Maldives, sharing warm relations with India, was the first country in the neighborhood to receive 100,000 doses of vaccines in January

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will undertake a two-day visit to the Maldives from Saturday, indicating India’s priority for high level engagements with this strategically important Indian Ocean country.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla visited Maldives in November 2020. Before that in August 2020, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had held a meeting with his Maldivian counterpart through video conferencing wherein several key projects and initiatives were announced. Then in April 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a telephonic conversation with Maldivian President Solih.

‘India First’ has been the underlying foreign policy approach of the Government of Maldives. President Solih, ever since he assumed office in November 2018, has taken concerted initiatives on this front. This has been in congruence with India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

India’s rapid and comprehensive assistance to the Maldives since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced its credentials of being the first responder. Maldives was the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from India when India gifted 100,000 doses in January 2021.

This was preceded by a series of health and humanitarian assistance provided in 2020 that included donation of 5.5 tons of essential medicines, airlifting of 6.2 tons of medicines by the IAF from various India cities through Operation Sanjeevani, supply of 580 tons of food aid under Mission SAGAR by INS Kesari and deployment of Rapid Response Medical Team to assist in COVID-19 preventive methods.

India also undertook a series of economic and financial initiatives at the peak of the pandemic to revive Maldivian economy and provide budgetary cushion to its dwindling revenues primarily driven by tourism.

These were announced by the EAM during his video conference meeting with his Maldivian counterpart in August 2020.

These included: Extension of soft loan of US$250 million for budgetary support of Maldives; supporting the implementation of Greater Male Connectivity Project, the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Male with three neighbouring islands by construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 km, through a financial package consisting of a grant of US$ 100 million and a new Line of Credit of US$ 400 million. The DPR for this project has been prepared and the tendering process is on.

To facilitate movement of people from both sides for employment, tourism, medical emergencies, an Air Travel Bubble has been arranged. Maldives was the first neighboring country with which an air bubble was operationalized.

This has boosted tourist inflow in Maldives and India became the largest tourists sending country for Maldives in 2020 with 62,905 Indians visiting. This trend has continued in 2021 with 30,000 Indians visiting Maldives till mid-February out of 138,000 foreign tourists.

Commencement of direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2019 to enhance sea connectivity and provide predictability in supplies and reduce logistics cost for India Maldives trade. So far, 6 voyages have taken place.

Most other large development and infrastructure projects being implemented by India in Maldives are fast approaching the launching stage.