Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Finding workable solutions to India-Sri Lanka fisheries issue

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Palk Bay

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Sri Lanka fisheries issue

Context

After a gap of 15 months, the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held its much-awaited deliberations (in virtual format) on March 25.

Background of the issue

  • As sections of fishermen from the Palk Bay bordering districts of Tamil Nadu continue to transgress the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), cases of many of them getting arrested and their boats being impounded by the Sri Lankan authorities continue.
  • Apart from poaching in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka, the use of mechanised bottom trawlers is another issue that has become a bone of contention between the fishermen of the two countries; the dispute is not just between the two states.
  • Use of mechanised bottom trawlers: This method of fishing, which was once promoted by the authorities in India, is now seen as being extremely adverse to the marine ecology, and has been acknowledged so by India.
  • The actions of the Tamil Nadu fishermen adversely affect their counterparts in the Northern Province.
  • Reason for transgression: The fishermen of Tamil Nadu experience a genuine problem — the lack of fishing areas consequent to the demarcation of the IMBL in June 1974.
  • If they confine themselves to Indian waters, they find the area available for fishing full of rocks and coral reefs besides being shallow.
  • Under the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983, mechanised fishing boats can fish only beyond 3 NM from the coast.
  • This explains the trend of the fishermen having to cross the IMBL frequently.

Way forward

  • Transition to deep-sea fishing: While Indian fishermen can present a road map for their transition to deep sea fishing or alternative methods of fishing, the Sri Lankan side has to take a pragmatic view that the transition cannot happen abruptly.
  • In the meantime, India will have to modify its scheme on deep-sea fishing to accommodate the concerns of its fishermen, especially those from Ramanathapuram district, so that they take to deep-sea fishing without any reservation.
  • Alternative livelihood measures: There is a compelling need for the Central and State governments to implement in Tamil Nadu the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in a proactive manner.
  • The scheme, which was flagged off two years ago, covers alternative livelihood measures too including seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, and sea/ocean ranching.
  • During Mr. Jaishankar’s visit, India had signed a memorandum of understanding with Sri Lanka for the development of fisheries harbours.
  • This can be modified to include a scheme for deep-sea fishing to the fishermen of the North.
  • Joint research on fisheries: . It is a welcome development that the JWG has agreed to have joint research on fisheries, which should be commissioned at the earliest.
  • Institutional mechanism: Simultaneously, the two countries should explore the possibility of establishing a permanent multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism to regulate fishing activity in the region.
  • Using common thread of culture, language and religion: The people of the two countries in general and fisherfolk in particular have common threads of language, culture and religion, all of which can be used purposefully to resolve any dispute.

Conclusion

What everyone needs to remember is that the fisheries dispute is not an insurmountable problem. A number of options are available to make the Palk Bay not only free of troubles but also a model for collaborative endeavours in fishing.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India extends duration of $400 mn Currency Swap to SL

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Currency Swap

Mains level : Economic crisis in Sri Lanka

India has extended the duration of a $400 million currency swap facility with Sri Lanka which it had concluded with the island nation in January this year.

What are Currency Swaps?

  • A currency swap, also known as a cross-currency swap, is an off-balance sheet transaction in which two parties exchange principal and interest in different currencies.
  • Currency swaps are used to obtain foreign currency loans at a better interest rate than could be got by borrowing directly in a foreign market.

Practice question for mains:

Q. What are Currency Swaps? Discuss the efficacy of Currency Swap Agreements for enhancing bilateral cooperation in Indian context.

How does it work?

  • In a swap arrangement, RBI would provide dollars to a Lankan central bank, which, at the same time, provides the equivalent funds in its currency to the RBI, based on the market exchange rate at the time of the transaction.
  • The parties agree to swap back these quantities of their two currencies at a specified date in the future, which could be the next day or even three months later, using the same exchange rate as in the first transaction.
  • These swap operations carry no exchange rate or other market risks, as transaction terms are set in advance.

Why does one need dollars?

  • FPIs investors look for safer investments but the current global uncertainty over COVID outbreak has led to a shortfall everywhere in the global markets.
  • This has pulled down foreign exchange reserves of many small and developing countries.
  • This means that the government and the RBI cannot lower their guard on the management of the economy and the external account.

Benefits of currency swap

  • The absence of an exchange rate risk is the major benefit of such a facility.
  • This facility provides the flexibility to use these reserves at any time in order to maintain an appropriate level of balance of payments or short-term liquidity.
  • Swaps agreements between governments also have supplementary objectives like the promotion of bilateral trade, maintaining the value of foreign exchange reserves with the central bank and ensuring financial stability (protecting the health of the banking system).

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

What caused Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UN Human Right Council

Mains level : Paper 2- Crisis in Sri Lanka and contradictions in its polity

Context

Sri Lanka’s ruling Rajapaksa family is facing mounting public anger, calls for resignations and political defections amidst the island’s worst economic crisis in its post-independence history.

Reasons for the crisis

  • 1] Overnight switch to organic farming and import ban on fertiliser: There was the decision to ban fertiliser imports and switch overnight to organic farming.
  • The decision was reversed after sustained farmer protests but not before damage had already been done to crop yields.
  • 2] Then, precious foreign exchange was wasted in propping up the rupee while imposing controls on key imports that led to shortages and price rise.
  • 3] For several months, as the crisis deepened with rolling power-cuts and shortages of essentials, the government refused to seek IMF assistance.
  • It has now relented on the IMF, but Sri Lanka’s economic distress has been prolonged and deepened by this indecision.

Contradictions in the Sri Lanka’s politics

  • While the immediate causes of popular anger are explicable, the crisis also reveals a more enduring contradiction at the foundation of Sri Lanka’s politics.
  • Sinhala nationalist-inspired policies: What this crisis shows is that Sinhala nationalist-inspired policies are no longer financially or politically viable.
  • Hardline approach toward Tamils: The Rajapaksas first rode to power in September 2005 on the wave of Sinhala nationalist antipathy against the then-ongoing Norwegian-mediated peace process with the LTTE.
  • Upon his election as president, Mahinda expanded the military and launched a full-frontal military offensive that ended with the LTTE’s total defeat and destruction in May 2009.
  • After the war, instead of seeking a political settlement with the Tamils, Mahinda Rajapaksa unrolled a de-facto militarised siege of the Tamil-speaking areas and population.
  • Assertive foreign policy: The hardline approach to the Tamils and their demands was also linked to a new, more assertive foreign policy.
  •  The government turned away the long-established pattern of alignments with Western states and India.
  • Mistrust of India: There is a long-standing mistrust of India amongst Sinhala Buddhist nationalists who see it as the source of historic Tamil invasions.
  •  The Rajapaksas translated this sentiment into policy, pushing back against Indian attempts to forge closer economic ties and a constitutional settlement of the Tamil question.
  • Ties with China: In place of these ties, the Rajapaksas ostentatiously set out to forge new alliances, principally with China.
  • The Rajapaksas also bet on a new geo-political optimism.
  • They believed that with China’s rise, Sri Lanka’s location on east-west trade lanes would become a prized asset.
  • They were confident that in the global competition for power triggered by China’s rise, international actors would be compelled to seek Sri Lanka’s favour for fear of “losing” it to the other side.
  • With this geo-political calculus in mind, they assuredly rebuffed Western and Indian demands.
  • None of the great powers who were supposed to be competing for Sri Lanka’s favour have stepped up to offer a bailout, although the sums are quite small by global standards.
  • The bid for total sovereign autonomy has crash-landed and yet the alternatives are also politically difficult.

More leverage to international actors

  • The irony of Sri Lanka’s push for total sovereign autonomy is that it has given international actors more leverage than they had before.
  • Going to the IMF will require concessions on human rights and good governance to secure preferential access to European markets.
  • At the same time, Indian bilateral assistance has conditionalities on clearing controversial investments.

Way forward

  • Push non-reversible changes: International actors who really want to help Sri Lanka should use this leverage to push for tangible and non-reversible changes in the treatment of Tamils and Muslims whatever leadership emerges in Colombo.
  • Eemilitarisation and normalisation of relations with the Tamils and Muslims: The crisis can serve as a reality check for the Sinhala nationalist leadership and electorate. The model of economic and political governance they have pursued is unsustainable, and the alternatives must be faced.
  • The most pressing of these is the demilitarisation and normalisation of relations with the Tamils and Muslims.
  • Sinhala political attention can perhaps then be turned to the other pressing failures of governance that have brought Sri Lanka to this state.

Conclusion

The Rajapaksas may be the principal protagonists of this crisis but the underlying script they have followed is a Sinhala Buddhist one and until Sri Lanka finds a new script it cannot find peace or stability.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

State of Emergency in Sri Lanka

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Emergency Provisions

Mains level : Economic crisis in Sri Lanka

A day after angry mob converged in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence, demanding he step down immediately, he declared a state of Emergency in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Crisis: A backgrounder

  • Sri Lanka’s economic crisis can be traced to two key developments— the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019 that deterred tourists, and the pandemic since early 2020.
  • These events stalled recovery and further drained the economy.
  • As it grappled with an unprecedented challenge, the Rajapaksa regime made policy choices that are now proving to be costly.
  • It cut the government’s tax revenue substantially and rushed into an ‘organic only’ agricultural policy that will likely slash this year’s harvest by half.
  • The weak and debt-ridden economy with the lingering strain of the pandemic, and ill-advised policies accelerated the downward spiral.

What were the economic indicators?

  • COVID-19 hit Sri Lanka’s key foreign revenue earning sectors hard.
  • Earnings from tourism, exports, and worker remittances fell sharply in the last two years.
  • But the country could not stop importing essentials, and its dollar account began dwindling.
  • Fast draining foreign reserves, a glaring trade deficit, and a related Balance of Payments problem came as crucial signals.
  • Colombo’s huge foreign loan obligations and the drop in domestic production compounded the economic strain.

When did things begin to worsen?

  • The long-simmering crisis made its first big announcement during last August’s food emergency, when supplies were badly affected.
  • It was soon followed by fears of a sovereign default in late 2021, which Sri Lanka averted.
  • But without enough dollars to pay for the country’s high import bill, the island continued facing severe shortage of essentials — from fuel, cooking gas, and staple foodgrains to medicines.

