As Sri Lanka steers through its worst economic crisis, the completion of the first stage of the crucial $91.27 million railway project connecting Colombo with Jaffna by India has brought back smiles for many as travel between the two cities will now become easier and comfortable. The first phase of the project has been completed in a record six months. The second phase will commence next year. According to News On Air, an inaugural run of a train has been scheduled for today from Colombo to Jaffna.
Public sector Indian Railway Construction International (IRCON), which is handling the project, has reconstructed the train tracks from scratch. The new tracks will facilitate trains to operate at a maximum speed of 100 km per hour bringing down the travel time.
The project, part of India’s overall efforts to stabilise the economic situation in the island nation, will help it build a stronger network with Sri Lanka under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Neighbourhood First policy. Besides, this also underscores New Delhi’s thrust of building stronger connectivity not just within India but outside.
According to Foreignbrief.com, India’s role as the primary benefactor in this project will also help further increase its political influence in the Indo-Pacific, and serve as a check towards China’s growing involvement in the region.
However, this is not the first rail project India has undertaken in Sri Lanka. Earlier, the tsunami-affected Southern Railway line was also upgraded under Indian LoC. India has so far upgraded around 300 km of railway track and provided modern signaling and telecommunication systems for around 330 km in Sri Lanka.
India has reiterated its support to Sri Lanka, which defaulted last year. New Delhi has also provided support and assistance in the form of food and medicines to Colombo since the start of the unprecedented economic crisis.
Along with Japan and France, India is co-chairing a 17 countries’ committee overseeing the resurrection of Sri Lanka. China, which accounts for about 20 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total debt, has so far refused to join the committee of the beleaguered nation’s official bilateral creditors
India’s assistance to Sri Lanka has further boosted New Delhi’s position as a credible and reliable partner upstaging China, which enjoyed significant control in the island nation.
“Since the onset of Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis, India has acted with alacrity to provide succor to the island nation,” the Diplomat said, adding that the Chinese loans, mostly used to build economically nonviable “white elephant” projects, are seen as one of the factors that hastened the economic collapse of the island nation and gave rise to allegations of “debt-trap diplomacy.”