Seychelles has called off a deal that would have allowed India to invest $550 million (Rs 3,760 crore) in building a military base on one of its islands. President Danny Faure made the announcement on June 4, three weeks before his scheduled visit to India.
The decision by the Seychelles President to drop the deal in the face of protests over a perceived loss of sovereignty is a blow to the government’s “SAGAR” (Security and Growth for All in the Region) programme, announced by PM Modi during a visit to Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) countries in March 2015.
It also comes amid India’s troubles with another IOR country, the Maldives, where the government has demanded that India withdraw two helicopters, pilots, and personnel from its atolls that had been sent there to help with maritime patrols.
Discussions regarding development of Assumption Island began in 2003 but were formalized in 2015. The deal was to include a 20-year access to the base, as well as permission to station some military personnel on the ground with facilities on the island funded by India, owned by Seychelles and jointly managed by both sides.
The deal is seen as important for India because it enhances its surveillance capabilities over the Indian Ocean.
In concert with a coastal surveillance radar station already operating in Seychelles, a naval base at Agalega in Mauritius, a coastal radar station in Madagascar, an array of radars in Maldives, and a strong presence in the littoral waters of Mozambique, Delhi’s acquisition of facilities on one of the 67 raised coral islands of the Aldabra group will create an impermeable surveillance net in the southwestern and central Indian Ocean.
Assumption Island’s position dominating the Mozambique channel, a key sea lane for merchant ships, adds to India’s kitty a second potential choke point after the Strait of Malacca; the latter is dominated by India’s augmented presence in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands chain as well as with naval agreements with Vietnam and Singapore.
The Indian Ocean is important for the following reasons:
It enjoys a privileged location at the crossroads of global trade, connecting the major engines of the international economy in the Northern Atlantic and Asia-Pacific. This is particularly important in an era in which global shipping has burgeoned.
The Indian Ocean is also rich in natural resources. 40% of the world’s offshore oil production takes place in the Indian Ocean basin. Fishing in the Indian Ocean now accounts for almost 15% of the world’s total.
Mineral resources are equally important, with nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and iron, and massive sulfide deposits of manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold present in sizeable quantities on the seabed. Indian Ocean coastal sediments are also important sources of titanium, zirconium, tin, zinc, and copper. Additionally, various rare earth elements are present, even if their extraction is not always commercially feasible.
It is a maritime initiative which gives priority to Indian Ocean region for ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity of India in Indian Ocean region. The goal is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other`s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime issues; an increase in maritime cooperation.