Uthuru Thilafalhu draft agreement – All duties, taxes & Customs inspection of Indian official documents exempted

Minister of Extrnal Affairs of India Dr. S. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid | photo: Foreign Ministry

Malé, Maldives – Leaked unsigned draft agreement between the Maldivian and Indian governments to develop a harbour and dockyard for the purposes of Coast Guard has revealed that all Indian personnel, contractors and services to be exempted from duties and taxes and also that all official Indian documents would be exempted from Customs inspection.

The draft agreement, which was leaked by former Home Minister Umar Naseer had revealed that the Maldivian government had agreed to give major immunity provisions for Indian government and military personnel associated with the project.

According to the Section of the obligations which are to be abided by the Maldivian government under Article 3 of the draft agreement, Maldivian government is mandated to exempt all taxes and duties on all personnel, contractors, services and all material equipments, goods, vehicles plant, machinery and spare parts required for the development, management, operation and maintenance of the facilities being built under the agreement.

Under Section 6.7 of Article 6 of this draft government, the Maldivian government is also required to facilitate entry and exit of Indian personnel, marine and air vessels to UTF including customs and immigration formalities and also give exemption for all Indian official documents from customs inspection.

The draft agreement also states that the facilities being built at UTF can be used by third parties by bona fide non-government commercial maritime/ air traffic under a mutually agreed procedures between Maldives and India.

This agreement also gives immunity to Indian personnel from any suits or proceedings for implementation of the agreement in Maldives except if those personnel are found guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct. In addition to this, the Maldivian government is to give full immunity to the personnel deputed by the Indian government and their papers and premises from legal and judicial process as to other diplomatic personnel in Maldives.

The draft agreement, which was leaked by former Home Minister Umar Naseer reads that the Indian armed forced would be stationed at Uthuru Thilafalhu for a period of thirty years, which if not objected by either party, would be extended by another thirty years by default.

While this is an unsigned draft, it is not clear whether this was the agreement that was signed with the Indian government on 21st February, 2021, by Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi and Minister of External Affairs of Maldives Dr. S.Jaishankar.

Addressing concerns over the agreement during the time the agreement was signed, MNDF reassured the public that no armed personnel would be stationed at the site. 

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) had denied any such allegations before and had reassured that no military force will be based at the harbour, detailing that it would only be used to dock and repair Coast Guard vessels.

While Indian Military presence in Maldives has been a great cause of distress to the current opposition, who have even launched an “#IndiaOut” campaign, the development of this harbour and dockyard in Uthuru Thila Falhu was included under the Defence Action Plan signed between India and Maldives in 2016 – when the opposition was in power and the country was led by former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom.

The project will be carried out in two phases, with the construction of the harbour and dockyard expected to be completed within the first three years. The site will also have a naval harbour with communication equipment and resources, radar services, along with training facilities.