A quiet maritime strategic diplomacy has emerged as the key theme of this year’s Union budget, as the government has allocated large sums of money — hitherto meant for key neighbouring countries. Beneficiaries of the Budget are Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Maldives — all island nations in the strategic Indian Ocean region, where India is competing against China for influence.
A careful perusal of the Budget allocation for the Ministry of External Affairs reveals that Seychelles has been given Rs 300 crore, up from Rs 200 crore, which was the revised estimate for the current fiscal. The 50 per cent jump is in lieu with the government’s plans to develop the infrastructure of Assumption island, one of the 115 islands of the country.
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India last week signed a revised pact with Seychelles to develop an airstrip and jetty on the island, among other infrastructure, that will allow military use. Mauritius has also been allocated Rs 350 crore, marginally more than the current fiscal’s Rs 335 crore. In Mauritius, India has signed an MoU for the “improvement in sea and air transportation facilities” at the Agaléga island.
For Sri Lanka, the government has allocated Rs 150 crore, double of last year. India is moving for the reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s Kankesanthurai Port. These moves come even as Chinese firms have expanded their footprint in the Indian Ocean region with the Hambantota port project, near Colombo, and the under-construction Gwadar Port in Pakistan.
Delhi has also been looking at strategic maritime opportunities in other overseas markets, committing a $500-million investment in the management and operation of two dedicated berths at the Chabahar port in Iran, and assisting Myanmar in infrastructure improvement projects at the Sittwe and Paletwa ports.
For Maldives, Delhi has allocated Rs 125 crore — same amount as last year. However, there are no active projects in the island country, since there has been a strain in the relationship between India and Maldives.
However, the amount for the development of the Chabahar Port, a strategic oceanic port in Iran, remains the same as last Budget at Rs 150 crore. The lion’s share of the MEA’s budget has gone to Bhutan — Rs 2,650 crore. Nepal, which has witnessed political turmoil, has been allocated Rs 650 crore for projects, almost 75 per cent more than last year. The Budget also provides for Rs 280 crore towards schemes or projects in Myanmar. The Ministry of External Affairs has been given Rs 15,011 crore in the Union budget, Rs 213 crore more than last year.