Following column is based on the remarks made by the author during his official visit to Sri Lanka on 20 January 2023
First of all, let me say what a great pleasure it is to be back in Colombo. I thank you President Ranil Wickremasinghe for receiving me today. We have had a very good discussion that follows up on my meeting with my counterpart and other Sri Lankan Ministers yesterday evening.
My primary purpose of coming to Colombo at this time is to express India’s solidarity with Sri Lanka during these difficult moments. As you all know, last year, India extended about US $ 4 billion in terms of credits and roll overs to help Sri Lanka get through an economic crisis. For us, it was an issue of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and not leaving a partner to fend for themselves.
This year, in a developing situation that was beginning to cause concern, the same sentiment reasserted itself. We felt strongly that Sri Lanka’s creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery. India decided not to wait on others but to do what we believe is right. We extended financing assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka’s position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally.
While doing that, we also know that Sri Lanka’s pathway is one of a strong economic recovery propelled by greater investments. Here too, I have a clear message that I will be sharing with the business community. India will encourage greater investments in the Sri Lankan economy, especially in the core areas like energy, tourism and infrastructure. We count on the Government of Sri Lanka to provide a more business-friendly environment to create a powerful pull factor. I am confident that the gravity of the situation is realized by policy makers here.
Energy security is today one of Sri Lanka’s most serious challenges. A search for solutions must necessarily encompass the larger region. Only then will Sri Lanka get the full benefit of scale. This country has enormous renewable energy potential that can become a sustainable source of revenue. It has the capability as well for Trincomalee to emerge as an energy hub. In its support for Sri Lanka, India is prepared to be a reliable partner on such initiatives. We have today agreed in-principle on a renewable energy framework that would take this cooperation forward.
Tourism is the life blood of the Sri Lankan economy. I note that Indian tourists are expressing their positive sentiments for Sri Lanka in a very very practical manner by coming here. But there are many more steps we can take to make this sustainable. Strengthening connectivity and promoting travel is therefore a very high priority for all of us. Definitely, encouraging Indian tourists to make RuPay payments and utilize UPI would be most helpful in this regard.
In a turbulent world, it is essential that India and Sri Lanka steady their trade. The use of rupee settlement for trade is obviously in our mutual interest.
India has always supported both the political and economic stability of Sri Lanka. The President briefed me on the question of political devolution and his thinking. I shared with him our considered view that the full implementation of the 13th amendment and early conduct of provincial elections are critical in this regard. Durable efforts towards reconciliation are in the interests of all sections in Sri Lanka. I also spoke of the need to pay special attention to the requirements of the Indian origin Tamil community.
I handed over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to President Ranil Wickremesinghe to visit India at an early date to discuss how our partnership can facilitate Sri Lanka’s strong recovery.
I once again thank the President for receiving me. I would like to underline that India is a reliable neighbour, a trustworthy partner, one who is prepared to go the extra mile when Sri Lanka feels the need. My presence here today is a statement about Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to ‘Neighbourhood First’. We will stand by Sri Lanka in this hour of need and are confident that Sri Lanka will overcome the challenges that it currently faces.