Colombo: Sri Lanka is known to be unhappy with the funds allocated to it by India in its latest budget, which when compared to that allocated for other close neighbours and even Indian Ocean Region countries, is small.
While Sri Lanka is India’s closest Indian Ocean Region neighbour and shares centuries-old close links, Colombo has been pipped by IOR countries Mauritius and the Maldives, who are the beneficiaries of India’s largesse in this year’s budget.
Aid to Sri Lanka has seen an increase to Rs 250 crore this year, up from Rs 150 crores last year. But for Mauritius, the aid has jumped to a generous Rs 1,100 crores – up from Rs 350 crore last year. In the Maldives, where the friendly Mohammad Ibrahim Solih government is in place, the amount allocated is Rs 576 crore, up from Rs 125 crore.
Mauritius is the second-highest recipient of Indian aid, after Bhutan, while the Maldives is at fourth place, after Nepal.
The marked difference in the allocation of aid, despite Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic importance, has left Colombo feeling a trifle slighted, it is learnt.
Colombo feels the amount is “not in keeping with its requirements” and would like aid amount to be reviewed by India, it is learnt.
In Mauritius, located off the eastern coast of Africa, India is involved in building the Metro Express, a 26km light rail transit system with 19 stations. India gave a $353 million grant to Mauritius in March 2017 for the metro express, a new Supreme Court building, and also for building infrastructure at Agalega Island, including an airstrip and jetty.
China has increased its activity in the IOR, courtesy its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and Maritime Silk Road strategy, with Beijing acquiring strategic ports in the region – Bangladesh (Chittagong), Sri Lanka (Hambantota) and Pakistan (Gwadar).
In Maldives, ever since President Solih came to power last November, following the defeat of Beijing-leaning Abdulla Yameen, India has been warming up to Male. Yameen’s regime had seen China increasing its footprint majorly, with involvement in infrastructure projects, including a $830 million upgrade of Male airport and the two-km Sinamale Bridge (China-Maldives Friendship Bridge) linking the airport with the capital.
Solih’s government has said it owes China $3.4 billion as repayment for loans for projects undertaken during Yameen’s rule.
After Yameen’s ouster, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended President Solih’s inauguration – in his first visit to the atoll nation. He also visited Male in June – in his first trip to a foreign country after taking over as prime minister for the second term.
Sri Lanka handed over its southern port of Hambantota to the Chinese on a 99-year lease, after it failed to repay its debts.
China began to develop close ties with Colombo when Mahinda Rajapaksa was president from 2005 to 2015. In 2013, China unveiled plans for the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City.
India is a partner along with Japan to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port, an estimated cost of $700 million, and is also involved in the Kankesanthurai port.
In May during President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to Beijing, China decided to provide Sri Lanka with aid to the tune of $14 million for Colombo to procure China-made counterinsurgency equipment. China is also said to be providing the Sri Lankan police with 150 vehicles. Earlier this month, China gifted a frigate to the Sri Lankan Navy.
India is involved in several people-linked projects in Sri Lanka, like housing projects, upgrading railway lines, renovating schools, and capacity building.