With Mauritius development package India aims to bring Indian Ocean states closer

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 healthcare to defence amid the Covid-19 pandemic, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

Mauritius has benefited from a special economic package of $353 million, with one of the key projects – the new Supreme Court building – set to be inaugurated by the prime ministers of the two countries during a virtual event on Thursday.

The other infrastructure projects that were part of the package are the Metro Express project worth $275 million, the first phase of which has been completed, a $14-million ENT Hospital, which has been completed, and a social housing project with nearly 1,000 units.

India is the largest development partner for Mauritius, for which it has provided lines of credit worth $600 million at concessional terms, with the focus on developmental projects. India is assisting in the building of healthcare facilities such as a renal unit, four medical clinics and two health centres, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

Mauritius is also one of the largest beneficiaries of the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, with 210 civilian and 169 defence training slots being offered to the country during fiscal 2018-19.

India has revitalised its relationship with the Maldives over the past 18 months after President Ibrahim Solih came to power, and the two sides have signed 18 agreements and MoUs, and new areas of cooperation include the judiciary, customs and healthcare, the people said.

A financial aid package of $1.4 billion announced during Solih’s visit to India in December 2018 has been fully activated, and includes budgetary support, investment in the Maldives Monetary Authority’s treasury bills, a currency swap agreement and a new line of credit for $800 million, they said.

Several big ticket infrastructure projects, such as an international cricket stadium, expansion of Hanimadhoo airport and the Gulhuifalhu port project, are part of this line of credit. India is also assisting in modernising the Maldives’ defence sector and gifted a fast interceptor vessel last December, the people said.

India has also undertaken several developmental, connectivity and capacity-building projects in Sri Lanka, where the total development assistance portfolio exceeds $3.45 billion, including $560 million in grant assistance. The Indian Housing Project to build 50,000 houses is the flagship grant assistance project, and more than 48,600 houses have been built so far.

Another 10,000 houses will be built for Indian-origin Tamils in the upcountry region, the people said.

India also played a key role in improving connectivity in Sri Lanka by restoring railway lines that were damaged by the 2004 tsunami and by reconnecting the northern region with the rest of Sri Lanka by establishing railway signalling systems and supplying rolling stocks, the people said.

All three Indian Ocean countries also benefited from India’s assistance to counter the Covid-19 pandemic. India was the first country to send a medical consignment to Mauritius, which included hydrocloroquine tablets and other medicines. An Indian medical assistance team was also deployed to Mauritius.

The Maldives was the biggest beneficiary of India’s Covid-19-related aid among neighbouring countries, and received two consignments of medicines, 600 tonnes of food supplies and a 14-member medical rapid response team.

Sri Lanka received four consignments of Covid-19-related essential medicines and equipment in April and May, the people said.

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