Indian officials in Sri Lanka to hold talks over struggling economy

Senior Indian officials began talks with Sri Lankan leaders on economic aid on Thursday, a day after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced that the country’s economy had “collapsed”.

Due to the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves and mounting debt, exacerbated by the pandemic and other longer-term problems, Sri Lankans have been suffering from food, fuel and other necessities for months.

India’s foreign minister and the government’s chief economic adviser met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe and was later to meet other senior officials.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said the delegation said India stands ready to help Sri Lanka achieve a “rapid economic recovery by promoting investment, connectivity and strengthening economic ties”. Initially, there was no comment from the Sri Lankan side.

Wickremesinghe’s somber comments before Parliament on Wednesday appeared aimed at staving off criticism of a long-deteriorating situation. Economists and other Sri Lankans said they hoped the government would find ways to revitalize the economy.

“What the Prime Minister should be doing is not making any announcements. He must develop a plan to reactivate the system,” said WA Wijewardena, economist and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Sri Lanka.

Ordinary Sri Lankans have become disillusioned as they skimp on meals and other necessities and see their quality of life crumble due to forces beyond their control.

At midnight Wednesday, retired government worker Dharmasena Perera leaned on his motorbike at a gas station on the outskirts of the capital Colombo, trying to get some sleep after waiting in line to buy petrol for nearly 15 hours. He said he queued at 6 a.m. and left without lunch or dinner. At midnight he was still waiting his turn.

“He (the Prime Minister) always says things are going to be bad and difficult. It seems he doesn’t have any solutions either,” Perera said.

At another gas station in Gampaha, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Colombo, vendor Nuwan Pradeep also said people are well aware of the crisis but the government doesn’t seem to have any solutions.

“There’s no point in always explaining the same problem to us,” Pradeep said.

India has backed Sri Lanka with a $4 billion credit line to help it purchase fuel and other essential supplies.

Sri Lanka is also negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund after it stopped making payments on its debt.

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Associated Press writer Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi, India, contributed to this report.

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