How did the crisis manifest itself on the ground?

  • Consumers could not find the most basic things such as petrol, LPG cylinders, kerosene, or milk in the market.
  • They spent hours waiting in long queues outside fuel stations or shops.
  • Supermarket shelves were either empty or had products with high price tags that most could not afford.
  • For instance, the price of one kg of milk powder, a staple item in dairy-deficient Sri Lanka, suddenly shot up to nearly LKR 2000 in March.
  • Be it cooking gas, oils, rice, pulses, vegetables, fish, meat, consumers found themselves paying substantially more, or simply had to forego the item.
  • The fuel shortage has led to long blackouts — up to 13 hours — across the island.

What is the situation now?

  • The value of the Sri Lankan rupee has dropped to 300 against a U.S. dollar (and even more than 400 in the black market), putting importers in a difficult spot.
  • The government is unable to pay for its import shipments, forcing consignments to leave the Colombo port.
  • For the average citizen contending with COVID-induced salary cuts and job losses, the soaring living costs have brought more agony.

How did India help mitigate the crisis?

  • India has extended $2.4 billion this year.
  • China, that is considering a fresh request from Colombo for $2.5 billion assistance, in addition to the $2.8 billion it has extended since the pandemic broke out.
  • The government has decided to negotiate an International Monetary Fund programme, while seeking support from other multilateral and bilateral sources.
  • But even with all this help, Sri Lanka can barely manage.

How has it affected the people?

  • Sri Lankans are seething with anger, going by public demonstrations and protests.
  • They want the President to step down immediately and the ruling clan to leave the country’s helm.
  • They have been agitating in different parts of the country, including near the President’s home.
  • Former military man Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who came to power on a huge mandate in 2019, is Sri Lanka’s most unpopular leader today.
  • Following the protests near his home, Mr. Rajapaksa said “extremists” were plotting an ‘Arab Spring’ and hence he declared a state of Emergency.

Back2Basics: Financial Emergency in India

  • The President of India can declare the Financial Emergency on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers.
  • She/ He has to be satisfied that a situation has arisen due to which the financial stability or credit of India or any part of its territory is threatened.
  • Article 360 gives authority to the President of India to declare a financial emergency.
  • However, the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1978 says that the President’s ‘satisfaction’ is not beyond judicial review.
  • It means the Supreme Court can review the declaration of a Financial Emergency.

Parliamentary Approval and Duration

  • A proclamation of financial emergency must be approved by both the Houses of Parliament within two months from the date of its issue.
  • A resolution approving the proclamation of financial emergency can be passed by either House of Parliament (Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha) only by a simple majority.
  • Once approved by both the Houses of Parliament, the Financial Emergency continues indefinitely till it is revoked.
  • It may be revoked by the President anytime without any Parliamentary approval (but with the usual aid and advice).

Effects of Financial Emergency

  • During the financial emergency, the executive authority of the Center expands and it can give financial orders to any state according to its own.
  • All money bills or other financial bills, that come up for the President’s consideration after being passed by the state legislature, can be reserved.
  • Salaries and allowances of all or any class of persons serving in the state can be reduced.
  • The President may issue directions for the reduction of salaries and allowances of: (i) All or any class of persons serving the Union and the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court.

Try this PYQ:

Q. With reference to the Constitution of India, prohibitions or limitations or provisions contained in ordinary laws cannot act as prohibitions or limitations on the constitutional powers under Article 142. It could mean which one of the following?

 

(a) The decisions taken by the Election Commission of India while discharging its duties cannot be challenged in any court of law.

(b) The Supreme Court of India is not constrained in the exercise of its powers by laws made by the Parliament.

(c) In the event of grave financial crisis in the country, the President of India can declare Financial Emergency without the counsel from the Cabinet.

(d) State Legislatures cannot make laws on certain matters without the concurrence of the Union Legislature.

 

Post your answers here.
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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India to set up Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Colombe

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MRCC

Mains level : India-Sri Lanka ties in recent times

India and Sri Lanka have signed an MoU for the Indian public sector Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) to set up a state of the art Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Colombo.

What is MRCC?

  • MRCCs are part of an international network under the UN’s International Maritime Organisation.
  • They aim to monitor the sea lanes with the objective of swift response to emergencies, such as vessels in distress, rescue and evacuation of people, and prevention of and containing environmental disasters such as oil spills.
  • Each country is responsible for its own Search and Rescue Region (SRR).
  • The work of MRCCs is co-ordinated by the Navy or Coast Guard in each country.
  • In India, the Coast Guard is the co-ordinating agency. In Sri Lanka, it is the Navy.
  • The MRCC will be established with a grant of $6 million from India.

Benefits offered

  • MRCC enhances co-operation on maritime security between the two countries in a part of the Indian Ocean region where the India-China rivalry has taken centre stage over the last decade.
  • This engagement will augment interoperability and seamless maritime actions like carrying out anti-smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean Region.

Why such a move by India?

  • Sri Lanka’s SRR is a wide swathe of 1,778,062. 24 sq kms of the Indian Ocean, and nearly 200 ships pass through these waters every day.
  • The MRCC agreement appears to be part of India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) initiative in the Indian Ocean.

Issues with MRCC

  • The MRCC has been controversial in Sri Lanka who see every development by India suspicious.
  • Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry issued a clarification on the MRCC, as well as on recent agreements with India for a naval floating dock and Dornier aircraft.
  • The clarification has provided more details about the agreements than have been in the public domain so far.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s aggravating Economic Crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Economic crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is aggravating rapidly, putting citizens through enormous hardship.

Reasons for the Crisis

The first wave of the pandemic in 2020 offered early and sure signs of distress.

  • In-migration: Thousands of Sri Lankan labourers in West Asian countries were left stranded and returned jobless.
  • Shut-down: Garment factories and tea estates could not function, as infections raged in clusters. Tourism sector to saw a big dip.
  • Domestic job losses: Thousands of youth lost their jobs in cities as establishments abruptly sacked them or shut down.
  • Forex decline: It meant that all key foreign exchange earning sectors, such as exports and remittances, along with tourism, were brutally hit.

Policy failures of Lankan govt

  • No strategy: The lack of a comprehensive strategy to respond to the crisis then was coupled with certain policy decisions last year.
  • Ill-advised policies: It included the government’s abrupt switch to organic farming —widely deemed “ill-advised”, further aggravated the problem.
  • Food hoarding: The government declared emergency regulations for the distribution of essential food items. It put wide import restrictions to save dollars which in turn led to consequent market irregularities and reported hoarding.
  • Continuous borrowing: Fears of a sovereign default rose by the end of 2021, with the country’s foreign reserves plummeting to $1.6 billion, and deadlines for repaying external loans looming.

What is happening on the ground?

  • At the macro-economic level, all indicators are worrisome.
  • The Sri Lankan rupee, which authorities floated this month, has fallen to nearly 265 against the U.S. dollar. Consumer Price inflation is at 16.8% and foreign reserves stood at $2.31 billion at the end of February.
  • Sri Lanka must repay foreign debt totalling nearly $7 billion this year and continue importing essentials from its dwindling dollar account.
  • Sri Lanka will incur an import bill of $22 billion this year, resulting in a trade deficit of $10 billion.

Implications on Public

  • For citizens, this means long waits in queues for fuel, a shortage of cooking gas, contending with prolonged power cuts in many localities and struggles to find medicines for patients.
  • In families of working people, the crisis is translating to cutting down on milk for children, eating fewer meals, or going to bed hungry.

How is India helping?

  • Acting in the Neighbourhood’s first policy, India stands with Sri Lanka.
  • $1 billion credit line signed for supply of essential commodities. Key element of the package of support extended by India.
  • Beginning January 2022, India has extended assistance totalling $ 2.4 billion — including an $400 million RBI currency swap and a $500 million loan deferment.

Chinese lure of aid

  • China is considering Sri Lanka’s recent request for further $2.5 billion assistance, in addition to the $2.8 billion Beijing has extended since the outbreak of the pandemic.

How is India’s assistance being viewed in Sri Lanka?

  • Sacking key infra projects: The leadership has thanked India for the timely assistance, but there is growing scepticism in Sri Lankan media and some sections, over Indian assistance “being tied” to New Delhi inking key infrastructure projects.
  • Deep incursion: They mainly include the strategic Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm project; the National Thermal Power Corporation’s recent agreement with Ceylon Electricity Board to set up a solar power plant in Sampur, with investment from India’s Adani Group.
  • Diplomatic blackmail: SL media accuses New Delhi was resorting to “diplomatic blackmail”. The political opposition has accused the Adani Group of entering Sri Lanka through the “back door”, avoiding competitive bids and due process.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Unitary Digital Identity Framework (UDIF)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Unitary Digital Identity Framework (UDIF)

Mains level : India's UID technology

India has agreed to provide a grant to Sri Lanka to implement a ‘Unitary Digital Identity Framework’, apparently modelled on the Aadhaar Card.

What is UDIF?

  • UDIF is apparently similar to India’s own Aadhaar.
  • Under the proposed UDIF it is expected to introduce a:
  1. Personal identity verification device based on biometric data
  2. Digital tool that can represent the identities of individuals in cyberspace and
  3. Identification of individual identities that can be accurately verified in digital and physical environments by combining the two devices

(More updates awaited)

Why such move?

  • SL has been receiving substantive economic assistance from India – totalling $ 1.4 billion since the beginning of this year.
  • India is helping the island nation cope with its dollar crunch, and import food, medicines and fuel amid frequent shortages.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India extends $900 mn aid to Sri Lanka

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Asian Clearing Union (ACU), Currency Swaps

Mains level : India's financial assitances to SL

India has confirmed a $400 million currency swap with Sri Lanka while deferring another $500 million due for settlement to the Asian Clearing Union (ACU).

What is the news?

  • Sri Lanka is facing a severe dollar crunch that economists say might lead to a default on external debt and create a food shortage in the imports-reliant island nation.
  • In this regard, the Reserve Bank of India has extended currency swap facilities of $900 million to Sri Lanka.

What are Currency Swaps?

  • A currency swap, also known as a cross-currency swap, is an off-balance sheet transaction in which two parties exchange principal and interest in different currencies.
  • Currency swaps are used to obtain foreign currency loans at a better interest rate than could be got by borrowing directly in a foreign market.

