New Delhi: India, after signing a road transport agreement with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, is said to be considering an ambitious bridge or undersea tunnel linking the Indian mainland with Sri Lanka.
India was mulling the project after the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) suggested that India look at a project linking Sri Lanka, roads minister Nitin Gadkari said at a Mint Conversation, a platform where special invitees interact with Mint staff.
“When I met ADB officials (in June), they told me to look at a connectivity project between the Indian mainland and Sri Lanka as well. They said that they would finance it. They proposed a bridge between Rameswaram and Sri Lanka,” Gadkari said.
“When I recently visited Rotterdam (Netherlands), I visited an immersed tunnel connecting Rotterdam and Belgium. So, it could be an immersed tunnel or a bridge. We are looking at it,” the minister said.
Connectivity as been a key theme in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) for many years now and a beginning was made when India signed the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) transport pact in June in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu.
The pact was proposed after Saarc, which also includes Afghanistan, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, failed to conclude a motor vehicles pact, along with an agreement on regional railways when the leaders of the eight nations met in Kathmandu in November 2014. This was because Pakistan was unable to secure internal clearances. India-Pakistan squabbles have been blamed for Saarc failing to realize its potential for economic integration.
The BBIN pact seeks to open up vehicular traffic in order to give impetus to trade and sub-regional cooperation, a key element of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s neighbourhood policy.
According to Sri Lankan diplomats, the idea of connecting India and Sri Lanka by a bridge or undersea tunnel has not been broached by the New Delhi government in recent times.
But news reports say the idea of a land bridge or a causeway between India and Sri Lanka was mooted back in 2002 by current Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in his earlier stint. The idea behind it was to enable trucks from southern India to ferry goods to the Colombo port, one of the largest in the region. However, there were strong objections from some sections in Sri Lanka, who said the plan would mean Sri Lanka will be seen as an “extension of India”, according to media reports.
“It (the idea of a corridor) is a good idea. But I think it will take time to fructify,” said a person familiar with the developments who did not want to be named. “If it works out, it will definitely give a boost to sub regional cooperation within Saarc.”
Currently, India is connected to Sri Lanka by at least 100 flights a week. A ferry link between Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu and Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka was snapped in 1983, when the Tamil-Sinhala ethnic conflict erupted in Sri Lanka.
Another ferry service that was started in 2011 between Tuticorin (in Tamil Nadu) and Colombo after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, was discontinued as the operator deemed it uneconomical.