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A focus on the Sri Lanka crisis and its impact

The Press Institute of India organised on May 6 a virtual discussion titled, Impact of Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis on Indo-Lanka Ties – Looking at the Way Ahead.

The panellists from Sri Lanka were Jehan Perera, executive director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, Colombo; P. Muthulingam, executive director, Institute of Social Development, Kandy; and Easwaran Rutnam, founding editor, Colombo Gazette & Consultant, Daily Mirror.

From India, Prof V. Suryanarayan, founding director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras; P. M. Heblikar, managing trustee, Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore, and former special secretary, Government of India; and Arun Janardhanan, assistant editor, The Indian Express, Chennai, spoke.

It was a lively and interesting discussion, with the speakers highlighting some of the reasons for Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis, the worst since its independence from Britain in 1948, a crisis partly caused by the adverse balance of payments, making the situation extremely difficult for imports of even essential commodities, including milk powder and petroleum products, and paving the way for the consequent acute shortages and exceptionally high prices.

The discussion also brought to the fore the fact how, traditionally, India and Sri Lanka have had strong trade ties. Trade between the two countries grew particularly rapidly after the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in March 2000. Some of the speakers felt that the crisis now gives an opportunity for India and Sri Lanka to repair more than a decade of poor bilateral relations. As Colombo struggles, New Delhi has an opportunity to repair and restore the traditional relationship it had with its island neighbour and India must offer Sri Lanka financial help, policy advice and investment from Indian entrepreneurs, they said.

Later, senior journalists Murari and Sathiya Moorthy voiced their views on the crisis. T. Ramakrishnan, associate editor, The Hindu, moderated the discussion. Sashi Nair, director, Press Institute of India, welcomed the audience.