The Centre for Indo-Lanka Initiatives of The Pathfinder Foundation, Carnegie India together with Vivekananda International Foundation (India) will conduct a conference on 28 April in Colombo with the participation of leading academics, professionals, subject matter experts and scholars from both the countries seeking to discuss six major areas of the concept of connectivity.
This conference will focus on three broad themes:
(a) Past connectivity and the sources of decay
(b) Identifying the current possibilities and
(c) Assessing the enduring obstacles and exploring ways to overcome them.
At the second stage of the project, specific sectors could be taken up for more detailed examination. The six major sectors that will be cover in this conference will include coastal shipping in the Bay of Bengal framework, multimodal surface and air links between Sri Lanka and Peninsular India, developing and promoting religious tourism, power grid connectivity and energy security through the strategic storage of hydrocarbons and resilient international telecom connectivity in the context of UN ESCAP’s vision of an Asia Pacific Information Superhighway.
The main outcome of the workshop will be a report to be circulated among policymakers in both capitals and interested stakeholders at regional and global institutions.
Enhancing connectivity, which has been a subject of discussion in the SAARC and BIMSTEC context, has also been a major national priority for both India and Sri Lanka. Promoting internal, trans-border and regional connectivity has become imperative for both nations as they seek to sustain their rapid economic growth through the coming decades.
Both Delhi and Colombo have rediscovered their geographic advantages and are determined to leverage on this. India is now acutely conscious of its geo-economics location at the crossroads of Asia and the heart of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has begun to emphasise its Indian Ocean identity and wants to leverage its position as the maritime fulcrum of the trade routes in the Indo-Pacific littoral. While past policies of self-reliance and the dynamic of local conflict devalued connectivity between the two nations, two and a half decades of economic liberalisation has compelled Delhi and Colombo to focus on privileging their physical proximity.
Trade volumes have grown rapidly in recent years and so have mutual investments. The growing infrastructure linkages between the two countries are reflected in the fact that Colombo has become the second largest port (after Mumbai) for the movement of goods in and out of India.
Delhi and Colombo have signalled the political will to build on this interdependence and deepen connectivity between the two nations. But a host of problems have limited the progress. These include political, economic, financial and institutional issues as well as entrenched popular apprehensions.
Any effort to promote connectivity between the two countries must be understood by the ease of movement across the frontiers in the past and its deterioration in the second half of the 20th Century due to the armed conflict and changing political dynamics.