Hon. W. D. J. Seneviratne, Minister of Labour and Trade Union Relations of Sri Lanka,
Mr. T. S. Prakash, President of the Sri Lanka India Society
Other office bearers and members of the Society,
It is a privilege to be here this evening and speak to the oldest friendship society in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka India Society, as we celebrate the Republic Day of India and the Independence Day of Sri Lanka. The oldest society to celebrate perhaps the oldest friendship…! The name of the magazine, which you launched in January 2016, is also just apt, Maithri.
The challenges that we face today, as individuals, as societies, as nations are far too complex, to be handled single-handedly. The mutual interdependence, is not a sign of weakness; it is a source of strength. It is the friendship that we cherish; the trust that we build; the connectivity that we craft that hold potential solutions to many of those pressing problems that confront today’s world.
I see in each one of you, an ambassador of peace and friendship. You bring together, the best of both countries. Your synergy, how much you are able to add, to an already broad, and deep partnership, will determine when, at what pace, we are able to touch the sky. Touch the sky, we will...I have no doubts on that…Your ability to do so, will further depend, on how well you understand, the two countries and their evolution, of future trajectories of progress.
The threads that connect India and Sri Lanka are many: From mythology to history to civilizational, cultural, commercial and people-to-people ties, there are layers and layers of what, we mean for each other. We have the profound advantage, of not having to look hard, for similarities and bonds. The question is, how to encash these advantages, and maximize our mutual benefit?
My vision for India-Sri Lanka relations, at this juncture, involves the 3 Fs:
First F: Focus
India is perhaps the world’s most intricate and pluralistic society, home to a vast variety of people, tribes, communities, religions, languages, customs and living styles. India is home to all major religions of the world. There are as many as 1,652 languages and dialects which are spoken in India. The People of India project, of the Anthropological Survey of India, estimates there are nearly 4,599 separate communities in India. India has been able to preserve, this rich mosaic of pluralism, under democratic and federal systems, with devolution of powers to the provincial and local level. This is a testimony, to the vision of our forefathers, and the innate peace-loving nature of our people, who value tolerance, and spirit of coexistence.
Our Government also has the responsibility to cater, to the developmental aspirations, of these 1.25 billion people. Our hard efforts have produced results. When CEOs of Fortune-500 companies, of top MNCs of the world, say that they will bet on India, out of all the countries in the world, it is a serious statement. India grew fastest among major economies worldwide, at over 7.5 per cent in 2016. India will continue, to drive global growth in 2017, and its share in the world GDP, is expected to rise to 17%.
India has left every other country behind in terms of providing return on investment. India has risen to the first position in the Baseline Profitability Index.
By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 years and India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group.
India of today, is a land of tremendous opportunities, and endless possibilities. The scale and speed of economic transformation in India is an opportunity that we do not want our friends and partner countries to miss on.
India’s growth is not, in the interest of, India alone. India’s rise is, in the interest of the region, and, of the world. We want our neighbours and friends, to be part of, India’s growth story.
India’s recent achievements in Science and Technology have equally been unprecedented. From the heights of the stars to depth of the oceans, from space to the Moon to Mars, to now, perhaps Venus, from hydrographic surveys to oceanographic research, to Antarctic expeditions, our scientists have done us proud.
Recently, Indian Space Research Organization, successfully launched 104 satellites on board ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C37, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. It is the highest number of satellites launched in one single mission anywhere.
India will soon have over a billion phone connections with an urban tele-density of around 154%. India has around 350 million internet users. Apple has decided to choose India, to assemble iPhones, India being only the third country globally to have such a facility.
More people (around 25 million) travel on trains in a day in India than the entire population of many countries. India also boasts of having the second largest train network in the world. Indian Railways is also the largest civilian employer in the world. We are going to have the first bullet train run in India in 2023, including the 7-km underwater route of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail corridor.
We are happy to share this expertise and we have been actively involved in the reconstruction and modernization of Sri Lankan railways.
The world's fattest woman was recently airlifted to Mumbai, for weight loss surgery to save her life. We have established our presence as the hub for health tourism. Hundreds of Sri Lankan patients thousands from all over the world, travel to India, every year, for availing advanced, affordable health care facilities.
