India and Sri Lanka on Friday reviewed the progress made in their bilateral ties discussing various issues including that of fishermen, a major irritant in the relations, as the two countries signed MoUs in education and health sectors.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera discussed the entire gamut of relationship during the 9th Indo-Lanka Joint Commission meeting in Colombo co-chaired by them.
“The fishermen issues was discussed by the two ministers. They talked about the intricacies involved,” officials said.
India invited Sri Lankan fisheries minister to visit the country and Colombo has accepted the invitation, the officials said.
The Joint Commission meeting which lasted for more than two hours discussed the issues such as economic cooperation, trade, power and energy, technical and maritime cooperation, social, cultural and educational matters, science and technology, defence cooperation, health, civil aviation, tourism and people-to-people contact.
Two MoUs were signed after the meeting – one on renovating 27 schools in the Tamil-dominated Northern province and the other on building a surgical ward and supplying medical equipment to the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital in the East.
Sri Lanka also proposed partnership in setting up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Trincomalee and increase cooperation in aviation sector.
Swaraj, who arrived in Colombo on Friday on her second visit to the country within a year, earlier held talks with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Prime Minister’s Office ‘Temple Trees’, and the two leaders had a “fruitful exchange of views”.
During their 50-minute long meeting, the Prime Minister sought Indian investment in Sri Lanka and proposed partnership in setting up a SEZ in Trincomalee.
Wickremesinghe also proposed to make the Joint Commission meeting an annual affair. The two leaders also talked about state university linkages.
The Joint Commission was set up in 1992 as a mechanism to address issues of bilateral cooperation. The last meeting of the Joint Commission was held in New Delhi in January 2013.
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.
Though the fishermen’s associations of the two sides are in regular touch with each other, they have not been able to reach a mutually-acceptable solution to end this problem.
India maintains that the fishermen issue has a socio-economic dimensions, livelihood and humanitarian dimension and wants a long term solution to the problem.
The two sides also discussed plans to enhance cooperation in aeronautical research and use of Indian satellite system ‘Gagan’ by Sri Lanka.
“The joint commission has acknowledged the depth and intensity and uniqueness of this relationship,” the officials said.
Swaraj and Samaraweera took stock of preparation underway on agreement in economy and technology cooperation. The preliminary exchanges in this regard were held in December when the commerce secretary of two countries met in New Delhi.
India will organise a workshop in Sri Lanka later this month on this subject.
The two ministers also took recognisance of the reconstitution of the CEOs forum which is currently underway in both the nations.
“They spoke about various projects which has been under discussion for sometime, including the upgradation of Palalli airport and about infrastructure development at Kankesanthuri port where four phases have been completed. Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) will send a delegation soon to take it further.
The officials also informed that Sampur power plant has got environment clearance. The project to construct two power plants with 250mw capacity was long overdue. On tourism, the officials said the second meeting of joint working group on tourism will be held in mid 2016 to take forward the collaboration on development of Ramayana circuit in Lanka and extension of Buddhist circuit in India.
The ministers also agreed to take forward the revised bilateral air services agreement.
Sri Lanka also proposed on cooperation on oil tanks farm in Trincomalee. The ONGC and ministry of oil and petroleum will send a delegation in this regard.
The two sides also discussed cooperation in energy, railways, education, agriculture, defence, counter terrorism, health care and traditional marketing medicines.
On housing project, the officials said 44,000 houses in North have been completed and work on 4,000 will start soon.
Noting that Lanka has sought more seats for its medical students in Indian universities, they said the joint commission also discussed the potential of private universities opening their campus in Lanka.
The Joint Commission was set up in 1992 as a mechanism to address issues of bilateral cooperation. The last meeting of the Joint Commission was held in New Delhi in January, 2013.
Swaraj, who is in Sri Lanka on a two-day visit, was earlier received by Samaraweera at the airport.
On Saturday she will call on President Maithripala Sirisena and former president Chandrika Kumaratunga besides meeting other top leaders.
India-Sri Lanka relations had seen lows during last few years of the tenure of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was voted out of power, even as China had expanded its footprint in the country by building ports, highways and participating in other infrastructure projects.
The ties gained momentum after the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka in March last year, the first bilateral tour by an Indian premier in over 25 years. Swaraj had visited Sri Lanka in March 2015.