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Prelims Capsule

International Relations

SL Navy Arrests 12 TN fishermen. Fishermen issue creates Bilateral Problem again. What to do?

SL Navy Arrests 12 TN fishermen. Fishermen issue creates Bilateral Problem again. What to do?


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Sri Lanka

Why in the news?

Fishermen issue creates Bilateral Problem again between India and Sri lanka.

Understanding Indo-Sri Lanka relation:

  • The partnership between Sri Lanka and India is over 2,500 years old.
  • They have a history of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic contact in both countries.
  • The partnership has been characterized by close interactions at all levels in recent years. In the fields of infrastructure development, education, culture and defense, trade and investment have developed and cooperation has been created.
  • In recent years, significant progress in implementation of developmental assistance projects has further cemented the bonds of friendship between the two countries.

Geopolitical Significance of Sri Lanka

  • The location of Sri Lanka as an island state in the Indian Ocean area has been of strategic geopolitical significance to many main forces.
  • The British Defence and External Relations Agreement of 1948 and the Maritime Agreement with the USSR of 1962 are some examples that illustrate Western interests in the strategic position of Sri Lanka.
  • During the Rajapaksa tenure, it was the huge Chinese participation that garnered the deepest controversy in recent years.
  • In Gwadar (Pakistan), Chittagong (Bangladesh, Kyauk Phru (Myanmar) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka), China is constructing state-of-the-art gigantic new ports all along the Indian Ocean to the south of it.
  • The strategy of China’s string of pearls aims to encircle India to establish supremacy in the Indian Ocean.
  • Sri Lanka continues to rely heavily on China for the Port City project and the continuation of Chinese financed infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka after 2015.
  • Although the port of Hambantota is reportedly making losses, because of its strategic position, it also has potential for development. Sri Lanka has a list of highly strategic ports that are among the busiest contact lanes on the sea.
  • Colombo Port in Sri Lanka is the world’s 25th busiest container port and Trincomalee ‘s natural deep water port is the fifth largest natural harbour in the world.
  • The key base for the Eastern Fleet and the British Royal Navy during the Second World War was the port city of Trincomalee. The location of Sri Lanka can also serve both business and industrial purposes and be used as a military base.

Political Relations

  • As a country facing human rights violations that arose from a civil war, Sri Lanka’s domestic politics and international affairs are highly strategic, with foreign powers having vested interests.
  • High-level exchanges of visits at regular intervals have marked the political ties between India and Sri Lanka.
  • Sri Lanka is a member of regional groups such as BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation Initiative) and SAARC, where India has a leading role.
  • India has recently invited leaders of BIMSTEC member countries to attend Prime Minister Swearing-in. This is in line with the government’s focus on its ‘Neighborhood First’ policy.
  • Sri Lanka has long been in India’s geopolitical orbit, but its relationship with China has strengthened in recent years.

Commercial Relations

  • A target destination for direct investment from India has long been Sri Lanka.
  • Sri Lanka is one of the SAARC countries’ main trading partners in India. In exchange, India is Sri Lanka’s largest global trading partner.
  • In 2015-17, India’s exports to Sri Lanka amounted to $5.3 billion, while its imports from the country amounted to $743 million.
  • Trade between the two nations developed especially rapidly after the Free Trade Agreement between India and Sri Lanka, which came into force in March 2000.
  • The growth of India’s exports to Sri Lanka, however, has been strong, resulting in a widening of the trade balance. This is primarily due to the lack of export ability from Sri Lanka to service Indian requirements and also because of the competitiveness of our exports due to increased imports from India.
  • The CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) agreement, which has yet to be signed between the countries, seeks to build on the momentum created by the FTA and to bring greater integration between the two economies beyond trade in goods and offer renewed impetus and synergy to bilateral economic interaction.
  • Investments are made in a variety of fields, including petroleum retail, IT, financial services , real estate, telecommunications, hospitality & tourism, banking and food processing (tea & fruit juices), metal industries, tyres, cement, glass production and infrastructure development (rail, electricity, water supply).
  • A significant connexion between India and Sri Lanka is also established by tourism and India is the largest source market for Sri Lankan tourism. India is the main contributor to tourism, with one in five visitors coming from India.

