NEW DELHI: India and Maldives on Tuesday inked six agreements to expand cooperation in a range of areas including cyber security, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing a USD 100 million financial aid to help the island nation complete certain infrastructure projects.
Prime Minister Modi announced a Line of Credit of USD 100 million (one million = 10 lakh) for Maldives for the completion of development projects in a time-bound manner.
After wide-ranging talks with visiting Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Modi also said that India will provide 24 vehicles and a naval vessel to the Maldivian security forces, besides developing police infrastructure in 61 islands in that country.
In his media statement, Modi, in the presence of Solih, said India "has been and will continue" to be the "first responder" to any need or crisis facing the Maldives.
The bolstering of bilateral defence and security ties including in the maritime domain comes in the backdrop of concerns over China's growing forays into the Indian Ocean region, considered the backyard of the Indian Navy.
The Maldivian president, who arrived here on Monday on a four-day visit, said his government is fully committed to taking the bilateral ties to new heights.
"Our relationship with India will always be of the highest priority. The Maldives will always remain a true friend of India, firmly committed to our shared vision of peace and development in our countries and the region," Solih said.
The six pacts inked between the two sides will facilitate cooperation in capacity building, cyber security, housing, disaster management and infrastructure development in the Maldives.
The Maldives is one of India's key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and the overall bilateral ties including in areas of defence and security have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.
In his comments, Modi said the India-Maldives partnership is not only working in the interest of the citizens of both countries but also becoming a "source" of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
The two leaders also virtually witnessed the pouring of the first concrete for the ambitious greater-Male connectivity project.
In August last year, the island nation sealed a contract for the implementation of the India-funded connectivity project, billed as the largest infrastructure initiative being rolled out in the island nation.
Under the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) project, a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect the capital city Male with adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
"We welcomed the beginning of work on the greater Male connectivity projects. It will be the biggest infra project. We also reviewed projects for the construction of 4,000 social housing units in Greater Male," Modi said.
"I am happy to announce that we will additionally provide financial support for 2000 social housing units. We have also decided to provide an additional line of credit of USD 100 million so that all projects can be completed in a time-bound manner," Modi added.
The prime minister said there has been a renewed vigour in the friendly relations between India and Maldives and the closeness has increased.
"The threat of trans-national crime, terrorism and drug trafficking is serious in the Indian Ocean. And therefore, close contact and coordination between India and Maldives in the field of defence and security are vital for the peace and stability of the entire region," Modi said.
The prime minister also elaborated on greater bilateral cooperation in dealing with the pressing challenges.
"It includes cooperation in capacity building for the Maldivian security forces and their training. I am happy to announce that India will provide 24 vehicles and a naval boat for Maldivian security personnel. We will cooperate in developing infrastructure for police in 61 islands of the Maldives," he said.
The prime minister said that India will also assist the Maldives in achieving its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
The Maldivian leader thanked India for its generous assistance when his country was reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Was it not for generous assistance received in the form of budgetary support, medical assistance and supplies, and the Covishield vaccines donated by the government of India, our economic recovery would have been hard and long," he said.
Solih said he and Modi also discussed the challenge of terrorism.
"We both reiterated our firm commitment towards work against terrorism and strengthen cooperation in the maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean Region," he said.
Referring to the cyber security pact, he said it is based on "equality reciprocity and mutual benefit".
The Maldivian president also invited Indian investors to explore the opportunities in his country and forge a mutually beneficial partnership.
"We welcome the operationalisation of the RuPay cards in the Maldives and agreed to consider further measures to boost bilateral travel and tourism and economic linkages," Solih said.