Timeline of Indo-Lanka Relations
Posted on August 20th, 2020

India and Sri Lanka

Relations between India & Sri Lanka has had their highs and lows since ancient times. The present resent & animosity by most in Sri Lanka against India has valid reasons. As two sovereign nations, there are certainly protocols to respect & follow and size should not matter. No country or its people would like to feel bullied by a larger neighbor simply because of its size. Let’s not forget that the country we call India came to be christened only in 1947 by Colonial Britain, which adds weight to Sir John Kotelawala’s oft quoted statement ‘the day Ceylon did away with England, it would go under India’. No one in Sri Lanka wishes that which is why it is important for policy makers & advisors to look at their short term actions & decisions with the detrimental outcomes in the long term. This is certainly applicable to relations with all foreign nations vis a vis the agreements Sri Lanka ventures into.

It was in 1948 that Sri Lanka opened its first overseas mission in New Delhi, India. If there was any leader who made friendships with India yet kept India in its place, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike will certainly take the cake. Not only does she still remain regarded as a friend of India, with close ties to the Gandhi family, but she did not allow that friendship to come in the way of her decision making. When tough decisions had to be taken, she did not mince words. She concluded a maritime agreement with China in 1963 and she even allowed refueling to Pakistan planes during the Indo-Pak War. Thus, both India & Pakistan continue to praise her diplomacy & leadership. India & Sri Lanka cooperated to formulate the non-aligned movement during the 1950s and 1960s. India & Sri Lanka joined in a quest to convert the Indian Ocean into a ‘zone of peace’. This was no neutral policy. This was no appeasing policy. Sri Lanka’s friends are as a result of that non-aligned policy and this is what Sri Lanka must continue to uphold. Flying policies and flicking fancy names every now & then to christen Sri Lanka’s foreign relations is just superfluous and will only distance Sri Lanka from the non-aligned status Sri Lanka has proudly held and to which Sri Lanka has many proud moments to recall.

During tenure of President J R Jayawardena

1987 – India forcibly halting Vadamarachchi military operation that cornered Prabakaran, Parippu drop on 4 June by India was a gross violation of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty & airspace, Indian Peace Keepers & their war crimes, signing of Indo Lanka Accord & 13thamendment forcing Sri Lanka to tweak its constitution & create a provincial council system based on a bogus history. India allowed LTTE to use Tamil Nadu as a logistics/training hub. India did not supply any offensive military equipment to Sri Lanka during the conflict. India airlifted Prabakaran to Delhi before signing of the accord (retired Indian Air Marshal Denzil Keelor received orders from RAW to airlift LTTE & its Leader from Jaffna to India – 2 choppers were sent from India to Suthumalai Amman kovil temple in Jaffna). Prabakaran met Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi on 28 July 1987. Indo-Lanka Accord signed on 29 July 1987. Prabakaran flown back to Jaffna on 2 August 1987.

Letter from PM Rajiv Gandhi addressed to President JR Jayawardena set out conditions Sri Lanka was required to adhere on foreign policy & defense matters unrelated to the Tamil issue which Sri Lankan President did not even object to. These demands included

  1. Employment of foreign military & intelligence personnel would not be prejudicial to Indo-Lanka relations
  2. Trinco port or any other port will not be given for use by any other country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interest (Why is India silent on US fleets regularly visiting Trinco)
  3. Restoration of Trinco oil tank farm as a jv
  4. Sri Lanka’s agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations are not for military or intelligence purposes.

