COLOMBO – India’s top diplomat held talks with Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister on Thursday (23) as India signalled its willingness to go beyond the $4 billion in loans, swaps and aid that it has already provided its cash-strapped neighbour.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in seven decades, with a severe foreign exchange shortage hampering the import of essentials, including food, fuel and medicines.
The island nation off the tip of southern India needs about $5 billion in the next six months to cover basic necessities for its 22 million people, who have been struggling with long queues for basic items, worsening shortages and power cuts.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, accompanied by other Indian officials, held talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on providing further financial assistance to the country, the president’s office said in a statement.
“Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra has said that the Government of India will extend its fullest support to Sri Lanka in overcoming the current difficult situation as a close friend,” the statement said.
“The Indian delegation stated that the Government of India and the political authorities are committed to provide continued support to Sri Lanka,” it added.
The Indian team held a separate meeting with Wickremesinghe, the central bank governor and finance ministry officials, an official from the prime minister’s office said.
India has been the principal source of foreign assistance to Sri Lanka this year, supplying more than $4 billion, Wickremesinghe told parliament this week.
The neighbours are also in talks for additional support including a $500 million credit line for fuel and help with importing fertilizer and rice as Sri Lanka attempts to stave off a food crisis, officials said.
The Indian High Commission in Colombo, in a statement following the visit, said the delegation had underscored that the unprecedented economic, financial and humanitarian assistance of over US$ 3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka was guided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision.
It also said that the delegation had productive exchange of views of the current situation and India’s ongoing support with both the president and the prime minister, with the importance of promoting India-Sri Lanka investment partnership including in the fields of infrastructure, connectivity, renewable energy and deepening economic linkages between the two countries, highlighted during the meeting with the prime minister.
The statement also noted that the development assistance extended by India stands at over US$ 5 billion with more than US$ 600 million being in grants, which include the Sri Lanka Unique Digital Identity Project.
The high powered Indian delegation also included Shri Ajay Seth, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Dr. V. Anantha Nageswaran, Chief Economic Advisor and Kartik Pande, Joint Secretary, Indian Ocean Region, Ministry of External Affairs.