India-Sri Lanka Relations

News: Recently, in a bilateral meeting India has agreed to provide a grant to Sri Lanka to implement a ‘Unitary Digital Identity framework’, apparently modelled on the Aadhaar card. Both sides also discussed the fishermen’s issue and India provided financial assistance of 2.4 billion USD to Sri Lanka. Earlier, India and Sri Lanka agreed to a four-pronged approach to discuss initiatives on food and energy security to help mitigate Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

Unitary Digital Identity framework:

  • It is similar to India’s own Aadhaar and under the proposed Unitary Digital Identity framework, Sri Lanka is expected to introduce a:
    • Personal identity verification device based on biometric data
    • Digital tool that can represent the identities of individuals in cyberspace and
    • Identification of individual identities that can be accurately verified in digital and physical environments by combining the two devices
  • This is not the first time that Sri Lanka is attempting to digitise its citizens’ identities. Just a few years ago from 2015 to 2019, the Sri Lankan government mooted a similar Electronic-National Identity Card — or E-NIC —that privacy advocates opposed on grounds that the state would have full access to citizens’ personal data in a central database.
  • Government also tried initiating the project as early as 2011. Neither project was implemented.

India-Sri Lanka Relations:

  • Beginning January 2022, India has been providing crucial economic supportto the island nation in the grip of a severe dollar crisis that, many fear, might lead to a sovereign default, and a severe shortage of essentials in the import-reliant country.
  • The relief extended by India from the beginning of this year totals over USD 1.4 billion —a USD 400 currency swap, a USD 500 loan deferment and a USD 500 Line of Credit for fuel imports. Sri Lanka is further negotiating a USD 1 billion assistance from India to help the country as it faces an unprecedented economic crisis.
  • India expeditiously take forward mutually beneficial projects”, which include:
    • Proposals to enhance air and sea connectivity between India and Sri Lanka
    • Economic and investment initiative
    • Steps to enhance Sri Lanka’s energy security
    • Keeping the neighbours’ “shared maritime domain safe from various contemporary threats”, and cooperation in combating Covid-19 pandemic.

Issues in this bilateral relation:

  • Killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy is a lingering issue between these two nations. In 2019 and 2020, a total of 284 Indian fishermen were arrested and a total of 53 Indian boats were confiscated by the Sri Lankan authorities. In the current meeting both the countries discussed the Palk Bay fisheries conflict and reiterated the longstanding consensus to handle fishermen issues through “humanitarian approach and refrain from the use of violence”.
  • This year (2021) Sri Lanka cancelled an MoU signed with India and Japan for the East Coast Terminal project. India protested the cancellation though it later agreed to the West Coast Terminal being developed by the Adani group.
  • China’s rapidly growing economic footprint (and political clout as a corollary) in Sri Lanka is straining India-Sri Lanka relations. China is already the largest investor in Sri Lanka, accounting for 23.6% of the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)during 2010-2019 as against 10.4% from India. China is also one of the largest export destinations for Sri Lankan goods and holds over 10% of its external debt. 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution envisages devolution of necessary powers to the provincial councils to address the just demand of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect within a united Sri Lanka.