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India reaches out to Sri Lanka’s Tamils with handover of 1,000 houses

Indian and Sri Lankan dignitaries at the handover ceremony of houses to plantation workers (Photo: Indian High Commission)

India handed over 1,000 houses to Tamils in Sri Lanka’s plantation areas on the occasion of Pongal. This is part of the 4,000 houses currently being built under a grant scheme from India.

Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay; Sri Lankan Minister of Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa and the Minister of State for Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure Jeevan Thondaman handed over the keys to the beneficiaries from the plantation community.

Baglay conveyed his greetings to the people on Pongal and Thiruvalluvar Day. In a tweet, the Indian High Commission highlighted the cultural and civilisational ties between India and Sri Lanka. The High Commission also reiterated India’s strong support to Sri Lanka for economic growth.

The handover ceremony was attended by a number of Sri Lankan members of parliament.

The Indian Housing Project in the island nation is a key development project being executed in a phased manner in which India plans to provide nearly 60,000 houses. In the first two phases, India had supported the construction and repair of 46,000 houses in the northern and eastern provinces.

India is implementing numerous development projects in plantation areas that include education, health and livelihoods. New Delhi is helping Sri Lanka shore up its economy, battered due to the Covid-19 pandemic and in some measure by China's expensive infrastructure projects.

New Delhi has extended over $900 million in support to help Sri Lanka tide over its foreign reserve crisis. The financial assistance is in the form of a $400 million currency swap and $500 million deferred under the Asian Clearing Union settlement framework.

India  is battling growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka with the island nation witnessing a tug of war between the two Asian giants. Over the years China has made giant forays in South Asia denting Indian influence in its neighbourhood. India too has upped its game in Sri Lanka as relations between China and Sri Lanka slipped over a recent fertiliser deal.

Beijing is now trying to exert influence in Tamil dominated areas, which lie close to the Indian coastline. Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zenhong visited Jaffna in December 2021 to build relations with the Tamil community which has been traditionally close to India.

The unusual visit took place soon after Sri Lanka canceled a hybrid energy project in islands off the coast of Jaffna. A terse tweet by the Chinese embassy said that the project awarded to a Chinese company has been suspended due to "security concerns" from a third party.

The visit might have been prompted by concerns among the Tamils that China had replaced the official Tamil language signages with Mandarin leading to an outcry in mid 2021.

Last year, the Indian and Chinese rivalry also extended to projects at the Colombo Port where Sri Lanka had canceled the East Container Terminal (ECT) which had to be jointly built by a consortium from India and Japan. After earning displeasure from both the countries, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government decided to allot the West Container Terminal (WCT) to India's Adani Group.

In a fundamentally changed global scenario, India has stepped up both diplomacy and action to take on China in South Asia as well as south-east Asia.

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