New Delhi: In reaction to the China-funded Colombo Port City project, India Thursday said it expects Sri Lanka to “remain mindful” of the growing bilateral ties between New Delhi and Colombo, especially from the security standpoint.
“Regarding the Colombo Port City project, we have been closely following recent developments from our security perspective. We have also noted the concerns that have been raised in Sri Lanka regarding several aspects of the framework for the Colombo Port City,” Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, said at a media briefing Thursday.
He said India expects that “Sri Lanka will remain mindful of our excellent bilateral cooperation, including for mutual security in our shared environment, which includes the maritime domain”.
This comes in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan parliament passing a controversial bill last month — the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill — which will establish a Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone and the Colombo Port City Economic Commission under a $1.4 billion deal funded by China.
The bill was passed despite stiff resistance from opposition parties there, who believe this will bring in unprecedented control by the Chinese in that country. The matter was also referred to Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court that urged the Rajapaksa government to make some amendments to the bill.
The development comes within just three months of Sri Lanka scrapping the East Container Terminal project with India and Japan, and subsequently handing over the West Container Terminal to the Adani Group under a private deal.
In 2017, Sri Lanka had to hand over the strategic Hambantota Port to the Chinese under a 99-year lease as it came under heavy debt.
On the issue of the projects being developed by India in the island nation, Bagchi said India has a “very extensive portfolio of partnership development projects” in Sri Lanka, and is in “regular contact with Sri Lankan authorities regarding their implementation”.
India is running several projects in northern Sri Lanka, particularly in Jaffna where it is building housing projects and schools among others.
India envoy meets Tamil National Alliance delegation
On Thursday, India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay also met a senior delegation from the Tamil National Alliance in an effort to push the Sri Lankan government to implement the long-pending 13th amendment to its constitution.
The 13th amendment is aimed at facilitating the reconciliation of the Tamil minority by giving them greater representation. It became part of the local statute as a direct result of the Indian intervention in 1987, under the India-Sri Lanka Accord.
The amendment proposes the establishment of a provincial council system and devolution of power for nine provinces in Sri Lanka. However, successive governments in Sri Lanka have not implemented it.
During the meeting, Baglay stressed “India’s longstanding commitment towards creating social infrastructure such as housing in Sri Lanka that enabled all Sri Lankans including the people from the Northern and Eastern Provinces to enjoy the fruits of peace”.
“He reiterated Indian support for rehabilitation and development in areas such as connectivity, health and education,” said a statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
It added, “Various aspects of devolution and developmental aspirations of the people from the North and East were also discussed. The TNA delegation apprised High Commissioner on progress regarding Provincial Council elections which constitute integral part of Sri Lankan polity and Constitution.
“HC reiterated India’s support for devolution within the framework of a united Sri Lanka on the basis of full implementation of the 13A which would be in line with Tamil aspirations for equality, justice, peace & reconciliation and would strengthen Sri Lanka.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.