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Indian High Commissioner hails ties with Sri Lanka

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sfdThe High Commission of India and the Indian expatriate community in Sri Lanka celebrated the 71st Independence Day of India on Tuesday, 15 August at India House in Colombo. Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu unfurled the National Flag and inspected a Guard of Honour presented by the BSF contingent at the event and also read out excerpts from the Address to the Nation on the eve of Independence Day by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. Following is the Indian High Commissioner’s message on the occasion of the 71st Independence Day of India:

On this special occasion of completion of seven decades of being a free and sovereign nation, I extend my greetings and warm wishes to my fellow members of Indian community and to the friendly people and the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. 

From a young independent nation which has been impoverished by centuries of colonial rule, coupled with the agony of partition, to the fastest growing major economy in the world upholding the priced ethos of democracy, inclusiveness and pluralism, India has undertaken an incredible journey. 

The chrysalis-like transformation of India is a culmination of a heroic struggle of an extraordinary generation of leaders, who overcame all the challenges and established the strong foundations of our nation. Our great founding fathers, believed in striving for the betterment of not only our own citizens, but for the entire humanity. The verse from Panchatantra, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a family), engraved at the entrance of the Indian Parliament, encapsulates all that India stands for, today, tomorrow and forever. 

Spirit of global good 

The spirit of global good is reflected in India’s “neighbourhood first” policy. Sri Lanka is one of India’s most valued partners. There has been continuous momentum in bilateral ties between India and Sri Lanka in recent times. 

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka as the Chief Guest for the International Day of Vesak in May, at the invitation of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, took our relationship to new heights. The visit was a reflection of the shared Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka that go back to several centuries. It also marked our respect towards Buddha and His teachings, which have contemporary and universal significance. 

The Prime Minister’s address at the public gathering of Sri Lankans living in the Upcountry area, particularly Indian Origin Tamil (IOT) people at Norwood in presence of President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was a testimony to the warm ties of friendship between our leaders, as well as between our two great nations.

In May 2017, the world also witnessed Sri Lanka becoming a proud partner in the South Asia Satellite, designed and launched by India to help participating countries in South Asia to achieve their economic and developmental goals. Following the launch of South Asia Satellite, Prime Minister of India was joined by President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena and other leaders of participating South Asian countries on a video conference, which was termed as mini SAARC summit. This proved that not even the sky is the limit to our partnership!

The oceans that separate us are the oceans that connect us. As a true friend and neighbour, India has always responded swiftly to needs of Sri Lanka, be it drought, tsunami or floods. Indian Naval Ships touched Sri Lankan shores within hours of receiving the request from Government of Sri Lanka, when Sri Lanka was hit by floods in May. Indian Navy worked hand in hand with Sri Lankan Navy in relief and rescue operations, and providing relief materials and medical assistance. 

Blueprint for future engagement 

The vision of our leaders have guided us to chart a blueprint for future engagement.  We consider the MoU for cooperation in joint economic projects signed during the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to India in April this year as an important milestone in our bilateral economic engagement. The MoU identifies specific projects for cooperation in Sri Lanka in sectors such as energy, power, roads, ports, railways, etc. We are closely working with Sri Lankan leadership for timely implementation of these projects. 

The world is currently looking at India as the engine of growth. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, there has been a special focus to meet these expectations. Substantial efforts have been made to make procedures simple and clear, and processes quick. 

There is special emphasis on becoming a Digital Economy. Numerous legislative and regulatory reform measures have been implemented, including an historic Goods and Services Tax transforming India into a single, common national market. New laws and institutions for Bankruptcy and Insolvency as well as IPR and Arbitration are now in place. Foreign Investment Promotion Board has been abolished, making it even easier to invest in India. 

The reform measures have already had a positive impact. Foreign Direct Investment inflows over the last two-and-a-half years have touched $ 130 billion, establishing India as a magnet for global investments. 

These changes are not sporadic. The demographic profile is set to make India the world’s youngest country, with 64% of its population in the working age group. Half the population of India is below the age of 25 years.  By the end of this decade, the average age of an Indian is projected to be only 29 years. This aspirational, new generation, would bring a new dynamism to the country, and will ensure that India remains a bright spot in the global economic canvas in the several decades to come. 

Development partnership

Sri Lanka is uniquely placed to take advantage of India’s economic growth story. I am happy to note that our bilateral economic and commercial ties remain stronger than ever. When both countries entered into a Free Trade Agreement in 2000, it was a first for both of us. Bilateral trade has increased more than eightfold since then. 

