India-Maldives Hydrographic Survey Pact

India-Maldives Hydrographic Survey Pact

GS - International Relations 

In the news

The decision by the Maldives government not to renew the hydrographic survey agreement with India is a pivotal development, indicative of a nuanced shift in bilateral relations.

Hydrographic surveys, integral for maritime safety and efficiency, involve sophisticated mapping techniques such as sonar to chart water bodies comprehensively.


In a strategic manoeuvre, the Maldives government has chosen not to renew its agreement with India, bringing an end to India's authorization to conduct hydrographic surveys in Maldivian waters.This shift is significantly influenced by evolving geopolitical dynamics, marked by a regime change in the Maldives and the broader regional influence of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Additionally, the decision reflects the new administration's emphasis on national security, self-reliance in hydrographic capabilities, and the backdrop of allegations regarding Indian military presence.

Hydrogen Survey


  • A hydrographic survey is a scientific discipline that involves measuring and describing the physical features of bodies of water. 
  • This includes oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. The primary objective is to gather data to create accurate and detailed maps of the seafloor or lakebed.
  • Techniques used in hydrographic surveys include sonar systems to measure water depth, GPS for precise positioning, and other instruments to collect data on tides, currents, and underwater features. 
  • Survey Objectives: The surveys were multifaceted, aiming to update navigational charts, bolster sectors like tourism and fisheries, conduct tidal observations, and identify new shoals.


  • These surveys, integral for ensuring safe and efficient maritime transportation, involve the meticulous mapping of water bodies. 
  • These surveys are crucial for safe navigation, maritime infrastructure development, environmental monitoring, and resource management.

Significance of Hydrographic Surveys

  • In-Depth Mapping: Hydrographic surveys employ advanced technologies like sonar to meticulously map water depth, seafloor contours, coastline shapes, and identify potential navigational hazards, ensuring the safety of maritime navigation.
  • Navigational Charts and Predictions: These surveys lead to the creation of updated Navigational Charts and Electronic Navigational Charts, proving vital for sectors like tourism, fisheries, agriculture, and facilitating precise tidal predictions.

Hydrographic Survey Pact Details

  • Inaugural Joint Commission on Hydrography: The foundation of this collaborative effort was laid in September 2019 during the first meeting of the Joint Commission on Hydrography in the Maldives.
    • During Prime Minister Modi’s state visit in June 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed for hydrographic cooperation between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
  • INS Darshak's Pioneering Survey: The inaugural Joint Hydrographic survey in 2021 by the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Darshak marked a milestone in extending India's hydrographic reach in the region.
    • The collaborative efforts included three joint surveys in 2021, 2022, and 2023, featuring the participation of Indian Naval Ships such as INS Darshak and INS Sutlej.

Factors Influencing Maldives' Decision

  • Shift in Government Dynamics: The transition from a pro-India administration to a government perceived as leaning towards China played a decisive role in reshaping the hydrographic survey pact.
  • China's Expanding Sphere: Against the backdrop of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Maldives, like other Indian Ocean nations, has witnessed a growing influence, prompting shifts in foreign policy dynamics.
  • Allegations of Indian Military Presence: The 'India Out' campaign in 2020, coupled with the current government's stance against perceived Indian military presence, significantly influenced the decision.
    • Global Hydrographic Disparities: A UN study underscores significant hydrographic disparities, revealing that approximately 50% of coastal states lack hydrographic capability, while 25% possess limited capabilities. Only 25%, including India, boast comprehensive hydrographic capabilities.
    • Asia and Africa Hydrographic Needs: Recognizing the critical gap, there is a compelling need for hydrographic surveys in Asia and Africa, where 36% and 64% of waters, respectively, await systematic exploration.National Security Imperatives: Emphasizing control over sensitive information, the Maldives government views enhancing its military's capacity for surveys as a crucial element of national security.

      Way Forward


    Hydrographic Survey Pact signifies a nuanced shift in geopolitical dynamics, reflecting the Maldives' recalibration of foreign policy priorities. This move prompts contemplation on the broader canvas of maritime influence, national security considerations, and the intricate interplay of regional power dynamics in the Indian Ocean. The evolving scenario underscores the intricate nature of international collaborations, especially in vital domains such as hydrography and maritime security.

