Rs 100 crore educational assistance to SL

Galle: As part of its efforts to assist Sri Lanka in developing human resources, India today announced a massive expansion of its educational assistance provided to students in this country at a cost of Rs 100 crore by increasing slots in various academic courses.

"I am happy to announce a substantial increase in India`s educational assistance, amounting to 2.5 billion Sri Lankan Rupees in grant-funding to assist meritorious Sri Lankan students," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said after handing over to Sri Lanka the Galle-Hikkaduwa segment of the Southern Railway project build with Indian assistance.

Under the new scholarship programme, Krishna said, scholarships and self-financing slots for undergraduate, masters and doctorate-level courses will be increased to nearly 270 per year. The new programmee would be implemented during a period of three years and will cover the course fee, cost of books, boarding and lodging and a monthly stipend to the scholars. "This marks a three-fold increase, and includes 120 slots for undergraduate courses, 25 seats for IT engineering, 50 slots for Masters-level courses, and 40 slots for a highly-subsidised self-financing scheme," said the Minister, who visited the war-ravaged Northern Province.

The new initiative is part of the India-Sri Lanka Knowledge Initiative launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 and the schemes would cover various categories of beneficiaries from school students to university researchers and teachers. Indian officials said the scholarship support to deserving students pursuing their `A` level and university degrees in Sri Lanka is being expanded to cover about 500 students annually.

India has also added a new programme `Maulana Azad Scholarship Scheme` to the knowledge initiative programme to provide 50 scholarships for Masters Degrees in the fields of Agriculture, Science and Engineering. With a view to share the benefits of India`s growth story in the field of IT, India has initiated a new scheme `Rajiv Gandhi Scholarship Scheme` to provide 25 slots every year for BE courses in IT in top-ranked institutes in India, the officials said.

Slots under the `Nehru Memorial Scheme` will also be doubled to 120 per year and the seats as part of the self-financing scheme in medicine, dental science and pharmacy will be increased to 40, they said. India has also decided to select 150 deserving students, six from each district in the country, for monthly monetary support for two-year duration under the `Mahatma Gandhi Scholarship Scheme`. Officials said the corpus fund of the Ceylon Estate Workers Education Trust has also been doubled to support the education of poor students from the upcountry areas.

Earlier, Krishna inaugurated the 19-km rail link between this southern Lankan town and Hikkaduwa upgraded with Indian assistance in the presence of his counterpart G L Peiris and Transport Minister Kumara Welgama. The reconstructed Galle-Matara segment was opened in February 2011 for high-speed passenger train transport while the second phase of construction of the 19-kilometer segment between Galle and Hikkaduwa commenced at the same time. The railway line was reconstructed by Indian Railway Construction Company Limited (IRCON) and India has pledged a line of credit of USD 167.4 million for this project.