The Sinamalé Bridge built with Chinese assistance is the first inter-island bridge in the Maldives

Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) will be the largest civilian infrastructure project connecting Malé with three islands: S Jaishankar

India on Thursday announced its participation in a mega connectivity project in the Maldives that will overshadow the Maldives-China Friendship Bridge as the most visible infra-project in the island nation.

The announcement accompanied by a financial package of $ 500 million was made by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during a video conference with his Maldivian counterpart Abdullah Shahid.

The Maldives will be the first neighbouring country "in keeping with our special ties’’ to qualify for an air bubble to facilitate the movement of people from both sides for tourism and medical emergencies, Jaishankar said at the meeting.

India also agreed to provide urgent financial assistance to the Maldives, the first such aid to another country to deal with the pandemic.

India’s participation in the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) is in keeping with its declaration of expertise in completing infrastructure projects of the kind required by smaller nations. Recently, India completed the Supreme Court building in Mauritius, another Indian Ocean island-country with which diplomatic ties have been intensified.

"Once implemented, GMCP will render the Chinese project insignificant in comparison. It will help in demonstrating India’s overarching presence through a high-visibility project in the Greater Malé region and showcase India’s expertise in conceptualising and implementing a complex infrastructural project of this scale,’’ said sources.

The project will connect the national capital Male with eastern islands Villingili, Gulhifahu (where a port is being built under Indian LoC) and Thilafushi (new industrial zone).

Jaishankar also said a cargo ferry service between India and Maldives will begin shortly. India renewed Maldives’ quotas for the supply of essential commodities ranging from potatoes and eggs to river sand.

India’s total financial commitment in the Maldives covering all loan and grant projects is well over $ 2 billion, all of which have been announced after President Solih came to power in November 2018.

Apart from the project, India is helping out the Maldives in all possible ways. With tourism and fish exports coming to a grinding halt in March, the Maldivian economy is under immense strain and its President personally called up PM Modi to seek financial assistance.

To help shore up its forex reserves, India has provided $ 150 million to the Maldives and it can avail another $ 250 million till July 2021.

The Maldives has been the biggest beneficiary of Indian aid during the pandemic. India donated 5.5 tonnes of essential medicines, helped in the evacuation of Maldivians from Wuhan, provided 580 tons of food aid and deployed a medical team.