India and the Maldives have signed an agreement on the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), the largest-ever infrastructure project in the strategically located island nation in the Indian Ocean.
The project will be completed at the cost of $500 million. India is funding it with a grant of $100 million and a $400 million Line of Credit.
Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Indian ambassador Sunjay Sudhir will attend the signing ceremony along with and four Maldivian ministers.
The signing of the agreement is taking place at a time when the Opposition in the Maldives, along with an Islamist news outlet, is running an 'India Out' campaign targeting infrastructure projects being undertaken by Indian companies.
Those advocating against Indian presence in the Maldives, including "journalist" Ahmed Azaan, the founder of Islamist news portals Dhiyares and The Maldives Journal, have argued in favour of seeking financial assistance from China despite the Maldives' bad experience with Chinese funding for infra projects in the past.
The two portals have published multiple misleading reports on Indian projects in the country, including the construction of a police training academy in Addu City and a harbour and dockyard at Uthuru Thilafalhu, and have targeted Indian diplomats in the Maldives.
Greater Male Connectivity Project
The CMCP project, which involves the construction of 6.74 km long bridge and causeway, will link Maldives' capital Male with adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
India will build three navigation bridges spanning 140 meter across the deep channel between each island. Over 1.40 km of marine viaduct will be constructed in deep water, along with a 2.32 km marine viaduct in shallow water or on land and 2.96 km of at-grade roads.
"A 140m-span balanced cantilever box girder bridge is proposed over the navigation channel, with marine viaducts on either side of it typically comprising of 60m span box girder bridges," a project document on the website of Export Import Bank of India says.
"Between Villingili and Gulhifalhu islands where water depth deepens sharply toward the center of the channel, another 140m-span balanced cantilever box girder bridge is proposed. The mainline of the bridge will continue as marine viaducts along the shoreline of Villingili (right hand side of figure below). An interchange and connecting ramps to Villingili Island is proposed that requires some reclamation," it adds.
It will significantly improve connectivity between the four islands accounting for nearly half of the Maldivian population.
The GMCP project is much larger than the "Friendship Bridge" built by China to link capital Male with neighboring Hulhule, an artificial island where the country's main international airport is located.
The infrastructure project had been awarded to an Indian company before the last government led by President Abdulla Yameen, under whom the Maldives junked its 'India-first' foreign policy and embraced China, canceled the deal and gave it to a Chinese company.
Under President Yameen, the Maldives borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects, most of which were completed at an inflated cost, pushing the country into Beijing's debt trap. According to former President Mohamed Nasheed, a key political figure whose party is now in power, the exposure to Chinese debt could be as high as $3 billion, a huge sum for a country with a gross domestic product of $4.9 billion.
In 2018, after the new government took charge, India announced an economic package of $1.4 billion to help the Maldives. The package includes a line of credit of $800 million, which can be used for infrastructure projects, including the expansion of the airport and construction of roads, sanitation plants, etc.
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