Indian officials in Sri Lanka to discuss ailing economy

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FILE – Sri Lankan auto rickshaw drivers queue near a gas station in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 13, 2022 to buy gasoline. The people of Sri Lanka are facing a severe economic crisis that has devastated the household budget amid high inflation. Basic foodstuffs are just as scarce as medicines. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardene File)

FILE – A Buddhist nun collapses next to a barricade after releasing tear gas outside police headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka on June 9, 2022 to protest the economic crisis. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Wednesday that Sri Lanka’s economy had collapsed. For months there was a lack of food, fuel and electricity. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardene File)

FILE – Sri Lankan Buddhist student monks raise slogans in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 20, 2022, calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the economic crisis. Drugs are scarce among staple foods. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardene, File)

FILE – Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gestures during an interview with The Associated Press June 11, 2022 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Wednesday that Sri Lanka’s economy had collapsed after months of food, fuel and electricity shortages. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardene File)

FILE – A man watches from a construction site as students march in Colombo, Sri Lanka June 20, 2022 to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the economic crisis. The people of Sri Lanka are facing a severe economic crisis that is affecting household budgets with high inflation. In addition to medicines, the supply of staple foods is also decreasing. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardene File)

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

Due to the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves and mounting debt, pandemic and other long-term problems, Sri Lankans are faced with food, fuel and other necessities.

India’s foreign minister and top government economic adviser met with Presidents Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe and was later to meet with 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. There was initially no comment from Sri Lanka.

Wickremesinghe’s depressing remarks in Parliament on Wednesday were aimed at staving off criticism of the long-deteriorating situation. Economists and other Sri Lankans expressed their hope that the government will find ways to revitalize the economy.

“What the Prime Minister should be doing is not making any announcements. They need to develop a plan to reactivate the system,” said WA Wijewardene, economist and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Ordinary Sri Lankans are disillusioned as they skimp on food and other necessities, with their quality of life deteriorating due to forces beyond their control.

At midnight Wednesday, retired government worker Dharmasena Pereira 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 gas for nearly 15 hours. He said he checked in at 6am and left without lunch or dinner. He waited until midnight for his train.

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“He (PM) always says things are getting worse and harder. Looks like they don’t even have a solution,” Perera said.

At another gas station in Gampaha, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Colombo, vendor Nuwan Pradeep said people are well aware of the crisis but the government has no solution.

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

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

Sri Lanka is negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund after defaulting on its debt.

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

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