Message on the occasion of India's 68th Republic Day by the High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka H.E. Taranjit Singh Sandhu
On the occasion of the 68th Republic Day of India, I extend my warm greetings and good wishes to my fellow Indian citizens and to the friendly people and the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government of Sri Lanka on completion of two years in office. In these two years, India-Sri Lanka relations have steadily marched forward and our unique friendship has deepened further. During 2015, H.E. President Maithripala Sirisena and Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe chose India as the destination of their first overseas visits after assuming office, while Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi undertook a historic visit to Sri Lanka in March 2015, the first stand-alone bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister since 1987. There was also an early exchange of visits between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries.
This tempo of high-level engagements has continued ever since. H.E. President Maithripala Sirisena visited India last year on a number of occasions – a visit to New Delhi, Ujjain and Sanchi in May 2016 followed by a visit to Goa in October 2016 for the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit hosted by India, and in November 2016 for a World Health Organization related meeting. Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe travelled to New Delhi in October 2016 for the India Economic Summit. Speaker of Sri Lankan Parliament, Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, too visited New Delhi in October 2016 to participate in the 5th International Buddhist Conclave. There were also numerous Ministerial and official visits from both sides, including the visit of our External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj to Colombo in February 2016 for the Joint Commission Meeting. This year, too, is likely to see such high-level interaction continue apace, deepening our bilateral cooperation in diverse fields.
The Indian Republic was born on January 26, 1950, the culmination of a heroic struggle of an extraordinary generation of leaders who overcame colonialism to establish the world's largest democracy. India, celebrating its dazzling diversity, has built enduring democratic institutions that have put it on the path to be a global leader in science, technology, innovation and start-ups, and whose economic success is expected to shape the world in the years to come.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, economic ties are now at the core of India’s renewed engagement with the world. India is today the fastest growing major economy of the world, registering excellent growth despite a global economic slowdown. It is being seen as an engine of global growth, with a contribution much higher than its share of world economy. Numerous legislative and regulatory reform measures are being implemented, including an historic Goods and Services Tax that will truly make India a common market. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the National Company Law Tribunal, a new arbitration framework, and new commercial courts, are other notable initiatives. The demonetization initiative will yield numerous long-term benefits. The Government is keen to make India the easiest place to do business, and is taking steps to ease licensing processes, rationalize reporting and inspection procedures, and monitor implementation of changes. Make in India, Digital India, Smart Cities, Skill India, Housing for All and Start Up India are some of India’s top priority initiatives. These have set India on the path to being an efficient economy focused on industry, innovation and entrepreneurship, with the promotion of investor confidence and development of infrastructure. The reform measures have already had a positive impact. For example, Foreign Direct Investment inflows over the last two and a half years have touched US$ 130 billion, establishing India as a magnet for global investments.
Sri Lanka is uniquely placed to take advantage of India’s economic growth story. I would like to stress that Sri Lanka is at the center of India’s “neighbourhood first” policy, which recognizes that India’s growth is linked to the prosperity of its neighborhood. I am happy to note that our bilateral economic and commercial ties remain strong as ever. Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partner in the region. India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally. The corner stone of our trade relations has been the India - Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, which has helped bilateral trade increase more than eight fold. More than 60% of Sri Lankan exports now take advantage of the concessions under the Free Trade Agreement. India is among the top investors in Sri Lanka, with cumulative investments of over US$ 1 billion since 2003, and more are in the pipeline. I am also happy to note the increasing Sri Lankan investments in India. Negotiations are underway to conclude an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement, mooted by Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in September 2015, which will give a further boost to our bilateral relations. I also look forward to the implementation of numerous projects by Indian companies in Sri Lanka this year, particularly in the energy and infrastructure sectors.
Development partnership remains an important facet of our close friendship. India has committed over US$ 2.6 billion in development assistance to Sri Lanka, with over US$ 435 million as outright grants. Indian projects span diverse areas. For example, the Indian housing project, which aims to construct 50,000 houses on grant basis, is proceeding well with over 45,300 houses constructed till date. Its third phase, to construct 4,000 houses in the Central and Uva Provinces through an innovative community-driven approach, was launched in April 2016. In June 2016, H.E. President Maithripala Sirisena jointly inaugurated with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, via video conference, the renovated Duraiappah Stadium in Jaffna. In July 2016, Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe flagged off the Emergency Ambulance Service, funded by India, for the Southern and Western provinces of Sri Lanka, allowing emergency patients quick access to ambulances, free of charge. In September 2016, India and Sri Lanka agreed to establish a training school for Sri Dalada Maligawa at Kandy to provide infrastructure to facilitate training courses in areas like Kandyan dance and drums and costumes. In October 2016, the renovated Rabindranath Tagore Memorial Library and Resource Centre in Sri Palee College, Horana was inaugurated, featuring an audio-visual lab, improved external landscape and approach roads built inside the school premises. India will continue to extend whatever assistance we can to support Sri Lanka’s development efforts.
Buddhism binds us together in deep and abiding cultural and spiritual ties. 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 on June 21.
People-to-people contacts remain an important pillar of our relationship. More than 350,000 Indian tourists visited Sri Lanka during 2016, the largest source country for Sri Lankan tourism. There are now more than 150 flights a week between Colombo and eight destinations in India, and additional measures are being taken to further enhance connectivity between the two nations. Discussions are also underway for upgrading Palaly Airport with Indian assistance, so that it can function as an international airport serving the region.
Both countries attach high importance to education. I am, therefore, 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. These students act as a bridge between our two countries.
India and Sri Lanka continue to enjoy a strong defence partnership based on extensive training and close linkages between our Armed Forces. Common security concerns, especially the protection of important sea lanes in our immediate maritime neighbourhood, guide our bilateral defence exchanges. Regular high level exchange of visits, joint training and exercises as well as ship visits are some elements of our robust bilateral defence cooperation. As a testimony to this close cooperation, India’s state of the art aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, visited Sri Lanka on a goodwill visit in January 2016, its maiden overseas port call since being inducted into the Indian Navy.
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. 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 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 fulfill 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 and laying strong foundations for the future. I have no doubt that as close neighbours whose destinies are intertwined, our bilateral partnership will continue to scale even greater heights.
Long live India-Sri Lanka friendship!