The Centre for Indo-Lanka Initiatives of the Pathfinder Foundation, in partnership with New Delhi-based Carnegie India and Vivekananda International Foundation, conducted a conference aimed at enhancing connectivity between India and Sri Lanka last week in Colombo. The one-day conference was well attended with participation of leading academics, professionals and subject matter experts from India and Sri Lanka, who made presentations and discussed benefits of connectivity to both countries. Representatives of several Sri Lanka-based think tanks also participated in the conference. The event focused on three broad themes viz. connectivity in the past and current status of relations, assessing obstacles hindering connectivity and exploring ways to overcome them and identifying new possibilities.
The four major sectors covered, included promoting religious tourism aimed at developing people to people relations, multi-modal sea and air links and two-way power grid connection between Sri Lanka and peninsular India, energy security through strategic storage of hydrocarbons for industries and options for coastal shipping in the Bay of Bengal framework. The Indian scholars, who made presentations, included Carnegie India Director Dr. Raja C. Mohan, former Indian Ambassador D.P. Srivastava representing Vivekananda International Foundation, India Development Foundation Senior Fellow Dr. Nalin Metha and Carnegie India Research Analyst Darshana Baruah. The Sri Lankan participants included Pathfinder Foundation Chairman Bernard Goonetilleke, Centre for Indo-Lanka Initiatives Director Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Lirneasia Founder Chair Professor Rohan Samarajiva, University of Colombo Senior Lecturer in Tourism Development Dr. Suranga Silva, Tourism Development Authority of Sri Lanka former Director General S. Kalaiselvam, SriLankan Airlines Chief Executive Officer Captain Suren Ratwatte, Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka Director General Damitha Kumarasinghe and Shippers’ Academy Colombo Chief Executive Officer Rohan Masakorala. In addition, representatives of the Institute of Policy Studies, Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, Institute of National Security Studies of Sri Lanka, Verite Research and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce participated in the proceedings.
Colombo-based deputy heads of missions of Norway, India and their representatives also attended the conference. Enhancing physical connectivity, a subject of discussion in the SAARC and BIMSTEC context, has been a major national priority for both India and Sri Lanka. Promoting internal, trans-border and regional connectivity has become an urgent imperative for both nations, as they seek to develop economic growth. India is conscious of its geo-economic interests and its location at the cross-roads of Asia in the heart of the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lanka has begun to leverage its strategic location as the maritime fulcrum of the trade routes in the Indo-Pacific littoral. While the impact of the separatist conflict retarded connectivity between the two countries, economic liberalization by India has encouraged Colombo to focus on benefitting from the physical proximity to its larger neighbour. Delhi and Colombo have signalled political will to build on this latent realization and have decided to deepen connectivity. But several issues have thus far limited the progress. These include political, economic 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.
Some new areas identified during the conference with a view to enhance connectivity between the two countries were, promoting people to people links facilitating increased Buddhist trails to India and Hindu pilgrimages i.e. Ramayana, Murugan, etc. to Sri Lanka, further relaxing visa formalities to ease travel between the two countries, joint promotion of tourism, pre-clearance of passengers to and from popular Indian destinations, connecting power grids – via submarine cables – as in the case of Bangladesh and Bhutan with India’s, for two-way power exchange based on demand and storage of energy for commencing energy-related industries. The main outcome from the conference would be a report for circulation among the policymakers in the two capitals and interested stakeholders, including those in regional and global institutions. In the second stage of the project, specific sectors would be taken up for further elaboration at track I.5 level.
Source : FT