Practice question for mains:

Q. What are Currency Swaps? Discuss the efficacy of Currency Swap Agreements for enhancing bilateral cooperation in Indian context.

How does it work?

  • In a swap arrangement, RBI would provide dollars to a Lankan central bank, which, at the same time, provides the equivalent funds in its currency to the RBI, based on the market exchange rate at the time of the transaction.
  • The parties agree to swap back these quantities of their two currencies at a specified date in the future, which could be the next day or even three months later, using the same exchange rate as in the first transaction.
  • These swap operations carry no exchange rate or other market risks, as transaction terms are set in advance.

Why does one need dollars?

  • FPIs investors look for safer investments but the current global uncertainty over COVID outbreak has led to a shortfall everywhere in the global markets.
  • This has pulled down foreign exchange reserves of many small and developing countries.
  • This means that the government and the RBI cannot lower their guard on the management of the economy and the external account.

Benefits of currency swap

  • The absence of an exchange rate risk is the major benefit of such a facility.
  • This facility provides the flexibility to use these reserves at any time in order to maintain an appropriate level of balance of payments or short-term liquidity.
  • Swaps agreements between governments also have supplementary objectives like the promotion of bilateral trade, maintaining the value of foreign exchange reserves with the central bank and ensuring financial stability (protecting the health of the banking system).

Back2Basics: Asian Clearing Union (ACU)

  • The ACU with headquarters in Tehran, Iran, was established on December 9, 1974, at the initiative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
  • The primary objective of ACU was to secure regional co-operation as regards the settlement of eligible monetary transactions among the members of the Union/
  • It now aims to provide a system for clearing payments among the member countries on a multilateral basis.
  • The unit of settlement of ACU transactions is a common unit of account of ACU, and the unit is equivalent to one USD, and the Asian Monetary Unit may be denominated as ACU dollars and Euro.

Must read:

[Burning Issue] India – Sri Lanka relations in recent times

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

A lack of political will to end the Palk Bay conflict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Palk Bay conflict

Context

The arrest of 68 Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan authorities between December 18 and 20 and the impounding of 10 boats for “poaching” in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka has flared up the conflict between the two countries.

About Palk Bay

  • Palk Bay is home to diverse resources including 580 species of fish, extends from Point Calimere of Nagapattinam district to Mandapam-Dhanushkodi of Ramanathapuram district over about 250 km.
  • Source of dispute: It is an important marine zone between south-eastern India and northern Sri Lanka, has been a source of dispute for long.

About the conflict

  • Negotiations: The genesis of the dispute can be traced to the October 1921 negotiations between representatives of the Governments of Madras and Ceylon, on the need for the delimitation of the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar.
  • Delimitation: It was in the mid-1970s that two agreements were signed by India and Sri Lanka, under which the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) came into being.
  • Instead of settling the issues, the pacts gave way to new problems, including the recurring incidents of Tamil Nadu fishermen crossing the IMBL and getting caught by the Sri Lankan authorities.

Cause of the problem

  • Different fishing practices: The asymmetric nature of fishing practices in Tamil Nadu and the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is said to be the cause of the problem.
  • While Tamil Nadu’s fishing community uses mechanised bottom trawlers, its counterpart uses conventional forms of fishing, as trawling is banned in Sri Lanka.
  • Difference in resources: The fishermen of Tamil Nadu continue to cross the IMBL, as the Sri Lankan side of the Bay is considered to have more fishery resources than the Indian side.

Way forward

  • Weak away fishermen from trawling: The deep-sea fishing project,  to wean away the fishermen of Tamil Nadu from bottom trawling, launched in July 2017, has not yielded the desired results.
  • Relaxation of norms of the project is under the consideration of the Union Government, to draw greater response from the fishermen.
  • Motivation for deep-sea fishing: Given the fact that deep sea fishing takes longer duration and has a higher recurring cost per voyage than what the fishing community experiences currently, the need for providing continuous motivation to the fisherfolk assumes critical importance.
  • Other strategies: Various strategies, including the promotion of seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, seaweed cultivation and processing, and sea/ocean ranching should be adopted.
  • Forming FPOs: There is a view that if the community is encouraged to form fish farmer producer organisations, it may take to sustainable fishing practices.
  • Institution of stakeholders: A section of specialists favours the creation of an international institution of stakeholders for regulating the fishing sector in the Bay.

Consider the question “What leads to the dispute between India and Sri Lanka over the Palk Bay? Suggest the way forward for fishermen in Tamil Nadu.”

Conclusion

For all this to happen, sustained public pressure and political will are a must.

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Back2Basics: What is bottom trawling?

  • A bottom trawl consists of a large tapered net with a wide mouth and a small enclosed end.
  • The mouth of a trawl net has two weighted doors that serve not only to keep the net open, but also to keep the net on the ocean floor.
  • These doors can weigh several tons.
  • In addition to the heavy doors, the bottom of the net is a thick metal cable (footrope) studded with heavy steel balls or rubber bobbins that effectively crush everything in their path.
  • As the net drags along the seafloor, living habitat in its path is crushed, ripped up, or smothered as the seabed is turned over.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Trincomalee Oil Farms Deal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Trincomalee oil field

Mains level : Indian infrastructure projects in SL

After a year of negotiations, Sri Lanka will ink the deal with India to jointly develop the Trincomalee oil tank farms — a coveted project that has remained controversial for decades.

About Trincomalee oil field

  • The facility, built by the British around World War II as a refueling station, has 99 storage tanks that look like giant wells.
  • They have a capacity of 12,000 kilolitres each.
  • Eighty-four of those are in the 800-acre Upper Tank Farm (UTF). For a good part of a century now, these tanks have remained unused, shrouded in a forest.
  • The Lower Tank Farm (LTF) has 16 tanks, spread across 50 acres.

Historical background

  • Trincomalee harbor is the second deepest natural harbor in the world.
  • The British who were in control of the island decided to make this as their primary logistics station in the east after World War I.
  • It is also a lesser-known but important logistic station during World War II.
  • British started the oil storage project in 1924 and completed in late 1930s.
  • After that it was abandoned by the British in 1948 when Sri Lanka gained independence.
  • In 2002, the development of this tank farm was revived by an Indian company Indian Oil Corporation (IOC).

History of India’s interest in Trincomalee

  • The development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank farm has been a recurring talking point in Indo-Lanka relations since 1987.
  • It was first mentioned in the Indo- Lanka Accord signed by PM Rajiv Gandhi and President Jayewardene.
  • Despite that, nothing really took off until 2003, when Indian Oil Corporation set up Lanka IOC, its Sri Lankan subsidiary.
  • The agreement remained dormant for years, until the Sirisena- Wickremesinghe administration tried revisiting it through the 2017 MoU.

Significance of Trincomalee

  • Demography: Trincomalee is home to 3.7 lakh Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala people and Trincomalee, in Sri Lanka’s post-war years.
  • Tourism: It has emerged as a favorite destination for surfers from around the world, gradually transforming with plush resorts and restaurants dotting its coast.
  • Important sea route: Trincomalee remains in spotlight as a potential transit point for international trade routes, particularly drawing India which has known strategic interests there.
  • Balancing China: From India’s geostrategic viewpoint, Trincomalee is an important counterbalance to the southern Hambantota Port backed substantially by China.

Hurdles to the Project

  • Public resistance: India-backed projects in Sri Lanka tend to draw way more public resistance from nationalists among the majority Sinhalese constituency than projects with Chinese or American involvement.
  • Anti-India sentiments: Observers in Sri Lanka attribute this to the “baggage” that Indian diplomacy carries, years after its intervention during different stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India- Sri Lanka Fisherman Issue

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Trawling

Mains level : Fishermen issue in India-SL ties

The Sri Lankan Navy has seized eight Indian fishing vessels and arrested 55 fishermen on the charge of poaching.

What is the issue?

  • As in the past, fishermen from Rameswaram and nearby coasts continue to sail towards Talaimannar and Katchatheevu coasts, a region famous for rich maritime resources in Sri Lanka.
  • Indian boats have been fishing in the troubled waters for centuries and had a free run of the Bay of Bengal, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar until 1974 and 1976.
  • Treaties were later signed between the two countries to demarcate the maritime boundary — the ‘International Maritime Boundary Line'(IMBL).

Issues for Sri Lanka

  • Proliferation of Trawlers: The overuse of mechanized trawlers in Palk Bay is damaging the marine ecosystem in SL waters.
  • Breach of sovereignty: There were many favorable reasons too for Indian fishermen as their access to Sri Lankan waters was easier at the time of Sri Lankan civil war.
  • Porous borders: Maritime boundaries were never tightly guarded as a result, Indian trawlers continue to routinely enter Lankan waters for fishing.
  • End of Civil War: Everything changed in 2009 with the end of civil war. Arrests and attacks increased on Indian fishermen as they continued entering Lankan waters because of depletion of marine resources on the Indian side.

Fishermen’s concern:

(1) Depletion of fisheries

  • There is a depletion of fisheries on the Indian side, so Indian fishermen cross into Sri Lankan waters thus denying the livelihood of their counterparts.
  • They deliberately cross the territorial waters even at the risk of getting arrested or shot dead by the Sri Lankan Navy.
  • Sri Lankan fishermen across Palk Bay are concerned over similar depletion on their side (where there is a ban for trawlers) because of poaching by Indian fishermen.

 (2) Rights over Katchatheevu Island

  • Tamil fishermen have been entering Sri Lankan waters nearby Katchatheevu island, where they had been fishing for centuries.
  • In 1974, the island was ceded to Sri Lanka after an agreement was signed by Indira Gandhi between the two countries without consulting the Tamil Nadu government.
  • The agreement allows Indian fishermen “access to Katchatheevu for rest, for drying of nests and for the annual St Anthony’s festival” but it did not ensure the traditional fishing rights.

(3) Hefty fines

  • After some respite in the last couple of years, Sri Lanka introduced tougher laws banning bottom-trawling and put heavy fines for trespassing foreign vessels.
  • SL has increased the fine on Indian vessels found fishing in Sri Lankan waters to a minimum of LKR 6 million (about ₹25 lakh) and a maximum of LKR 175 million (about ₹17.5 Crore).
  • Quiet often, the fishermen are shot dead by SL marines.

