Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Bridge this deficit between India and Sri Lanka

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement

Mains level : Sri Lanka's land connectivity with India for regional economic integration

India raises Sri Lankan Tamil issue in UN - Civilsdaily

Central idea 

The central idea revolves around Sri Lanka’s renewed proposal for land connectivity with India, emphasizing economic integration. Despite historical challenges, the persisting vision, including a proposed bridge and power grid, highlights the potential for mutually beneficial ties.

Key Highlights:

  • Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed land connectivity with India for regional economic integration.
  • The idea dates back to 2003, with a proposed bridge between Rameswaram (India) and Talaimanar (Sri Lanka).
  • Despite opposition, the concept persisted, finding mention in a joint statement between Wickremesinghe and PM Modi in 2023.
  • Land connectivity aims to utilize ports in Colombo and Trincomalee for supply needs in southwest and southeast India.

Key Challenges:

  • Opposition from groups representing Sinhalese-Buddhists has historically hindered progress.
  • The power grid project, initiated in 1970, has faced delays, with no electricity transmitted despite a memorandum of understanding.
  • Slow progress in implementing the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1998.
  • Tardiness in bilateral economic ties, despite India being the largest source of imports for Sri Lanka.

Key Terms:

  • Land Connectivity: Proposal for physical linkage between India and Sri Lanka for economic integration.
  • Free Trade Agreement: Trade deal signed in 1998 between India and Sri Lanka.
  • Power Grid: Project aiming to connect the electricity networks of India and Sri Lanka.

Key Phrases:

  • “Feasibility study for connectivity will be conducted at an early date” (Joint statement, 2023).
  • “Utilize Colombo port to meet the supply needs of southwest India and Trincomalee port for southeast India” (Budget address, 2023).

Key Quotes:

  • “We expect to utilize Colombo port to meet the supply needs of southwest India and Trincomalee port to meet the supply needs of southeast India” (Wickremesinghe, Budget address, 2023).

Key Statements:

  • “The relationship in infrastructure development should be deeper” (Author’s viewpoint).
  • “The progress of the transmission network project does not reflect well on the two countries” (Author’s observation).

Key Examples and References:

  • Nitin Gadkari’s announcement of the Asian Development Bank’s willingness to fund the bridge project in 2015.
  • India’s successful energy collaboration with Bangladesh, highlighting the contrast with Sri Lanka.

Key Facts and Data:

  • India-Sri Lanka bilateral trade in 2021: $5.45 billion.
  • Bangladesh-India bilateral trade in 2021: $18.14 billion.

Critical Analysis:

  • Despite historical challenges, Sri Lanka should capitalize on recent positive developments.
  • The comparison with Bangladesh emphasizes the potential for mutually-beneficial economic relationships.
  • Acknowledges the need for sustained momentum in economic ties.

Way Forward:

  • Overcome historical challenges and focus on mutually-beneficial economic relationships.
  • Prioritize the implementation of proposed projects, including land connectivity and the power grid.
  • Build on recent positive developments to enhance economic ties.
  • Address opposition through inclusive dialogue and communication.
  • Expedite the feasibility study for land connectivity and other collaborative projects.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India-Sri Lanka ferry service restarted

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nagapattinam-Jaffna ferry service

Mains level : India- Srilanka relations, Nagapattinam-Jaffna ferry service- Opportunities, challenges

What’s the news?

  • The passenger ferry service, named ‘Cheriyapani,’ was officially launched on a recent Saturday.

Central idea

  • The Nagapattinam-Jaffna ferry service revives an ancient India-Sri Lanka sea route, fostering bilateral ties, tourism, and people-to-people relations. Additionally, it promises economic benefits for local traders on both coasts.

The New Ferry Service

  • The passenger ferry service, Cheriyapani, was officially launched.
  • Travelers can avail a one-way ticket for approximately Rs 7,670, which includes a generous baggage allowance of up to 40 kg per passenger.
  • The journey departs from Nagapattinam at 7 am, reaching Kankesanthurai by 11 am, and the return trip commences at 1.30 pm, arriving in Nagapattinam by 5.30 pm.

Historical Context

  • Maritime linkage between India and Sri Lanka has a rich history, with the Indo-Ceylon Express or Boat Mail operating from Chennai to Colombo via Thoothukudi port until 1982. The civil war in Sri Lanka disrupted these services.
  • Before the conflict, Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar was a popular route, connecting Chennai via train and coal-powered steam ferry.

Past Attempts at Ferry Services

  • Post-Independence Services: Following India’s independence and the formation of Sri Lanka as a separate nation in 1948, ferry services continued to operate between the two countries, connecting ports like Chennai and Colombo.
  • Indo-Ceylon Express: The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail, ran between Chennai and Colombo via the Thoothukudi port from the early 1900s until 1982. This service was a significant mode of transportation and trade between the two countries.
  • Disruption Due to Civil War: The prolonged civil war in Sri Lanka, which began in 1983, led to the suspension of ferry services between India and Sri Lanka. This conflict disrupted not only transportation but also the overall relationship between the two countries.
  • Memorandum of Understanding (MoU): After the end of the civil war in 2009, there were renewed efforts to restore ferry services. In 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning passenger transportation by sea was signed, leading to the launch of a ferry service.
  • Proposals for New Routes: Besides the Nagapattinam-Jaffna route, there were proposals to establish ferry services from Rameswaram to Talaimannar and Karaikal to Kankesanthurai. O

Potential Impact of the Nagapattinam-Jaffna Ferry Service

  • Boost to Religious Tourism: Prominent Indian pilgrimage centers such as Nagapattinam, Nagore, Velankanni, Thirunallar, and temple towns like Thanjavur, Madurai, and Tiruchi are expected to witness an influx of Sri Lankan tourists.
  • Economic Benefits: The ferry service has the potential to stimulate regional commerce and trade. Local traders and businesses on both sides of the Palk Strait may benefit from increased cross-border trade and tourism.
  • Diplomatic and Bilateral Relations: High-level statements from leaders of both countries, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, indicate the diplomatic significance attached to the service.
  • Infrastructure Development: The anticipation of increased travelers has prompted infrastructure development initiatives. Investments in port facilities, customs procedures, and immigration processes can enhance the overall travel experience.
  • Promotion of Regional Peace: Increased people-to-people interactions facilitated by the ferry service can contribute to regional peace and stability by fostering mutual understanding and goodwill between communities on both sides of the strait.

