We help partners without preconditions: PM Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday held up India’s track record of providing developmental aid to neighbours without any conditions and in line with their priorities, in a tacit reference to China and the “debt trap” created by its big-ticket projects,
India’s development partnerships are marked by respect, diversity, care for the future and sustainable development, Modi said as he and his Mauritius counterpart Pravind Jugnauth inaugurated the new Supreme Court building in Port Louis during a virtual ceremony.
Modi didn’t refer to other countries involved in development cooperation in the neighbourhood, though he appeared to be making a distinction between Indian aid and Chinese-backed projects, including the Belt and Road Initiative that have led to several countries in the region falling into a “debt trap”.
“For India, the most fundamental principle in development cooperation is respecting our partners. This sharing of development lessons is our only motivation,” Modi said.
“That is why our development cooperation does not come with any conditions. It is not influenced by political or commercial considerations,” he said.
In the Indian Ocean region, Sri Lanka leased the strategic Hambantota port to a Chinese firm for 99 years in 2017 after the country was unable to repay Chinese loans for developing the facility. The current government of the Maldives has sought India’s help to cope with massive loans taken from China by the previous regime.
India’s development and security cooperation with smaller Indian Ocean states has been a key part of its “neighbourhood first” policy, with work continuing on projects in areas ranging from health care to defence amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Modi highlighted his government’s vision of “Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)” for the Indian Ocean region and said: “Our development partnerships reflect the development priorities of our partner nations.”
Modi outlined the projects taken up and completed in diverse fields through India’s development partnerships, including the Parliament building in Afghanistan, the Mahatma Gandhi Convention Centre in Niger, an emergency and trauma hospital in Nepal, and emergency ambulance services in all nine provinces of Sri Lanka.
An oil pipeline project being implemented with Nepal will ensure the availability of petroleum products in the Himalayan nation, while another scheme will provide drinking water and sanitation in 34 islands of the Maldives. “We have tried to make cricket popular in countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Guyana by helping build stadiums and other facilities,” he said.
The Supreme Court building in Port Louis, built with grant assistance of $28.12 million, is part of a special economic package of $353 million provided by India.
Other infrastructure schemes taken up under this package are the Metro Express project worth $275 million, the first phase of which has been completed, a $14-million ENT Hospital, which too has been completed, and a social housing project with nearly 1,000 units.
India is the largest development partner for Mauritius, to which it has provided lines of credit worth $600 million on concessional terms. India is assisting in the building of health care facilities such as a renal unit, four medical clinics and two health centres in the country.
Modi said India is also focusing on sustainable development through institutions such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. “Both initiatives are of special relevance to island countries,” he added.
In his speech, Jugnauth thanked the government and people for their solidarity in trying times amid the pandemic. He said Mauritius had benefited from medicines and equipment supplied by India and the three-week-long deployment of a medical team on board the Indian warship INS Kesari.
He described the new Supreme Court building as a milestone in the modernisation of the infrastructure of Mauritius that will enable the judiciary to use new technologies to make justice more accessible to all. Judges often had to wait to use the limited number of courtrooms at the old building to hear cases, he added.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said India’s development projects in South Asia and Africa highlighted how the approach of Indian policy-makers was different from that of the Chinese.
“India’s projects are part of a partnership of equals, not in terms of resources but in terms of mutual respect. China says the same thing but the facts show otherwise. If the same was true in the case of China, something like Hambantota port wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
“India opts for elaborate and lengthy consultations on these projects, which are based on the needs of other countries – we don’t fly down to a country and say this is what you’re going to get.”