Friday, May 30, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
While direct geo-political imperatives directed past bilateral ties, economics and trade are quietly coming to the centre stage now. In what was described by Mr. Naik as an ongoing ``silent revolution'', Lanka IOC, a wholly owned subsidiary, has taken the farm on a 35-year lease. ``This is a historic, golden day for India and Sri Lanka in the field of hydrocarbons'', Mr. Naik said after laying the foundation stone for modernisation of the farm.
The 99 storage tanks of World War II vintage, situated in the hillocks across a sprawling 865 acres in the China Bay on the outskirts of the town, can hold up to one million tonnes. India meets 1.4 million tonnes of Sri Lanka's annual oil requirement of 3.5 million tonnes. Each tank has a capacity to hold 12,250 kilolitres. The first phase of renovation would be completed by December. Currently, only 15 tanks are operational. The farm had 101 tanks, but Japanese suicide pilots destroyed two during World War II.
The leasing of the farm to Lanka IOC has come without the rancour and bitterness that met previous Indian engagements in the island. ``As this is a commercial transaction, not a military involvement, I don't think there will be any problem. It would be welcome'', R. Ariyasundaram, a long-time Trincomalee resident, told The Hindu.
Heightened energy cooperation began with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe's meeting with the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, in New Delhi, after the BJP won the December 2001 parliamentary elections. The development coincided with the commencement of direct negotiations between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The oil tank farm, which is connected by rail and sea, is one of the components of Lanka IOC's operations in Sri Lanka, the others being bulk selling of petro products and, upgrading 250 petrol stations across the island, which were earlier run by Sri Lanka's State entity, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.
India's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Nirupam Sen, described the facility as ``the cornerstone of the energy security and prosperity of Sri Lanka''. M.S. Ramachandran, Chairman, IOC, B.K. Chaturvedi, Petroleum Secretary, and M. Nageswaran, Managing Director, Lanka IOC, highlighted the importance of energy ties between the two countries.
The relative public ease with which the involvement of an Indian enterprise was made possible is also a silent pointer to the changing contours of Sri Lanka's conflict-dynamics. It may be recalled that the LTTE saw Trincomalee as the ``capital'' of its ``Tamil Eelam''.
However, with the town remaining under Government control, the LTTE's political headquarters functions from the rebel-held Kilinochchi town.
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