Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Greater Male Connectivity Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Maldives and its location

Mains level: Read the attached story

Maldives has announced the signing of a $500-million infrastructure project for the construction of the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) with India.

Greater Malé Connectivity Project

  • This infrastructure project, the largest-ever by India in the Maldives, involves the construction of a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link.
  • It will connect the Maldives capital Malé with the neighbouring islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
  • The seeds of the project were planted during the External Affairs Minister’s visit to Malé in September 2019.
  • The GMCP is not only the biggest project India is doing in the Maldives but also the biggest infrastructure project in the Maldives overall.

Significance of the Project

  • This project is significant because it facilitates inter-island connectivity in the country
  • Transport is a major challenge for residents who have to take boats or seaplanes to distant islands.
  • It becomes even more difficult during the monsoons when the seas are rough.
  • This bridge that would connect Malé with the three neighboring islands would ease the process.

The Chinese-made 1.39 km-long Sinamalé Bridge connects Malé with the islands of Hulhulé and Hulhumalé and this project, four tiles longer, would link the other three islands.

Why it is needed?

  • Male is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
  • Close to 40% of the entire population of the Maldives lives in Malé, which has an area of approximately 8.30 square kilometres.
  • It is very congested and land is a major issue.

Why these islands?

  • On the island of Gulhifalhu, a port, is at present being built under the Indian line of credit.
  • Located some 6 kilometers from Malé, since 2016, the island has been promoted as a strategic location for manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facilities due to its proximity to the capital city.
  • Located 7 km from the capital, the artificial island of Thilafushi was created and designated as a landfill in the early 1990s, to receive garbage created mostly in Malé.
  • The Maldives has plans of expanding industrial work on Thilafushi, making this bridge’s connectivity to the capital indispensable for the transport of employees and other services.

Why did Male opt for India’s offer?

  • After a five-year grace period, the interest rate is 1.75% and the Maldives has to repay it over a 20-year period.
  • India’s loans are less expensive and more transparent, unlike China’s.
  • The Maldives hasn’t really been clear about how much debt it owes to China.

Importance of Maldives for India

  • Geo-strategic importance: Maldives, a Toll Gate in the Indian Ocean. Located in the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
  • Trade: These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia. Nearly 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of its energy imports transit these SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
  • Important SAARC member: Besides, Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
  • People To People Contact: There is a significant population of Maldivian students in India. They are aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India. There is also medical tourism.
  • Economic Cooperation: Tourism is the mainstay of the Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others.

What hinders India in Male?

  • Unstable governments: India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighbourhood on its security and development.
  • Religious extremism: In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based madrassas and jihadist groups has been increasing.
  • Affinity with China: China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia. It has also started using the China card to bargain with India.

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