Initial Challenges Faced by the Nagapattinam-Jaffna Ferry Service

  • Service Frequency Adjustment: The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) had initially planned to run the ferry services every day for ten days. However, this schedule was adjusted to operate thrice a week.
  • Ticket Pricing: The cost of a one-way ticket, approximately Rs 7,670, has been considered relatively high by some passengers. High ticket prices can deter potential travelers, particularly those on a tight budget.
  • Ticketing Systems: Reports suggest that the ticketing systems for the ferry service may not be as efficient as desired. Passengers have experienced difficulties with booking tickets, which can lead to inconvenience and dissatisfaction.
  • Reduced Passenger Interest: Poor response and passenger turnout during the initial days of operation may be indicative of reduced interest in the service. Building awareness and creating incentives for passengers to choose the ferry over other modes of transportation is crucial.
  • Operational Efficiency: Operational efficiency is critical for the ferry service’s success. Ensuring timely departures, arrivals, and efficient boarding processes is essential to maintain passenger satisfaction and reliability.

Leaders’ Perspectives

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the launch of the service on October 14, emphasized that connectivity is not just about bringing cities closer; it also fosters closer relationships between countries and their people.
  • Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a video message, regarded the revival of the ferry service as a significant step toward strengthening connectivity between India and Sri Lanka.

Conclusion

  • The inauguration of the Nagapattinam-Jaffna ferry service signifies a promising chapter in the historical maritime linkage between India and Sri Lanka. By addressing operational challenges and leveraging its potential, this initiative can contribute to regional development, tourism, and strengthened bilateral ties.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India-Sri Lanka Ferry Service

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : India-Sri Lanka Ferry

Mains level : Read the attached story

India-Sri Lanka Ferry Service

Central Idea

  • PM Modi inaugurated an international, high-speed passenger ferry service in Palk Strait between Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, India, and Kankesanthurai, near Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

India-Sri Lanka Ferry

  • The service is operated by the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board and Shipping Corporation of India.
  • It will operate daily, covering the 60-nautical mile (110-km) journey in approximately 3.5 hours.
  • Passengers are entitled to a 50kg free baggage allowance.
  • The Indo-Ceylon Express or Board Mail used to operate between Chennai and Colombo via Thoothukudi port.
  • However, this was stopped in 1982 due to the civil war in the island country.

About Palk Strait

Location Narrow water body separating Tamil Nadu, India, and Sri Lanka.
Name Origin Named after Robert Palk, a British Raj-era governor of Madras Presidency (1755-1763).
Geographic Boundaries Southern boundaries include Pamban Island (India), Adam’s Bridge (shoals), Gulf of Mannar, and Mannar Island (Sri Lanka).
Connection Connects the Bay of Bengal in the northeast with the Gulf of Mannar in the southwest.
Alternate Name Southwestern part of the strait is known as Palk Bay.
Dimensions Width varies from 40 to 85 miles (64 to 137 km), length is approximately 85 miles, and depth is less than 330 feet (100 meters).
River Inflows Vaigai River in Tamil Nadu flow into the Palk Strait.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India urges Sri Lanka to fulfill commitments for Tamil aspirations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 13th Amendment Provisions

Mains level : Tamil Minority issue in Sri Lanka

tamil

Central Idea

  • India has expressed its concerns about the slow progress made by Sri Lanka in fulfilling its commitments to address the aspirations of the Tamil community.
  • India’s representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva emphasized the inadequacy of progress.

Tamil issue in Sri Lanka

  • Violent persecution against the Tamil population erupted in the form of the 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka.
  • Over 13 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared, survivors continue demanding justice and accountability for war-time crimes.
  • In the post-war years, Sri Lanka’s human rights defenders have frequently flagged concerns over persisting militarisation, especially in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression, and the shrinking space for dissent.

Why discuss this?

  • Reconciliation and Human Rights: Despite the war’s conclusion, the country still faces challenges in reconciling its ethnic divisions and ensuring the protection of human rights.
  • Economic Crisis: In addition to its unresolved conflict, Sri Lanka has experienced a severe economic crisis that began in the previous year, leaving a significant portion of its population vulnerable. The crisis has led to increased poverty levels and food insecurity for many households.

UN Human Rights Council’s Concerns

  • Political and Democratic Reforms: The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the delay in implementing political and democratic reforms, even a year after a significant protest movement.
  • Food Insecurity: UNHRC pointed out that approximately 37% of households in Sri Lanka face acute food insecurity, indicating the extent of the economic challenges.
  • Political Participation: Delays in holding local government elections and reconstituting Provincial Councils have limited citizens’ political participation and free expression.
  • Land Acquisition: The UN official raised concerns about escalating tensions in Sri Lanka’s north and east due to land acquisition for military installations, conservation efforts at Hindu or Muslim sites, and forestry protection.

India’s Position

  • Power Devolution: India reiterated its support for the aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, dignity, and peace.
  • Limited sovereignty: It also emphasized its commitment to the unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of Sri Lanka by implementing the 13th Amendment.

UN Review and Sri Lanka’s Response

  • The UN Human Rights Council is currently reviewing Sri Lanka’s commitments, and there will be no vote on a resolution at this session.
  • While acknowledging Sri Lanka’s initiatives in truth-seeking and reconciliation, the High Commissioner’s report emphasized the need for urgent confidence-building measures for genuine reconciliation and transitional justice.
  • The Sri Lankan government rejected the report and labelled previous Council resolutions as intrusive and polarizing.

Conclusion

  • India’s call for Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments to address Tamil aspirations reflects ongoing concerns about the progress of reconciliation and human rights in the country.
  • The economic crisis and delays in political reforms have further complicated the situation, necessitating meaningful actions to promote genuine reconciliation and transitional justice.
  • The review at the UN Human Rights Council serves as an important platform for monitoring Sri Lanka’s efforts in this regard.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

PM mentions Katchatheevu Islands

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Katchatheevu Island

Mains level : NA

katchatheevu

Central Idea

  • The island of Katchatheevu has emerged as a symbol of historical disputes, political contention, and a reminder of complex geopolitical decisions.
  • PM’s reference to Katchatheevu during a parliamentary debate added fuel to the ongoing discussions surrounding this small island, nestled between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

Katchatheevu Island: Historical Background

  • Colonial Influence: Katchatheevu, a 285-acre island, has its origins in a 14-century volcanic eruption. It was historically under the control of the Jaffna kingdom in Sri Lanka and later the Ramnad Zamindari in India.
  • British-Era Claims: Both India and Sri Lanka claimed Katchatheevu in the early 20th century to establish fishing boundaries. The ownership dispute continued even during the British Raj.

