Maldives govt signs contract for India-funded $500 million connectivity project
The Maldives government and an Indian construction firm signed a contract on Thursday for the $500-million Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP), the Indian Ocean archipelago’s largest infrastructure project that is being funded by New Delhi.
The 6.74-km bridge and causeway link will connect the capital of Malé with the islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. It is being funded through a grant of $100 million and a line of credit of $400 million from India, and will boost connectivity between the four islands that account for almost half of the Maldivian population.
Maldives President Ibrahim Solih and foreign minister Abdulla Shahid had sought India’s backing for the project when external affairs minister S Jaishankar visited Malé in September 2019. GMCP was conceived as an economic lifeline for the Maldives, connecting the capital with a new international port planned at Gulhifalhu, also under an Indian line of credit, and an industrial zone at Thilafushi.
The detailed project report was prepared by infrastructure consultants Arup Ltd of Hong Kong, and the project will be constructed by Mumbai-based Afcons Infrastructure Limited.
The project includes three navigation bridges with a main span of 140 metres across the deep channel between each island, 3.73 km of marine viaduct, and 2.96 km of roads. The project will use solar power for lighting, and solar panels will be installed atop lamp posts and along the bridge parapets.
The Maldives has emerged as one of the biggest beneficiaries of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, especially after Solih assumed office in November 2018 and moved the country away from the pro-China stance of his predecessor, Abdulla Yameen.
During Solih’s first visit to New Delhi in December 2018, India announced an economic package of $1.4 billion, which included line of credit of $800 million for projects such as airport expansions at Hanimadhoo and Gan, roads in Addu and an expansion of fisheries in Hulhumalé.
When GMCP is completed, it will dwarf the largest Chinese-funded connectivity project, the 1.4-km Sinamalé Bridge that connects Malé and Hulhule and Hulhumalé, and was completed in 2018.
Indian high commissioner Sunjay Sudhir, who attended the event for the signing of the contract, said: “The GMCP supports the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ibrahim Solih for strong bilateral relations. The GMCP is concrete proof that India is a robust development partner of the Maldives, in addition to being the first responder in times of any emergency.”
Foreign minister Shahid said in a tweet that the project will connect “peoples and countries”. He added, “This is a defining moment in the development journey of the #Maldives. Constructed with financial support from #India, the largest infrastructure project to be executed in Maldives will stand as an enduring tribute to the strong #MaldivesIndiaPartnership.”
India is also implementing water and sanitation projects in 34 islands and a road project in the southern city of Addu. India has also undertaken about 30 community-oriented projects under grants worth $13 million, of which about half have been completed.
Officials said enhancing connectivity within the Maldives and between the archipelago and India has been a priority area for the two governments.
A direct cargo ferry service connecting Tuticorin, Kochi, Malé and Kulhuffushi began last September. India launched an air travel bubble with the Maldives in August last year, which only made India the largest source of tourists but also provided impetus to the Maldivian economy. About 60 weekly flights currently connect Malé with five Indian cities.
“President Solih’s ‘India First’ foreign policy and India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy have worked in tandem and brought about mutual synergies,” an official said.
A contract for building 4,000 social housing units is expected to be signed soon with NBCC and JMC in the next few weeks. The Maldives government is negotiating with Indian companies for an additional 6,000 housing units under the EXIM Bank’s Buyers’ Credit scheme.