India plans a space fix to bring ties with Maldives back in the friendly orbit by offering to launch and operate the Island nation’s first communication satellite despite doubts over the commercial viability of the project.
The satellite launch apart from defence cooperation is expected to be discussed when Maldivian defence minister Col (retd) Mohamed Nazim visits New Delhi on April 15 and 16.
The ties between the two sides turned frosty after Maldives in November last terminated a $500-million agreement with the Indian infrastructure major GMR for developing the Male international airport.
On December 17, 2012, communication authority of Maldives called for proposals for manufacture and launch, and commercial operations of a satellite, with January 31, 2013 as the last date for submission. The deadline has been extended and according to senior South Block officials, the window is still open for India.
Nazim is believed to have discussed the satellite launch with Chinese space companies as well in the wake of the GMR fiasco.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) initially didn’t submit its proposal, saying the project was not viable overlooking the opportunity it offered, especially in view of the growing Chinese interest and presence in the Indian Ocean region.
When South Block took up the matter, Isro wanted the ministry of external affairs to partly foot the bill.
While Isro chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan did not respond to HT questionnaire emailed three days ago, it is learnt that the agency wanted Rs. 400 crore.
After intervention at the highest levels, the government is now pushing Isro to help Maldives launch its maiden satellite.
"The topic is on the bilateral agenda and will be taken up with Nazim... Not only Chinese companies but others too are interested in the Maldivian project," said a ministry of external affairs official on condition of anonymity.