Following is the address delivered by High Commissioner of India Ashok K. Kantha, at the Republic Day Reception at India House on Saturday
Honourable Ratnasiri Wick-ramanayake, Senior Minister of Good Governance and Infrastructure of the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, honourable Ministers, honourable Members of Parliament, your excellencies, heads of diplomatic missions, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends, on the occasion of the 64th Republic Day of India, it is my honour and privilege to welcome you tonight.
I would like to specially welcome our Chief Guest Honourable Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake.
I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year. My greetings to you on Poya Day!
Last evening, the President of India, His Excellency Pranab Mukherjee, who is an old friend of Sri Lanka, delivered his address to the nation which captures the present mood of the country. It combines optimism and a sense of introspection about some recent developments. Our President has acknowledged that today, some doubts assail our youth, who are at the vanguard of the momentous changes sweeping the country. He has assured us that there may be some reason for concern, but none for despair. He has noted that India has changed more in six decades since Independence than in six previous centuries and that it will change more in the next ten years than in the previous 60.
We face the future of the nation with confidence given the strength of our democracy and its institutions, our commitment to individual freedoms, secularism, pluralism and inclusive development, and vitality of our youthful nation.
As the Indian nation moves forward, we invite our neighbours to be part of a collective growth story. Here, I would like to re-emphasise that the India-Sri Lanka relationship is special.
Friends, let me now tell you about some recent developments in our bilateral relations.
The past year has witnessed dynamic developments in our strong, friendly and time-tested relations.
Earlier this week, we had the meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission in New Delhi, co-chaired by the Ministers of External Affairs of the two countries. Our Ministers agreed on many new initiatives. Both sides commented on how the relationship is moving ahead in all areas, be it political and security, trade and investment, science and technology, sports, education, and culture.
There is a shared understanding on the need to continuously renew and enhance bilateral relations in a comprehensive manner, without any hesitation or reservation.
During the year, we exchanged several high-level visits. We were honoured to receive His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa in India in September 2012. We had two high level parliamentary delegations from India, led by Hon. Speaker of Lok Sabha and Hon. Leader of Opposition of Lok Sabha. There were several Ministerial visits in both directions. These visits have helped reinforce the relationship.
In economic relations, India was Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner globally, and Sri Lanka was India’s largest trading partner in South Asia. The bilateral trade turnover last year crossed the US$ 5 billion mark. India was the leading source country in terms of foreign tourist arrivals and foreign direct investment into Sri Lanka.
Happily, it is a two-way traffic. There are notable success stories of Sri Lankan investment in India. Over 250,000 Sri Lankans visited India last year. We have strong mutual stakes in the partnership.
We have agreed to double bilateral trade to US$ 10 billion by 2015 and to move towards an enhanced framework for a special economic partnership. Several new projects and initiatives are in the pipeline, ranging from the Sampur Power Plant which the two sides hope to commission by 2016, to exploration of the feasibility of establishing physical connectivity across the Palk Straits.
I would like to make a special reference to people-to-people links. We were proud to undertake the island-wide exposition of Sacred Kapilavastu Relics, which were worshipped by nearly 3.5 million devotees with great fervour. It is an experience I shall cherish all through my life. In another eloquent testimony to our common cultural bonds, His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka laid the foundation stone of the University of Buddhist and Indic Studies at Sanchi, during his visit to India in September 2012.
Last year, we jointly marked the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. We have now agreed to celebrate the 150th birth anniversaries of Swami Vivekananda in 2013-14 and of Anagarika Dharmapala in 2014-15.
I am happy that our development partnership projects in Sri Lanka are being delivered in a timely manner in keeping with the requirements on the ground and as per the priorities set by the Government of Sri Lanka.
We handed over the Southern Railway project in April 2012, six months ahead of schedule. The Northern Railway project is expected to be completed by December 2013, again ahead of schedule. A large number of other projects have been successfully implemented. Likewise, our flagship housing project and other projects are on track, with the full support of the Government of Sri Lanka. Our defence and security exchanges are also developing steadily, in keeping with our inter-linked security interests. We all agree that the end of the armed conflict presents a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka to build a better future for all its people. As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour and friend, India always stands ready to extend its fullest support to Sri Lanka in fulfilling its aspirations of peace, harmony, national reconciliation and development.
Before I conclude, let me say that we are robustly optimistic about the future of the India-Sri Lanka relationship and we look forward to working with our Sri Lankan friends to take it to the next level.
I and my colleagues remain deeply grateful for the warmth and friendship received from the Government and people of Sri Lanka. We thank all of you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I now invite you to join me in raising a toast to His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; the health, happiness and prosperity of the people of Sri Lanka; and the continued development of strong fraternal ties between India and Sri Lanka.