The Indian government has rejected an official request from Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla to visit the country, Indian media has reported.
According to the Indian Express newspaper, Samad sought to set up an official visit for Maldivian President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik through formal channels but was rebuffed. He then reportedly visited Delhi in a personal capacity to try and arrange meetings.
“With elections expected in the next three to six months, [the Prime Minister’s Office] was wary about Waheed or his foreign minister wrongly projecting a meeting for domestic political gains in the name of rapprochement with India,” the Indian Express reported.
The Maldives’ relationship with India has been strained since the Waheed government evicted Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the country with seven days notice, declaring its US$511 concession agreement ‘void from the start’.
“Waheed has lost all credibility with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he had specifically assured Singh during his visit to India last May that Malé will not rescind on the GMR contract despite political pressure,” the Express added.
However Foreign Minister Samad told local media that the Maldives had not been snubbed by India, and had last met the Indian Foreign Minister in November.
“I did not request a meeting in an official capacity. They facilitated our request for a meeting in a personal capacity,’ Samad told Haveeru. “So why would they snub a request for an official meeting? They facilitated it.”
The foreign relations between the two countries were “quite strong”, Samad insisted: “The Foreign Minister told me that he was reachable 24 hours.”
“Issues will arise diplomatically. But the ties between India and Maldives are strong. The relations won’t be affected as it remains cordial,” Samad added.
Whatever impact the government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor had on foreign relations, it did not appear on a full list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission earlier this week:
Consular issues affecting the India-Maldives relationship
1. Discrimination against Indian expatriates
In recent past, several cases have come to the notice of the High Commission of India regarding the arrest of Indian nationals on various charges. In most of these cases, the Indian High Commission was not even officially informed.
In a recent case, an Indian national was arrested and kept in detention for several weeks, but we did not receive any official intimation despite a letter sent by the High Commissioner to the Home Minister.
2. Keeping passports of Indian nationals by employers
It is unfortunate that despite many references and high level meetings with Indian delegations, no progress has been made to eliminate this illegal practice which effectively results in the restriction of movement of Indian nationals. In several cases Indian nationals are not able to reach India in times of extreme emergency such as critical illness of family members and relatives, due to these practices.
It is unfortunate that even government authorities such as the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health keep the passports of Indian teachers and medical personnel in their custody.
It is also reported that deposits and original certificates are kept illegally by the Ministry of Education before returning the passports of Indian teachers needing to visit India in emergency situations.
3. Exploitation of Indian workers
In the past 12 months there have been more than 500 cases regarding the suffering of Indian workers due to various acts of their employers. These include non-payment of visa fees, non-payment of salaries, keeping workers in inhumane conditions, and not allowing workers to go to India even for medical emergencies or after the death of their relatives.
While so many Indians suffered – including one who died waiting for his return to India – there is no information of any action taken against employers/agents. Furthermore, the salaries of many workers who have left India still needs to be recovered from employer/agents.
In another recent case, several nurses working out in the islands had to finally cancel their scheduled weddings because their permit and visa were not renewed by the Ministry of Health even after three weeks of waiting in Male.
4. Repatriation of mortal remains
While the departments of the Maldivian government such as the Ministry of Education do repatriate the mortal remains of Indian teachers at their cost, some private employers refuse to do so resulting in serious difficulty repatriating the bodies of Indian expatriates who die while in the Maldives.
5. Issue of dependent visa for old parents of Indian employees
While India readily provides dependent visas for the parents of children, the Maldivian government requires a request letter from the Indian High Commission to entertain such a visa request from an Indian expatriate.
6. Visa fee
While all visas for Maldivian nationals to travel to India are free, there are steep fees for visas for Indians in the Maldives, including newly born babies. There are very high penalties of MVR 15,000 (US$1000) even for a one day delay in the return or renewal of a visa.
7. Repatriation of salary
Indian professionals are complaining that they are not allowed to repatriate salaries of more than US$1000 a month, putting them at great disadvantage and difficulty.
8. Threat calls to diplomats
Threat calls have been received by the First Secretary. Authorities have given no feedback despite the lapse of one month.
9. Reopening of cases relating to sentenced Indian prisoners
Three Indians who have been convicted on murder charges have represented against their conviction based on forced confessions and requested reopening of their cases or presidential pardon.
10. Payment of deduction of salary
Fifteen percent of salaries and allowances were deducted [for some workers] during the economic recess. We have received representation for payment of the amount.
11. Pension contribution
Pension/contribution entitlement for Indians who have died, retired or returned to India should be paid to them.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding at time of press.