During tenure of President Chandrika Bandaranaike

  • India prevented Sri Lanka securing state-of-the-art Chinese radar to counter ‘Air Tiger’ threats.
  • India opposed Sri Lanka setting up a China-managed Aircraft overhaul wing at China Bay SLAF base, Trinco & SLAF had to establish it in Katunayake air base

During tenure of President Mahinda Rajapakse

  • India’s national security advisor Ajit Doval demanded Gotabaya Rajapakse (Def Sec) to cancel USD1.4billion Chinese flagship project – Port City claiming it a threat to India’s national security.
  • India demanded Sri Lanka take over Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT) a jv between China Merchants Port Holdings Company & SLPA
  • 2007 – India declined to provide radar with 3D capabilities when Indian supplied 2D capabilities failed to detect LTTE aircraft in raiding SLAF base in Katunayake. China & US supplied though India objected.
  • India flouted its own policy of not voting for country-specific issues when India voted in favor of UNHRC resolutions against Sri Lanka in 2012/2013.
  • India fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters.
  • Indian pressure to acquire ‘Sri Lanka’s defense ‘needs’ from India (Training & Intelligence)
  • 2014 Sri Lanka accepted Indian offer to build 2 AOPVs (Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessels)
  • 2007 – India objected to Sri Lanka purchasing a Chinese built JY-11 3Dradar system on the grounds that it would ‘overarch’ into Indian air space.
  • India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval wanted all Chinese funded infrastructure projects stopped.
  • 2014 – 2 visits of Chinese submarines to Colombo harbor upset India & precipitated India’s decision to remove Rajapakse. 
  • 2008 – proposal for undersea power line with submarine cable under Gulf of Mannar
  • 2010 – plan to set up interconnection of electricity grid between India & Sri Lanka for Sri Lanka to source electricity from India.

During tenure of President Maithripala Sirisena

2018 – Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu declares India’s policy is ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ (Together we progress) – India’s other policy of ‘Neighbourhood First.’

2018 – India is alleged to have taken gene stocks of Sri Lanka’s plants (Samantha Gunasekera, former Deputy Director Customs-Biodiversity, Cultural & National Heritage Protection Division) Indian companies had stolen many of Sri Lanka’s genetic resources as Governmental protection has been poor or lacking.

India purposely neglecting its commitments on SAARC – boycotting 19thSAARC summit in Pakistan in 2016

Naval crew of INS ‘Sutlej’ conducted a beach cleaning campaign at Crows Island, Mattakkuliya

India & Yahapalana

  • Following regime change in 2015 – President Sirisena, PM Ranil, Mangala, RaviK – first overseas visit were to India.
  • President Sirisena & PM Ranil visited India 4 times
  • At least 10 high level visits between India & Sri Lanka
  • Indian PM Modi visited Sri Lanka twice (Mar 2015 & May 2017) first visit of Indian PM after Rajiv Gandhi in 1987.
  • Indian PM on visit to Norwood, Hatton declared Tamil plantation workers as Indian Diaspora. This was objected as they were now Sri Lankan citizens and not Indian.
  • 2015 – 800 maruti cars imported to Sri Lanka with substantial slash in import duty but increase on import duty for hybrid vehicles.
  • Jan 2016 – INS Vikramaditya, India’s aircraft carrier, India’s newest and largest ship made its maiden overseas port call to Colombo. President  Maithripala Sirisena was the first foreign head of State onboard the ship.
  • When Sri Lanka planned acquire 12 JF-17 fighter aircraft built in Pakistan in collaboration with China. India quickly offered its new Tejas fighter, still in its trial period, as an alternative.
  • 2016 – Sri Lanka is a small country. You don’t need such development projects’ Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to WIjayadasa Rajapakse.
  • July 2017 – Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) accepted Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) built by the Government of India owned Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL)
  • Sri Lanka offered 500 acres of land to Government of Andhra Pradesh to develop an industrial part (what is the status of this)
  • India wanted the Port City project stopped claiming Chinese presence in Colombo port was a threat to India’s security.
  • India also demanded Sri Lanka take over Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPH) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).
  • India wants Sri Lanka to have full control of Hambantota port.
  • 2017 – Sri Lanka announced plans to connect Sri Lanka’s power grid to Indian power grid to boost power generation within 5 years.

India encircling Sri Lanka 

  • Kankasanthurai Port which adjoins Palaly military base & Northern Area Navy headquarters
  • Trincomalee Oil Tank
  • Mannar – Palk Strait Bridge with high way to Trinco
  • reconstructing the railway line from Talaimannar to Medawachchiya.
  • Colombo East Terminal
  • Mattala Airport
  • Joint naval exercises increasing with even air force personnel joining in
  • Deployment from China Bay of Dornier aircraft manned by Indian Navy, SL Navy & Sri Lanka Air Force conducting maritime patrol exercises & EEZ surveillance & rescue missions.