1974 Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement

  • Landmark Decision: Indira Gandhi’s government decided to cede Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka as part of the 1974 agreement, aiming to establish maritime borders.
  • Political Implications: The decision raised concerns in Tamil Nadu, where voices protested the lack of state assembly consultation and the impact on traditional fishing rights.
  • Fishing Ambiguity: The agreement allowed Indian fishermen access to Katchatheevu “hitherto,” but fishing rights remained ambiguous, leading to disputes.

Sri Lankan Civil War and Beyond

  • Civil War Dynamics: The Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009) shifted focus from the Katchatheevu issue as Sri Lanka’s naval forces grappled with internal strife.
  • Post-War Reality: Post the civil war, Sri Lanka reinforced maritime defense, leading to the arrest of Indian fishermen venturing into their waters, reigniting demands for Katchatheevu’s retrieval.

Tamil Nadu’s Persistent Concerns

  • Political Backlash: Tamil Nadu politicians across parties raised objections against ceding Katchatheevu without state assembly consent, citing historical ties and livelihood impacts.
  • Legal Battles: Late J Jayalalitha’s AIADMK filed petitions challenging the 1974 agreement, arguing it affected traditional fishing rights. However, the Union government’s stance remained unaltered.
  • Modi Government’s Position: Despite vocal demands from Tamil politicians, the Modi government maintained that the island’s status was finalized in 1974 and reclaiming it would require drastic measures.

Contemporary Implications

  • Symbol of Sovereignty: Katchatheevu symbolizes regional and sovereignty concerns, reflecting tensions between Tamil Nadu’s interests and central government decisions.
  • Geopolitical Dilemma: The case highlights the delicate balance between historical claims, political sentiments, and international agreements in the context of bilateral relations.

Conclusion

  • The island of Katchatheevu continues to serve as a reminder of India’s historical intricacies, reflecting the delicate balancing act between state interests, national decisions, and regional aspirations.
  • While Tamil Nadu’s calls for retrieval echo in the political corridors, the longstanding 1974 agreement and subsequent geopolitical realities create a complex landscape.
  • As the island’s fate intertwines with broader diplomatic relations, Katchatheevu remains a testament to the complexities of national sovereignty and regional sentiment.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

India-Srilanka Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka

What’s the news?

  • Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe made an official visit to India last month. It was his first trip to India since taking over as president of the Indian Ocean Island state. Wickremesinghe came to power amid social and political upheaval as Sri Lanka went through its worst economic crisis last year.

Central idea

  • The recent visit of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to New Delhi has brought about a series of significant bilateral agreements that hold the potential to fortify the Sri Lankan economy against the unprecedented economic shocks experienced last year. This visit has laid the foundation for numerous projects aimed at promoting connectivity and catalyzing prosperity under the umbrella of the India-Sri Lanka Partnership Vision.

Significance of the Visit for Sri Lanka

  • Economic Recovery: The bilateral agreements inked during the visit focus on reinforcing Sri Lanka’s economy after the severe economic challenges of the past year. These agreements promise sector-specific solutions in energy, fuel, and forex management, which are crucial for stabilizing and revitalizing the economy.
  • Connectivity and Prosperity: The joint statement, titled ‘Promoting Connectivity, Catalyzing Prosperity,’ encapsulates the essence of the agreements. These initiatives aim to enhance connectivity through projects like the land bridge, maritime connections, and air travel. These endeavors are expected to promote regional trade and economic growth.
  • Energy Security: Agreements related to petroleum infrastructure, power grids, and hydrocarbon exploration are poised to address Sri Lanka’s energy security concerns. By ensuring a stable energy supply, these initiatives can safeguard against future economic shocks stemming from energy vulnerabilities.
  • Tourism and People-to-People Contacts: The commitment to bolster bilateral tourism and encourage people-to-people interactions between the two nations has the potential to foster cultural exchange, boost economic activity, and strengthen ties between citizens.
  • Ethnic Reconciliation: Acknowledging the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka and the commitment to implementing the 13th Amendment and holding Provincial Council Elections reflect India’s support for Sri Lanka’s pursuit of a peaceful and inclusive resolution to its internal challenges.

Significance of the Visit for India

  • For India, President Wickremesinghe’s visit holds strategic importance, aligning with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and broader regional objectives:
  • Economic Partnerships: The agreements signed during the visit open doors for Indian investments and economic engagement in Sri Lanka. These partnerships contribute to India’s economic growth and influence in the region.
  • Enhanced Connectivity: The connectivity initiatives outlined in the joint statement align with India’s efforts to strengthen regional connectivity, expand trade networks, and promote economic integration in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Energy Cooperation: Collaborative energy projects, such as petroleum pipelines and power grid interconnections, enable India to play a role in ensuring Sri Lanka’s energy security. This cooperation fosters goodwill and strengthens diplomatic ties.
  • Regional Balance: The visit allows India to counterbalance other regional players and maintain its strategic influence in the Indian Ocean. Strengthening ties with Sri Lanka is crucial for regional stability and security.
  • Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges: The commitment to promoting bilateral tourism and facilitating people-to-people contacts enhances India’s cultural diplomacy and strengthens the bond between the two countries.
  • Geostrategic Significance: Strengthening ties with Sri Lanka serves India’s interests in maintaining a strong presence in the Indian Ocean and countering China’s growing influence in the region.

