India on Thursday extended financial packages amounting to over USD 750 million to Maldives and announced the establishment of an Air Bubble with the island country.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the financial support was announced during a virtual conference held between Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
One of the packages extended by the Indian government is an assistance of USD 250 million, which will be utilised to support the COVID-19 response efforts of Maldives.
The package also aims to support the island nation in meeting the government's financing gaps.
India has notably provided assistance on multiple levels to the Maldivian government since the local outbreak of coronavirus was detected in the country.
Dr Jaishankar also announced that India will provide financial support of USD 500 million for the Greater Malé Connectivity Project.
The largest infrastructural project till date in Maldives, the Greater Malé Connectivity project concerns linking the capital Male' with suburbs Villimale' and Gulhifalhu, and the landfill island of Thilafushi via bridges and causeways measuring a total length of 6.695 kilometres.
The goal of connecting the four islands via bridges was first announced in the previous administration of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Although highly criticised by the then-opposition over the potential environmental impact, the incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's government has given the go-ahead for the project.
India announced that Maldives will become one of the initial countries to join the Air Bubble established with India, the first Air Bubble in the South Asian Region.
The Air Bubble will see the commencement of regular scheduled flights between the Maldives and India, while both countries will continue to observe all relevant public health related measures against COVID-19.
Shahid thanked the government of India, noting that the Air Bubble will ease travel particularly for Maldivians visiting India for urgent medical treatment, as well as Indian tourists that wish to visit the island nation.
The minister announced that the cargo ferry service, to be established between India's Cochin and Kulhudhuffushi and Male' City in Maldives, will be operationalised within "the next few months".
The two ministers welcomed the new sea link, stating that it would further enhance trade and commerce between Maldives and India.
The two governments signed the agreement to establish ferry and cargo services by sea in June 2019, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Maldives. The Indian Cabinet gave the green light to the service the following month.
Dr Jaishankar confirmed that India will renew the quotas of essential commodities, including rice, sugar, flour, onions, potatoes, eggs, dhal, stone aggregates and river sand, that are imported from India to Maldives.
Furthermore, he assured that this year's quotas are larger than the amounts approved in 2019. He expressed hopes that the development would ensure predictability of imports amid the ongoing pandemic and its resulting challenges in transport and travel.
Minister Shahid conveyed gratitude on behalf of the Maldivian government for India's uninterrupted supply of essential items, as well as the special exemptions made to Maldives.
During the meeting, Ministers Shahid and Dr Jaishankar also reviewed the progress of ongoing development projects between the two countries, including those undertaken through the USD 800 million Line of Credit extended by India to Maldives.
The credit line was announced during President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's state visit to India in December 2018, and the agreement was signed with the Indian Export Import Bank in March 2019. The foreign ministry noted that a number of key infrastructure projects are currently being considered for financing under the USD 800 million Line of Credit.
They also shed light on smaller projects being carried out under the Indian High Impact Community Development Projects Scheme and the cash grant of MVR 106 million provided by the Indian government.
Till date, 19 projects in 74 inhabited islands across 18 atolls have been approved under the cash grant, while nine projects have commenced under the High Impact Community Development Scheme.
Concluding the meeting, Shahid thanked Dr Jaishankar and the Indian administration for their continued assistance to Maldives, highlighting that India was as always among the first countries to respond during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the two countries prepare to celebrate 55 years of diplomatic relations on November 1, 2020, the ministers also declared that Maldives' 'India First' policy and India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy were further strengthening the dynamic, multifaceted and mutually beneficial partnership between Maldives and India.