Indian Projects

  • Housing program in North & East – 42,000 houses in North, 14,000 upcountry & 4000 in East
  • India granted Sri Lanka credit line of $45.27m for financing rehabilitation of Kankasanthurai Port
  • India is helping agriculture & engineering faculties in University of Jaffna, Thondaman Vocational Training Centre & Saraswathy Central College Pussellawa
  • India gifts 16,000 books to Jaffa public library
  • 2016 – Indian ‘Suwa Sawiya’ 88 emergency ambulance service worth Rs.7.5m – Hambantota, Galle, Matara, Kalutara, Gampaha, Colombo initially, then to Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu in North. In 2018 the service extended to Uva province – Hali-Ela, Badulla, Bandarawela & Moneragala – stationed in 26 selected police stations. Yahapalana passed 1990 Suwaseriya Foundation Act which was passed unanimously in Parliament. This Foundation can receive grants, gifts or donations & have its own fund& enter into contracts or agreements (new Govt must look into this)
  • Beverage factory importing fruit pulp & exporting juice – using 50m litres of ground water per annum – 50 acres land given in Gampaha. Residents who went to court failed to prevent project
  • ECTA – detrimental to Sri Lanka

India encircling Sri Lanka economically  

Petronet LNG planning to set up liquefied natural gas terminals in Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka issues letter of intent for terminal to be set up in western coast (Yahapalana May 2018)

Sept 2018 – Cabinet approval given to CPC & Lanka IOC to form joint subsidiary company to develop 85 tanks in upper oil tank farm. LIOC gets 70 tanks, CPC only 15. LIOC will also get 18 currently used in lower section. The period of use by LIOC is to be decided by Cabinet. Land ownership with GoSL & a new lease superseding the 2003 one given by Ranil.

(Petroleum professionals objected claiming oil tank farms can be managed without India & they required only Rs.10m to do so.  Earlier agreement was to allow CPC to handle this. CPC unions pointed out that if LIOC is given legal rights to entire oil tank farm, India could gain complete control of fuel distribution in Sri Lanka within a short period)

Samantha Kumarasinghe says Lanka IOC obtained 25% of petroleum distribution & 33% of Petroleum Storage Terminal Ltd (ie CPC pipeline network) Only $40m has come though $70m was promised. Selection of IOC was done by cabinet paper of 2002 without competitive bidding process. LIOC owns 189 filling stations & entire sales from 2002-2013 is $3.6billion.

2002 – UNP allows India 1/3 of Sri Lanka’s petroleum business. Lanka IOC given without bidding. LIOC given fuel stations countrywide & marine bunkering at Trincomalee & Colombo.

2016 – Profits go direct to India as 75% shares are held by Indian Oil Corporation. 2014-2015 LIOC profit was $4.73billion.

100 of Sri Lanka’s best filling stations given to LIOC for $35m and when oil prices declained LIOC made billions with no tax benefit coming to the State.

Samantha Kumarasinghe also listed oil tanks in Trinco, Sampoor Coal power projects, Airtel Telecom project, Ceylon Glass, bus & lorry assembly plants, Indian construction projects, major land development projects, including major hotel projects in prime locations. (Perth Paradise housing project is 183 acres of prime land in Horana-Ingiiriya main road to build 1500 houses.

Sustainable Green Energy a Sri Lankan company headed by an Indian given government approval to start bamboo cultivation project in Vavuniya.

Memorandum of Understanding with India to develop the Trincomalee Port, establish a petroleum refinery and other industries. The Singapore firm of Subana Jurong will draw up the master plan for Trincomalee. There will also be a Colombo Trincomalee economic corridor.

The first India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISLFTA) was signed in November 1998 with just 4 consultations within 4 months became effective in 2000 but without any tangible benefit to Sri Lanka.