We are open to sharing our knowledge and expertise with others. Training and Technology partnerships, are a key to a better tomorrow. Today’s societies are built on knowledge and innovation. India currently offers around 800 scholarships annually to Sri Lankan students for various courses both in India and in Sri Lanka. In addition, India offers 375 slots annually to Sri Lankan nationals for short, and medium term, training courses in a wide variety of disciplines.
Time has come to focus on the specifics on what more can be done to help each other grow faster. Ideas could be many; there could be several ways; but our efforts have to be joint and focused.
The second F: Facilitate
Sri Lanka is India’s second largest trade partner in South Asia, with annual trade of more than US$ 4.6 billion. India and Sri Lanka entered into an FTA in 2000, the first for both countries. Total trade has increased 8 times since then.
We are trying to upgrade the FTA to an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). I would like to reiterate here that we will move at a pace Sri Lanka is comfortable with.
India is also among the top investors in Sri Lanka with accumulated investments of more than a billion dollars in the last 15 years. Investments worth US$ 1 billion are in the pipeline. Sri Lankan companies have also made huge investments in India in recent times, such as in apparel, furniture, tea, etc. etc. We are keen to integrate Sri Lankan companies in the supply and value chains of Indian companies.
Let me tell you that India has the largest refinery in the world, in Jamnagar (Gujarat), with a capacity of refining 1.24 million barrels a day. The world's largest solar power plant with an installed capacity of 648MW was commissioned at Kamudhi in Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu recently. India is keen to partner with Sri Lanka in conventional and non-conventional energy sectors. Sri Lanka has good potential in solar and LNG. We are also looking at hard infrastructure and connectivity projects.
Creating the right business environment or the so-called level-playing field is important to create the momentum for upward business spiral. Our role as facilitators to enable entrepreneurs to take the right decision is critical. As strategists, it is important that we think through the long term implications of our actions. It is important to look before we leap.
The Government of India has taken decisive steps to ease licensing processes and rationalize provisions and procedures relating to clearances, returns, and inspections. Digital technology has played a key role in this regard.
The Government’s efforts to ensure ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in India have been comprehensive and wide ranging, including, legislative and structural. The Goods and Services Tax bill has been passed and is expected to be implemented in 2017. This has been the biggest reform in indirect tax structure so far and is aimed at creating a common national market in India.
We have also taken several steps to facilitate legitimate foreign travel into our country. We are in the process of further simplifying liberalizing and rationalizing our visa regime. We have merged the PIO and OCI Card Schemes. The benefit of Electronic-Tourist visa has also been extended to Sri Lankan nationals.
The final F: Flourish
We see a future for us together where we both flourish. As I said earlier we do not see our growth as a zero-sum-game. The seas that separate us are the seas that connect us. It is a matter of perception.
Our security is closely intertwined. We are closely engaged with Sri Lanka on maritime security, maritime domain awareness, maritime Search & Rescue, anti-piracy operations etc. etc. It is therefore no surprise that Colombo was the destination for the maiden overseas port call of INS Vikramaditya, India’s aircraft carrier, and India’s newest and largest ship in January 2016. Sri Lankan President H.E. Maithripala Sirisena was the first foreign head of State onboard the ship.
India has extended a defence Line of Credit to Sri Lanka for US$ 100 million to procure variety of defence equipment and supplies. Sri Lanka is also procuring two Offshore Patrol Vessels from India.
India provides large number of training slots to Sri Lankan military and security personnel.
Our developmental partnership with Sri Lanka is aimed at ensuring a prosperous Sri Lanka not only in the present, but also in the future. We want Sri Lanka to succeed not just now, but equally, in the eternal future that lie ahead. This is a friendship which we cherish; which we want to nurture, and uphold for generations to come.
We measure the importance of a partnership, not in terms of numbers on Excel Sheets. We measure the significance of a partnership by the ‘interconnectedness’ that you and I have.
Our geography may have shaped our history. But, it is our joint efforts that will shape our future. This is a task which cannot be fulfilled by Governments alone. As our Foreign Secretary says it is the ‘street that leads the system’. The role of the industry, academia, intelligentsia, common citizen on both sides, in bringing this synergy, cannot be understated. I am confident that Sri Lanka India Society will continue to make efforts to turn this vision into a reality.
As Lord Buddha said, “Every morning, we are born again. What we do today is what matters the most.” Let us focus, facilitate and flourish together, today, and everyday.
Thank You and have a wonderful evening!