India eyeing bridge or undersea tunnel to link Sri Lanka

“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. 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. 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, Livemint reported.India was mulling the project after the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) suggested that India look at a project linking Sri Lanka, India’s roads minister Nitin Gadkari said at a Mint Conversation, a platform where special invitees interact with Mint staff. 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. “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. (Colombo Gazette) “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. read more

Security Council urged to help spare Syrians from devastation

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeReena Ghelani, Director of Operations and Advocacy at OCHA, briefs a Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria.UN relief workers ‘shocked’ by what they saw in RukbanTurning to humanitarian efforts, Ms. Ghelani, reported back on the joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) convoy to Rukban, earlier this month. It was the first relief since January, which brought food and other essential supplies to nearly 50,000 displaced persons and allowed over 5,000 children to be vaccinated against deadly diseases.The situation there, however, continues to remain troubling, she said, describing how “colleagues returned shocked from what they saw on the ground, reporting grave protection issues, increasing food insecurity and no certified medical doctors among the stranded population.”Given the urgent need and approaching winter, the UN Secretary-General has called for another convoy to be urgently deployed, she added.Elsewhere in Syria, fighting continues to displace populations and millions remain dependent on assistance for their survival, with little semblance of safety and security.The worst affected are Syrian children. Over 50,000 in the north-east of the country are facing challenges accessing schools and education, and an estimated 10,000 having not been able to attend classes since September.“Vehicles, including school buses and private cars, have been prevented from crossing check-points if they are carrying children going to schools teaching the nationally accredited curriculum,” said Ms. Ghelani.‘Millions of people depend on your decision’In her briefing, Ms. Ghelani also called on the Security Council to extend, for a further year, its resolution authorizing cross-border humanitarian convoys which provide more than 4.3 million Syrians in non-Government controlled areas – a third of those in need across the country – with food and non-food relief items.She explained that the cross-border assistance has a strict monitoring regime, checked and verified by the UN Monitoring Mechanism at designated border crossing points, confirmation of deliveries upon arrival as well as post-distribution monitoring by independent third parties and feedback from affected communities.“Every truck is checked to ensure it only contains humanitarian supplies,” stressed the UN official, adding that there were no “alternative means of reaching these people as access from within the country is impeded … The renewal of the resolution will continue to save lives. Millions of people depend on your decision.” Reported shelling – with mortars allegedly containing chlorine gas – against densely populated neighbourhoods in Aleppo was particularly worrying, Reena Ghelani, the Director of Operations and Advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the Security Council.“Any confirmed use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and a clear and egregious violation of international law,” she stressed.People with respiratory symptoms were rushed to the two main medical centres in the area, she continued, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) “stands ready to provide further public health support as required.”In addition, airstrikes were also reported in the Idlib Governorate on 24 and 25 November, Ms. Ghelani told Council members, which were the first such incidents in more than two months, since the demilitarization agreement between Russia and Turkey in September.“The stakes remain high as the alternative is humanitarian suffering on a scale that would devastate a population of some three million people in northwestern Syria who have known nothing but war and suffering in recent years,” she warned. read more