By M.R. Narayan Swamy, New Delhi, Oct 31: India is willing to provide much needed baby food, sugar and rice to Sri Lanka`s shortages-hit Jaffna peninsula -- provided traders from there are ready to pick up the goods in Tamil Nadu.
The Indian government is in touch with its Sri Lankan counterpart regarding this, and any exports through Tamil traders will be done only with the knowledge of Colombo and the Sri Lankan Red Cross, it is reliably learnt.
India had imposed restrictions on exports of rice, sugar and pulses to neighbouring countries in view of rising prices domestically. But these have been lifted in respect of some of the countries including Sri Lanka.
No decision has, however, been taken if the Indian food will indeed move and when to Jaffna, where serious shortages have been reported following a standoff between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) over the only highway linking the mainland with the northern peninsula.
The government shut the highway, called A9, in August after accusing the LTTE of trying to breach the forward defence lines in Jaffna. Since then, the LTTE has refused to accept government ships coming to Jaffna from Colombo, insisting that the highway be reopened. The government has refused to reopen A9.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has, however, moved food supplied by Colombo but the quantity is not enough. ICRC itself is worried over the state of affairs.
This has led to additional hardships to a people already hit hard by a dramatic surge in violence this year.
In representations to the UN, the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said that Jaffna peninsula`s monthly food requirement is 11,000 tonnes including 8,000 tonnes of essential food items.
According to TNA, the largest Tamil bloc in Sri Lanka`s parliament, in the last three months 14,000 tonnes of food items arrived by ships from Colombo, causing a shortfall 19,000 tonnes.
It was the row over A9 highway - the LTTE insisting on its reopening and the government refusing to do so - that caused the biggest fissure in the just ended peace talks in Geneva.
According to estimates, when the highway is operational the LTTE collects an estimated Rs.200-300 million a month in the form of taxes, road tolls and custom duties from those using A9. Colombo clearly wants to choke the Tigers.
Everyone admits that the biggest sufferers of the highway closure are the people in Jaffna, almost all of them Tamils.
The Indian decision to supply baby food, sugar and rice - three of the most needed commodities in Jaffna - to traders from the region will need the approval of the Sri Lankan government.
Tamil Nadu is separated from Jaffna by a narrow strip of sea called Palk Strait. Though the Sri Lankan government controls Jaffna, the LTTE`s Sea Tigers operates in the sea.
If and when food goes from Tamil Nadu to Jaffna, it will have no resemblance whatsoever to the gunboat diplomacy New Delhi unleashed vis-�-vis Sri Lanka in 1987.
Then Indian Air Force planes first airdropped food packets over Jaffna, without Colombo`s approval, and followed it up, with Colombo`s backing, with vessels carrying similar supplies.
All this eventually led to intensified diplomacy that led to the July 1987 India-Sri Lanka agreement under which Indian soldiers were deployed in the north and east of the island.
In the present circumstances, it is only humanitarian concerns that are stirring New Delhi.