India is among the top investors in Sri Lanka, with cumulative investments of over $ 1 billion since 2003, and much more is in the pipeline. I am also happy to note the increasing Sri Lankan investments in India. Efforts are on to make Sri Lankan companies a part of supply and value chains of Indian companies. 

Development partnership remains an important facet of our close friendship. India has committed over $ 2.6 billion in development assistance to Sri Lanka, with over $ 460 million as outright grants. 

Indian projects span diverse areas. The Indian housing project, which now aims to construct 60,000 houses on grant basis, is proceeding well with over 45,000 houses constructed till date. We would soon commence building next phase of 10,000 houses, as announced by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi during his visit to upcountry areas. 

Emergency Ambulance Service, funded under Indian grant, covering Southern and Western Provinces of Sri Lanka, allowing patients quick access to ambulances, free of charge, would now be extended to all parts of Sri Lanka, as announced by Prime Minister during his visit to Sri Lanka in May. 

The Prime Minister also dedicated to the people of Sri Lanka a new building complex of District Base hospital at Dickoya built with Indian grant assistance in presence of President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

A Line of Credit Agreement for $ 318 million was signed in June for railway sector between EXIM Bank of India and Sri Lankan Treasury. India will continue to provide all possible assistance to support Sri Lanka’s developmental efforts. 

People-to-people contacts

People-to-people contacts remain the bedrock of our relationship, and connectivity is crucial to strengthening people-to-people ties. We are happy that SriLankan Airlines recently became the largest foreign carrier to India, making use of the Open Sky policy. We are equally delighted that an Air India flight connecting Colombo and Varanasi is now operational, realising the commitment made by our Prime Minister during his visit to Sri Lanka in May. 

There are now more than 150 flights a week connecting Colombo with India. Sri Lanka also contributes significantly towards Indian tourism, with an estimated 300,000 Sri Lankans visiting India annually. India is the largest source country for Sri Lankan tourism with more than 350,000 Indian tourists visiting Sri Lanka during 2016. Let us take more and more advantage of our geography. 

Linguistic and cultural interactions 

Our linguistic and cultural interactions have interwoven us into a unique tapestry. Is it any wonder then that the classes in Indian music, dance, Hindi and Yoga offered at the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo are so popular? 

To showcase the common thread of yoga running through the tradition and culture of both countries, thousands participated in yoga events held across Sri Lanka to commemorate the International Day of Yoga. It has been an honour for us to have President Maithripala Sirisena join thousands of yoga enthusiasts at Independence Square on 17 June to celebrate the International Day of Yoga 2017. 

Education and innovation

Both countries attach high importance to education and innovation. I am happy to note that India now offers more than 200 scholarships annually to Sri Lankan students to study in India, at undergraduate, postgraduate and research levels, apart from 500 scholarships to students pursuing education in Sri Lanka at Advanced and undergraduate levels. 

Under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Scheme and the Colombo Plan, India also offers 370 slots annually to Sri Lankan nationals for short term training in India. We have also recently opened up our Medical Colleges and Indian Institute of Technology to foreign students. For the first time, IIT JEE (Advanced Level) entrance examination, was held in Colombo in May. We hope to create more bridges between our two countries.

Strong defence partnership

India and Sri Lanka continue to enjoy a strong defence partnership. Common security concerns, especially the protection of important sea lanes in our immediate maritime neighbourhood, guide our bilateral defence engagement, marked by regular high level exchange of visits, joint training and exercises as well as ship visits. 

Of all the threats that are global in nature and should concern us all, terrorism is clearly the most serious. The heinous attacks around the world in the last few months are stark reminders of this dark reality. It is our firm conviction that no belief, justification, political cause or argument can be used to justify acts of terrorism. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks, as well as the States that support and sponsor or provide safe havens to terrorists or terrorist groups, must be held accountable. 

India sees itself as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region. We also see ourselves as the First Responder in HA/DR operations in the Region (Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief). Our defence and counter-terrorism cooperation must take into account the geopolitical realities of today and must equip us to for a better tomorrow. 

Commitment to Sri Lanka

sfdIndia has an abiding interest in the security of Sri Lanka and remains committed to Sri Lanka’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have always supported efforts to preserve Sri Lanka’s character as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper and fulfil their aspirations. 

India will continue to remain engaged with Sri Lanka and offer our support in a spirit of partnership and cooperation. With investments in each other’s countries in infrastructure, manufacturing, health, education, science and technology, we are positioning ourselves well for further deepening our cooperation. 

As democracies, as young nations who gained independence around the same time, as close neighbours, our dreams have been similar and our destinies have been intertwined. Let us work together to realise those dreams. 

Long live India-Sri Lanka friendship!

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