- Published on Thursday, 16 August 2012 10:16
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The High Commission of India and the Indian expatriate community in Sri Lanka celebrated the 66th Independence Day of India on Wednesday, 15th August at India House in Colombo.
The High Commissioner conveyed his greetings on the occasion to the citizens of Sri Lanka and noted that India-Sri Lanka relations were growing rapidly and that the partnership must progress in the spirit of being the closest of neighbours and friends whose destinies are interlinked.
In his address, he mentioned the key highlights of the bilateral relationship over the past one-year period. He referred to the exchange of high-level visits in recent months, mentioning interalia, the visits by the Hon’ble Minister for External Affairs Hon’ble SM Krishna in January this year, the All-Party Parliamentary delegation in April, the National Security Adviser in June and the Hon’ble Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textiles Hon’ble Anand Sharma earlier this month, during which the biggest exclusive Indian trade exhibition in recent years in Sri Lanka, ‘The India Show’, was inaugurated.
He also noted that a number of important decisions were taken during the latter visit, especially on India’s involvement in the establishment of two special economic zones, one for engineering goods and automobile components and the other for pharmaceuticals. The intention of both the governments to double bilateral trade to USD 10 billion by 2015 was also announced, launching the report of the India-Sri Lanka CEOs’ Forum containing useful suggestions to take forward the economic partnership.
The High Commissioner highlighted that India’s developmental assistance projects, which are based on the priorities set by the Government and the people of Sri Lanka, have made impressive progress. Under the Small Development Project scheme, a number of projects have been successfully completed and many more included to our growing project portfolio in all parts of Sri Lanka. These projects straddle diverse sectors such as health, education, agriculture, fishing, small and medium enterprises development, community empowerment, art, craft and culture.
The High Commissioner noted that the pilot phase of the project for construction of 1000 houses has been completed. The next Phase of the Indian Housing Project for 43,000 housing units under the owner-driven mode in the Northern and Eastern Provinces has been launched with the signing of Agreements on 13 July 2012 awarding work to four Implementing Agencies. Given its scale and reach, the Housing Project is the flagship project of India’s development assistance to Sri Lanka and one of the largest grant assistance projects undertaken by the Government of India in any part of the world.
The High Commissioner also expressed happiness that the railway reconstruction project in the South was completed ahead of schedule and was handed over to Sri Lanka Railways during the visit of our Parliamentary delegation in April 2012. The Railway reconstruction project in North, under Indian lines of credit, is also progressing smoothly and is expected to be completed by December 2013, well ahead of schedule. Wreck removal work was completed at the Kankesanthurai Harbour in a timely manner in January and an understanding has been reached for the dredging operations, which are expected to be completed by the end of the year. The Joint Venture Agreement for the 500 MW Sampur coal power plant has been signed and the remaining agreements are being concluded soon, so that work can start on the project and its first power-generation unit commissioned by end-2016.
The High Commissioner emphasized that India’s economic growth represented an opportunity for Sri Lanka, which could take full advantage of its strategic location next to a market of a billion consumers and astride the major East-West maritime route to realize its ambition of developing a hub economy. Last year, India was Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner and is also one of the top foreign investors in Sri Lanka. India is also the source of the largest number of tourist arrivals into Sri Lanka. In 2011, bilateral trade surged by over 70% and touched US$ 5 billion. Investments from both sides too are reaching new highs. Indian companies brought in nearly $150 million in FDI in 2011 and are poised for a quantum jump in investments in the next few years.
The High Commissioner underlined the importance of people-to-people, terming them the “bedrock of our relationship”. During 2011, about a quarter million Sri Lankans visited India for tourism, business and pilgrimage purposes. Likewise, Indians comprised over 20% of incoming tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. The High Commissioner also noted that the announcement made by Minister of External Affairs of India in Galle in January 2012 of a nearly three-fold increase in scholarship support to deserving Sri Lankan students, through a grant assistance of Rs. 2.5 billion over the next three years, has already been operationalized.
The High Commissioner highlighted that India and Sri Lanka had partnered to commemorate the 2600th Anniversary of Enlightenment of Lord Buddha “Sambuddhatva Jayanthi”. A statue of Lord Buddha in the Sarnath style was installed at the International Buddhist Museum at Sri Dalada Maligawa, an International Buddhist Conference was organized at Kandy and a special Buddhist circuit train by Indian Railways called ‘Damba Diwa Vandana’ was launched from Chennai catering to Sri Lankan pilgrims. The High Commissioner also noted that an Exposition of the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics was being organized in Sri Lanka from 19 August to 4 September 2012, after a gap of 34 years and Kumari Selja, Minister of Culture, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India, would be bringing the Sacred Relics to Sri Lanka.