India-Sri Lanka Relations: Bilateral Relations, ISFTA | India Sri Lanka Relations UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

India-Sri Lanka Relations, commonly known as Indo-Sri Lanka relations or Indian-Sri Lankan relations, encompass the bilateral ties between India and Sri Lanka. The historical and cultural affinities between these nations run deep, while the physical separation by the vast Indian Ocean serves as a distinct geographic demarcation. As Sri Lanka’s sole neighboring country, India holds a significant position in the South Asian region, leading to collaborative efforts in establishing a cohesive security framework in the Indian Ocean.

India-Sri Lanka relations have been historically significant, marked by cultural, economic, and political ties. In the UPSC exam, understanding these relations is crucial for comprehending regional dynamics and India’s foreign policy strategies. To prepare, candidates should focus on key historical events, bilateral agreements, and recent developments to comprehensively understand this important relationship. It is necessary for the UPSC aspirants to be well informed about the India Sri Lanka Relations for the upcoming IAS Exam.

India-Sri Lanka Relations

The Ramayana is the source of the oldest reference to Sri Lanka. With the aid of Hanuman, Ram could free Sita, who had been imprisoned in Lanka by Ravana. The relationships date back to the early days of Buddhism. About 2000 years ago, the Buddhist movement began to spread throughout Sri Lanka. India’s economy has been closely connected with the north and northeast of Sri Lanka.

  • More than 2,500 years have passed since the beginning of India and Sri Lanka’s relations.
  • Intellectual, cultural, religious, and linguistic exchanges have a long history between the two nations.
  • In May 2009, the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE declared an end to their nearly three-decade-long war. Throughout the conflict, India backed the Sri Lankan government’s right to take action against terrorist groups.
  • Close contacts at all levels have characterized the partnership in recent years. The growth of trade and investment has been accompanied by collaboration in infrastructure building, education, culture, and defense.
  • The connection between the two nations has been strengthened in recent years by notable advancements in developing aid initiatives.

Indo Sri Lanka Political Relations

Sri Lanka’s domestic politics and international ties are highly geopolitical, with foreign countries having vested interests. The nation has been accused of violating human rights after emerging from a civil conflict. High-level exchanges of visits at regular intervals have been a defining feature of India-Sri Lanka relations.

  • Maithripala Sirisena, the then-elected president of Sri Lanka, made his first official trip to India in February 2015, and Modi later visited Colombo again in March of the same year. In 28 years, Modi was the first Indian prime leader to travel alone to Sri Lanka.
  • During his maiden foreign trip to Sri Lanka in June 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a significant symbolic gesture that reflected the unique relationship between the two nations.
  • Sri Lanka participates in regional organizations such as BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and SAARC, where India holds a prominent position.
  • India had extended an invitation to BIMSTEC member state leaders to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his council of ministers’ oath-taking in 2019. The government’s emphasis on its “Neighborhood First” strategy was in sync with this.
  • Although Sri Lanka has traditionally been in India’s geopolitical sphere, its ties to China have become stronger in recent years.
  • Former President Rajapaksa brought Sri Lanka closer to China while downplaying Indian concerns, such as rehabilitating Tamil refugees from the protracted civil war in Sri Lanka.

India Sri Lanka Relations: Commercial and Economic Ties

Throughout the years, the economic and commercial relationship between India and Sri Lanka has grown significantly. Trade between the two nations increased dramatically after the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) was implemented in 2000.

  • For years, Sri Lanka has been a top choice for Indian direct investment.
  • Among the SAARC nations, Sri Lanka is one of India’s biggest commercial partners. India is Sri Lanka’s top international trading partner.
  • In 2015–17, India exported $5.3 billion to Sri Lanka while importing $743 million from that nation.
  • Following the March 2000 implementation of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, trade between the two nations increased quickly.
  • While Sri Lankan exports to India have significantly expanded over the past few years after ISFTA went into effect in 2000.
  • The investments are spread throughout various industries, including the manufacturing of tires, cement, glass, infrastructure development, hospitality & tourism, banking, IT, financial services, real estate, telecommunication, and food processing (tea & fruit juices).
  • The greatest source market for Sri Lankan tourism is India, which serves as another crucial link in the tourism chain connecting the two countries. Every fifth traveler comes from India, making it the country that contributes the most to the industry.
  • The trade balance has widened due to a significant increase in India’s exports to Sri Lanka. This is mostly due to Sri Lanka’s limited ability to export goods to meet Indian demand as well as to a rise in imports from India as a result of the exports’ competitiveness.
  • The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which is still pending between the two nations, aims to build on the momentum created by the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and move the two economies beyond trade in goods toward greater integration as well as give bilateral economic cooperation new life and synergy.