Outcomes of the visit

  1. Economic Agreements and Initiatives:
  • Bilateral agreements were signed to fortify Sri Lanka’s economy against economic shocks. These agreements encompass various sectors, including energy, fuel, and forex management.
  • Cooperation in economic development projects in the Trincomalee District was emphasized, aiming to elevate Trincomalee as a hub for industry and economic activities.
  1. Energy and Infrastructure Development:
  • Feasibility studies for a petroleum pipeline from southern India to Sri Lanka were agreed upon, focusing on ensuring a reliable supply of energy resources.
  • Collaboration on high-capacity power grid interconnection for bidirectional electricity trade between Sri Lanka and BBIN countries was highlighted to cut electricity costs and enhance forex earnings.
  • Acceleration of the Indian public sector NTPC’s Sampur solar power project and LNG infrastructure projects were addressed to contribute to energy sufficiency.
  1. Connectivity and Trade:
  • Initiatives to promote maritime connectivity included the Kankesanthurai-Nagapattinam ferry service and the resumption of ferry services between Rameswaram and Talaimannar.
  • Expansion of air connectivity, including resuming flights between Jaffna and Chennai and exploring connectivity to other destinations, was discussed to enhance people-to-people ties and boost trade.
  1. Investment Facilitation and Currency Settlements:
  • Plans to facilitate Indian investments in the divestment of state-owned enterprises and economic zones were discussed to enhance trade and economic growth.
  • The designation of the Indian rupee as the currency for trade settlements between the two countries was emphasized to strengthen commercial linkage and reduce dependency on the US dollar.
  1. Ethnic Reconciliation and Political Engagement:
  • Discussions on the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka led to expressions of support for the implementation of the 13th Amendment and Provincial Council Elections, promoting equality and peace for the Tamil community.
  1. Geostrategic Implications:
  • The visit reaffirmed India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and strategic engagement with Sri Lanka, strengthening India’s influence in the region and supporting regional stability.
  1. Collaboration with the Private Sector:
  • President Wickremesinghe explored collaborative projects with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, focusing on initiatives like the development of Colombo Port West Container Terminal and renewable energy projects.

Addressing Sensitive Issues

  • Fishermen’s Dispute:
  • The longstanding issue of fishermen from both India and Sri Lanka straying into each other’s territorial waters for fishing has led to conflicts and arrests.
  • This issue has historical and economic dimensions, as the livelihoods of many fishermen are at stake.
  • Resolving this dispute requires delicate negotiations and mutual understanding.
  • Ethnic Issue:
  • This refers to the complex and often sensitive matter of the relationship between the majority Sinhalese community and the minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
  • The decades-long ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, particularly the civil war involving the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has left deep scars.
  • The 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, facilitated by India, aimed to provide devolution of power to provincial councils, particularly in Tamil-majority areas, as a means to address some of the ethnic tensions.
  • However, the complete resolution of the ethnic issue requires careful consideration of political, cultural, and historical factors.

Way forward

  • Enhanced Connectivity and Trade:
    • Prioritize and implement connectivity projects, such as the land bridge and maritime connectivity, to boost trade, tourism, and people-to-people interactions.
    • Strengthen air connectivity to facilitate easier travel and economic exchange.
  • Energy Security and Sustainability:
    • Expedite feasibility studies for the petroleum pipeline and power grid interconnection to ensure energy security and stability.
    • Collaborate on renewable energy projects to promote sustainability and reduce dependency on traditional energy sources.
  • Economic Cooperation and Investments:
    • Facilitate Indian investments in Sri Lanka’s divestment of state-owned enterprises and economic zones to drive economic growth and job creation.
    • Expand bilateral trade and encourage the use of designated currencies for trade settlements.
  • Cultural Exchanges and Youth Engagement:
    • Promote cultural exchanges and youth programs to deepen cultural understanding and foster lasting connections.
    • Create academic and research collaborations to share knowledge and expertise.
  • Sensitive Issue Resolution and Diplomatic Dialogue:
    • Continue diplomatic efforts to resolve sensitive issues, such as the fishermen’s dispute and the ethnic question.
    • Engage in inclusive dialogues and implement existing agreements for lasting solutions.

Conclusion

  • The New Delhi visit of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe marks a significant step toward bolstering bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. The multifaceted agreements encompass connectivity, energy security, trade, and cultural exchange. As both countries work towards realizing their shared goals, these initiatives promise to strengthen regional prosperity and cooperation.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s 13th Amendment: A Controversial Pursuit of Power

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 13th Amendment Provisions

Mains level : Tamil Minority issue in Sri Lanka

sri lanka 13a

Central Idea

  • PM Modi’s recent call for Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment to implement the 13th Amendment has stirred controversy within the political landscape.
  • The ruling party led by President Wickremesinghe, rejected the prospect, arguing that the President lacked the mandate for it.
  • Not much earlier, President Wickremesinghe had promised that the Sri Lankan government will “fully implement” the 13th Amendment.

Tamil issue in Sri Lanka

  • Violent persecution against the Tamil population erupted in the form of the 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka.
  • Over 13 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared, survivors continue demanding justice and accountability for war-time crimes.
  • In the post-war years, Sri Lanka’s human rights defenders have frequently flagged concerns over persisting militarisation, especially in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression, and the shrinking space for dissent.

What is the 13th Amendment?

  • It is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by the then PM Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene, in an attempt to resolve the ethnic conflict and civil war.
  • The 13th Amendment led to the creation of Provincial Councils and assured a power-sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern.
  • Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations.
  • Sinhala nationalists have resisted the full implementation of the 13th Amendment since its inception over 35 years ago.

Challenges to Full Implementation

  • Historic Demand: Sri Lanka’s Tamil polity maintains that even full implementation of the 13th Amendment falls short of addressing the historic demand for the right to self-determination.
  • Unfulfilled Promises: Successive governments have promised to implement the 13th Amendment fully but have failed to do so, further deepening the contentious issue.
  • UN Human Rights Council Resolution: The UNHRC resolution adopted in October 2022 urged Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on devolving political authority for reconciliation and the enjoyment of human rights for all citizens.

Why is it contentious?

  • The 13th Amendment carries considerable baggage from the country’s civil war years.
  • It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
  • The opposition within Sri Lanka saw the Accord and the consequent legislation as an imprint of Indian intervention.
  • It was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.
  • The Tamil polity, especially its dominant nationalist strain, does not find the 13th Amendment sufficient in its ambit or substance.
  • However, some find it an important starting point, something to build upon.

India’s reservations

  • Because of restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President, the provincial administrations have not made much headway.
  • In particular, the provisions relating to police and land have never been implemented.

