Wednesday, June 09, 2010

From rail to power, sops ready for Sri Lanka

Shubhajit Roy - A bouquet of pacts, including one on deep-sea power cables and another on a rehabilitation centre for Tamil widows, between India and Sri Lanka is likely to be announced when President Mahinda Rajapaksa meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hyderabad House on Wednesday.

Among the other important announcements likely are rebuilding of rail network in northern Sri Lanka, an academic centre for Indian studies, and consulates in Jaffna and Hambantota.

Agreements on mutual legal assistance and transfer of convicted persons are also expected to be signed between the two countries on Wednesday, after the delegation-level talks between the two leaders. Sources said the agreement on convicts is aimed at prisoners who want to spend the remaining term in their homeland, and the legal cooperation treaty is an umbrella agreement aimed at helping each other with legal issues.

Sources said that the agreements and announcements by New Delhi is an effort to balance the Indian as well as Lankan interests.

While India is interested in showering sops for the Tamil minority in the island nation, New Delhi wants to make sure that Rajapaksa’s Sinhala base is also taken care of. So, even as the Tamil groups protested down South on Tuesday against Rajapaksa’s visit, South Block was working hard to balance the interests of the two countries.

The expected MoU on power grid connectivity will look at conducting feasibility studies to ensure power supply to the Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged electricity situation. Once found feasible, deep-sea power cables will integrate the grids of the two countries and will ensure power supply, up to 1,000 MW, for Lanka. Incidentally, China is building a coal-based power plant to be readied later this year which will supply 300 MW initially and will be expanded to 900 MW.

Another MoU will be for setting up centres or institutes for rehabilitation of Tamil widows — whose husbands have died during the Lankan war against the LTTE — to be built by Ahmedabad-based NGO SEWA.

There will be two pacts to rebuild and construct rail links in Lanka, especially in the northern areas where majority of Tamil minorities live. India, which has been keen on opening a consulate in the Tamil-dominated Jaffna town, will also be opening another consulate in Hambantota.

Hambantota is key for two reasons: first, it is a Sinhala-majority area and is a stronghold of the Rajapaksa. And second, it is the place where the Chinese are building a port and is seen by New Delhi as a strategic base for Beijing.

© Indian Express

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