Your Excellency Mrs. Pratibha Patil, President of the Republic of India, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
May I begin by thanking you, Your Excellency, and the Government and people of India for the warm welcome accorded to me, my wife and members of my delegation since our arrival in New Delhi.
Visiting India, and in particular the magnificent and historic city of New Delhi, has always been a great pleasure for me and my wife. This is my fifth State visit to India, and the twenty-fourth in an official capacity. This is also my third visit to India in twelve months. I hope you will agree with me when I say that I am, therefore, a frequent visitor to your beautiful country.
Each and every one of my visits to India brings with it many treasured memories and new friendships. It also gives me the opportunity to renew many old friendships. The past few days here have, of course, been no exception.
My Government and people regard India as a special friend, a very close ally and a key development partner. Our two peoples have interacted in various fields over many centuries, and the close proximity and shared cultural, linguistic and historical links between our two countries have contributed greatly in cultivating deep mutual respect for one another.
As this is my first visit to India since you were elected to the country’s highest office, and subsequently our first ever meeting, it has been the most important highlight of my current visit. You are a person of unparalleled leadership and experience, and it was an honour and privilege to listen to you.
Indeed, the fruitful discussions that we had held a short while ago, will undoubtedly bring our two countries and peoples even closer together.
A defining feature of our friendship has been the eagerness with which we have supported each other at all times.
In every hour of national distress in the Maldives, be it a foreign terrorist coup attempt or a natural catastrophe, India has come in a big way to help us restore normalcy to the lives of our people. For our part, we have always expressed our support and demonstrated our solidarity to India in every way possible, especially in the international arena. We were very happy to co-sponsor India’s bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, and to support the candidature of
Mr. Kamalesh Sharma for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General. I congratulate India on Mr. Sharma’s success.
I wish to take this opportunity to once again thank the Government and friendly people of India for the strong support and generous assistance that India has extended to the development of the Maldives over the years. The speedy Indian humanitarian aid and assistance in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and again after the unprecedented sea swells we experienced last year ensured that we were able to begin work on rehabilitation and restoring livelihoods.
The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male’ is a lasting reminder of the close ties between the two countries, and India continues to support our efforts to ensure that the hospital’s services are improved steadily. I note with deep satisfaction that the two Governments have agreed on the new draft of the MoU on manpower requirements for IGMH. I am confident that our Health Ministers will be putting pen to paper in the near future.
Another symbol of Indo-Maldives ties is the flagship of our Coast Guard, MV Huravee, which was a gift of the Indian Government. MV Huravee has already been utilized on a number of key security operations in our territorial waters.
India has also played a pivotal role in our human resources development, in areas such as healthcare and education, as well as defence and policing. In the past five years alone, over 400 Maldivians have been trained or educated in Indian institutions under Indian government assistance. Even at present, 124 Maldivian youths are benefiting from Indian Government training programmes.
Bilateral agreements, MoUs and other collaborative ventures in strategic areas such as air services, information technology, education, healthcare, defence, policing and counter-terrorism over the past two decades have served as the foundation of Indo-Maldives relations. The science and technology agreement signed between the two countries today will, no doubt, further promote the development of cooperation in this important area. The Joint Commission between the two countries has also played an important role in widening the sphere of cooperation.
Looking at ongoing programmes and ventures in the pipeline, the invitation extended to us to join the Indian Ocean based tsunami early warning system developed by India and the construction of a new building for the Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies in Male’ under Indian assistance are vivid examples of the great benefits to my people from our strong bilateral collaboration.
The key to strengthening Indo-Maldives ties is the people. At present, there are over 23,000 Indian nationals gainfully employed in the Maldives. Similarly, the Maldives is rapidly gaining in popularity as the destination of choice among Indian holidaymakers. The number of tourist arrivals from India increased by 43.5 percent in 2007, and we are confident that this trend will continue for many years to come. The number of Maldivians visiting India for various purposes, including medical treatment, education, business and tourism, has also risen sharply in recent years.
This increase in people-to-people contact has been facilitated by vast improvements in air connectivity between the two countries. With direct flights operating between Male’ and Thiruvanathapuram and Bangalore, more people now have the opportunity to take the short journey from one country to the other. As of last month, Maldivian carrier Island Aviation has also begun daily flights from Male’ to Thiruvananthapuram.
The agreement to establish the Maldives–India Foundation, which the two governments will sign in the near future, is another important step towards further strengthening the excellent ties between our two countries. The Foundation is tasked with promoting exchanges in the fields of art, culture, trade, commerce, and science and technology. It also provides a further avenue to increase people-to-people contact.
Economic, commercial and investment ties too have been booming in recent years. No less than four of our tourist resorts are managed or owned by Indian investors. One of two submarine optical fibre cables linking the Maldives with the world was laid with substantial Indian investment.
Last year, imports from India to the Maldives increased by 44 percent, Similarly, our exports to India increased by 57 percent. With the full implementation of SAFTA, the volume of trade between the two countries will undoubtedly rise to even higher levels in the time ahead.
As you know, I have had the pleasure during this visit of attending the 2008 Delhi Sustainable Development Summit organized by TERI, where once again I expressed the concerns of my people, who continue to live in the fear that the rising seas will one day force them to leave their homes.
The protection and preservation of the environment is a concern that both India and the Maldives have shared over the years. In fact, India has played a praiseworthy role in climate change diplomacy. In particular, I wish to congratulate India on Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and the IPCC being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007.
My democratic reform agenda has today reached an important juncture. On the horizon is the completion of the drafting of our new Constitution, and the country’s first multiparty presidential election later this year.
Your Excellency has achieved the distinction of being India’s first female President. I am happy to say that the removal of the gender bar on seeking the post of President in the Maldives that I had included in my reform agenda has been adopted by the Special Majlis.
We wish Your Excellency good health and success and the friendly people of India continued progress and prosperity.