Significance of 13A

  • To date, the Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question.
  • In addition to assuring a measure of devolution, it is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Lankan Fishermen Oppose Proposal to License Indian Fishermen

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : India- SL fisherman issue

fish

Sri Lanka’s northern fishermen fiercely oppose the government’s plan to issue licenses to Indian fishermen to enter Sri Lankan waters, terming the move a “serious setback” to their nearly 15-year-long struggle.

Recent development

  • The Sri Lankan government has proposed issuing fishing licenses to Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters.
  • The proposal has been met with fierce opposition from Northern Province fishermen who view it as a threat to their livelihoods and an infringement on their fishing rights.
  • Indian fishermen have been accused of using illegal fishing methods and damaging the marine ecosystem, which has further fueled tensions between the two groups.
  • The conflict over fishing rights has led to violence and arrests on both sides.

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

India-Srilanka Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : hambantota, trinconmalee projects

Mains level : indo srilanka bilateral relations

 

Context

The present economic crisis in Sri Lanka has pushed it closer to India for immediate relief.

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 laborers 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.

Reasons behind crisis

  • The Easter bomb blasts of April 2019 in churches in Colombo resulting in 253 casualties,consequently, dropped the number of tourists sharply leading to a decline in foreign exchange reserves.
  • The newly led government by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019 promised lower tax rates and wide-ranging SoPs for farmers during their campaign.
  • 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.

Brief background of India-SL relations

  • India is the only neighbor of Sri Lanka, separated by the Palk Strait; both nations occupy a strategic position in South Asia and have sought to build a common security umbrella in the Indian Ocean.
  • There are deep racial and cultural links between the two countries. Both share a maritime border.
  • The India- SL relations have been however tested by the Sri Lankan Civil War and by the controversy of Indian intervention during the war.
  • In recent years Sri Lanka has moved closer to China, especially in terms of naval agreements.
  • India has signed a nuclear energy deal to improve relations and made a nuclear energy pact with Sri Lanka in 2015.

India’s role in the Lankan Civil War

  • In the 1970s–1980s, the RAW and the state government of Tamil Nadu were believed to be encouraging the funding and training for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist insurgent force.
  • In 1987, faced with growing anger amongst its own Tamils, and a flood of refugees India intervened directly in the conflict for the first time.
  • This was after the Sri Lankan government attempted to regain control of the northern Jaffna region by means of an economic blockade and military assaults; India supplied food and medicine by air and sea.

Why did India intervene?

  • Indian intervention in Sri Lankan civil war became inevitable as that civil war threatened India’s unity, national interest and territorial integrity.

Outcomes

  • The peace accord assigned a certain degree of regional autonomy in the Tamil areas with a body controlling the regional council and called for the Tamil militant groups to lay down their arms.
  • Further India was to send a peacekeeping force, named the IPKF to Sri Lanka to enforce the disarmament and to watch over the regional council.
  • The accord failed over the issue of representations. The result was that the LTTE now found itself engaged in military conflict with the Indian Army.

Areas of cooperation

(1) Political Relations

  • Regular Exchange: Political relations between the two countries have been marked by high-level exchanges of visits at regular intervals.
  • Bilateral Cooperation: A joint statement covering all areas of bilateral cooperation, titled ‘MitratvaMaga’ was issued following the Virtual Summit of 2020.

(2) Commercial Relations

  • ISFTA: The India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) in 2000 contributed significantly towards the expansion of trade in areas such as infrastructure, connectivity, transportation, housing, health, livelihood and rehabilitation, education, and industrial development.
  • Trading Partner: India has traditionally been among Sri Lanka’s largest trade partners and Sri Lanka remains among the largest trade partners of India in the SAARC.
    • In 2020, India was Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest trading partner with the bilateral merchandise trade amounting to about USD $ 3.6 billion.
  • India and Sri Lanka are member nations of several regional and multilateral organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme, South Asian Economic Unionand BIMSTEC.
  • India is Sri Lanka’s third-largest export destination, after the US and UK.
  • Exports: Sri Lankan exports to India have increased substantially since 2000 when ISLFTA came into force.
  • FDI: India is also one of the largest contributors to Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka. According to BoI, FDI from India amounted to about US$ 1.7 billion during the period 2005 to 2019.

(3) Development Cooperation

  • Grants: The overall commitment by GOI is to the tune of more than USD 3.5 billion.
    • Demand-driven and people-centric nature of India’s development partnership with Sri Lanka have been the cornerstone of this relationship.
  • The Indian Housing Project: India has so far committed to construct close to 62,500 houses in Sri Lanka, making it one of the largest projects undertaken by GoI abroad.
  • Emergency Ambulance Service: The Service which was initially launched in July 2016 is now expanded to all the Provinces.
    • At a total cost of more than USD 22.5 million, close to 300 ambulances were provided by GOI under this project.
  • Other Projects: India is also involved in projects for renovation of Palaly Airport, Kankesanthurai Harbor, construction of a Cultural Centre in Jaffna, interconnection of electricity grids between the two countries, construction of a 150-bed hospital in Dickoya and setting up a coal power plant in Sampur as a joint venture between National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
  • Latest Development: India-SL agreed for joint development of Trincomalee Oil Tank farmed in 2022 after 35 years of wait.

(4) Projects under Lines of Credit

  • Sectors: 11 Lines of credit (LOC) have been extended to Sri Lanka by the Export Import Bank of India in the last 15 years.
    • Important sectors under these LOCs include: Railway, transport, connectivity, defense, solar.
  • Infrastructure: Some important Projects completed are- supply of defense equipments; up-gradation of the railway line from Colombo to Matara; track laying by IRCON on Omanthai-Pallai sector; reconstruction of the Railway line; signaling and telecommunication system; supply of engine kits for buses, diesel locomotives railways, DMUs, Carrier and fuel tank wagons etc.
  • Rehabilitation: A project for the rehabilitation of the Kankesanthurai harbor is being executed under a LOC of USD 45.27 million, bringing immense economic benefits to the Northern region of Sri Lanka.
  • Solar Energy: A US$ 100 million LoC for undertaking solar projects in Sri Lanka has been signed for rooftop solar units for Government buildings, rooftop solar units for low-income families and a floating solar power plant.
  • Security: In 2019, a LOC of USD 400 million for development and infrastructure projects and USD 50 million for security and counter-terrorism were announced.
    • These LOC Agreements are currently under discussion.

