COLOMBO: Contrary to reports from New Delhi, there is no proposal to build a bridge between India and Sri Lanka across the Palk Strait, according to the statement made by Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday.
Making a statement in parliament on his Indian visit from September 14 to 16, Wickremesinghe said that he was “surprised” to read in a newspaper about a proposal to build a bridge.
“This news item has been published without verifying the facts and it could breach the confidence of readers,” he said.
Lankan Foreign Ministry officials confirmed to Express that neither the bridge or the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was discussed at Delhi at any level.
Incidentally, it was Wickremesinghe who had first suggested the building of a bridge across the Palk Strait and even named it the “Hanuman Bridge”. That was in 2002 ,when he was Prime Minister for two years during the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga. The Lankan Transport Ministry had prepared a project report and even given an estimation of the cost.
But there was hostility to the idea from Lankan nationalists who said that it will lead to an on rush of Indians and Indian exploitative capitalists. The project was abandoned. Having become sensitive to Lankan nationalism now, Wickremesinghe would rather not have the bridge.
However the Indian Minister of Transport, Nitin Gadkari, had said that India is planning to build an India-Lanka bridge at a cost of US$ 5 billion with ADB assistance. It was also said that there will be India-Lanka official level meetings on the project in Colombo in October.
Wickremesinghe told parliament that several other Indo-Lankan projects were discussed with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other cabinet ministers. Most importantly, an agreement on economic and technological cooperation will be signed in Colombo in May or June 2016. Modi has been invited to visit Lanka for that purpose. .
Among other agreements, Indian oil companies will set up a refinery in Lanka with the permission of the Central Environment Authority. Steps will also be taken to implement long pending Indian projects like the full utilization of the oil tanks in Trincomalee and the coal fired power plant at Sampur in Trincomalee district.