COLOMBO: An Indian proposal to build a bridge across the Palk Strait has elicited both hostility and support among Sri Lankans.
Indian Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari’s US$ 3.6 billion plan to construct a bridge to link Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu with Talaimannar in Lanka’s Tamil-speaking Northern Province is bitterly opposed by South Lankan nationalists who have an atavistic fear of Indian domination if the sea separating the two countries is bridged.
But it is warmly welcomed by the Tamils of the Northern Province and Lankan experts on economic development. But it is
“The bridge will lead to the formation of a Greater Eelam,” warned writer Durand Appuhamy in The Island. Tissa Devendra feared that “hosts of Dalits and depressed classes will pour into the North triggering a demographic catastrophe”. Walter de Silva warned that the bridge “will end our existence as a separate country.” To Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera of the Federation of National Organizations the bridge will be the “biggest threat to Lanka’s sovereignty”.
But Dr.Shantha Hennayake, Professor of Geography at Pradeniya University, refuted the contention that the bridge will be a threat to the independence of Lanka.
“It is a total misconception. It is based on the belief that the bridge will be a one-way street, while it is going to be a two-way street, with Indians coming to Lanka and Lankans going to India. By enhancing communication, bilateral trade will be boosted. The fear that terrorists and heroin smugglers will enter Lanka is also baseless because these generally use unconventional routes,” he explained.
Prof. Willie Mendis of Moratuwa Engineering University recalled that in the August 2002 seminar on the bridge organized by the Lankan Institution of Engineers, both Indian and Lankan engineers were enthusiastic about the project.
Jaffna-based activist, Nirosh Thiagarajah, said: “ Easy access to goods from India will bring down prices in North Lanka. The tourist industry here will also look up. Travel to India will no longer be a privilege of the wealthy. People will even cycle to India! Interaction between the common folk of the two countries will lead to a better understanding of our political problem.”