External Affairs Minister of India Dr. S. Jaishankar and the Foreign Minister of Maldives Abdulla Shahid held a meeting through video conference. The interaction was a part of regular high-level exchanges between India and Maldives. It provided an opportunity to take stock of bilateral relations and make some landmark announcements in the context of COVID-19 and the overall bilateral partnership. The Ministers reviewed the state of time-tested relations between India and the Maldives, and noted with satisfaction that during the COVID-19 pandemic, India stands by its close maritime neighbour and friend in these difficult times.
India and Maldives worked very closely in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Maldives is the largest beneficiary of Indian COVID-19-related assistance among neighbouring countries. Dr. Jaishankar reaffirmed India’s continued commitment for all possible support to the Maldives for minimising the health and economic impact of the pandemic.
On Maldives’ request, India has decided to support Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), through a financial package consisting of a grant of US$ 100 million and a new Line of Credit of US$ 400 million. This will be the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Malé the capital with three neighbouring islands – Villingili, Gulhifahu (where a port is being built under Indian LoC) and Thilafushi-a new industrial zone – by construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 kms. Once completed, this landmark project will streamline connectivity between the 4 islands, thereby boosting economic activity, generating employment and promoting holistic urban development in the Malé region.
Recalling Prime Minister Modi’s announcement in June 2019 to start a ferry service between India and Maldives, New Delhi announced that a direct cargo ferry service will commence shortly. This service would enhance bilateral trade and connectivity and boost the economic partnership between the two countries. The cargo ferry service will enhance sea connectivity and provide predictability in supplies for importers in Maldives and exporters in India. It will also reduce logistics costs and times for traders.
External Affairs Minister announced creation of an ‘air travel bubble’ between India and Maldives to facilitate movement of people from both sides for employment, tourism, medical emergencies etc. In keeping with our special ties, Maldives is the first neighbouring country with which an air bubble is being operationalized. The air bubble symbolizes India’s support to shore up tourism arrivals and revenues in the Maldives. Health protocols in both countries will be strictly followed. The first flight under the Air Bubble is expected to commence on August 18.
India also conveyed the decision to renew quotas for supply of essential commodities to Maldives for the year 2020-21. The commodities include food items like potatoes, onions, rice, wheat, flour, sugar, dal and eggs as well as river sand and stone aggregates. The quotas assure food security, and the supply of essential construction items, and thereby provide certainty and price stability for such essential items in the Maldives.
During COVID-19 pandemic, when supply chains got disrupted, India continued to support the supply of essential food and construction materials to Maldives. In May 2020, India had gifted 580 tons of essential food items through Mission SAGAR (Security And Growth For All).
Maldivian Foreign Minister Shahid expressed deep appreciation for the steps taken by the Indian Government in meeting the development priorities of his Government. He noted that the Greater Malé Connectivity project will be a new milestone in India- Maldives ties and will anchor the economic and industrial transformation of the Maldives. Mr. Shahid conveyed gratitude for the timely financial assistance being extended by India.
Since November 2018, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, India and Maldives have embarked on a dynamic and ambitious phase of the partnership that builds on our enduring ties based on mutual trust and shared interests. The ‘Neighbourhood First’ foreign policy of India and the ‘India First’ policy of Maldives complement each other and now demonstrate concrete outcomes. President Solih is likely to visit India later this year, subject to the Covid-19 related conditions.
Both the Ministers expressed satisfaction at the progress that has been achieved in the implementation of bilateral projects and initiatives, especially those under the US$ 800 million Line of Credit. Both sides agreed to continue to work closely together.
Script: Padam Singh, AIR: News Analyst