India encircling Sri Lanka economically – Trinco Oil Tanks

6 December 2016 – Cabinet approved proposal for oil tanks used by India be vested with CPC, 3 tanks to be taken immediately & rest within 3 months. CPC engineers visited China Bay Tank Farm following cabinet decision. The officials included a deputy manager were locked up by officials of Indian Oil Company for 1hour and the 2 vehicles they came in also held by IOC officials. The IOC complaint to the police was that CPC officials could only come on one particular day and the day they arrived was not a specified date, so they were considered as trespassing. India quoted 2003 agreement claiming it covered entire tank farm. Twice under Mahinda Rajapakse government LIOC was refused proposals to develop upper tank farm.

The 6 December 2016 cabinet decision was reversed by PM Ranil in March 2017 that LIOC and CPC would develop Trinco Oil Tank Farm as a JV with land in upper and lower oil tank farm to be leased to LIOC directly for 50 years and extended to 99 years.

For past 14 years LIOC paid lease charges of $100,000 for tank farm. During 15years India controlled oil tanks, GoSL received only Rs.75m as rental while GoSL paid LIOC Rs.650m for utilizing same tanks to store oil.

India encircling Sri Lanka economically – CEPA / ECTA

2002, Sri Lanka and India agreed to replace the existing India Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement with a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). CEPA negotiations took place in 2005. CEPA was originally scheduled to be signed in 2008 during the SAARC summit.

Under CEPA India can bring down technical staff from 10% of total staff cadre up to 50%

Any Indian could bring his family into Sri Lanka and they can work anywhere they want. Family alone can take up about 5 jobs. Under CEPA there is no ‘business visa’ so there is no time limit for the stay either.According to CEPA there will be 50% Indian ownership of 25 cinemas, each of which could hold multiple cinema halls.  In these cinemas, 40% cinema time would be for Tamil and Hindi films. Film makers when alerted objected.

India was asking Sri Lanka to recognize the qualifications of Indian doctors. 30 or so categories of paramedical professionals were also included in the CEPA.

No one had seen the agreement. CEPA was shot down by angry business men, very critical of India.  President Rajapakse decided not to sign it, despite considerable Indian pressure to do so. Pathfinder Foundation defended CEPA.

2015 Yahapalana announced they will not sign CEPA but will enter in to an Economic/ Technical Co-operation Framework Agreement (ETCFA) with India. ECTA was drafted in great secrecy. The agreement was not made public and an attempt was made to sign it quickly. But this too was stopped. This time by the professionals, led by architects, engineers and doctors. Who pointed out ‘many irreversible loopholes’. Clauses were vague & open ended.

ECTA was CEPA in another name.

ECTA was India’s plan to get into Sri Lanka’s Information Technology (IT) and naval engineering sectors (dockyards).  The Network Readiness Index 2015 held Sri Lanka in 65thplace & India ranked at 89.

Professionals National Front, a consortium of a dozen professionals’ associations was formed to combat ECTA. It included among others, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), the Electrical Engineers’ Association, the Customs Officers’ Union and the National University Teachers’ Association.

India encircling Sri Lanka – Education & Culture 

Rs.600m grant given to University of Jaffna to develop Faculty of Agriculture & Faculty of Engineering in Kilinochchi. India will also be supporting CURRICULUM development, faculty exchange, training & research.

Rs.96m grant – India-SL MOU to renovate Saraswathy College, Pusselawa in Kandy District

16,000 books given by Indian High Commissioner to Jaffna Public Library in ‘India Corner’ inaugurated by PM Modi in 2015.

Setting up of the International Buddhist Museum in Kandy,

Restoration of the Thirukeeteswaram Temple in Mannar.

The Kapilavastu Relics were brought to Sri Lanka in 2012 by the Indian government. Several wrong historical facts were added , that the ‘Lanka’ in the Ramayana is Sri Lanka and that Odissi and Udarata dance are similar.

Unfair intimidations & demands by India on Sri Lanka 

  • Demanding that Sri Lanka cannot give any of Sri Lanka’s ports to another country
  • Allegation that Israel & VOA were being used to spy on India
  • Demanding Sri Lanka review agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations – VOA & Radio Deutschewelle
  • Citing ‘concern for Indian national security’- India demands that Sri Lanka give India every inch of Sri Lanka.

