Sushma Swaraj inaugurates Rise of Digital India Exhibition in Colombo

The External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj inaugurates the Rise of Digital India Exhibition in Colombo. The Rise of Digital India exhibition showcases the initiative of Indian government to take the benefits of Information Technology to the common man. The exhibition is a part of six month long Festival of India celebrations in Sri Lanka as part of ‘Sangam’ festival of India in Sri Lanka 2015-2016.

She is in Colombo to co-chair the 9th Joint Commission meeting to discuss key bilateral and regional issues. The joint commission was set up in 1992 as a mechanism to address issues of bilateral cooperation.


India- Srilanka both have cultural ties and also India is Srilanka’s biggest trading partner. Regionally, India and Sri Lanka both participate in several multilateral organisations such as South Asian association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme, South Asian Economic Union and BIMSTEC. All these organisations aim to enhance their commerce.

In 1998, India and Sri Lanka signed the India–Sri Lanka free trade agreement (ISFTA) which has proved to be a successful initiative. Bilateral trade between both countries was US$4 billion in 2012 and India is now the fourth largest investor in Sri Lanka with an investment of about US$160 million and negotiating a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

Sri Lanka is India’s largest trade partner in South Asia. India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally. Trade between the two countries grew particularly rapidly after the entry into force of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in March 2000.

During recently visit by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s four agreements were signed; the most significant is that on civilian nuclear co-operation, which envisages an “exchange of knowledge and expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building and training of personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Other agreements deal with co-operation in the fields of culture and agriculture, and will enable Sri Lanka to participate in the Nalanda University project. The two sides also agreed to expand defense and security co-operation.

Major irritant in the Indo-Lanka ties

  1. The fishermen issue continues to be a major irritant in the Indo-Lanka ties. Sri Lanka accuses Indian fishermen of straying into its territorial waters, while the latter maintain they are only fishing in their traditional areas, especially around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974.
  2. The issue of rights of minority Tamil community: India is demanding the implementation of 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution (that devolves greater power to Tamil-dominated Northern and Eastern regions) Since the end of Eelam War IV, India has taken keen interest in the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of those displaced by the conflict. Apart from providing requisite monetary assistance, India has sent 2,600 tonnes of galvanized steel sheets to construct shelter for approximately 5,000 families living in relief camps in northern Sri Lanka and an additional aid to construction of 50,000 houses to the IDPs. New Delhi has also deployed over eight demining teams in sanitising the conflict areas of landmines and unexploded objects to facilitate resettlement. From time-to-time India expressed concerns to the Sri Lankan government over the progress of the resettlement.
  3. The space for foreign powers like China and Pakistan in the island and, most importantly.Chinese help in infrastructure building (Hambantota deep-sea port) and allowing Chinese submarines to duck in Colombo has raised security concern in India.

  1. Dispute over Katchathivu island

Katchatheevu — which is 18 nautical miles off the Indian coast, fishing in the waters around it and the safety of fishermen is one of the major irritant in the relations.

Katchatheevu is a controversial uninhabited island administered by Sri Lanka. In 1974, India recognized the Sri Lankan ownership to the island on a conditional agreement. As part of the settlement, Indian fishermen and pilgrims were allowed access to Katchatheevu as hitherto, and were not required by Sri Lanka to have travel documents or visas. It has a Catholic shrine and has been declared as a sacred area by the government of Sri Lanka. Fishermen were thus free to visit the island for rest, for drying their nets, and for the annual St. Anthony’s festival.
But Indian fishermen do not have rights to fishing around the island as it is within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka. But as part of the Sri Lankan civil war, this arrangement has led to many difficulties with the Sri Lankan Navy that was deployed to prevent smuggling of weapons by the rebel group LTTE. This tension and the atrocious killings of Tamil fishermen by Srilakan forces has created disquiet across India and the governments of both the countries held talks.  The island is culturally important to fishermen of Tamil Nadu and has led to agitations by Tamil politicians demanding that India should claim sovereignty.
In June 2011, the new Tamil Nadu government led by Jayalalithaa filed a petition in Supreme Court seeking the declaration of the 1974 and 1976 agreements between India and Sri Lanka on ceding of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka as unconstitutional.  The court ruled in Berubari case that cession of Indian Territory to another country had to be ratified by parliament through amendment of the constitution. Katchatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka in violation of court orders under the 1974 and 1976 agreements without seeking approval of two Houses of Parliament.


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