the provincial administration in the Tamil-majority north in development projects.

“We would like to be brought in as an active stakeholder, through the Government of Sri Lanka, in projects being carried out in the Northern Province. At present, they are mostly done unilaterally by the Colombo government,” he told The Hindu on Saturday.

The Chief Minister raised the matter in a meeting with the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Taranjit Singh Sandhu in Colombo on Thursday. “We discussed a host of other issues pertaining to the ongoing India-assisted development in the Northern Province,” Mr. Wigneswaran said.

Sources in the Indian mission said that senior officials had, in the past, sought a clear “economic plan” from the Northern Chief Minister, mentioning specific projects based on current requirements, especially focussing on people’s livelihoods and skills development. They are yet to receive such a proposal. On receiving it, Colombo and New Delhi could discuss possible partnerships, the sources said.

On January 10, the two countries signed an agreement for Indian assistance of US $ 45.27 million to upgrade the Kankesanthurai (KKS) harbour, located on the northern tip of Jaffna peninsula. The upgradation project, a release from the Indian mission here said, would make the harbour a full-fledged commercial port and also supplement reconstruction efforts in the war-affected north. “The agreement came as a positive turn to our request,” the Chief Minister said.

Further, he discussed possible development of the Palaly airport into a regional airport, and the revival of ferry services between Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram district and Talaimannar on Sri Lanka’s north-western coast. “When Sri Lankan refugees return to India, they are unable to bring their belongings collected over 20-30 years on flights that have a limited baggage allowance. A ferry service will help them,” he said.

The Northern Provincial Council that Mr. Wigneswaran helms, was elected to power five years ago, and he has since raised concern over inadequate powers to govern. On the other hand, critics in the north blame the NPC administration for the lack of sufficient initiative, even within the administrative powers that it currently holds.

Beginning in 2005, the Indian government has committed a total of $ 2.6 billion development assistance to Sri Lanka, focussed mostly on initiatives the north and east. More recently, projects in the Sinhala-majority south and in Central and Uva provinces, where hill country Tamils live, have taken off.

(The Hindu)