India encircling Sri Lanka economically – demanding stake in Colombo Port

While demanding stake in Colombo East Terminal of Colombo’s Port, India is building and improving its own ports to divert transshipment handled presently by Sri Lanka to these Indian Ports. Sri Lanka will likely lose a major revenue. 70% of transshipment cargo to India is presently handled by Colombo Port. Has Colombo’s decision makers taken this important factor into account. Giving India hold over ECT has no change to India’s plans to transfer transshipment directly to Indian ports. This means 80% of India’s container traffic shipped through Colombo will go directly to Indian ports.

Appeasing policies by Sri Lanka – Detrimental to future of Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty

Giving Trinco oil tank farms because an investment project is signed with China

Giving ECT because Hambantota Port was given to China

Agreeing to give China-built Mattala airport to India

When US & India were not so friendly but now more than friendly

Late 1979 – State-owned CPC called for international offers to develop Trinco tank farm as a commercial venture. Shell & Chevron did not respond. US firm Coastal Corporation applied. India logged protests claiming India was worried about US access to Trinco as it was a security threat to India. Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari was sent to Colombo by Indian PM Indira to meet President JR Jayawardena. Fresh offers were called and tender board recommended Coastal Corporation. India again protested. JRJ sent Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel & CPC Chairman Daham Wimalasena to Delhi and India won the day!

360-degree change in 2007 when China began Hambantota Port project. India turns to US to contain China.

India is matching China’s Belt & Road Initiative with Asia-Africa Growth Corridor with Japan’s assistance announced in May 2017. AAGC will commence as a sea corridor linking Africa with India & then other countries of South-East Asia & Oceania. Plan to connect ports in Gujarat with Djibouti in Gulf of Eden, Ports of Mombasa & Zanzibar connected to Ports near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Kolkata in West Bengal linked to Sittwe Port in Myanmar.

India-Sri Lanka physical link – Hanuman Bridge

Land bridge linking Rameswaram & Talaimannar in Palk Strait – extension of UN-ESCAP Trans Asian Highway originally to stop at India.

But proposal was for 2 roads from Talaimannar to Colombo & Talaimannar to Trincomalee. With railway from Talaimannar to Medawachchiya.

Complaints against India

1968 – Rs.100m loan to purchase equipment to government departments but manufactured by India but India offered what they could not sell in international market.

Railway engines supplied by India failed to operate within short time and even the railway line ended up damage.

2007 – When China offered 3D radar India objected & installed 2D radar which failed to detect LTTE attack on Katunayake air base.

Indian trawlers coming in huge numbers from Rameshwaran & Nagapattinam are damaging Sri Lanka’s seabed and marine life and poaching on Sri Lanka’s waters.

Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lanka are given humane treatment by Sri Lankan fishermen arrested by Indian coast guards have been inhumanely treated – beating them & ordering them to kneel on heated iron, given rice with worms to eat and released only after pay Rs.75,000 each.

Indian consulates in Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna & Hambantota are often accepted as RAW stations to spy on activities in Sri Lanka. With over 1million Indians living in UK – India has been given only 3 offices.

India is today pally pally with the very nation that searched President Abdul Kalam twice at US airports in 2011. The President’s shoes and jacket he was wearing were taken away for screening explosives. Even present PM of India, Modi was issued summons in 2014 when he visited US. Ironically, the Indo-US relations began to bloom after both engineered regime change in Sri Lanka in 2015. Now US & India are partnering to counter China.

There are no permanent friends in politics. Sri Lanka continues to make the mistake of not reading into and realizing the dangers of leveraging parts of Sri Lanka to foreign players and the likely outcomes decades later. No political party or politician has any right to be bartering the country for political survival or political gain. The nation’s sovereignty and safety of the citizens must come first. Using the justification that decisions are in economic interests but resulting in jeopardizing the national security interest is pointless for Sri Lanka & its People in the long term.

Shenali D Waduge

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