(5) Cultural relations

  • India and Sri Lanka have a shared legacy of historical, cultural, religious, spiritual and linguistic ties that is more than 2,500 years old.
  • In contemporary times, the Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed by the Government of India and the Government forms the basis for periodic Cultural Exchange Programmes between the two countries.

(6) People-to-people ties: Buddhism

  • Buddhism is one of the strongest pillars connecting the two nations and civilizations from the time when Emperor Ashoka sent his children Arhat Mahinda and Sangamitta to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka.
  • Underlining the deep people-to-people connect and shared Buddhist heritage, the venerated relics of Lord Buddha from Kapilawasthu discovered in 1970 in India have been exhibited two times in Sri Lanka.
  • India in 2020, announced USD 15 million grant assistance for the protection and promotion of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka.
    • It may be utilized for the construction/renovation of Buddhist monasteries, education of young monks, strengthening engagement of Buddhist scholars and clergy, development of Buddhist heritage museums, etc.
  • Transport- In July 2020, the GoI declared the Kushinagar Airport in India, the place of Lord Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana, as an international airport, to allow Buddhist pilgrims from around the world to visit the revered site associated with Lord Buddha with ease.
  • The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC)– since its inception in 1998, is actively promoting awareness of Indian culture by offering classes in Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Hindustani and Carnatic vocal, Violin, Sitar, Tabla, Hindi and Yoga.

(7) Tourism

  • e-Visa- Tourism also forms an important link between India and Sri Lanka. GoI formally launched the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme for Sri Lankan tourists on 14 April 2015.
  • Visa Fee- Subsequently, in a goodwill gesture, the visa fee for eTV was sharply reduced. In 2019, out of the total 1.91 million tourists, 355,000 tourists arrived from India.
  • Sri Lankan tourists too are among the top ten sources for the Indian tourism market.
  • Visa on arrival- On 24 July 2019 Sri Lanka included India in the free visa on arrival scheme and commenced the scheme on 1 August 2019.

Plummeting relations

  • The ties began to worsen between the two since February, 2021 when 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.
    • However, later, the West Coast Terminal was offered under a public private partnership arrangement to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones Ltd.
  • Sri Lanka in a state of economic emergency: Sri Lanka is running out of foreign exchange reserves for essential imports like food. It has recently declared a state of economic emergency.
  • Covid Impact:
    • Sri Lanka increased policy rates after the covid pandemic in response to rising inflation in August 2021 caused by currency depreciation.
    • Tourism sector has suffered since the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019, followed by the pandemic.
    • 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.
    • Sri Lanka’s fragile liquidity situation has put it at high risk of 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.
    • Its gross official reserves slipped to $2.8 billion, which is equivalent to just 1.8 months of imports. More than $2.7 billion of foreign currency debt will be due in the next two years.

Major outstanding issues

1. Fishing disputes
  • 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 favors regulating these trawlers instead of banning them altogether.
2.Alleged political interference
  • A media report from Colombo soon after Rajapaksa’s defeat in the January 8 elections of 2015 had said that an Indian Intelligence official was instrumental in uniting rival political parties — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) — against him during the polls.
  • In October 2018, President Sirisena alleged that Indian intelligence agencies were plotting his assassination.
3.Katchatheevu Island
  • It is an uninhabited island that India ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974 based on a conditional agreement called “Kachchativu island pact”.
  • Later on, Sri Lanka declared Katchatheevu, a sacred land given the presence of a Catholic shrine.
  • But Tamil Nadu claimed that Katchatheevu falls under the Indian Territory and Tamil fishermen have traditionally believed that it belongs to them and therefore want to preserve the right to fish there.
4.China factor
  • Sri Lanka has a history of taking independent decisions even if they cause misgivings in India.
  • In the period of low profile relationship between the two nations, Sri Lanka apparently started favoring China over India.
  • China is Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor: China’s loans to the Sri Lankan public sector amounted to 15% of the central government’s external debt, making China the largest bilateral creditor to the country.
    • Sri Lanka has increasingly relied on Chinese credit to address its foreign debt burden.
  • China’s Exports surpasses India: 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.
  • Infrastructural Investment by China: Owing to Sri Lanka’s strategic location at the intersection of major shipping routes, China’s investment stands at $12 billion between 2006 and 2019.
    • Unable to service its debt, in 2017, Sri Lanka lost the unviable Hambantota port to China for a 99-year lease.
    • 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.
    • The Colombo port is crucial for India as it handles 60% of India’s trans-shipment cargo.

Why is Sri Lanka important to India?

  • India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor. Both sides have built upon a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction.
  • Sri Lanka has always been politically and economically important to India given its strategic geographical position in the Indian Ocean. The relationship has been marked by close contacts at all levels.
  • Sri Lanka sits at the epicenter of the arc connecting the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca. An island nation with an economy that’s mainly reliant on tourism and tea exports, Sri Lanka’s blessed geography puts it at a crucial juncture of the busy shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.
  • India also has a vital strategic stake in Sri Lanka for its own security interests. An unfriendly Sri Lanka or a Sri Lanka under influence of a power unfriendly to India would strategically discomfit India.
  • For the Indian Navy, Sri Lanka is important as the switching of naval fleets from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea and vice versa requires the fleets to go around the island nation.
  • Both countries share a common broad understanding on major issues of international interest and experience common social-political problems relating to community divides.

How India has helped to boost Sri Lanka’s economy

  • Grants: The overall commitment by GOI is to the tune of more than USD 3.5 billion. Demand-driven and people-centric nature of India’s development partnership with Sri Lanka have been the cornerstone of this relationship.
  • The Indian Housing Project: India has so far committed to construct close to 62,500 houses in Sri Lanka, making it one of the largest projects undertaken by GoI abroad.
  • Other Projects: India is also involved in projects for renovation of Palaly Airport, Kankesanthurai Harbor, construction of a Cultural Centre in Jaffna, interconnection of electricity grids between the two countries, construction of a 150-bed hospital in Dickoya and setting up a coal power plant in Sampur as a joint venture between National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
  • Latest Development: India-SL agreed for joint development of Trincomalee Oil Tank farmed in 2022 after 35 years of wait.

sri lanka

Impact of recent Economic crisis on India

  • Export:
    • Sri Lanka’s share in India’s total exports has declined from 2.16 percent in FY15 to just 1.3 percent in the first 10 months of FY22.
  • Shipping:
    • If the current situation in the island nation persists, it could cause a major disruption to the normal functioning of the Colombo Port.
    • This would be detrimental to India’s interest.
    • The port handles over 30 percent of India’s container traffic and 60 percent of its trans-shipment.
  • Investments:
    • India has had a substantial investment in Sri Lanka in areas including real estate, manufacturing, and petroleum refining. They all might be adversely affected if the crisis continued.
  • Migration:
    • Also, the continuing Sri Lankan crisis could compel many Sri Lankans to leave for India for their survival.
    • Already, scores of them have fled from the island nation to India.