Fishermen issue in TN politics

  • It has been often a sensitive political issue in Tamil Nadu in the past one decade.
  • In a defiant speech in 1991, late CM Jayalalitha had called on the people of Tamil Nadu to retrieve the Katchatheevu Island.

Way forward

  • Leasing: Two courses of action exist: (1) get back the island of Katchatheevu on “lease in perpetuity” or (2) permit licensed Indian fishermen to fish within a designated area of Sri Lankan waters and vice versa.
  • Licensing: The second course of action would persuade Colombo to permit licensed Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters for five nautical miles from the IMBL.
  • Reconsidering old agreements: The 2003 proposal for licensed fishing can be revisited.
  • Looping in fishermen themselves: Arranging frequent meetings between fishing communities of both countries could be systematized so as to develop a friendlier atmosphere mid-seas during fishing.

Conclusion

  • The underlying issues of the fisheries dispute need to be addressed so that bilateral relations do not reach a crisis point.
  • Immediate actions should be taken to begin the phase-out of trawling and identify other fishing practices.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

What is International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IMBL, EEZ, UNCLOS

Mains level : Fishermen issue in India-SL ties

The Tamil Nadu police have issued an alert on the possibility of an attack on fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) for fishing in Sri Lankan waters.

About International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL)

  • A maritime boundary is a conceptual division of the Earth’s water surface areas using physiographic or geopolitical criteria.
  • As such, it usually bounds areas of exclusive national rights over mineral and biological resources, encompassing maritime features, limits and zones.
  • Generally, a maritime boundary is delineated at a particular distance from a jurisdiction’s coastline.
  • Although in some countries the term maritime boundary represents borders of a maritime nation that are recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The terminology does not encompass lake or river boundaries, which are considered within the context of land boundaries.

The delineation of maritime boundaries has strategic, economic, and environmental implications.

Classification

Maritime spaces can be divided into the following groups based on their legal status:

  1. Under the sovereignty and authority (exercising power) of a coastal State: internal waters, territorial sea, and archipelagic waters,
  2. With mixed legal regime, which fall under both the jurisdiction of the coastal State and under the international law: contiguous zone, the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone, and
  3. That can be used by all States (including land-locked ones) on an equal basis: high seas.

Note: While many maritime spaces can be classified as belonging to the same group, this does not imply that they all have the same legal regime. International straits and canals have their own legal status as well.

Zones

The zones of maritime boundaries are expressed in concentric limits surrounding coastal and feature baselines.

  1. Inland waters—the zone inside the baseline.
  2. Territorial sea—the zone extending 12 nm. from the baseline
  3. Contiguous zone—the area extending 24 nm. from the baseline
  4. Exclusive Economic Zone—the area extending 200 nm from the baseline except when the space between two countries is less than 400 nm

Back2Basics: India-Sri Lanka Fisherman Issue

  • There have been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel firing on Indian fishermen fishing in the Palk Strait, where India and Sri Lanka are only separated by 12 nautical miles.
  • The issue started because of Indian fishermen having used mechanized trawlers, which deprived the Sri Lankan fishermen (including Tamils) of their catch and damaged their fishing boats.
  • The Sri Lankan government wants India to ban use of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Strait region, and negotiations on this subject are undergoing.
  • So far, no concrete agreement has been reached since India favours regulating these trawlers instead of banning them altogether.
  • It has been often a sensitive political issue in Tamil Nadu in the past decade.

About Katchatheevu Island

  • Katchatheevu, an uninhibited off-shore island in the Palk Strait, is administered by Sri Lanka.
  • Though the island was jointly managed by India and Sri Lanka allowing the fishermen of both countries to dry their nets there, it was ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974.
  • Since then, Katchatheevu has remained an issue with some political parties in Tamil Nadu demanding that the island be returned to benefit the fishermen of India.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis poses challenges for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC Currency Swap Framework 2019-2022

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Sri Lanka relations

Context

On 31 August 2021, Sri Lanka declared a state of economic emergency, as it is running out of foreign exchange reserves for essential imports like food.

Economic cooperation with Sri Lanka

  • India is Sri Lanka’s third-largest export destination, after the US and UK.
  • More than 60% of Sri Lanka’s exports enjoy the benefits of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, which came into effect in March 2000.
  •  India is also a major investor in Sri Lanka.
  •  Foreign direct investment (FDI) from India amounted to around $ 1.7 billion over the years from 2005 to 2019.
  • Concessional financing of about $ 2 billion has been provided to Sri Lanka through various Indian government-supported Lines of Credit across sectors like railways, infrastructure and security.
  • India’s development partnership with Sri Lanka has always been demand-driven, with projects covering social infrastructure like education, health, housing etc.
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had signed a currency-swap agreement with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) under the Saarc Currency Swap Framework 2019-22.

Factors responsible for economic emergency in Sri Lanka

  • Tourism: Tourism, a big dollar earner for Sri Lanka, has suffered since the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019, followed by the pandemic.
  • Declining FDI: Earnings fell from $3.6 billion in 2019 to $0.7 billion in 2020, even as FDI inflows halved from $1.2 billion to $670 million over the same period.
  • Debt distress: Its public debt-to-GDP ratio was at 109.7% in 2020, and its gross financing needs remain high at 18% of GDP, higher than most of its emerging economy peers.
  •  The external debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 62% in 2020 and is predominantly owed by its public sector.
  • More than $2.7 billion of foreign currency debt will be due in the next two years.

How economic crisis may push Sri Lanka to align its policies with China

  • Reliance on Chinese credit: Sri Lanka has increasingly relied on Chinese credit to address its foreign debt burden.
  • Unable to service its debt, in 2017, Sri Lanka lost the unviable Hambantota port to China for a 99-year lease.
  • Increasing bilateral trade: China’s exports to Sri Lanka surpassed those of India in 2020 and stood at $3.8 billion (India’s exports were $3.2 billion).
  • Strategic investment by China: Owing to Sri Lanka’s strategic location at the intersection of major shipping routes, China has heavily invested in its infrastructure (estimated at $12 billion between 2006 and 2019).
  • In May, Sri Lanka passed the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act, which provides for establishing a special economic zone around the port and also a new economic commission, to be funded by China.

Implications for India

  • Relations between India and Sri Lanka seem to have plummeted since the beginning of this year.
  • In February, Sri Lanka backed out from a tripartite partnership with India and Japan for its East Container Terminal Project at the Colombo Port, citing domestic issues.
  • Sri Lanka’s economic crisis may further push it to align its policies with Beijing’s interests.
  • India is already on a diplomatic tightrope with Afghanistan and Myanmar.
  • Other South Asian nations like Bangladesh, Nepal and the Maldives have also been turning to China to finance large-scale infrastructure projects.

Way forward

  • Nurturing the Neighbourhood First policy with Sri Lanka will be important for India.
  • Explore possibility through regional platforms: The BIMSTEC and the Indian Ocean Rim Association could be leveraged to foster cooperation in common areas of interest like technology-driven agriculture and marine sector, IT, renewable energy, and transport and connectivity.
  • Cooperation on private sector investment: Both countries could also cooperate on enhancing private sector investments to create economic resilience.

Consider the question “How economic troubles in Sri Lanka could impact India? Suggest the way forward.”

Conclusion

With its economy in deep trouble, Sri Lanka may get further pushed towards China, India has to deliver on its Neighbourhood First policy to protects itself from the adverse fallout.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka declares Economic Emergency

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Financial Emergency

Mains level : Forex crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan President has declared an economic emergency to contain soaring inflation after a steep fall in the value of the country’s currency caused a spike in food prices.

Sri Lankan Economic Emergency

  • President Rajapaksa declared the state of emergency under the public security ordinance to prevent the hoarding of essential items, including rice and sugar.
  • The government has appointed a former army general as commissioner of essential services, who will have the power to seize food stocks held by traders and retailers and regulate their prices.
  • The military will oversee the action which gives power to officials to ensure that essential items, including rice and sugar, are sold at government-guaranteed prices or prices based on import costs at customs and prevent hiding of stocks.
  • The emergency move followed sharp price rises for sugar, rice, onions and potatoes, while long queues have formed outside stores because of shortages of milk powder, kerosene oil and cooking gas.
  • The wide-ranging measure is also aimed at recovering credit owed to State banks by importers.

Why came such an emergency?

  • Sri Lanka, a net importer of food and other commodities, is witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths which has hit tourism, one of its main foreign currency earners.
  • Partly as a result of the slump in tourist numbers, Sri Lanka’s economy shrank by a record 3.6% last year.
  • The Sri Lankan rupee has fallen by 7.5% against the US dollar this year.
  • The Central Bank of Sri Lanka recently increased interest rates in a bid to shore up the local currency.
  • According to bank data, Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves fell to $2.8 billion at the end of July, from $7.5 billion in November 2019.

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Back2Basics: Financial Emergency in India

  • The President of India can declare the Financial Emergency on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers.
  • She/ He has to be satisfied that a situation has arisen due to which the financial stability or credit of India or any part of its territory is threatened.
  • Article 360 gives authority to the President of India to declare a financial emergency.
  • However, the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1978 says that the President’s ‘satisfaction’ is not beyond judicial review.
  • It means the Supreme Court can review the declaration of a Financial Emergency.

Parliamentary Approval and Duration

  • A proclamation of financial emergency must be approved by both the Houses of Parliament within two months from the date of its issue.
  • A resolution approving the proclamation of financial emergency can be passed by either House of Parliament (Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha) only by a simple majority.
  • Once approved by both the Houses of Parliament, the Financial Emergency continues indefinitely till it is revoked.
  • It may be revoked by the President anytime without any Parliamentary approval (but with the usual aid and advice).

Effects of Financial Emergency

  • During the financial emergency, the executive authority of the Center expands and it can give financial orders to any state according to its own.
  • All money bills or other financial bills, that come up for the President’s consideration after being passed by the state legislature, can be reserved.
  • Salaries and allowances of all or any class of persons serving in the state can be reduced.
  • The President may issue directions for the reduction of salaries and allowances of: (i) All or any class of persons serving the Union and the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court.

