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India-Maldives ties have seen “unprecedented” transformation in the last two years and the time-tested relationship is poised for a quantum jump, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday as he discussed the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation with his Maldivian counterpart, Abdulla Shahid, and gifted 1 lakh additional doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the country.
The two ministers discussed Covid-19 recovery, various projects being undertaken under Indian assistance, and cooperation in multilateral platforms.
Addressing a joint conference with Shahid after the talks, Jaishankar said the two sides had very useful discussions and the MoUs and agreements signed are emblematic of the strong development partnership which is multifaceted and designed to meet the specific development needs of the people of Maldives.
From fish processing to defence, from building roads to constructing housing, from public broadcasting to airport expansion and connectivity, he said, the range of areas the two countries are working on will further translate into reality the common vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Jaishankar, who arrived in Male on the first leg of his two-nation tour, which will also take him to Mauritius, handed over 1 lakh additional doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Shahid and the island-nation’s Health Minister Kerafa Naseem.
Last month, India had provided 1 lakh doses of Covisheild vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), to the Maldives as part of India’s grant assistance.
Maldives enjoys a key position in India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy. This is complemented by the ‘India First' foreign policy of Maldives. After the Covid-19 year, where Maldives was the first and largest recipient of India's support – be it medicine, food, medical response teams or financial package – Jaishankar’s visit underlines the importance attached to the strategically located island-nation.
Later, speaking at another event at Male’s Ekuveni Stadium, Jaishankar announced a $40 million Line of Credit to the Maldives in a bid to boost the country’s sports infrastructure.
Jaishankar said the way the bilateral relationship has been strengthened and transformed over the previous two years is frankly quite “unprecedented”. He said, “Our time-tested relationship is today poised for a quantum jump, scaling newer heights and touching the lives of the people like never before. We are partners in development, but also in promoting peace and security in the region.”
He said during the last one year, India has not only worked in close coordination with Maldives for Covid relief but also looked at post-Covid economic recovery.
The air travel bubble, which was India’s first in the region, has contributed significantly to tourism revival in the Maldives, with India topping tourist arrival charts in 2020, Jaishankar said. Today this has expanded to more than 40 weekly flights between Male and seven Indian cities, connecting the people of the two countries and also making a real difference to the Maldivian economy, he said.
The cargo ferry service from Tuticorin and Kochi to Male and Kulhudhuffushi has brought new connectivity between the two countries and economic dynamism in Northern Maldives.
The two sides jointly reviewed the ongoing Indian infrastructure projects under two Lines of Credit worth $1.2 billion.
The contract for one of the most important infrastructure projects – for construction of roads in Addu – has been finalised and will be signed on Sunday, Jaishankar said. He said this will bring tangible benefits to the people of Addu and transform lives and livelihoods in the south Maldives. He said India is honoured to partner with Maldives in the prestigious Greater Male Connectivity Project, the largest connectivity project ever in the country.
“We expect it to become an economic lifeline of new Maldives; connecting Male with Villingili, the new commercial port at Gulhifalhu and industrial zone at Thilafushi,” he said.
Other projects such as water and sanitation for 34 islands across the archipelago, expansion of Hanimadhoo airport, development of Gulifalhu port, cricket stadium at Hulhumalé are all progressing well.
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