Opportunities for India for deeper engagement

  • Dairy sector: Sri Lanka imports a considerable quantity of milk powder. On average, Colombo annually imports dairy products worth $315 million. . India can help Sri Lanka develop its dairy sector.
  • Poultry sector: In this area, through its host of agricultural universities, India can share its knowledge on ways to increase both production and productivity.
  • Energy sector: Considering how the problem on the energy front exploded into a major political crisis in Sri Lanka, India’s participation in energy projects will be desirable.
  • Education sector: School education is another area where India’s presence could be more felt. India can expand its scheme of establishing smart classrooms and modern computer labs to cover all those institutions teaching children of hill country Tamils, the most underprivileged section in society.

sri lanka

Challenges

  • Possibility of greater economic collaboration: Whether this bonhomie can lead to greater economic collaboration between Sri Lanka and south India, not necessarily Tamil Nadu alone, given the historical baggage, is anybody’s guess.
  • Baggage of history: Some sections of the Sinhalese still hold the view that India had been a threat to them and it can still be a threat to them.
  • Modest investment in development: Despite India’s open willingness to take part in the development of Sri Lanka after the civil war, the scale of its involvement has been modest.
  • Incomplete projects due to lack of political will: After the cancellation of the tripartite agreement, India was later provided with projects such as the West Container Terminal, the Trincomalee oil tank farm and a couple of renewable projects, there were several proposals that envisaged India’s participation but did not see the light of day.

Way forward

  • Infrastructure development: Even now, there is enormous scope for collaboration between the two countries in the area of infrastructure development.
  • Cross-border energy trade: The economic crisis has revived talk of linking Sri Lanka’s electricity grid with that of India.
  • Facilitating people-to-people interaction: The apprehension in the minds of sections of the Sinhalese majority about India being a threat can be dispelled only by facilitating greater people-to-people interaction, including pilgrimages by monks and other sections of  society to places of Buddhist importance not only in north India but also in the south (Andhra Pradesh).
  • No china factor indeed: Labeling governments in Sri Lanka as “pro-China” or “pro-India” is irrelevant. It is evident that China’s economic and strategic salience in the subcontinent is not tied to the regime leadership. Previous Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena who considered as pro-India came to power criticizing the Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, but within two years into power, it extended full backing to the Chinese projects.

Conclusion

  • Given the history of bilateral ties, instances such as the Hambantota controversy are bound to arise. But what should not be glossed over is that a politically and economically stable Sri Lanka will be in India’s interest too.

Mains question 

Q. There is no such thing as charity in international politics. Critically analyse this statement showing how India can reap benefits of economic cooperation with Sri Lanka.

 

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Controversial visit of a Chinese vessel to Hambantota

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Chinese takeover of Hambantota port

Much recently, Sri Lanka approved the arrival of a Chinese satellite-tracking vessel to its southern Chinese-funded Hambantota port.

Why in news?

  • India has raised concerns over the ship’s visit.
  • Caught in a delicate diplomatic and geopolitical spot, Colombo gave its nod despites India’s requests to deny the permission.
  • It is asserted that bankrupt Sri Lanka succumbed to Chinese pressure after initially refusing the ship to dock.

Yuan Wang 5: The vessel

  • Yuan Wang 5 was described by the Sri Lankan government as a “scientific research ship”.
  • The BRISL (Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka), a Colombo-based organisation studying China’s ambitious connectivity project, was the first to draw attention to the visit.
  • It said that the Yuan Wang 5 will conduct “satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean Region”.
  • Vessels of the Yuan Wang class are said to be used for tracking and supporting satellite as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles by the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.

India’s reaction

  • India has expressed its concern over the Chinese vessel visit.
  • It is carefully monitoring any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests.

How have other countries reacted?

  • The developments showed that Colombo was caught between the U.S. and India on the one hand, and China on the other.
  • That too at a time when the Sri Lankan government is counting on all their support as the island nation, hit by a devastating economic crisis, embarks on debt restructuring ahead of a promised IMF package.

How did China respond?

  • China reacted strongly at Sri Lanka, following concerns voiced by India.
  • It clarified that Sri Lanka is a transportation hub in the Indian Ocean.
  • Scientific research vessels from various countries including China have made port calls in Sri Lanka for replenishment.
  • Secondly, it invoked Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and the right to develop relations with other countries based on its development interests.

What is Sri Lanka’s stand?

  • It is reported that the US and Indian envoys were asked to provide concrete reasons for their objections.
  • Not satisfied with the reasons being sufficient to refuse entry to the Chinese vessel, SL decided to inform the Chinese embassy in Colombo to inform the ship to continue its journey to Hambantota.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

‘Advantage New Delhi’ in Sri Lanka’s India lifeline

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Sri Lanka relations

Context

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s election as the President of Sri Lanka in a crucial Parliament vote on July 20, 2022, gives India an opportunity to take the lead in the foreign aid game in its neighbourhood.

Background of the crisis in Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka has been facing economic turbulence since its pre-emptive default on its foreign debt obligations in mid-April this year.
  • Following the debt default and a shortage of dollars, the Sri Lankan economy is experiencing stagflation.
  •  Inflation has spiralled to over 50%, translating into higher food and fuel prices.
  •  Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 is due to a tepid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict shock and economic mismanagement under the administration of the Rajapaksas.
  • Sri Lanka is also facing challenges in getting foreign aid, as 60% of the world’s poorest countries are also experiencing debt distress.