Try this PYQ:

With reference to the Constitution of India, prohibitions or limitations or provisions contained in ordinary laws cannot act as prohibitions or limitations on the constitutional powers under Article 142. It could mean which one of the following?

 

(a) The decisions taken by the Election Commission of India while discharging its duties cannot be challenged in any court of law.

(b) The Supreme Court of India is not constrained in the exercise of its powers by laws made by the Parliament.

(c) In the event of grave financial crisis in the country, the President of India can declare Financial Emergency without the counsel from the Cabinet.

(d) State Legislatures cannot make laws on certain matters without the concurrence of the Union Legislature.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India, Japan back in another Sri Lanka port project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various ports of Sri Lanka

Mains level : China as deterrent in India's neighbourhood policy

Sri Lanka has confirmed that it will develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Colombo Port along with India and Japan.

Q.The threat of Chinese presence in South Asia can be tackled more effectively if India changes course in its dealings with its neighbours and becomes more sensitive to their concerns. Critically analyse.

 Why in news?

  • The decision comes a month after the Rajapaksa government ejected the two partners from a 2019 tripartite agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), citing resistance to “foreign involvement”.
  • Neither India nor Japan has officially commented on the offer, or on the said private investment from the countries.

An alternative to ECT

  • SL has offered India and Japan the WCT as an alternative, allowing higher stakes.
  • In the ECT project agreed upon earlier, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to hold a majority 51%, but in the WCT proposal, India and Japan will be accorded an 85% stake.
  • The nearby Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), where China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited holds 85%.
  • This makes it a strategically desirable spot for India, whose concerns over China’s presence in Sri Lanka are well known.

Issues with a new project

  • The WCT is adjacent to the China-run CICT and just a couple of kilometres away from the China-backed Port City being built on reclaimed land.
  • The West Container Terminal, however, has to be built from scratch, requiring a much higher investment.
  • The return on investment has not been envisaged yet.

Why is Colombo so generous this time?

  • Colombo’s alternative offer also comes at a time when Sri Lanka is seeking support at the ongoing UN Human Right Council session, where a resolution on the country’s rights record will soon be put to vote.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka at the UN Rights Council

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNHRC

Mains level : Sri Lanka at the UN Rights Council

Sri Lanka is facing another UNHRC resolution for its war crimes that took place during the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

UNHRC report on Sri Lanka

  • The report warned that Sri Lanka’s failure to address human rights violations and war crimes committed in the past had put the country on a “dangerous path”.
  • It rose that this could lead to a “recurrence” of policies and practices that gave rise to the earlier situation.
  • It flagged the accelerating militarization of civilian governmental functions, a reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws.
  • The shrinking space for independent media and civil society and human rights organisations are also themes in the report.

Try this question:

Q.The triangulation in the ties between Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan is an emerging threat in the Indian Ocean Region. Discuss.

The Resolution 30/1

  • The resolution 30/1 launched in 2015 deals with promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
  • It extended an opportunity to make good on its promises for justice and offered extensive support to accomplish that objective.

Sri Lanka’s intention

  • It is more than Sri Lanka has failed to – and doesn’t intend to — take the necessary, decisive, and sustainable steps necessary to achieve domestic justice and reconciliation.
  • Sri Lanka has officially sought India’s help to muster support against the resolution, which it has described as “unwanted interference by powerful countries”.

Where India comes in

  • The UNHRC is scheduled to hold an “interactive” session on Sri Lanka where the report was to be discussed, and member countries were to make statements. India is expected to make a statement too.
  • Country-specific resolutions against Sri Lanka have regularly come up at the UNHRC in the last decade.
  • New Delhi voted against Sri Lanka in 2012 and abstained in 2014. It was spared the dilemma in 2015 when Sri Lanka joined resolution 30/1.
  • With elections coming up in Tamil Nadu, and PM declaring on a recent visit that he was the first Indian leader to visit Jaffna, Sri Lanka has begun reading the tea leaves.
  • Whichever way it goes, the resolution is likely to resonate in India-Sri Lanka Relations and for India internally, in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Pakistan- Sri Lanka Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India-Sri Lanka relations in recent times

Pakistani PM is in Colombo on a two-day visit for ways and means to enhance trade and connectivity with Sri Lanka.

What is the news?

  • Pakistan PM’s visit has attracted a fair amount of controversy because of a cancelled invitation to address the Sri Lankan parliament.
  • India too granted permission for using its airspace for the Pakistani PM’s aircraft.

Try this question:

Q.The triangulation in the ties between Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan is an emerging threat in the Indian Ocean Region. Discuss.

Sri Lanka- Pakistan Relations

  • For Colombo, the visit holds much value. It comes at a fraught time for the government on the international stage.
  • Imminently, it is bracing to be hauled over the coals at the UN Human Rights Commission for withdrawing from resolution 30/1 of September 2015, under which it committed to carrying out war crime investigations.
  • To make matters worse, the Islamic world is appalled by Sri Lanka’s tight rules for the cremation and not burials of Muslims who have died of COVID-19.
  • The rule created a storm in Sri Lanka, with community leaders convinced that this is nothing but an extension of the state’s persecution of Muslims.

Why Pakistan?

(1) Trade ties

  • Pakistan is Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner in South Asia after India.
  • Sri Lanka and Pakistan have a free trade agreement dating back to 2005.
  • Pakistan’s top exports to Sri Lanka are textiles and cement.
  • Sri Lanka’s top exports to Pakistan are tea, rubber and readymade garments.

(2) Cultural ties

  • In addition to trade cooperation, Pakistan invokes cricket and Buddhism, topics that most Sri Lankans share a deep connection with.
  • Over the last decade, Pakistan has also been projecting its ancient Buddhist sites to promote cultural ties with Sri Lanka.

(3) Defence ties

Defence ties are a strong pillar of Sri Lanka- Pakistan bilateral relationship.

  • During the 1971 war, Pakistan Air Force jets refuelled in Sri Lanka.
  • India pulled back the peacekeeping forces in 1990, it provided no active defence support to the Sri Lankan military.
  • Sri Lanka turned to Pakistan for arms, ammunition as well as training for its fighter pilots.
  • Gotabaya, who was defence secretary at the time, visited Pakistan in 2008 to make a request for emergency assistance with military supplies.
  • Earlier this month, Sri Lanka participated in Pakistan’s multi-nation naval exercise Aman.

India’s observations and concerns

  • As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour with strong, all-encompassing ties, even if these are sometimes problematic, India has not perceived Pakistan as a serious rival in Sri Lanka so far.
  • Sporadically, the Indian security establishment has voiced concerns about Pakistan’s role in the radicalization of people, especially in Eastern Sri Lanka.
  • Funds have poured in for new mosques from some West Asian countries, and the effect that this could have in India.

Emerging threats from the ‘Triad’

  • There is now a new wariness about triangulation in the ties between Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan in defence co-operation, though it has not been publicly expressed.
  • In 2016, India put pressure on Sri Lanka to drop a plan to buy the Chinese JF-17 Thunder aircraft made in Pakistan and co-produced by the Chinese Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.
  • The most recent threat was from excluding India from the Colombo Terminal Project.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka pushes India out of Colombo Terminal Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various ports of Sri Lanka

Mains level : China as deterrent in India's neighbourhood policy

After the strong opposition from within, the Sri Lankan government was forced to revoke a 2019 agreement with India and Japan to develop the strategic East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port.

Map Reading: Note all these major ports and try recalling their sequences in the clockwise and counter-clockwise direction.

What is the news?

  • PM Mahinda Rajapaksa made a statement that the operation of the east terminal would be done by Sri Lanka Ports Authority on its own.
  • Its cabinet has approved a proposal to develop the West Terminal at the Colombo Port as a PPP with India and Japan, which is seen as a bid to compensate India.
  • It is unclear whether India would accept the latest proposal.

What is the Project?

  • The tripartite agreement, signed by India, Sri Lanka and Japan, proposes to develop the ECT, which is located at the newly expanded southern part of the Colombo Port.
  • The ECT is located 3 km away from the China-backed international financial city, known as Port City, currently being built in Colombo.
  • A Chinese company was behind the controversial 2018 Hambantota port project, signed its first contract in the Port City last month.
  • It is also on the map of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

India’s reaction

  • A few weeks ago EAM S. Jaishankar visited Sri Lanka where he discussed the development of the stalled project.
  • India’s first response was that the island nation should not be taking a decision in a unilateral manner on an existing tripartite agreement.

Compensatory offer to India

  • After the decision on revoking the 2019 agreement, SL has approved another proposal to develop the west terminal of the Colombo port with Japan and India.
  • Commercially, the west terminal offer is better for India as it gives 85% stake for developers of the West Terminal against the 49% in ECT.

Sri Lanka expects India to rethink. Why?

  • Indian response to this compensatory offer is unclear since there was no formal communication by SL authorities.
  • Geo-politically, west terminal is almost the same India considers the security aspect and the necessity to have a port terminal in Sri Lanka.
  • There is no difference between East and West Terminals except for the fact that development of the ECT is partially completed while the development of the West Terminal has to start from scratch.

SL version of the revocation

  • Incumbent PM Mahinda Rajapaksa said the pressure was immense on the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to cancel the 2019 agreement.
  • The pressure was brewing so much that he was becoming so unpopular among the people.
  • As per the agreement signed by the former Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe administration, India and Japan together were to hold 49% stake in ECT.
  • What had finally made the government surrender before trade unions were the increasing support of many more sections in the society for the protests against privatization.

The inevitable factor: China

  • This move can be easily interpreted as a reaction to Chinese communication to Sri Lanka.
  • China has reportedly instigated trade unions and civil societies against this project.

Q.The threat of Chinese presence in South Asia can be tackled more effectively if India changes course in its dealings with its neighbours and becomes more sensitive to their concerns. Critically analyse.

Outcome: Souring of the ties

  • For India, the strategic ECT project was important. Even the EAM has visited Colombo in January in this regard.
  • Critics of the Sri Lankan government anticipate many national and international impacts surrounding the latest decision on ECT.
  • Meantime, internationally an offended India can make life tough for Sri Lanka, isolating the tiny island nation, geo-politically and on the economic front.
  • The economic isolation will not help Sri Lanka at a time when the country is taking steps to revive the economy amid a pandemic.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Private: India-Srilanka Fisherman issue

2 days back, an article in Hindu caught our eyes. It was – “Indian trawlers are back, say Sri Lanka’s fishermen”. This is not a new issue, in fact, this news piece has it’s own way of making it back to the headlines again and again.