    About India - Maldives

    Recent Developments

    • On November 19, 2023, President Muizzu publicly called for the removal of Indian military personnel from the Maldives, signaling a notable shift in strategic dynamics.
      • President Muizzu's announcement included a threat to review existing agreements with India, creating uncertainties about the future trajectory of bilateral arrangements.
    • In October 2023, both nations signed nine Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) under Phase II of the High Impact Community Development Projects Scheme, demonstrating a commitment to collaborative socio-economic initiatives.
    • The joint military exercise "Ekuverin" in September 2023 underscored the commitment to mutual defense preparedness and strategic cooperation.
    • A significant milestone was achieved in August 2023 with the signing of a contract for the construction of the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), emphasizing joint infrastructure development.

    Evolution of India-Maldives Relations

    • Early Diplomatic Ties (1965-1972)
        • The history of India-Maldives relations traces back to the Maldives' declaration of independence from British rule in 1965. Recognizing the significance of regional collaboration, India swiftly established diplomatic ties with the newly independent Maldives. This marked the initiation of a relationship that would evolve across various domains.
    • Strategic Significance in the Indian Ocean
        • Situated south of India's Lakshadweep Islands in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives holds strategic importance. Beyond geographical proximity, the two nations acknowledged the potential for collaboration in strategic, military, economic, and cultural spheres.
    • Foundations of Friendship (1965 Onward)
        • India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, played a pivotal role in fostering a strong foundation of friendship with the Maldives. This relationship was perceived by the Maldives as not only a source of aid but also as a strategic counterbalance, especially in relation to Sri Lanka, a close neighbor and the Maldives' major trading partner.
    • Policy of Regional Neutrality
        • One noteworthy aspect of the evolving relationship was the Maldives' policy of keeping regional issues and struggles at arm's length. This approach was supported by India and reflected a commitment to maintaining regional stability and harmony.
    • Diplomatic Establishments (1972-2004)
        • In 1972, recognizing the growing importance of bilateral ties, India elevated its diplomatic representation by establishing a mission at the CDA (Charge d'Affaires) level. This move was a precursor to more comprehensive diplomatic engagement. By 1980, India further strengthened its presence by appointing a resident High Commissioner, emphasizing the commitment to long-term collaboration.
    • Reciprocal Diplomatic Presence (November 2004)
      • A significant milestone occurred in November 2004 when the Maldives reciprocated India's commitment by establishing a full-fledged High Commission in New Delhi. This diplomatic presence underscored the mutual recognition of the enduring importance of bilateral relations. At that time, the Maldives had only four diplomatic missions globally, highlighting the special significance accorded to the relationship with India.

    Political Relations

    • Regular High-Level Contacts: The political landscape has witnessed frequent high-level engagements, with Indian Prime Ministers making regular visits to the Maldives.
    • Former President Visits: Former Maldivian President Gayoom has made several visits to India, contributing to the strengthening of diplomatic ties.
    • President Mohamed Nasheed's Visits: President Nasheed's foreign debut in December 2008 was in India, emphasizing the significance of bilateral relations. Subsequent visits, including participation in international conferences, further underscored the diplomatic closeness.
    • International Support: The Maldives consistently supports India on international platforms such as the UN, Commonwealth, NAM, and SAARC. Noteworthy is their support for Shri Kamalesh Sharma's candidature for the Commonwealth Secretary-General position and co-sponsorship of G-4 draft resolutions on UN Reforms.

    Bilateral Assistance

    India has played a crucial role in the Maldives' development through bilateral assistance. Key projects include:

    • Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH): Established at a cost of Rs.42.5 crores, the 200-bed hospital stands as a testament to India's assistance. Subsequent renovations, as agreed during Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit in 2011, reflect a commitment to healthcare development.
    • Faculty of Engineering Technology (FET): Initiated as a grant-in-aid project in 1996, FET imparts technical and vocational education to at least 200 students annually, contributing to human resource development.

    Cultural Relations

    • Historical Mosque Restoration: Indian experts have successfully restored historical mosques in the Maldives, showcasing shared cultural heritage.
    • Cultural Exchange: Regular cultural exchanges, including participation in festivals and events, contribute to the deepening of cultural ties.
    • India-Maldives Friendship Festival: The INMAFF, organized in 2010, marked a significant cultural milestone, attended by President Nasheed and cabinet members, with Bollywood star Salman Khan as a special guest.
    • Indian Cultural Center: Inaugurated in July 2011, the Indian Cultural Center in Male’ serves as a hub for enhancing cultural activities and fostering people-to-people ties.

