According to the budget papers, the Centre allotted Rs 400 crore to the island nation in FY 2023-24, but it was later revised to Rs 770 crore.
The decrease in funds in FY 2024-25 represents a 22% drop in funding for developmental projects in the archipelago.
This is the second major blow to the Maldives after a ‘Boycott Maldives’ trend erupted in India that saw Bollywood actors and prominent figures publicly urge Indians to ditch Maldives for Lakshadweep. Indians make up a major share of the foreign tourists who go to the Maldives, which is entirely dependent on its tourism industry.
Development of island tourism
Significantly, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on Thursday that projects for port connectivity, tourism infrastructure and amenities will be taken up “on our islands, including Lakshadweep” to address the “emerging fervour” for domestic tourism in the country.
The mention of Lakshadweep by the FM is significant because PM Narendra Modi had visited the island on January 4. He had tried snorkelling and said Lakshadweep has to be on the list of those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them. A row erupted on social media when a minister and some other leaders in the Maldives used derogatory remarks against PM Modi after he posted a video of him on a pristine beach in Lakshadweep.
Following this, several Indians and tour operators cancelled their plans to visit the Maldives, which has tilted towards China and away from India under its new president Mohamed Muizzu.
Sitharaman, in her budget speech, said the Indian middle class also now “aspires to travel and explore”. Tourism, including spiritual tourism, has tremendous opportunities for local entrepreneurship, she added.
More funds for Bhutan
The interim Budget has allocated the ministry of external affairs a total of Rs 22,154 crore for the fiscal 2024-25 as against last year’s outlay of Rs 18,050 crore.
In line with India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, the largest share of aid portfolio has been granted to Bhutan with an allocation of Rs 2,068 crore. The development outlay for the Himalayan nation in 2023-24 was Rs 2,400 crore.
The allocation for Chabahar Port has also been maintained at Rs 100 crore, underlining India’s focus on connectivity projects with Iran.
In continuation with India’s special relationship with the people of Afghanistan, a budgetary aid of Rs 200 crore has been set aside for that country. An amount of Rs 120 crore will be provided to Bangladesh under development aid while Nepal would be provided Rs 700 crore.
According to the budget documents, Sri Lanka will get development aid worth Rs 75 crore, Mauritius to receive Rs 370 crore while the amount for Myanmar has been pegged at Rs 250 crore. A separate amount of Rs 200 crore has been set aside for African countries.
The total development assistance to various countries and regions such as Latin America and Eurasia has been pegged at Rs 4,883 crore.
(With inputs from agencies)