The conflict has also strained both countries’ bilateral ties, with talks at the highest levels and among fisher leaders on both sides proving futile for years.

So, today let us look at this news from a holistic point of view, through this edition of Burning Issue.

  • Indian boats have been fishing in the troubled waters for centuries and had a free run of the Bay of Bengal, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar until 1974 and 1976 when treaties were signed between the two countries to demarcate the maritime boundary — the ‘International Maritime Boundary Line'(IMBL).
  • However, the treaties failed to factor in the hardship of thousands of traditional Indian fishermen who were forced to restrict themselves to a meager area in their fishing forays.
  • The small islet of Katchatheevu, hitherto used by them for sorting their catch and drying their nets, fell on the Lankan side of the IMBL.
  • Fishermen often risk their lives and cross the IMBL rather than return empty-handed, but the Sri Lankan Navy is on alert, and have either arrested or destroyed fishing nets and vessels of those who have crossed the line.

The Palk Bay

Historically, the shallow waters of the Palk Bay and geographical contiguity between India and Sri Lanka facilitated the movement of ideas, goods, and men.

  • The Palk Bay, a narrow strip of water separating the state of Tamil Nadu in India from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
  • The bay, which is 137 km in length and varies from 64 to 137 kilometers in width, is divided by the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  • Bordering it are five Indian districts and three Sri Lankan districts.

Its significance

  • The bonds of ethnicity, language, and religion helped fishermen lead the lives of harmonious coexistence for several centuries.
  • Frequent migrations between India and Sri Lanka through the Palk Bay took place. Intermarriages were common.
  • However, over the last several decades, internal and bilateral relations have suffered from a range of issues from coastal insecurity to overfishing.

End of the civil war

  • The region has become a highly contested site in recent decades, with the conflict taking on a new dimension since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009.
  • Now the livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen was at stake, thus, the Sri Lankan navy expanded and become more vigilant.
  • In India, the fisheries dispute chiefly began with an internal debate about sovereignty related to the ceding of the island of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka.
  • The problem got exacerbated by the tension between fishermen practicing traditional fishing and those using trawlers.

What are the issues here?

The various dimensions of the fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka can be encapsulated as follows:

1) Issue over Sovereignty

  • The maritime boundary agreements of 1974 and 1976 delimited international boundaries in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal, respectively.
  • They were concluded by the two governments in the name of good neighbourly relations, but they did not reflect realities on the ground because the people concerned, namely fishermen, were not consulted.
  • The principle of national sovereignty underpinned both agreements.
  • A close personal relationship between both prime ministers, Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, facilitated the successful conclusion.
  • However, from the perspective of Tamil Nadu, the ceding of the island of Katchatheevu in the Palk Bay to Sri Lanka was a grave mistake.

2) Poaching and Trawling

  • Fueling the dispute over Katchatheevu is the overuse of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Bay, the damaging environmental and economic effects of trawling.
  • To increase productivity and boost exports, the government of India embarked on a radical transformation of fishing techniques. The result was the introduction of trawlers.
  • Quick returns from prawns attracted many from non-fishing communities to invest in this profitable venture. As a result, numerous fishermen became wage labourers.
  • Trawlers have since been referred to as the “hoovers of the shelf bottom” and “bulldozers mowing down fish and other benthic species.
  • After their introduction, the Indian side of the Palk Bay quickly became devoid of fish.

3) Tougher laws

  • After some respite in the last couple of years, Sri Lanka introduced tougher laws banning bottom-trawling and put heavy fines for trespassing foreign vessels.
  • Crossing the IMBL poses a greater threat as Sri Lanka has amended its Foreign Fisheries Boats Regulation Act to increase the fine on Indian vessels found fishing in Sri Lankan waters to a minimum of LKR 6 million (about ₹25 lakh) and a maximum of LKR 175 million (about ₹17.5 Crore).

4) Fisherman’s concerns

  • There is a depletion of fisheries on the Indian side, so Indian fishermen cross into Sri Lankan waters thus denying the livelihood of their counterparts.
  • They deliberately cross the territorial waters even at the risk of getting arrested or shot dead by the Sri Lankan Navy.
  • Sri Lankan fishermen across Palk Bay are concerned over similar depletion on their side (where there is a ban for trawlers) because of poaching by their brethren from Tamil Nadu.
  • Apart from enforcing the trawler ban, the Sri Lankan Navy has also stepped up the monitoring of coasts, especially those that are proximate to India. The idea is to prevent any movement of remnant militants back into the island.

Implications on the fishermen

  • The ongoing dispute has escalated tensions between those fishermen using traditional methods and those using mechanized methods, as well as increased the infringement of territorial boundaries.
  • According to the government of Tamil Nadu, the sufferings of Indian Tamil fishermen is a direct consequence of ceding Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka and sacrificing the traditional fishing rights enjoyed by Indian fishermen.
  • In a defiant speech on August 15, 1991, Jayalalitha called on the people of Tamil Nadu to retrieve the island.

Averting a Crisis

  • The underlying issues of the fisheries dispute need to be addressed, so that relations between fishermen and their governments, between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, and between Tamil Nadu and Colombo do not reach a crisis point.
  • Immediate actions should be taken to begin the phase-out of trawling and identify other fishing practices.
  • Katchatheevu Issue: The unilateral abrogation of the maritime boundary agreement on India’s part would cause irreparable damage to India’s image. Need to stay away from politics here.

Alternative solutions

  • Leasing: Two courses of action exist: (1) get back the island of Katchatheevu on “lease in perpetuity” or (2) permit licensed Indian fishermen to fish within a designated area of Sri Lankan waters and vice versa.
  • Licensing: The second course of action would persuade Colombo to permit licensed Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters for five nautical miles from the IMBL.
  • There is precedent in the 1976 boundary agreement, which allowed licensed Sri Lankan fishermen to fish in the Wadge Bank (a fertile fishing ground located near Kanyakumari) for a period of three years.
  • Reconsidering old agreements: A window of opportunity opened at the end of India–Sri Lanka foreign secretary consultations in July 2003, when the Sri Lankan government agreed for the first time to consider proposals for licensed fishing. This can be revisited.

Looping in fishermen themselves

  • Though the idea of meetings among fishermen was conceptualized way back in 2003, it was not pursued seriously.
  • Arranging frequent meetings between fishing communities of both countries could be systematized so as to develop a friendlier atmosphere mid-seas during fishing.
  • Starting ferry services between India and Sri Lanka can improve people to people linkages. Mutual recognition of each other’s concerns and interests can improve the relationship between both countries.
  • Media personnel can be invited to witness those practical issues confronted by the fishermen in each country. This would make a qualitative difference in reporting.

Way Forward

  • Action should be taken immediately to end the use of mechanized trawlers within one year, and the government should implement a buy-back arrangement as soon as possible.
  • Through incentives and persuasion, fishermen from the Palk Bay could be encouraged to switch over to deep-sea fishing in the Indian exclusive economic zone and in international waters.
  • Social security reforms for the fishermen community is necessary to empower them.
  • Diversification of livelihood options of fishermen.
  • Improving the fishing industry by itself like there is huge untapped potential for processed foods which will not only boost infrastructure in this sector but also reduce wastages.

Conclusion

The success of diplomacy lies in converting a crisis into an opportunity. If New Delhi and Tamil Nadu are determined, they can create a win-win scenario in the Palk Bay.

Overall, if the fishermen issue is not approached holistically, the marine frontiers between India and Sri Lanka will remain fishy and troubled. Ultimately, India must view the Palk Bay region as a common heritage of the two countries and project this vision.

 

 

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Keeping the southern neighbour engaged

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Sri Lanka relations, issues involved-Tamil minority, Chinese growing influence etc.

Context

During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s India visit, New Delhi is likely to talk to Colombo on the Tamil issue and counterbalance Beijing’s influence in the Indian Ocean.

Background of the current politics in Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lankan Prime Minister official visit to India is taking place a few months after he assumed office and his brother was sworn in as president
  • Nationalist wave after attacks: The brothers were voted to the office on a Sinhala nationalist wave, a sentiment that is a fallout of the Easter attacks on Christian shrines, including the Saint Anthony’s shrine, in April last year.
    • The attacks had killed more than 250 people, six months before the elections.
    • The polarisation worked in favour of the Rajapaksas vis-à-vis Sri Lanka’s 10 per cent Muslim population, mostly Tamils, who are especially numerous on the country’s east coast.

Tamil issue in Sri Lanka

  • No engagement with Hindu Tamil: While Muslims have become the number one scapegoat for the Easter tragedy, the Rajapaksas have not tried to engage the Hindu Tamils
  • LTTE background: Hindu Tamils, who make about 11 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population, have had an acrimonious relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa ever since he wiped out the LTTE in 2009.
    • Many members of the community became collateral victims in the process.
  • Implications for India-Sri Lanka relations: Gotabaya was the defence secretary at that time. The Hindu Tamil factor may complicate India-Sri Lanka relations.
  • No inclusion minorities from Sri Lanka in CAA: In the Citizenship Amendment Act the Indian Parliament passed in 2019, the persecuted minorities of Sri Lanka are not taken into account.
    • However, the Hindu Tamils of Sri Lanka are feeling insecure again.

China-Sri Lanka axis

  • The China factor is likely to aggravate the complication: The Rajapaksas are known to be pro-Sri Lanka. Mahinda Rajapaksa was largely responsible for opening Sri Lanka to massive — and strategic -Chinese investments.
  • The Hambantota port issue: The Hambantota Port and 15,000 acres have been conceded to China on a 99-year lease, causing considerable consternation in New Delhi, which apprehends that this deep seaport could be used for military purposes, and not just trade.
    • The deal was put on a hold by former PM but the present dispensation wants it to be restored.
  • China’s growing clout in the Indian Ocean: India’s efforts were also designed to thwart China extending its influence in Sri Lanka at a time when the Narendra Modi administration is trying to counter Beijing’s clout in the Indian Ocean.
  • Modi’s visited on May 30, 2019, just after beginning his second tenure as PM.

