India-backed Maldives infrastructure project to surpass scope of Chinese-funded bridge

Delhi also announced the launch of cargo ferry services and air travel bubble between the two nations. Given the financial challenges faced by Maldives due to the Covid-19 situation and India’s commitment to assist Maldives in its economic recover...

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New Delhi: India on Thursday announced support for a mega infrastructure project for its Southern neighbour Maldives pre-empting any Chinese move to woo Maldives taking advantage of a pandemic that has impacted its economy. The Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) will get a financial package consisting of a grant of $ 100 million and a new Line of Credit of $ 400 million from New Delhi.

Besides this mega project, Delhi also announced the launch of cargo ferry services and air travel bubble between the two nations. Given the financial challenges faced by Maldives due to the Covid-19 situation and India’s commitment to assist Maldives in its economic recovery, Delhi also extended in-principle urgent financial assistance to Male by way of a soft loan arrangement. This is the first financial assistance announced by GoI to any country to deal with Covid-19 pandemic. This assistance will help the Maldives government tide over the financial crisis till their main revenue earners like tourism and fisheries exports return to normal.

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is likely to visit India later this year, subject to the Covid-19 related conditions, hoping to expand bilateral partnership.

These announcements were made by Foreign Minister S Jaishankar during a virtual meet with his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid. Jaishankar noted that GMCP (being supported at the request of Maldives government) will be the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Malé (the capital of Maldives) with three neighbouring islands - Villingili, Gulhifahu (where a port is being built under Indian LoC) and Thilafushi (new industrial zone) – by construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 kms. GMCP, a high visibility project and has the potential to change the economic landscape of the Maldives.

Once completed, this landmark project will streamline connectivity between the four islands, boosting economic activity, generating employment and promoting holistic urban development in the Malé region, according to a MEA statement. Sources recalled that the project was a key election promise of the ruling MDP for which the current President of Maldives has personally sought India’s assistance during his meeting with Jaishankar last September. The GMCP will be bigger in scale compared to China-Maldives friendship bridge.

India’s total financial commitment in Maldives covering all loan and grant projects is well over $ 2 billion, all of which have been announced after the coming into power of President Solih in November 2018, ET has reliably gathered.

Jaishankar also announced that a direct cargo ferry service will commence shortly that 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.

Further, the 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. Maldives is the first neighbouring country with which an air bubble is being operationalised and this symbolizes India’s support to shore up tourism arrivals and revenues in the Maldives, according to a MEA statement. Tourism that contributes significantly to Maldives economy has taken a hit due to Covid-19.

“There has been a reset in India’s relations with the Maldives since President Solih assumed office in November 2018. In the last one and a half years, President Solih and his government has acted on its ‘India First’ policy in the right earnest. In line with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India has worked proactively to deepen its ties with Maldives,” according to a watcher of India-Maldives partnership. PM Modi and Solih have met four times in the last one and-a-half years.

The Maldives side was also conveyed at the video meet that India will renew quotas for supply of essential commodities to Maldives for the year 2020-21. 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 also gifted 580 tons of essential food items through Mission SAGAR.
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