Scrapping GMR contract will hit ties, says Delhi

India aware of many interests at work in Maldives

Even as the immigration authorities in Male on Thursday made it clear that the visas and work-permits of the GMR Group’s Indian employees in Maldives would not be renewed, New Delhi said that the “unilateral” move by the archipelagic nation’s government to annul the airport management contract awarded to the infrastructure giant would have an “inevitable” impact on the bilateral ties.

New Delhi refrained from accusing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik’s government of being influenced by China – India’s strategic rival in the Indian Ocean. Highly-placed officials in New Delhi however noted that Indian government was aware of the fact that “many interests” were “at work in Maldives”.

The Maldivian government on Tuesday served a notice to the GMR Male International Airport Limited – a joint venture of the GMR Infrastructure and Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad or MAHB – initiating a move to annul the contract awarded to the company for managing the Ibrahim Nassir International Airport in Male. New Delhi strongly reacted, stating that it was ready to take “all necessary measures” to ensure safety and security of its interests and its nationals in the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean. India’s High Commissioner to Maldives, D Mulay, called on the country’s Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdullah on Thursday and is understood to have conveyed New Delhi’s concerns over the way the Maldivian government moved to annul the US $ 511-million contract that was awarded to the GMIAL in 2010 for managing and developing the international airport in Male.

New Delhi is understood to have conveyed to Male its unhappiness as the decision to annul the contract was taken without waiting for the outcome of the proceedings that was initiated after the GMR Group moved the designated tribunal in Singapore seeking arbitration over its dispute with the Maldivian government on an airport development fee it wanted to levy on the passengers.   “What is a matter of concern is the kind of climate which has been created and kind of agitation which has been supported by some political parties,” a senior official told journalists in New Delhi on Thursday. “This is something that we cannot take lightly”.

Asked if Maldivian government’s decision to terminate the contract with the GMR Group would impact the bilateral ties, the officials said: “It is inevitable that it will. If it can be sorted out, we would certainly encourage it. And if it fails, certainly it will be a setback.”

Maldives’ Deputy Immigration Controller Hamid Fathulla on Thursday told journalists in Male that the visas and work permits of the Indian employees of the GMIAL would not be renewed after their expiry. Maldivian Home Minister Mohamed Fayaz however had a meeting with the top brass of the company and assured them of security of the employees as long as they would be in the island nation.

The GMIAL won the contract to manage the airport through an international bidding during the erstwhile regime of Mohamed Nasheed in Male. Nasheed stepped down on February 7 last in the wake of differences within the ruling coalition, paving the way for Hassan to take over as president. New Delhi was actively involved in efforts to restore political stability after the change of guard in Male.

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