Past engagement events

  • New Delhi has tried to engage the new Sri Lankan government after the Rajapaksas assumed office.
    • India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar, landed in Sri Lanka on November 20, 2019, to invite Gotabaya for his first visit to India — rather than to China.
  • Gotabaya visited New Delhi for three days in late November last year.
  • Tamil issue discussed: Jaishankar is said to have told Gotabaya that India expects his government to treat Tamils with dignity in the process of reconciliation.
    • There is speculation that India might appoint an ambassador of Tamil origin to Colombo.
  • Cooperation against terrorism: The Indian PM went further when Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited New Delhi: He announced a $50 million line of credit for security and counter-terrorism
  • Line of credit for Infra: India also announced another $400 million for development and infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.
    • That the counter-terror fund would further strengthen cooperation against terrorism.
  • Allaying the fears over China: Gotabaya allayed India’s fears on China by saying that Sri Lanka would not allow a third country to affect Sri Lanka-India ties.

Conclusion

While addressing the issue of minority and growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka both countries need to focus on the other areas of cooperation like counter-terrorism, trade, security, development, technology etc.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Return to the homeland

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Refugees from Sri Lanka

Context

A criticism of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 questions why Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka will not be given citizenship under the new law.

Influx of refugees

  • Refugees for long – Tamil Nadu began witnessing an influx of refugees from August 1983 following Black July in Sri Lanka. Indian government maintained that these refugees should go back on their own.
  • Voluntary repatriation – India has been following the principle of nonrefoulement and favouring voluntary repatriation.
  • Indira Gandhi – In 1983, Indira Gandhi asserted that the country “cannot and will not take millions of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka”. This is keeping in mind the problems posed by the migration of refugees from Bangladesh to India in the early 1970s.

Sri Lankan refugees

  • India continued to receive thousands of refugees from Sri Lanka over the years. At one point, Tamil Nadu had 2 lakh refugees.
  • Between 1983 and 2013, around 3.04 lakh persons came to the State.

Nature of repatriation

  • Forcible repatriation – In the early 1990s, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, a controversy erupted over reports of sections of refugees being sent back “forcibly”.
  • UNHCR validation – The Indian government agreed to allow representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to screen refugees to ascertain the voluntary nature of the repatriation.
  • UNHCR it is also involved in counselling the refugees, helping them obtain necessary documents, paying for their international travel and providing reintegration grants and post-return support.
  • Indian government – the Indian government has taken steps to facilitate voluntary repatriation. Visa fee is waived and overstay penalty is granted to non-camp refugees on a case-to-case basis. Camp refugees are given this benefit as a matter of routine.
  • Tamil refugees importance in going back – the civil war had an adverse demographic impact on the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The numerical strength of MPs from Tamil-speaking areas has gone down over the years as Sri Lanka follows proportional representation. If the refugees go back, this will help Tamils get more representatives in the Sri Lankan Parliament.

The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord

  • Reason for non-inclusion – The 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord talks of repatriation.
  • The 2011 report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission set up by Mahinda Rajapaksa regime called for voluntary repatriation. 
  • It also stressed the need for creating a conducive environment for the refugees to return to and for initiating a formal bilateral consultation process.

Way ahead

  • Rajapaksas are back in power and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is receptive to the idea of refugees returning to Sri Lanka.
  • Negotiate – India should resume negotiations with Sri Lanka to give a push to the process of voluntary repatriation. 
  • Ensure safety – Sri Lanka should create conditions that will ensure the safety and security of the refugees returning to their homeland.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[oped of the day] On a new footing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Sri Lanka future of ties

Context

India receives the new Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a big effort to normalise the relationship; but the fractures in Sri Lanka’s power structure and its poor governance limited the possibilities.

Rajapaksas

  • It is feared as heralding the renewal of authoritarian rule in Sri Lanka.
  • The previous government in Colombo became dysfunctional due to deep differences between the president and prime minister.
  • The Rajapaksas are expected to bring political coherence.

With respect to India

  • The first trip to India – Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to Delhi, the first trip abroad since the election, is an occasion to build mutual trust.
  • Moving ahead – Both sides have learnt much from their past mistakes and will have to find a new balance in the relationship. 
  • Managing proximity – For Gotabaya, the challenge is to be mindful of the sensitivities of its larger neighbour. For Modi, it is about respecting the sovereignty of its smaller neighbour.
  • Sri Lanka’s affirmation – Gotabaya has affirmed that Colombo will not do anything that might harm Delhi’s interests. He also expects that Delhi will respect Colombo’s freedom of choice in the conduct of its foreign and domestic policies. 

Indo – Sri Lankan issues

  • SL’s foreign relations – Sri Lanka’s ties to other powers have been of some concern to Delhi. This is focused on the nature of the ties between Colombo and Beijing. 
  • Tamil minorities – the prolonged conflict between the Sinhala majority and Tamil minority in Sri Lanka has undermined bilateral ties in recent decades.
  • No power game – Sri Lanka has affirmed that it does not want to be caught in the rivalry among the major powers and that it will follow a policy of “neutrality”. 
  • Red lines – India can’t accept a situation where Sri Lanka lets the People’s Liberation Army turn the Emerald Island into an aircraft carrier for China.

New regime

  • On Hambantota – Gotabaya said that it was a mistake for the previous government to have handed over the Hambantota port on a 99-year lease to China. He said that his government would like to renegotiate the agreement with China. 
  • On national interest – on economic issues, Lanka made it clear that it has every right to follow its national interest in engaging China. It wants all major countries including India, Japan, Singapore and the US to invest in Sri Lanka. The government has promised to reform and reorient the economy.

Legacy of the civil war

  • India’s involvement in the conflict saw India become a major collateral casualty in the war. 
  • The end of the war did not materially improve India’s position vis a vis Lanka.
  • There is scepticism that the grievances of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka and the strong majoritarian sentiment of their support base may complicate the peace process. 
  • The intervention in the 1980s proves that Delhi’s ability to shape its neighbour’s domestic politics is limited. India may be the loser if it makes the entire relationship hostage to the question of Tamil minority rights.
  • In the past, coalition politics saw Delhi cede a veto to Chennai over its Lanka policy. The present government is stronger vis a vis Chennai.

Way ahead for both nations

  • Colombo’s confidence-building measures with the Tamils.
  • India’s strong support for practical advances between Colombo and Jaffna.
  • Greater cross-border economic cooperation as well as between northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
  • Delhi’s political investment in resolving the fisheries dispute.

Conclusion

India must be seen as a friend of all the communities in Sri Lanka that can offer its good offices to resolve problems between themselves. Sri Lanka has to find that incremental progress on the Tamil question will widen its space in regional and global affairs and create better conditions for a much-needed economic renewal.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Rule of Rajapaksas

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Sri Lanka

Context

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency has started. 

Rajapaksas

    • After Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped down as Prime Minister, the new president appointed Mahinda as the new prime minister of a caretaker government. 
    • Another brother, Chamal, has been appointed a minister in the government.
    • The government will hold forth until fresh parliamentary elections are held in 2020. The five-year term ends next August. 
    • Mahinda was barred from the presidential election because he had already held the office twice. He will run the country in close coordination with his brother. 

Constitution

    • The parliamentary configuration did not allow the new dispensation to do away with progressive amendments to the Constitution. 
    • They aimed to check the powers of the executive presidency, including the two-time bar. 
    • The Rajapaksas could clock back on these 2015 amendments when the opportunity arises.

State of polity

    • President Rajapaksa is confident of winning the 2020 parliamentary election. 
    • A divided opposition, engaged in a tug of war between Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa, is unlikely to put up a fight to the Rajapaksa. 
    • Sri Lankan voters have seen that cohabitation, by which the president and prime minister are from different parties leads to paralysis of governance. 

India

    • India has communicated its desire for hastening national reconciliation in Sri Lanka. 
    • In the post-war years, the rulers oversaw an unprecedented militarisation of the Sinhala Buddhist majority community. 
    • Voters from the majority community have not forgotten that it was the Rajapaksas who crafted a victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). 
    • This powered Gotabaya’s majoritarian victory in these elections. 

Conclusion

National reconciliation requires statesmanship of a tall order. Gotabaya emerged as the newest majoritarian right-wing leader. We are not sure if he can pull it off.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Towards a Colombo reset

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Sri Lanka ties

Context

The election of the new president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa strengthened the narrative about Colombo’s “tilt” towards China and against India. The headline misrepresents the complex power play involving Beijing, Delhi and Colombo.

Power play

  • The Great Game in the Subcontinent is not limited to just India and China. 
  • There are considerable interests and influence of many other powers in the region, including the US, European Union, Japan and Russia. 
  • The exclusive focus on major power rivalry masks the agency of South Asian political elites and their capacity to manoeuvre among the major powers.

Rajapaksas

  • Although the Rajapaksas had blamed India for their defeat in the 2015 elections, they have sought to make up with Delhi in recent years. 
  • India has been engaging all the major political formations in Sri Lanka. 
  • The stage is ready for a reset in the bilateral relations between the two strong governments in Delhi and Colombo.

China

  • India is aware that China’s economic and strategic salience in the Subcontinent will continue to grow and is not tied to the regime leadership in its neighbourhood.
  • The outgoing coalition led by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe proves the irrelevance of labelling governments in Colombo as “pro-China” or “pro-India”.
  • It came to power criticising the Chinese projects in Sri Lanka as financially unsustainable. 
  • Two years into power, the coalition extended full backing to the Chinese projects. 
  • So-called “pro-India” regime offered China a 99-year lease on the Hambantota project. 
  • The government stalled key projects of interest to Delhi.

What India can do about China

  • India can’t expect its neighbours to shut down economic and commercial engagement with China.
  • There are questions about the terms of China’s assistance on projects, including those under the Belt and Road Initiative. 
  • India can only ask Sri Lanka not to take steps with Beijing that threaten India’s security. 
  • Both need a clear understanding of mutual red lines relating to national security and a political comfort level to discuss cases that fall within the orange zone. 
  • That should help prevent the recurrence of the controversy over Chinese submarines in Colombo port as in 2014.

