Maldives occupies special place in India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy: PM Modi

2 August, 2022 | Vaishali Sharma

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised on Tuesday that the Maldives holds a special place in Indian hearts and in the country’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, as he reaffirmed str...

Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised on Tuesday that the Maldives holds a special place in Indian hearts and in the country’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, as he reaffirmed strong ties with the island nation in a variety of fields.

Modi made these statements during a visit to India by Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Solih’s third trip to India since taking office on November 17, 2018. During his visit, Solih met with PM Modi on a limited and delegation-level basis, during which the two leaders expressed pleasure with the fast growth of the bilateral cooperation in recent years. The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening and deepening ties.

“The India-Maldives bilateral partnership is underpinned by geographical proximity, historical, cultural ties and shared values. Prime Minister Modi underlined that the Maldives occupies a special place in the hearts of Indians and in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

President Solih reaffirmed his government’s ‘India-First Policy,” the MEA said in a statement.President Solih praised Prime Minister Modi for his support during the Covid-19 epidemic. India’s medical and financial support assisted the Maldives in overcoming the pandemic’s health and economic consequences.

Both presidents agreed to strengthen institutional ties for cooperation in sectors like as defence and security, investment promotion, human resource development, infrastructure development, and climate and energy.

They praised the expansion of people-to-people relations as a result of visa-free travel, improved air connectivity, exchange programmes, and increased cultural and economic links. India has emerged as the Maldives’ leading supplier of visitors, adding to the country’s economic resiliency.

The presidents noted the impact of the pandemic-induced bilateral air travel bubble in the growth of tourist links. The two presidents praised the ongoing work to make Rupay Cards available in the Maldives and agreed to discuss other steps to improve bilateral travel and tourism as well as economic ties.

Both leaders emphasised the importance of Indian teachers, nurses, medical workers, physicians, labourers, and professionals in the Maldives. They congratulated the Maldives on the recent inauguration of the National Knowledge Network and ordered authorities to focus on increasing its reach.D

uring the visit, the two leaders welcomed the participation of business leaders from both countries, noting that fisheries, infrastructure, renewable energy, tourism, health, and information technology, among others, were key sectors for greater economic linkages between the two countries through cross-border investments and partnerships.

Under the SAFTA, both leaders recognised India’s potential as a frontier market for Maldivian tuna exports.

According to the MEA statement, the India-Maldives development partnership has grown rapidly in recent years and now includes large infrastructure projects, community-level grant projects, and capacity building programmes based solely on Maldives needs, implemented through transparent processes, and in a spirit of cooperation between the two governments.

Both presidents took part in a virtual “pouring of the first concrete” event for the USD 500 million Greater Male’ Connectivity Project, which is being developed with grant and concessional loan assistance from India. The two leaders directed officials to ensure the timely completion of this largest landmark infrastructure project in Maldives, which will improve mobility between Male’, Villingili, Gulhifalhu, and Thilafushi islands, reduce logistics costs, and drive people-centric economic growth, and serve as a symbol of the two countries’ enduring friendship.

Prime Minister Modi announced a new USD 100 million Government of India Line of Credit to support infrastructure projects in the Maldives.

President Solih thanked Government of India for this offer and expressed confidence that this additional fund would enable implementation of several large infrastructure projects that have been under various stages of discussion.

Both leaders reviewed the progress achieved in the development of the 4,000 social housing units being built in Greater Male under Buyer’s Credit financing of Exim Bank of India. These housing units are in line with the Government of Maldives’ focus of providing affordable housing for its citizens.

The two leaders welcomed the approval of Exim Bank of India Buyer’s Credit funding of USD 119 mn for construction of another 2000 social housing units in Greater Male and exchange of a Letter of Intent to this effect between Exim Bank of India and the Government of Maldives.

President Solih expressed appreciation to the Government of India for the generous assistance for additional housing units.

The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the progress achieved in other Indian funded projects including the Addu Roads project, provision of water and sewerage facilities at 34 islands, and restoration of Hukuru Miskiy (Friday Mosque). The two leaders welcomed the approval of the revised DPR of the Gulhifalhu Port Project and directed officials to commence implementation at the earliest as it will provide world class port facility for Greater Male’ replacing the existing port and relocation of facilities from Male’ City.

The two leaders also welcomed final approval of the Indian side for signing of the Hanimaadhoo Airport Development project EPC contract and expressed happiness that implementation would commence shortly. The two leaders noted with satisfaction the finalisation of the feasibility report of the Cancer Hospital building project in Laamu and its financial closure through the Government of India Line of Credit. Both leaders welcomed the positive contribution to island communities from the 45 Community Development Projects, being implemented through grant assistance from India.

Prime Minister Modi and President Solih noted with satisfaction that capacity building and training had emerged as a key pillar of the bilateral partnership in the past few years.

Alongside ITEC training scheme, hundreds of Maldivians undergo special customized training in India, facilitated by institutional linkages between civil services, customs services, parliaments, judiciaries, media, health and education institutes, and defence and security organisations.

The two leaders welcomed the MoU signed between the Local Government Authority of Maldives and the National Institute for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj of India which would strengthen the capacities of local government institutions in the Maldives.