Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is my first visit to Jaffna. I am particularly happy that my visit coincides with the historic occasion of the successful culmination of the first provincial elections in over 25 years and the formation of the Northern Provincial Council. It also gives me a lot of pleasure to be part of this ceremony to handover certificates to a small number of beneficiaries of our Housing Project, and to those of our project to provide assistance to owners of micro and small enterprises, whose business premises were damaged during the armed conflict.
After decades of armed conflict, when the people of Sri Lanka are staking a claim to a peaceful future, the Government and the people of India remain committed to assisting them in their endeavours for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Our assistance to the Sri Lankan people, appreciated for its timeliness and phased approach, has evolved taking into account the ground situation and the immediate needs of the people at any given time.
Earlier today I had visited Tellipalai, one of the villages where beneficiaries are reconstructing their houses themselves, with the help of funds provided by the Government of India. I was happy to inaugurate two houses that had just been completed, among many others in the area. Our Housing Project is truly the flagship project of India’s development assistance to Sri Lanka and I am happy to note that this is the largest grant assistance project undertaken by the Government of India in any part of the world. Having completed 1000 houses under the Pilot Project, nearly 16,000 houses are under various stages of construction in the 2ndPhase of the Indian Housing Project. It is expected that our commitment to construct all the 50,000 houses would be fulfilled before the end of 2015.
The reconstruction project for the Northern Railway line, under Indian lines of credit, is progressing smoothly. The Medawachchiya-Madhu Road section was inaugurated in April 2013 and the Kilinochchi-Omanthai section was inaugurated in September 2013. The full project is expected to be completed by April 2014, ahead of schedule. Our vision is to see the Yaal Devi Express, which used to ply on this route, restart its services in 2014. Complementing our assistance in the railways sector, we have helped remove wrecks from the Kankesanthurai Harbour and have completed the process of dredging the port. We have offered a line of credit for upgrading the infrastructure and developing it into a commercial port. Our efforts would also be to enhance sea-side connectivity by restarting the ferry service between Rameswaram and Talaimannar. For this purpose, we are helping reconstruct the pier at Talaimannar. In addition, we have also offered assistance to rehabilitate Palaly and develop it into a full-fledged civilian airport, with regional connectivity. Our belief is that these initiatives will provide a substantial fillip to the local economies on both sides.
Under our Small Development Project Scheme, we have successfully completed a number of other projects and continue to expand our portfolio of projects in diverse sectors such as health, education, agriculture, fishing, livelihood restoration, community empowerment, and culture.
Another important project of ours is the construction of the Jaffna Cultural Centre at a location next to the Jaffna Public Library. We are in the process of concluding the MOU with the Government of Sri Lanka for implementation of the project. I am confident that this Centre, when completed, will emerge as a cultural landmark in Jaffna, if not the entire Northern Province.
India and Sri Lanka share a dynamic and multi-faceted relationship which is rooted in civilisation of ties of history, language, culture, religion and trade. An important aspect of this is the special relationship between the people of the Northern Province and those of Southern India. Over centuries, Jaffa has stood at the crossroads of history, culture and religion, apart from trade, arts, dance and literature.
India remains committed to uplifting the lives of the people of the Northern Province through its efforts to restore the social, educational, economic and cultural infrastructure, which were devastated by the armed conflict.
Yesterday, I witnessed the signing of a number of agreements marking the conclusion of negotiations for the Sampur Thermal Power Project. We can now proceed with the implementation of the project on the ground. We are hopeful that this project, apart from adding 500 MW to the national grid, will have a beneficial effect on the local economy in the East. We have also signed an MoU to provide technical assistance to support the 10-year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka. We believe this is an important initiative to promote harmony and national reconciliation between the various linguistic communities in Sri Lanka.
I would like to assure the people of the Northern Province that India will work closely with the Government of Sri Lanka and the Northern Provincial Council, to ensure that a constructive and cooperative relationship is established, with the overall objective of rebuilding peoples’ lives devastated by the three decades of armed conflict.
We agree that it would be desirable to bring together the representatives of fishermen from both sides to resolve and to find a reasonable solution to the sensitive fishermen issue at the earliest.
India is committed to pursuing the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, and building upon it, to achieve a meaningful devolution of powers. Our objective is to enable a lasting political settlement which will ensure that all communities, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, are able to lead a life marked by equality, justice, dignity and self-respect. In this regard, India will do everything possible to work with the Government of Sri Lanka to take this process forward in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.