Renewed friendship

  • Rajapaksas are reported as saying that China is a “trade partner” while India is a “close relative”. 
  • Other terms used to describe the new policy include “neutrality” and “non-alignment” between major powers.
  • The world rediscovers the geopolitical value of Sri Lanka at the heart of the Indo-Pacific.
  • It has huge opportunities to leverage its location for national benefit. 

Way ahead

  • Sri Lanka should avoid provoking India. 
  • India should be mindful of Colombo’s security concerns and find ways to develop long-term strategic cooperation with Sri Lanka.
  • India needs to invest some political capital in resolving problems such as the long-standing dispute over fisheries. 
  • India, either alone or in partnership with like-minded countries like Japan, should offer sustainable terms for infrastructure development. 
  • India also needs to contribute more to the development of Colombo’s defence and counter-terror capabilities.

Tamil question

  • India’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s civil war has been far more consequential than the China facto. 
  • Successive coalition governments in India struggled to balance the pulls and pressures from Chennai and Colombo. 
  • If the new government in Sri Lanka can advance reconciliation with the Tamil minority, it will be easier to strengthen ties. 
  • The Western powers have expressed deep concerns about the war crimes in the military campaign against the LTTE and the need to bring those responsible to book.

Way ahead

  • India should look beyond old formulae to try and encourage reconciliation within Lanka and across the Palk Strait with Tamil Nadu. 
  • With a strong government in Sri Lanka, it is time for India to think boldly about its relationship with Sri Lanka.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Two Asian powers and an island

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Need for reviving Inda-Sri Lanka ties

Context

  • The imposing Lotus Tower in Colombo, which was opened to the public recently, is considered to be the latest symbol of Sri Lanka-China ties.
  • An agreement to build this structure, which is to serve as a multi-functional telecommunication tower, was signed by the two countries in 2012.

Anti-China mood is no more

  • It may look ironical that much of the project’s execution took place under a regime which came into office at a time when there was a “strong anti-China mood”.
  • In the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was backing Sirisena, had assured people that another Chinese project, the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City, would be scrapped.
  • Then, there was also uncertainty over the fate of the Hambantota port, the development of which was originally offered to India by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005.
  • India was said to have examined Hambantota purely from the point of view of economics, overlooking the strategic angle.
  • All of this is now history, as Colombo-Beijing ties have stood the test of time.

Two different records

  • China has been able to resolve all the controversies over these projects.
  • The Port City’s execution is underway without any major hitch. When it becomes a reality, it will stand beside the Colombo port, which serves as a major transshipment hub for India.
  • A Chinese company has got Hambantota on lease for 99 years along with associated land of 15,000 acres.
  • More importantly, Sri Lanka is a member-country of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Debt trap or a tailored bluff

  • Notwithstanding an argument that economic ties with China are driving Sri Lanka into a “debt trap”, the bilateral relationship on the economic front is only becoming stronger.
  • According to the 2018 annual report of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, imports from China accounted for 18.5%, just a little less than the 19% from India.

Indian failure

  • India couldn’t claim to have accomplished much in the Sirisena years, despite its “neighbourhood first” policy since May 2014.
  • Apart from a joint venture with Japan and Sri Lanka to develop the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port, India cannot boast of having taken up any major infrastructure project in Sri Lanka.
  • There seems to be little progress in India’s proposals to develop the Palaly airport in the North and acquire a controlling stake in the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.
  • And for all practical purposes, the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, an improved version of the existing bilateral FTA, has been shelved.

Success: Very few to count

  • In recent years, only a couple of social sector projects of India— building 60,000 homes for Tamils of the civil war-torn regions and the provision of ambulance services all over the island — gathered momentum.
  • Both these are being carried out using grants of the Indian government.
  • In July, an agreement was signed to upgrade a key railway segment, connecting the north and the south, at $91 million.

The resentful phase is over

  • Despite these deep ties, it is true that India and Sri Lanka have seen some unpleasantness in bilateral relations in contemporary times.
  • The anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983 dragged India into the Sri Lankan Tamil question.
  • India sustained its interest on developmental issues concerning the country Tamils, and now regarded as the most backward in Sri Lanka.
  • It will also be worth making one more attempt to encourage the voluntary repatriation of nearly 95,000 refugees who live in Tamil Nadu back to Sri Lanka.

India still holds deeper ties

  • China-funded infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka may look great, but India-Sri Lanka ties are deeper and more complex.
  • In good times and bad, India has been and will always be the first responder for Sri Lanka.
  • India’s assistance during the 2004 tsunami and PM Modi’s visit to Colombo in June (the first foreign dignitary to do so) in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks show India’s sincerity of approach.

Way ahead

  • Given its potential and willingness to do more in development cooperation, India cannot remain satisfied with such a modest track record.
  • A benign and comprehensive approach, backed by the sincerity of purpose, will not only earn India greater respect of Sri Lankans, but also send a message to other international players about the strength of its ties with Sri Lanka.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Wrong step

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Debate on directive of banning Niqab in Sri Lanka

CONTEXT

President Maithripala Sirisena has taken the extraordinary step of effectively banning the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, under the country’s Emergency regulations, promulgated after the Easter Sunday bombings claimed by ISIS. It makes Sri Lanka the only country outside Europe to take such a decision.

Problems With the directive

It is unfortunate that President Sirisena took such an extreme step without wider consultation, as it goes against the fundamental freedoms set out in the Sri Lankan constitution.

1.Violating Freedom -Even accepting that the Emergency gives the government vast powers to suspend some freedoms, this is an unwarranted and extreme measure.

2.Not commonly used -The niqab is an import from the Middle East.It is not a common sight in Sri Lanka. Few women wear it.

3. Demand for Ban on other garments –There is now the danger that the ban on the niqab will be read up in its implementation to include the more commonly worn hijab and burqa, especially as there have been demands earlier by Buddhist extremists that these garments should be banned.

It could also open up demands for banning other visible identity markers, such as caps and bears worn by men.

4. Steps were already taken by civil society – Significantly, even before the President took the step, Muslim civil society organisations and the clergy had already urgently appealed to their “sisters” to stop wearing the full face veil or desist from being seen in public spaces wearing it.

5. Fear of repercussion – It is clear the community, which is more integrated into the Sri Lankan polity and economy than the Tamils, are fearful of the repercussions of the attack, and wants to play down identity markers.

6. No consultation with women – It is unclear if the women in the community were consulted. They are being asked to shoulder the burden of holding up the community’s credentials.

Ineffective Directive

  • It cannot be stressed enough that the problem that has erupted in Sri Lanka has not been caused by women’s apparel.
  • Banning the niqab may make the government look as if it is taking action, but it is hardly the way to meet the challenge posed by radicalism of the ISIS kind. From 2015 at least, Sri Lanka has been aware that some of its young citizens have been attracted to ISIS and were travelling to Syria for battle innoculation. There is no evidence to show that it acted seriously on this information.
  • True, Sri Lanka was still in the first flush of the post-Rajapakse years, and the government was more focussed on dismantling some of the authoritarian structures from his time.
  • Still, it is beyond comprehension that the government did not have an accurate handle on the radicalisation of even the handful of ISIS recruits.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Terror next door

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Reasons for Serial blasts in Sri Lanka

CONTEXT

The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka could widen ethnic faultlines, threaten to disrupt a decade of calm.

Background

  • Sri Lanka’s decade of peace after the LTTE’s military defeat in May 2009 has been shattered with a diabolical plan to drag the country back into its darkest days.
  • The death toll is nearly 300 from the chain of eight bombings on Easter Sunday targeting churches and hotels across the island nation, worse than anything it has experienced at the hands of the LTTE in the three decades of civil war.
  • The scale and the ferocity of the attack has no precedent in Sri Lanka’s troubled history, one from which it believed it had finally emerged.
  • In the last decade, a generation of Sri Lankans has come of age for whom conflict was history, who have no experience of curfews and emergency regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
  • Now all this is threatening to engulf Sri Lanka again.

Fault in action on intelligence

  • it is Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s acknowledgment that the country’s security apparatus had “prior information” on the attacks that causes more anguish.
  • The differences between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe appear to have played a good part in the security warning not being taken seriously.
  • The PM has alleged that he was not kept in the loop about the intelligence warnings.
  • If so, the inability of the country’s top functionaries to get along has had deadly consequences. It casts their leadership abilities in extremely poor light. However, the administration has done well to prevent any backlash on the Muslim community.

Reasons for attack

1.Rise of extremism and fundamentalism –

Given that investigators believe this was the handiwork of radicalised local Muslims, there have been straws in the wind of such radicalisation for years, as a reaction to attacks by the LTTE on Muslims through the 1990s, and after the war, to the rise of Buddhist fundamentalism that began targeting Muslims.

2.Spread of Wahabism

Sri Lanka, where nearly 10 per cent of the 22 million population is Muslim, has also not been insulated from the global spread of Wahabism.

3. Politicisation

Mainstream Muslim parties, major players in Sri Lanka’s robust democratic political space, had managed to keep the radicals at bay all these years despite the failure of the political class to repair the ethnic faultlines.

4.Local Grievances

The targeting of Christians, who are an even smaller minority in Sri Lanka than Muslims, and in a manner similar to anti-Christian incidents in other parts of the world, also points to more than a local grievance.

Conclusion

But it seems too early to say if the Easter bloodbath was the handiwork of ISIS, which would be searching for new spaces to compensate for its total loss of territory. Solving these puzzles will help Sri Lanka, also the rest of South Asia, to craft responses that ensure there will be no repetition of this nightmare.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[pib] Exercise Mitra Shakti-VI

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ex Mitra Shakti

Mains level:  India-Sri Lanka Strategic relationship


News

Exercise MITRA SHAKTI

  • It is conducted annually as part of military diplomacy and interaction between armies of India & Sri Lanka.
  • The joint exercise for the year 2018-19 will be conducted in Sri Lanka.
  • Troops from 1st Battalion the BIHAR Regiment of the Indian Army and Gemunu Watch Battalion of Sri Lankan Army would be jointly undertaking the exercise.
  • The aim of the exercise is to build and promote close relations between armies of both the countries and to enhance ability of joint exercise commander to take military contingents of both nations under command.
  • The exercise will involve tactical level operations in an international Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorist environment under United Nations.
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