Sri Lanka and India inks deals after Minister Jaishankar visit


Sri Lanka and India has inked several agreements on the first day of a visit by India foreign minister S. Jaishankar including a controversial digital identity plan, in the style of a previous one which has led to opposition by freedom activists on the island.

Sri Lanka already has a unique identity (national identity card) which has been in use for decades for every citizen but a digital database will allow the island’s usually authoritative rulers to track minorities and pro-democracy workers, activists have warned.

A memorandum of understanding on the “implementation of Sri Lanka Unique Digital Identity (SL-UDI) programme with GOI’s grant assistance” has been signed, a statement from the Indian High Commission said.

The so-called ‘Indian big brother’ can undermine the hard-fought freedoms of citizens and may lead to a loss of goodwill built by India among the public in recent years, especially with the emergency ambulance projects, observers warn.

It is not clear if any consent architecture is available.

Opposition legislator Haren Fernando had already warned that attempts are underway to also set up a biometric database of citizens with Indian grant aid.

Sri Lank activists had previously gone to court against attempts to build a database of citizens and track their movements through financial or other transactions.

India is however helping Sri Lanka with credit lines after the country’s soft-peg (flexible exchange rate) got into its latest crisis after money was printed to keep interest rates down.

India is also wrapping up several agreements on which the island has given commitments and is also making sure that Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka does not threaten its defence interests and open a southern flank, political analysts say.

India has fought several border wars with China though bi-lateral trade has soared in recent years.

Among the agreements signed was to set up a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center which has also drawn some controversy.

An agreement was also signed on the “implementation of Hybrid Power Projects in three Islands off Jaffna,” the Indian High Commission said.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Visit of External Affairs Minister Dr. S.Jaishankar to Sri Lanka

  1. External Affairs Minister (EAM) Dr. S.Jaishankar concluded his first day of discussions during his visit to Sri Lanka on 28 March 2022. He is accompanied by a five-member official delegation from Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi for the bilateral and BIMSTEC engagements.
  2. EAM called on H.E President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and conveyed personal greetings from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President of Sri Lanka thanked Government of India (GOI) for economic assistance amounting to around USD 2.5 billion extended to Sri Lanka in 2022. Dr. S. Jaishankar assured India’s continued support in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery process. The discussions also covered the recent Government-TNA talks, defence and energy cooperation and fishermen’s issues. It was agreed to deepen economic and commercial linkages with special emphasis on Indian investments.
  3. EAM joined H.E Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a special event held in Temple Trees to virtually inaugurate the Jaffna Cultural Center. They watched a cultural performance at the Center – a Bharatnatyam rendition, a prayer dedicated to the peoples of India and Sri Lanka and their eternal friendship. They also had a virtual tour of the Artificial Limb Fitment Camp in Jaffna which is supported by GOI. In addition, they also witnessed signing of MoU on implementation of grant assistance from India to promote Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka. Further, there was an exchange of notes on the amendment to Article IX of the MoU on construction of Jaffna Cultural Center.
  4. EAM met Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa in the morning, who stressed the significance of deeper economic engagement between the two neighbours at a time when the impact of COVID-19 is still being strongly felt. EAM reiterated that India’s partnership with Sri Lanka was rooted in the ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach and S.A.G.A.R (Security And Growth for All in the Region) doctrine. India has stood by Sri Lanka in the hour of its need.
  5. Foreign Minister, Prof. G. L Peiris held talks with EAM in the evening. They covered the entire gamut of bilateral engagement. Attesting to the comprehensive nature of bilateral ties, they also witnessed the signing of bilateral documents in diverse areas:
  6. i) MOU on implementation of Sri Lanka Unique Digital Identity (SL-UDI) programme with GOI’s grant assistance;
  7. ii) MOU for providing Maritime Rescue Coordination Center;

iii) MOU on implementation of Hybrid Power Projects in three Islands off Jaffna;

  1. iv) MOU on cooperation in development of Fisheries Harbours in Sri Lanka;
  2. v) MOU for the establishment of Modern Computer Labs and smart boards with customized curriculum software in 200 schools in Galle District; &
  3. vi) MOU between Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service and the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute.
  4. EAM separately met Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Hon. Douglas Devananda. They discussed issues pertaining to fishermen and exchanged views on devolution.
  5. EAM’s other engagements included a visit to HCL Technologies, an LIOC petrol station, and discussions with leaders representing various Tamil political parties. It may be recalled that HCL Technologies has created more than 1,800 jobs locally. LIOC has been at the forefront of energy cooperation between the two countries since its incorporation as a Sri Lankan Company two decades back.
  6. Jaffna Cultural Center is a glowing example of India-Sri Lanka development partnership. It was conceived as a reconciliation project primarily aimed at expanding cultural infrastructure for people of Northern Province. This state-of-the-art facility, constructed with grant assistance from GOI, consists of multiple facilities such as a museum of two floors; an advanced theatre style auditorium for more than 600 people; a 11-storeyed learning tower; a public square which could also act as an amphitheater; etc.