Dangers Of ‘India Out,’ ‘Destruction’ Of Biosphere Reserve

1. Ministers Make The Case Against ‘India Out’ Campaign

The opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign has provoked fear among the Indian expatriate community and could create difficulties for Maldivians if the fraught situation escalates, ministers warned the parliament’s security services committee.

The testimony came after the ruling party decided to move controversial legislation to outlaw political activity that harms foreign relations. Former president Abdulla Yameen – who intensified the campaign for the expulsion of Indian soldiers upon his release from house arrest – contends that India is building a military presence and undermining the country’s independence. But government officials accuse him of using the nationalist appeal for political ends.

Defence: Flanked by the army chief, Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi alleged that the opposition was encouraging terrorism with calls for jihad. There was a consensus among senior military officers that the campaign poses a serious threat to national security. She denied the opposition leader’s allegations about Indian control over a naval dockyard to be developed in Uthuru Thilafalhu.

Chief Of Defence Forces Major General Abdulla Shamaal explained that the main Indian military operation in the Maldives was flying helicopters to airlift patients and assist search and rescue missions. The Maldives military will uphold the country’s independence and sovereignty, he asserted.

Foreign: Senior diplomats expressed concern that the opposition campaign was affecting “age-old close ties” and alarming the neighbour. The consequences of inciting hatred could be dire, they warned. No government has ever signed an agreement that would give “a grain of sand” to India, said State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel. “When India starts to get directly targeted and when it affects Indian nationals living in the Maldives, we are concerned that it could affect Maldivians living in India,” said Foreign Secretary Abdul Gafoor Mohamed, suggesting that the bigger fear was Indian politicians raising the issue. Other embassies have also requested heightened security, he said.

Economic Ties: India supplies essential goods through special export quotas, including foodstuff and construction material, Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail reminded MPs. “We should think before doing something that could disrupt this,” he said, warning that the politicians leading the campaign could lose control of events.

Related: Visiting Indian Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar co-chaired the third India-Maldives Defence Cooperation Dialogue on Sunday (13 February). He attended the opening ceremony for a Composite Training Centre and donated medical equipment to the Senahiya military hospital.

2. NGOs Call On Government To Stop ‘Environmental Destruction’ Of Addu

A group of local NGOs urged the government to scrap a massive land reclamation project in the southernmost atoll, citing an environmental impact assessment of incalculable loss to marine ecosystems.

Dredging sand from the atoll seabed as planned to reclaim 236.5 hectares and create artificial islands for resorts “will effectively destroy nature, biodiversity and the natural defences and resilience of the atoll,” one of the groups warned in a petition, calling on the authorities to “stop this ecocide and irreversible destruction of Addu Atoll,” which was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2020.

According to the EIA report, sediment plumes generated by dredging could spread to 5km and stay inside the atoll for up to 90 days, “affecting the coral, reef and marine environment”.

Around 21 hectares of corals and 120 hectares of seagrass meadows will be buried. The relocation of corals was included as a component of the project but the survival rate would depend on conditions at the new site. The damage to coral reefs and marine protected areas, including a British shipwreck and ecologically unique manta spots, could cause annual losses of up to US$27 million for dive operators and local tourism. Bait fishing will be affected due to reduced fish diversity and abundance.

Popular Will: Addu City councillors told the media that the public was firmly behind the project. New land for housing and tourism was seen as essential for long-term socio-economic progress. No further reclamation would be needed for 50 years. The project was pledged in the president’s 2018 manifesto after public consultations by the ruling party.

Mayor Ali Nizar said mitigation measures would be taken and appealed against obstructing the people’s wishes. Most Adduans dismiss the objections from NGOs due to a long-held belief that people from Malé have been blocking Addu’s development, councillors explained.

Civil Society: Carrying out such a “destructive project” against expert advice, and without properly informing the public, was “unacceptable”, the NGOs said, arguing that it contravenes Article 22 of the Constitution:

“The state has a fundamental duty to protect and preserve the natural environment, biodiversity, resources and beauty of the country for the benefit of present and future generations. The state shall undertake and promote desirable economic and social goals through ecologically balanced sustainable development and shall take measures necessary to foster conservation, prevent pollution, the extinction of any species and ecological degradation from any such goals.”