India Sri Lanka Relations: Cultural and Educational Aspects

Periodic Cultural Exchange Programs between the two nations are based on the Cultural Cooperation Agreement that the two Governments signed on November 29, 1977. By providing classes in Indian music, dance, Hindi, and yoga, the Indian Cultural Centre in Colombo actively promotes an understanding of Indian culture. Cultural groups from both nations exchange visit each year.

  • The India-Sri Lanka Foundation, established in December 1998 as an intergovernmental initiative, also seeks to improve scientific, technical, educational, and cultural cooperation through civil society exchanges and increasing contact between the young people of the two nations.
  • Through collaborative efforts, India and Sri Lanka marked the 2600th anniversary of Lord Buddha achieving enlightenment (Sambuddhathva Jayanthi).
  • In 2014, the two governments also commemorated Anagarika Dharmapala’s 150th birthday.
  • Cooperation is crucial in the field of education. Currently, India provides 290 scholarships to Sri Lankan students each year.
  • Additionally, India provides 370 spots yearly to citizens of Sri Lanka through the Colombo Plan and the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Scheme.
  • In an effort to foster more interpersonal interaction, the Indian government formally introduced the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) program for travelers from Sri Lanka on April 14, 2015.

Defence and Security Cooperation Between India and Sri Lanka

Significant training and Service-to-Service relationships are the cornerstones of an expanding defense alliance between India and Sri Lanka. The fact that both countries have comparable concerns, particularly those pertaining to the safety and security of their communication sea lanes, has an impact on their bilateral conversations in this area.

  • India and Sri Lanka conduct joint Military ‘Mitra Shakti’ and Naval exercises (SLINEX).
  • The Sri Lankan military is also trained by India in defense.
  • India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives have joined hands to boost surveillance, anti-piracy operations, and maritime pollution control in the Indian Ocean region by signing a trilateral maritime security cooperation pact.
  • Additionally, an agreement on combating human and drug trafficking was signed in April 2019 between India and Sri Lanka.

India Sri Lanka Relations: Major Issues and Conflicts

The bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka, characterized by historical and cultural ties, has faced several challenges in recent years. These issues have strained the existing connections between the two nations, impacting various aspects of their engagement. Following are the key points of major issue and conflicts of India Sri Lanka Relations:

  • Fishermen Issue: Proximity of territorial waters, particularly in the Palk Straits and Gulf of Mannar, has led to frequent incidents of fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). Disputes arise as Indian fishermen historically had unrestricted access to these waters, impacting Sri Lankan fishermen’s catch and vessels due to the use of mechanized trawlers.
  • Hambantota Port Lease: Concerns have arisen over China’s 99-year lease of the strategic Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka. There are apprehensions about potential military utilization by China, despite its initial portrayal as a commercial operation. Sightings of Chinese submarines in the port have further added to security concerns.
  • Mattala Airport Joint Venture: The joint venture between India and Sri Lanka for managing the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport has not progressed as intended. The proximity of the China-run Hambantota port to the airport has contributed to complications in the project.
  • Conflict and War Crimes: The prolonged conflict between the majority Sinhala and minority Tamil populations in Sri Lanka has strained bilateral relations. Issues relating to war crimes investigations and accountability have further complicated the relationship.
  • Power Station Project: The Sampur Thermal Power Station Project, entrusted to the Indian Public Sector Undertaking National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), was abandoned due to environmental concerns. This development has impacted cooperation in the energy sector.

India Sri Lanka Relations UPSC

Indo Sri Lanka Relations is an important topic of the International Relations under the UPSC Syllabus. The history of the India-Sri Lanka relations have a history of more than 2500 years. Aspirants can prepare the topic in depth by referring to the Current Affairs and International Relations Books for UPSC.

India Sri Lanka Relations UPSC Questions

Question: Sri Lanka has handed over which strategic port to China for a 99 year lease? (A) Hambantota, (B) Trincomalee Harbor, (C) Port of Colombo, (D) Port of Galle

Answer: (A) Hambantota

Question: The India Sri Lanka Foundation was established in: (A) December, 1996, (B) December, 1998, (C) July, 2000, (D) March, 2015

Answer: (B) December, 1998

Questions for UPSC Mains: Discuss the historical and cultural ties between India and Sri Lanka, and analyze the significance of these ties in shaping the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Questions for UPSC Mains: Examine the key issues and challenges in the India-Sri Lanka relationship, including the ethnic conflict, maritime security, and regional cooperation. Assess the measures taken by both countries to address these challenges and enhance their bilateral ties.

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