In a momentous ceremony that signified a significant leap towards enhanced regional connectivity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe jointly inaugurated a ferry service on a Saturday, re-establishing a vital link between India and Sri Lanka after nearly four decades of dormancy due to the island nation’s protracted civil war.
Ferry service between India- Sri Lanka- Points to know
This renewed maritime connection facilitates travel between Nagapattinam, situated in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and Kankesanthurai in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna region. It was a heartfelt moment for both leaders, and Prime Minister Modi encapsulated the essence of this historic occasion in a heartfelt video message. He underscored the significance of connectivity not only in geographical proximity but as a conduit for bringing countries, their people, and their hearts closer together.
Modi made a poignant reference to Nagapattinam’s rich history of maritime trade, invoking the resonating verses of Subramania Bharati, the iconic Tamil poet, who sang of a bridge connecting the two nations. The Prime Minister passionately declared that the ferry service was a living testament to these historical and cultural ties.
Moreover, Modi expanded upon India’s burgeoning collaboration with Sri Lanka, highlighting fintech, energy, and digital payments as potential domains of mutual benefit. Wickremesinghe, in his video message, echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the significance of this step in strengthening the connectivity between the two countries. He nostalgically recalled how people from both nations have traversed the Palk Strait for many years, a connection disrupted by the civil war but now restored.
S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, who virtually addressed the inauguration, viewed the ferry service as a strategic initiative with substantial people-to-people contact potential. He reiterated India’s “neighbourhood first” policy, asserting that this maritime endeavor would foster not just connectivity but cooperation and contact. In this context, he invoked India’s “SAGAR” (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policy, emphasizing the nation’s commitment to maritime security, disaster response, and environmental safety. Jaishankar also highlighted the significance of the Kankesanthurai harbor and the assistance provided by India in its development.
Historically, the maritime route has been integral to the exchange of people and goods between the two countries. However, the prolonged civil conflict in Sri Lanka, spanning over three decades, compelled a temporary halt in passenger traffic across the Palk Strait. This interruption deeply affected the lives of people on both sides.
Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Tamil Nadu minister E. V. Velu were present at the event, showcasing the collaborative efforts behind this significant maritime development. The Nagapattinam port, managed by the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board, had recently undergone a transformative upgrade, bolstered by an infusion of INR 8 crore from the Ministry of External Affairs. This funding played a pivotal role in modernizing the port, including dredging the channel and refurbishing the passenger terminal building and approach road.
Prime Minister Modi shared his vision for connectivity, extending it beyond the realm of transportation. He underscored the comprehensive nature of India’s collaboration with Sri Lanka, focusing on sectors such as fintech and energy. Modi articulated plans for fintech sector connectivity by linking the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) with Lanka Pay and connecting energy grids to enhance energy security and reliability.
President Wickremesinghe acknowledged the historical significance of travel across the Palk Strait, which facilitated trade and cultural exchange between the two countries. He pointed out that this vital connectivity was disrupted due to the conflict, but now, with the return of peace, it could be re-established.
The backdrop of the civil war in Sri Lanka is crucial to understanding the cessation of the ferry service to India. Jaffna, in particular, was a significant stronghold of the former Tamil Tiger rebels during this tumultuous period. The Kankesanturai port was targeted by the rebels, prompting the Sri Lankan Navy to close it in the 1980s. This closure disrupted the ferry service to India. To rectify this, the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board sought assistance from the Ministry of External Affairs, and an allocation of INR 8 crore was sanctioned. This funding was utilized for the upgrading of the Nagapattinam port, making it conducive for the renewed ferry service.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar emphasized that Sri Lanka has greatly benefited from various Indian government policies, notably the “Neighbourhood First” policy, which prioritizes connectivity and cooperation. This holistic approach extends beyond the ferry service and encompasses initiatives like Chennai-Jaffna flights, housing projects, cultural centers, and hospitals in Sri Lanka. Jaishankar also alluded to future prospects, including grid connections, pipelines, economic corridors, and support for the rights of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.
The new ferry service holds immense promise for the tourism industry, especially due to Nagapattinam’s proximity to religious landmarks like Thirunallar, Nagore, and Velankanni. Operated by the Shipping Corporation of India, the service will operate daily, covering the 60-nautical mile (110-km) journey in approximately 3.5 hours. It represents a significant stride towards rekindling cultural ties, fostering cooperation, and bringing the people of India and Sri Lanka closer together through a bridge across the sea.