    India-Maldives Diverse Collaborations and Partnerships

    Tsunami Related Assistance

    After the devastating tsunami struck the Maldives on December 26, 2004, India promptly extended crucial assistance:

    • Swift Response: India's Coast Guard and Air Force swiftly deployed resources, including Dornier aircraft and relief-laden Avros, to provide immediate aid.
    • Naval Support: INS Mysore, along with INS Udaygiri and INS Aditya, played a pivotal role in delivering aid, setting up field hospitals, and conducting patient evacuations.
    • Financial Aid: Responding to President Gayoom's request, the Government of India sanctioned Rs. 10 crores in budget support aid in 2005. Additionally, in 2007, Rs. 10 crores were provided after tidal surges.

    Subscription to Dollar-denominated Treasury Bills

    In 2009, India, through the State Bank of India, subscribed to US $100 million in Maldivian treasury bonds. This financial assistance aimed to alleviate the foreign exchange crisis, showcasing India's commitment to economic stability.

    Bilateral Trade

    • Trade Pact: The 1981 trade pact between India and the Maldives facilitated essential item exports. In 2009–10, trade figures reflected a substantial surplus for India, with over Rs. 378.49 crores exported.
    • Economic Collaboration: The trade relationship has not only been beneficial but has also paved the way for collaborative efforts in infrastructure, health, and telecommunications.

    Military Assistance

    • Fast Attack Craft: The Indian Navy provided the Maldives National Defense Force Coast Guard with a Trinket Class Fast Attack Craft in April 2006.
    • Joint Military Exercise (Ekuverin): Regular joint military exercises, such as Ekuverin, strengthen military ties and enhance operational coordination.
    • Technical Agreement: A technical agreement on the exchange of "White Shipping Information" ensures advanced knowledge sharing on non-military vessel movements.

    Defense Infrastructure Development

    • Coastal Radars: India's commitment to the Maldives' security includes plans to install coastal radars on all 26 atolls. This initiative ensures comprehensive coverage of approaching ships and aircraft.
    • Radar Network: The integration of radar chains between India and the Maldives establishes a seamless radar image for India’s Coastal Command's central control room.

    Indian Investment

    • Economic Support: The State Bank of India has been a vital contributor to the Maldives' economic growth since February 1974. Loan assistance for island resorts, marine product exports, and business enterprises highlights India's economic partnership.
    • Infrastructure Ventures: Significant projects, such as the GMR Infrastructure and KLIA consortium's takeover of the Male International Airport, showcase India's involvement in critical infrastructure development.
    • Renewable Energy Initiatives: Suzlon Energy's wind farm project and Bommidala Infrastructure's solar energy venture demonstrate India's commitment to sustainable development in the Maldives.

    Commercial Relations

    • Post-Operation Cactus: Following the success of Operation Cactus in 1988, bilateral programs in infrastructure, health, and telecommunications have significantly improved relations.
    • Economic Aid: India's generous economic aid, exceeding $500 million through the State Bank of India, has contributed to the Maldives' economic growth.
    • Scholarships and Development: Increased scholarships, telecommunication advancements, and the construction of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital underline India's commitment to human resource development and healthcare in the Maldives.

    Infrastructure Projects

    • Airport Development: The Hanimaadhoo International Airport Development project, under an Indian credit line, aims to enhance infrastructure by constructing a new terminal, increasing annual passenger capacity to 1.3 million.
    • NCPLE Inauguration: The inauguration of the National College for Policing and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) in 2022, underlining extensive grant projects, showcases India's commitment to educational development.

    Bilateral Treaties and Strategic Partnership

    • 1976 Maritime Treaty: The signing of the maritime treaty in 1976, clarifying boundaries and emphasizing cordial relations, laid the foundation for a strong partnership.
    • 1981 Comprehensive Trade Agreement: This agreement, alongside their joint memberships in SAARC and the South Asian Economic Union, reflects a commitment to regional cooperation.

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