by Zacki Jabbar
( January 30, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) India has expressed support for ongoing efforts by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to enact a new constitution and forge reconciliation among the various communities.
New High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu addressing a ceremony to mark the 68th Republic Day of India at “India House” in Colombo 7, last week said that his country had an abiding interest in the security of Sri Lanka and remained committed to its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We have always supported efforts to preserve Sri Lanka’s character as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety, harmony and prosper and fulfill their aspirations”, he noted adding that India would continue to remain engaged with Sri Lankan government and offer its support in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.
Expressing the hope that ongoing efforts of the Srisena-Wickremesinghe administration for constitutional reform and reconciliation would be successful, the High Commissioner said that the defence partnership between the two countries was strong, characterized by regular high level exchanges, joint training and exercises, as well as ship visits.
He recalled that India had considered it a privilege to welcome President Maithripala Sirisena and other dignitaries on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, which visited Colombo last year on its maiden overseas port call.”Both countries also shared similar perspectives against terrorism.”
The inauguration of the renovated Duraiappah Stadium in Jaffna last year by President Srisena and
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the first stand-alone bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister since 1987, indicated the importance of such projects, Sandhu observed.
He revealed that further visits from both sides at various levels were expected in the months to come.”I am delighted, at the response to the large number of scholarships that we provide for education, as well as short term training opportunities in both our countries. Cultural and people to people relations have also strengthened”.
The High Commissioner urged the Lankan business community to take advantage of India’s growth story and technology strength, which fitted in with its “Neighbourhood First” policy, that linked India’s growth to the prosperity of its neighbours, in which Sri Lanka had a special place.
Nearly 60 percent of Sri Lankan exports were entitled to concessions under the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement, he said revealing that many Indian investments in Sri Lanka were in the pipeline, particularly in the energy and infrastructure sectors.
Sandhu noted that development assistance had totaled over USD 2.6 billion, with over USD 435 million being outright grants. More than 45,000 houses under the Indian Housing Grant Project had been constructed and the focus had shifted to the Central and Uva Provinces, where an innovative community driven approach was being adopted. “Numerous projects were underway in various sectors, including the emergency ambulance service in the Southern and Western Provinces.”
Pledging to provide whatever development assistance possible, he said that Sri Lanka was free to enter into trade and other pacts with India, at a pace it was comfortable with.
The Indian economy had witnessed a resurgence despite a global economic slowdown. It was the fastest growing major economy and seen as an engine of global growth. Over the last two and a half years Foreign Direct Investment inflows had reached USD 130 billion, while India’s ranking on parameters, such as global competitiveness, global innovation and ease of doing business had moved up, the High Commissioner observed.
He said numerous legislative and regulatory reform measures were being implemented, including an historic Goods and Services Tax, that would make India a truly common market. The demonetization initiative would yield numerous long term benefits. Special initiatives such as Make in India, Digital India, Smart Cities, Skill India, Housing for All and Start Up India had been launched to create an efficient economy, focused on industry, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Sandhu noted that India had made enormous strides in various fields, particularly in high technology and innovation. The Indian Space Research Organization had successfully reached Mars and also launched 20 satellites on a single rocket, and was now targeting the launch of more than 100 satellites in one go, a feat not achieved by any country. “We are also developing, a reusable space shuttle and are part of global efforts in fundamental research, through projects, like study of gravitational waves and development of a 30 meter telescope.”
India, whose renewable energy expansion programme was the largest in the world unveiled the biggest solar power plant recently. Its internet base was the second largest in the world. India was also using biometric technology to better target government assistance to the needy, with more than a billion Aadhaar cards having been issued, he said.