Opportunities for India

  •  In the first six months of 2022, Indian aid worth $3.8 billion has flowed to Sri Lanka through loans, swaps and grants.
  • This is India’s largest bilateral aid programme in recent times.
  •  Stabilising Sri Lanka’s economy could prove to be a major win for Indian’s ‘neighbourhood-first’ policy.
  • Moreover, once the Sri Lankan economy stabilises, India can deepen its trade and investment linkages with Sri Lanka, transcending the current humanitarian aid relationship.
  • On the other hand, an unstable Sri Lankan economy could pose security risks to India and lead to a flood of refugees across the Palk Strait.
  • This is an opportunity for India to strengthen bilateral and regional partnerships.
  • Countering Chinese influence: In recent years, China has emerged as a major partner for Sri Lanka, especially for infrastructure projects, many of which are under scrutiny now.
  • This provides an opportunity for India to upscale its aid and cement its first mover advantage over China by leading an aid consortium for Sri Lanka, working closely with other friendly countries such as the United States, Japan and the European Union as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Why China is reluctant to help?

  • China worries that unilaterally restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt or giving it moratoria would set a new precedent in its lending practices, leading to a queue of similarly distressed countries seeking debt relief from Beijing.
  • Furthermore, China, which is a G2 economy, and wanting to challenge the U.S., does not want its reputation to be tarnished by bailing out a floundering economy.

Steps Sri Lanka needs to take

  • Concluding the talks with Sri Lanka: The government must show that it is serious about stabilising the economy by concluding talks on an IMF programme which will increase taxes and utility prices to raise revenue and increase interest rates to control inflation.
  • Economic reforms: It has to implement structural reforms to make the economy more open to trade and investment and allow market forces to determine resource allocation.
  • National consensus on IMF program: It has to build national consensus on implementing the IMF programme and reforms by explaining that this is the only solution to the crisis.
  • Anti-corruption policies: It has to restore the rule of law and enforce strong anti-corruption policies (including asset declarations for all parliamentarians and a strong anti-corruption office supported by the United Nations).
  • Reset foreign policy: It has to reset foreign policy towards a more neutral direction.

Conclusion

With political will and the right set of policies, Sri Lanka stands a sporting chance of achieving some economic normalcy within the next three years. India stands to gain by supporting Sri Lanka in its hour of need. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

In Sri Lankan crisis, a window of economic opportunity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Sri Lanka relations and challenges

Context

The commonality between Sri Lanka and the southern parts of India remains a less-emphasised yet significant aspect of India-Sri Lanka relations.

Crisis in Sri Lanka and relief provided by India

  • The present economic crisis in Sri Lanka has pushed it closer to India for immediate relief.
  • India, as part of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, has extended support to the people of Sri Lanka in the form of aid (close to $3.5 billion) to help secure Sri Lanka’s food, health and energy security by supplying it essential items such as food, medicines, fuel and kerosene.
  • The latest in the series was the signing of an agreement on June 10 between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Export-Import Bank of India for a $55-million short term Line of Credit to facilitate the procurement of urea for paddy crop in the ongoing ‘Yala’ season.
  • On its part, Tamil Nadu decided to provide aid of ₹123 crore, comprising 40,000 tonnes of rice, 137 types of life-saving drugs and 500 tonnes of milk powder.

Sri Lanka-India sub-regional context

  • During his second term as Prime Minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe while delivering a lecture in Chennai, in August 2003, called for the development of the south India-Sri Lanka sub-region as a single market.
  • Such a market would provide more opportunities for the economic growth of both countries.
  • In 2016 he highlighted the fact that the five Indian southern States, with a total population of 250 million, had a combined gross state domestic product of nearly $450 billion; with the addition of Sri Lanka’s $80 billion GDP, the sub-region would have a $500 billion economy, having an aggregate population of around 270 million.

Challenges

  • Possibility of greater economic collaboration: Whether this bonhomie can lead to greater economic collaboration between Sri Lanka and south India, not necessarily Tamil Nadu alone, given the historical baggage, is anybody’s guess.
  • Baggage of history: Some sections of the Sinhalese still hold the view that India had been a threat to Sri Lanka and it can still be a threat to them.
  • The manner in which the Rajapaksa regime unilaterally scrapped in February 2021 a tripartite agreement signed in 2019 with India and Japan for the development of Colombo’s East Container Terminal was a reflection of the historical baggage.
  • This perception can be traced to history when Sri Lanka was invaded by rulers of south India who humbled the Sinhala kings.
  • In the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom, the support provided by the Indian government to Tamil rebels only strengthened this perception.
  • Modest investment in Sri Lanka’s development: Despite India’s open willingness to take part in the development of Sri Lanka after the civil war, the scale of its involvement has been modest.
  • Incomplete projects due to lack of political will: After the cancellation of the tripartite agreement, India was later provided with projects such as the West Container Terminal, the Trincomalee oil tank farm and a couple of renewable projects, there were several proposals that envisaged India’s participation but did not see the light of day.
  • Another project, a collaboration between NTPC Limited and the Ceylon Electricity Board, was cancelled.
  • Other projects too such as the development of the Kankesanthurai harbour and the expansion of the Palaly airport in Jaffna, both envisaging Indian participation, would have become a reality had there been show of political will from the other side.
  • The project of building a sea bridge and tunnel, connecting Rameshwaram to Talaimannar, remains on paper.

Way forward

  • Infrastructure development: Even now, there is enormous scope for collaboration between the two countries in the area of infrastructure development.
  • Cross-border energy trade: The economic crisis has revived talk of linking Sri Lanka’s electricity grid with that of India.
  • If this project takes off, the first point of interconnectivity on the Indian side will most likely be in Tamil Nadu.
  • India has cross-border energy trade with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
  • Facilitating people-to-people interaction: The apprehension in the minds of sections of the Sinhalese majority about India being a threat can be dispelled only by facilitating greater people-to-people interaction, including pilgrimages by monks and other sections of Sri Lankan society to places of Buddhist importance not only in north India but also in the south (Andhra Pradesh).

Conclusion

Much more will have to be done but the opportunity created by the current circumstances should be utilised to bring Indian and Sri Lankan societies closer — a prerequisite to achieving an economic union between Sri Lanka and the southern States of India.

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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 Colombo

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.

Options available for SL

  • Sri Lanka is hoping for a Rapid Finance Instrument (RFI) facility as well as a larger Extended Fund Facility (EFF) from the IMF to deal with its foreign currency shortages.
  • IMF had assured to help the country with an amount of $300 million to $600 million.

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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.

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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.

 

Post your answers here.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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