India stresses on Neighborhood First policy with Sri Lanka at ‘difficult times’

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In line with the priority placed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on ties with Sri Lanka in line with the Neighborhood First policy, an intercity train service, using recently given Full AC Diesel Multiple Units (AC DMUs) under Indian loan facility, was launched from Colombo on Sunday.

The train is to run from Colombo (Mount Lavinia) to Kankesanthurai, on the the tip of the Northern Peninsula, where a majority of the Tamil community lives.

Participating at the event in Colombo, in the presence of the island nation’s Transport Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Indian Deputy High Commissioner, Vinod K. Jacob, recalled the recent statement of Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar that “India would support Sri Lanka in difficult times” is an affirmation of the Neighborhood First policy in the current context.

He also reiterated High Commissioner Gopal Baglay’s emphasis on mutually beneficial cooperation that facilitates people to people exchanges.

The launch at Colombo’s main railway station took place while elsewhere in the capital, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and assured “China will continue to do its best to provide all the necessary help and support to Sri Lanka”.

He was visiting Sri Lanka to mark the 65th anniversary of bilateral ties between the two nations. Colombo was Wang’s last destination of his visit to five strategic cities in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from Africa to Asia.

At the train launch, the Transport Minister thanked India for steadfast support to Sri Lanka over the years, including during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

An Indian High Commission statement said Deputy High Commissioner Jacob also has reiterated that during the current year, the Indian side is “keen to upgrade the bilateral engagement”.

It said the AC DMUs supplied under an Indian Line of Credit by Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) would help facilitate quicker travel between the Western Province and the Northern Province.

“The supply of AC DMUs is just one of the many Railway projects being undertaken by India in Sri Lanka. There are also other ongoing projects, which include supply of passenger coaches byRITES under an Indian Line of Credit. RITES has already supplied 120 of the 160 coaches under this project. Another Indian Company, IRCON is executing a project for Up-gradation of railway tracks between Maho-Anuradhapura-Omanthai,” it said.

Severely affected by the dollar crunch and debt burden, Sri Lanka is awaiting financial support of around $1.9 billion from India. The total financial support included $400 million swap, a $500 million line of credit for the purchase of oil, and a $1 billion credit line for purchases of essential commodities including food and medicine.

“India’s total development portfolio in Sri Lanka is over $3.5 billion, of which around $570 million are purely grant projects. Modernisation of railways and creation of new railway infrastructure have been important sectors of focus under the Indian government’s development portfolio in Sri Lanka, in line with the priority of the government and people of Sri Lanka,” the Indian HC statement said.

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