Jaffna (Sri Lanka), Oct. 8 (ANI): External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday handed over certificates to a small number of beneficiaries of India's Housing Project and
to those owners of micro and small enterprises, whose business premises were damaged during the armed conflict.
In his address at the ceremony here, Khurshid reiterated that India remains committed to uplifting the lives of the people of the Northern Province through its efforts to restore the social, educational, economic and cultural infrastructure, which were devastated by the armed conflict.
"I would like to assure the people of the Northern Province that India will work closely with the Government of Sri Lanka and the Northern Provincial Council, to ensure that a constructive and cooperative relationship is established, with the overall objective of rebuilding peoples' lives devastated by the three decades of armed conflict," Khurshid said.
"India is committed to pursuing the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, and building upon it, to achieve a meaningful devolution of powers. Our objective is to enable a lasting political settlement which will ensure that all communities, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, are able to lead a life marked by equality, justice, dignity and self-respect. In this regard, India will do everything possible to work with the Government of Sri Lanka to take this process forward in a spirit of partnership and cooperation," he added.
Saying that he was happy that his visit coincided with the successful culmination of the first provincial elections in over 25 years and the formation of the Northern Provincial Council, Khurshid assured Sri Lanka that India was committed to assisting them in their endeavour for rehabilitation and reconstruction. "Our assistance to the Sri Lankan people, appreciated for its timeliness and phased approach, has evolved taking into account the ground situation and the immediate needs of the people at any given time," he said.
Speaking specifically on India's Housing Project, Khurshid said that it marks the flagship project of India's development assistance to Sri Lanka and exclaimed that he was happy to note that it is the largest grant assistance project undertaken by the Government of India in any part of the world.
Khurshid said that under India's Small Development Project Scheme, the country has successfully completed a number of other projects and continue to expand its portfolio of projects in diverse sectors such as health, education, agriculture, fishing, livelihood restoration, community empowerment, and culture.
Khurshid also added that the Jaffna Cultural Centre at a location next to the Jaffna Public Library is another important Indian initiative, which is in progress.
"We are in the process of concluding the MOU with the Government of Sri Lanka for implementation of the project," he said.
"I am confident that this Centre, when completed, will emerge as a cultural landmark in Jaffna, if not the entire Northern Province," he added.
Earlier today, Khurshid visited Tellipalai, one of the villages where beneficiaries are reconstructing their houses themselves, with the help of funds provided by the Government of India, and said that he was happy to inaugurate two houses that had just been completed, among many others in the area.
India has completed 1,000 houses under the pilot project and nearly 16,000 houses are under various stages of construction in the 2nd Phase of the Indian Housing Project. It is expected that India's commitment to construct all the 50,000 houses would be fulfilled before the end of 2015.
With an eye on the future, Khurshid said that India would look to enhance seas-side connectivity by restarting the ferry service between Rameswaram and Talaimannar.
"For this purpose, we are helping reconstruct the pier at Talaimannar. In addition, we have also offered assistance to rehabilitate Palaly and develop it into a full-fledged civilian airport, with regional connectivity. Our belief is that these initiatives will provide a substantial fillip to the local economies on both sides," Khurshid said.
Meanwhile, Khurshid confirmed that the reconstruction project for the Northern Railway line, under Indian lines of credit, is progressing smoothly.
The Medawachchiya-Madhu Road section was inaugurated in April 2013 and the Kilinochchi-Omanthai section was inaugurated in September 2013. The full project is likely to be completed by April 2014, ahead of schedule.
"Our vision is to see the Yaal Devi Express, which used to ply on this route, restart its services in 2014," he said.
Speaking of India's assistance in the railways sector in Sri Lanka, Khurshid said: "We have helped remove wrecks from the Kankesanthurai Harbour and have completed the process of dredging the port. We have offered a line of credit for upgrading the infrastructure and developing it into a commercial port."
Earlier today, Khurshid met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, where they discussed bilateral issues, including that of fishermen languishing in prisons of the island nation and devolution of powers to provinces. (ANI)