New Delhi: According to sources, Maldivian President Mohammed Waheed Hassan has categorically stated that China is not behind his government's decision to scrap the Male airport development contract with GMR Group. The President also indicated that there was a problem right from the beginning in the approach of then president Mohamed Nasheed towards the deal.
The Maldivian government on November 27 terminated the $511 million contract with the Indian firm and gave time till December 7 to hand over operations to Maldives' state-run MACL. The decision took India by surprise, which expressed its strong displeasure over the "unilateral" decision of termination and had conveyed to the Maldives that the move will have an adverse impact on the bilateral ties.
The Maldives Airport Company Limited took over operations from GMR on Saturday. The contract was awarded to GMR Group in 2010 by the previous Nasheed government to build and operate the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport for 25 years.
"The airport operations are now being handled by MACL. The handing over was very smooth and seamless," President Mohamed Waheed's Press Secretary Masood Imad said on Saturday. However, reports suggested that GMR officials were not present at the "handing over" ceremony held late Saturday night. Imad said there is a three-week transition period during which GMR and MACL will work together.
He also sought to allay any fears of loss of jobs or any vendetta against the employees. "All workers of the airport, who wish to stay back after GMR leaves, will be taken on board by MACL. This also includes Indian workers," Imad asserted. There are currently 1,663 employees, including about 110 Indians.
The takeover happened a day after the Singapore Supreme Court ruled that Maldives government has the "power to do what its wants, including expropriating the airport", dealing a severe blow to GMR, which earlier got a temporary reprieve with the Singapore High Court staying the termination.
The contentious issue saw various twists and turns both on legal and diplomatic fronts. Anti-Indian statements also seeped into the protests that were held in the Indian ocean archipelago. The Male airport venture has been the most profitable for GMR in terms of its airports business segment. The company had so far invested about $250 million on managing and upgrading the facilities at the Male airport. Situated on Hulhule Island in the Maldives at the South western tip of India, Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the region.
(With additional information from PTI)