June 18, 2021
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Meanwhile, On The Southern Front

As the Indian project of building 50,000 houses for the war-displaced Tamil people is delayed, analysts see continuation of the island-nation's China versus India game.

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Meanwhile, On The Southern Front

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa indicated on Monday that the Indian government project of building 50,000 houses for the country’s war-displaced Tamil people would begin in coming July.

This seemed contrary to expectations of the Indian government which hoped that phase one of the project — constructing 1,000 houses across five northern districts — would commence in the next few weeks.

Foreign Minister S M Krishna had inaugurated phase one in Jaffna last November.

According to President Rajapaksa, a timeline for building the remaining 49,000 houses would be drawn once it is “cleared” by the Indian Cabinet.

Diplomatic sources in Colombo said that the Cabinet is still to approve “modalities of implementing” the project. It is estimated to cost the Indian exchequer up to $400 million.

The sources added that the process of fetching tenders for phase one was completed last week and clusters of houses —50 to 100 in each — were soon to be built across different locations in the island’s north.

The Sri Lankan government would identify beneficiaries and allocate the land.

A section of the local media had recently reported that the Indian project was unlikely to take off due to new norms restricting foreign funds spending in the north.

Sri Lanka’s economic affairs ministry had denied such reports.

At a meeting with representatives of foreign media in Colombo, President Rajapaksa was asked if he would sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India, pending since years, due to objections from Sri Lanka’s business community.

“We are discussing CEPA, some of the concerns still remain,” he said.

With China being awarded major infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, beginning with building a new harbour in the island’s southern town of Hambantota, India appeared keen on keeping its share of developmental projects.

President Rajapaksa, an astute politician, has successfully played the China versus India game in last three years.

As the Indo-Lanka joint working group on fishing met in Delhi last Monday, Rajapaksa said “India is a good neighbour.”  He referred to the rapid decline of fish in the island’s northern seas. Recently, two fishermen from Tamil Nadu had been killed, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, for violating the International Maritime Boundary Line.

According to the President, Sri Lanka would also be looking at India to help develop its nuclear energy installation whenever a decision such is taken, in the future. “We want to use nuclear power for our energy requirements in future,” President Rajapaksa told Outlook. He however declined that Sri Lanka would be interested in “bombs.”

“India has them, no?”

Sri Lanka is self-sufficient in energy till 2015.

When asked about the civilian uprising in Libya against his friend and counterpart Muammar Gaddafi who is said to have telephoned him at the start of the crisis, Rajapaksa said, “I feel the people are always right.” He however was quick to add that the “violation of any country’s sovereignty,” was “unacceptable,” referring to NATO intervention in Libya.

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