Syllabus Section: International Relations/ GS Paper II


The relationship between India and Sri Lanka is more than 2,500 years old. Both countries have a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction. In recent years, the relationship has-been marked by close contacts at all levels. Trade and investment have grown and there is cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defence. Both countries share a broad understanding on major issues of international interest. In recent years, significant progress in implementation of developmental assistance projects for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and

Disadvantaged sections of the population in Sri Lanka has helped further cement the bonds of friendship between the two countries.

India-Sri Lanka Commercial Relations

• Sri Lanka has long been a priority destination for direct investment from India. Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners in SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). Trade between the two countries grew particularly rapidly after the entry into force of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in March 2000. According to Sri Lankan Customs, bilateral trade in 2018 amounted to US $ 4.93 billion.

• Exports from India to Sri Lanka in 2018 were US$ 4.16billion, while exports from Sri Lanka to India are US$ 767 million. The main items of exports from Sri Lanka to India are: Base Oil, Poultry feeds, Areca nuts, (waste and scrap) paper or paperboard, Pepper, Ignition Wiring Sets, Copper wire, Marble, travertine and alabaster.

• Main items of Imports from India to Sri Lanka are: Gas oil/ Diesel, Motorcycles, Pharmaceutical Products, Portland cement, Semi finished products of Iron, Military weapon, Fuel oil, Rice, Cement clinkers, Kerosene Type jet Fuel.

• India is one of the largest investors in Sri Lanka with cumulative investments of around USD 1.239 billion.

• The investments are in diverse areas including petroleum retail, IT, financial services, real estate, telecommunication, hospitality & tourism, banking and food processing (tea & fruit juices), copper and other metal industries), tires, cement, glass manufacturing, and infrastructure development (railway, power, water supply).


India – Sri Lanka Security Co-operation

• Sri Lankan military personnel are trained by India.

• Joint Military training exercise between Indian Army and Sri Lankan Army was conducted from December 1 to 14, 2019 at Foreign Training Node (FTN) in Pune. This military training exercise between Indian Army and Sri Lankan Army is known as ‘Mitra Shakti.’

• ‘Mitra Shakti 2019’ was the 7th edition of the Joint Military training between Indian and Sri Lankan Army.

• The focus was on achieving the desired level of interoperability and cohesive operational ability of the troops from both India and Sri Lanka through mutual exchange of operational experience and best practices.

• India has exported Military hardware to Sri Lanka.

• 7th Bilateral Maritime Exercise between Indian Navy and Sri Lankan Navy was held from 7th September 2019 to 12th September 2019. It was a 6 day joint exercise conducted off the coast of Visakhapatnam. Indian Navy was represented by ‘INS Khukri’ and Naval Offshore Patrol Vessel ‘INS Sumedha.’ The Sri Lankan Navy was represented by Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel SLNS Sindhurala and SLNS Suranimala. This regularly conducted Maritime Exercise between Indian Navy and Sri Lankan Navy is known as ‘SLINEX.’

Significance of Indo- Sri Lankan Bilateral Relations:

Geopolitical Significance: Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean region as an island State has been of strategic geopolitical relevance to India’s maritime interests in region

Cultural & Educational Relations: Both the countries shares long and historical cultural ties with Buddhism as common link. Apart from this the cultural cooperation agreement1977 also serves as the basis for periodic cultural exchange program.

People to people ties:  India’s principal interest in Sri Lanka arises out of the fact that Sinhala majority Sri Lanka has a substantial Tamil Population with close emotional, cultural and people to people ties with Tamils in India.

Defence & Security Cooperation: Both the countries regularly conduct joint Military exercise- MitraShakti and Join Naval exercise (SLINEX). This increases synergy between both militaries thus safeguarding the common interest of countries.

Economic & Commercial ties: Sri Lanka has long been a priority destination for FDI and Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners among the SAARC countries. India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally.

For enhanced cooperation at multilateral forums: Sri Lanka and India both share the member ship of multi lateral regional groupings like BIMSTEC and SAARC etc.

India’s ‘Neighborhood First Policy: Sri Lanka is at the core of our 'Neighborhood First' policy and SAGAR doctrine.

Maritime interests: it is important for the coast guards of the two countries to establish the safety and security of the Indian Ocean region.



India-Sri Lanka: Issues and Conflicts

Issues with respect to Tamilian interests: India hopes that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect would be realized and that devolution of powers according to the 13th amendment would be taken forward. But Colombo has given no commitment on this.

Fisherman and fishing issues: The Palk Bay region has become a highly contested site in recent decades. Multiple issues include ongoing disagreement over, frequent poaching by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters, and the damaging economic and environmental effects of trawling.

Continued Katchchatheevu Island dispute: Through the 1974 agreement, India agreed to Sri Lanka's sovereignty over Katchchatheevu Island but with some safeguards to its Indian fishermen through Article 5 but it was vague enough for the Sri Lankan government to deny the fishing rights. Tamil Nadu is seeking the retrieval of Katchchatheevu from Sri Lanka

Reluctance in approval of infrastructure projects: The present Sri Lankan government has ruled out taking forward the MoU signed by his predecessor allowing Indian participation in energy and infrastructure projects in Trincomalee and Indian stake in Mattala airport.

Sri Lanka’s security dilemma: Growing too close to China could create problems with India while leaning too much in favor of India could affect Chinese military sales to the country and other aspects of their bilateral relationship.

Strategic Issues due to growing Sri Lanka’s ties with China:

• In the period of low profile relationship between the two nations, SL apparently started favoring China over India and The presence of China in Sri Lanka increased significantly in the recent years .

• Over the years Chinese funds started flowing, in fact it has started big buck infrastructure projects in the Island nation..

• China has been the largest supplier of arms to Sri Lanka since the 1950s.In 2014 Sri Lanka allowed two Chinese submarines and a warship to dock at its port in Colombo. This was seen as a major breach of trust between New Delhi and Colombo and also heightened tensions with Beijing.

• As part of Maritime Silk Route (MSR) policy, China built two ports in Sri Lanka, one in Colombo and another in Hambantota.

• China has also collaborated in satellite launching activities with Supreme SAT (Pvt.), Sri Lanka’s only satellite operator.

• In an effort to counter china India is planning to build Trincomalee Port which is envisioned as an Indian counterweight to Chinese developments at Hambantota Port.


While treating the India first policy of Sri Lanka as response to India’s neighborhood first policy, Indian authorities must give serious thought to response on requests or concern raised by Sri Lankan authorities on all respects. India must engage, understand, and assist Sri Lanka in a non-reciprocal manner with respect to development of infrastructural projects, but it has to ensure that it is not taken for granted under any circumstance. India should not be complacent with the policy announcement from Colombo and must insist that India’s concerns and interests should be taken due care of.


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