Cultural and Educational Relations

  • The Agreement on Cultural Relations signed by the two Governments on 29 November 1977 forms the basis for the periodic programme of cultural exchange between the two countries.
  • By offering classes in Indian music, dance, Hindi and Yoga, the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo actively promotes awareness of Indian culture. Cultural troupes from both countries exchange visits every year.
  • India and Sri Lanka commemorated, by joint events, the 2600th year of the achievement of enlightenment by Lord Buddha (Sambuddhathva Jayanthi).
  • The 150th anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala was also celebrated by the two governments in 2014.
  • The India-Sri Lanka Foundation, which was founded as an intergovernmental initiative in December 1998, also aims to enhance science, technological, educational and cultural cooperation through exchanges between civil societies and to strengthen communication between young people of the two countries.
  • Education is a significant cooperation field. India now offers Sri Lankan students over 290 scholarship slots annually.
  • Furthermore, India provides 370 slots annually to Sri Lankan nationals under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Scheme and the Colombo Programme.

Indian Community

  • Sindhis, Borahs, Gujaratis, Memons, Parsis, Malayalis and Telugu speakers who have settled in Sri Lanka (most of them after partition) and are active in various business ventures are the Citizens of Indian Origin (PIOs).
  • Although their numbers are far smaller compared to Tamils of Indian Origin (IOTs), they are economically prosperous and well positioned.
  • Each of these groups has its own organisation that organises cultural activities and festivals.
  • The IOTs are mainly used in either tea or rubber plantations in the provinces of Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa, although the younger generation has been moving to Colombo in search of jobs over the last decade.
  • A fair number of Colombo resident IOTs are interested in industry. The population of IOTs is around 1.6 million, according to government census estimates (2011).

Defence and Security Cooperation:

  • Sri Lanka and New Delhi have a long history of cooperation in terms of security. The two sides have gradually improved their military-to-military contacts in recent years.
  • India and Sri Lanka conduct joint military exercises (‘Mitra Shakti’) and naval exercises (SLINEX). India also offers Sri Lankan forces security training.
  • India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have signed a Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation Agreement aimed at enhancing surveillance, anti-piracy operations and reducing maritime pollution in Indian Ocean Region.
  • India and Sri Lanka have signed an agreement in April 2019 to tackle drug and human trafficking.
  • Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister thanked the Indian government for all the “assistance” provided in the aftermath of the horrific Easter bombings.
  • The warnings released by Indian agencies prior to the attacks specifically cautioned about the use of radicalised suicide bombers targeting churches and the Colombo Indian High Commission.

Concerns in the relationship:

  • Fishermen issue: Fishermen-related violence has always been a source of contention between the two South Asian neighbours. Sri Lanka has often complained about Indian fishermen fishing illegally in its territorial waters across the Palk Strait. Sri Lankan fishermen are also detained in India for unlawful fishing. 185 Indian boats were captured between January 2015 and January 2018, 188 Indian fisherman were slain, and 82 Indian fishermen went missing.
  • Katchatheevu Island: It is an uninhabited island that India handed over to Sri Lanka in 1974 under the terms of the “Katchatheevu island treaty.” According to the 1974 agreement, the central government respects Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the island. However, Tamil Nadu claims that Katchatheevu is part of Indian Territory, and Tamil fisherman have long believed that it belonged to them, thus they want to keep their fishing rights.
  • Growing Closeness with China: Sri Lanka has long been in India’s geopolitical orbit, but its relationship with China has strengthened in recent years Ex Hambantota port built try China-participation in BRI arms supplies etc
  • Unresolved Tamil Issues: The rehabilitation of Tamils displaced by Sri Lankan civil war and provision of autonomy to Northern & Eastern Sri Lanka where Indian Origin Tamils are in majority, has not progressed at the required pace.
  • Fear of Protectionism: Policies and thinking are becoming communally exclusive, localised and inward-looking
  • Asymmetry in relationship: There is asymmetry in terms of geographic size, population, military and economic power, on the one hand, and social indicators and geographical location on the other.
  • Trade Balance in favour of India: Exports from India to Sri Lanka in 2018 were US$ 4.16 billion, while exports from Sri Lanka to India are US$ 767 million Sri Lanka wants to reduce this imbalance and wants greater access to Indian markets.

The Way Forward:

The special relationship between India and Sri Lanka, de jure, is between equals as sovereign nations. But geographic size, population, military and economic strength, on the one hand, and social indicators and geographical position, on the other hand, are asymmetric. It is steeped in mythology and myth and affected by religious, cultural and social affinities. For Sri Lanka and India, this is an apt time to nourish the roots of the relationship using modern toolkits, yet to exploit age-old wisdom and experience. In order for India to face the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, strong naval capabilities, multilateral diplomacy and economic integration with nations are required. India needs to adhere to its vision of the Ocean of India, i.e. in the country, SAGAR-Stability and development for all.

Mains oriented question:

It is seen that India has see-saw kind of relation with its neighbors but yet India have maintain cordial relations with Sri Lanka. Write about the issues between India and Sri Lanka. (200 words)