In less than an hour after the below piece appeared on ndtv.com, a journalist from Mauritius,
Muhammad Hossenbaccus called up and said the Minister has denied ever making an offer about of giving two islands to India on lease.
The fellow practitioner also said the statement has evoked a sharp reaction from the Opposition in Mauritius.
He was also kind enough to send a Press Note from the Mauritius High Commission in Delhi which also contradicts the original report that appeared in The Times of India on Friday morning. The press note is at the end of this write up.
First read my piece as it appeared on ndtv.com
On Thursday, the visiting Mauritius foreign affairs and trade minister Arvin Boolell made an unexpected offer to India: he said Mauritius is willing to lease a couple of sun-drenched islands to India as part of a trade and investment deal.
North and South Agalega Islands, located closer to India than Mauritius have an area of just 70 km. The North Agalega island also has a rough but ready air strip capable of handling small plane landings.
While this offer was first made in 2006 but was never followed up seriously since a huge political storm had broken out in Mauritius over it, changed circumstances seem to have compelled the Mauritian government to make a fresh proposal. Diplomatic sources say, Mauritius is struggling financially and if India were to scarp the 1983 vintage double taxation treaty it has with Mauritius, the island country might lose a substantial part of its earning.
The latest offer is therefore seen as a sweetener not to abolish that treaty. Times of India quoted the Mauritian Minister as saying: “It was up to India to use the islands to its advantage.”
The Minister said the “blue economy” had great potential. India could use these islands for setting up hotels and tourist resorts, for trade, marine studies, or for building a strategic presence in the Indian Ocean, the minister is reported to have said.
It is the last aspect–strategic presence–that New Delhi may be interested in. Situated close to an important sea lane of communication in the southern Indian Ocean, these islands can be effectively used by the Indian Navy and Air Force if the government decides to accept the Mauritian offer.
If a base is developed here, it could prove to be a staging point for both Indian Navy and Air Force which can launch surveillance and reconnaissance missions without having to traverse long distances from the southern tip of India.
Already Indian Naval and Air Force personnel work with the Mauritian Police (the island country does not have standing armed forces), helping them in various tasks. Indian Naval ships regularly call on Mauritian port during their passage to and from Africa. Between 2009 and now, at least a dozen Indian ships have either visited and mounted surveillance missions or held PASSEX (Passage Exercises) with Mauritian Coast Guard ships.
The primary objective of these missions is to reinforce deterrence to ongoing pirate activities north of the EEZ of Mauritius. The Joint Patrol also helps to check illegal fishing within the maritime zones of Mauritius.
Last month INS Darshak, a third generation ocean-going survey vessel of the Indian Navy fitted with state-of-the-art hydrographic and oceanographic equipment visited Mauritius.
The ship also has an integral helicopter which is extensively used for the survey operations and also for search and rescue missions. INS Darshak has been the forerunner in carrying out navigational surveys of various harbours in India and has also been carrying out surveys in the Indian Ocean Region. During its presence in Mauritian waters from April 22 – May 17, 2012it undertook the following hydrographic surveys and tasks requested for by the Government of the Republic of Mauritius.
- Bathymetric survey of the Southern coast of Mauritius from Le Morne to Le Chaland to meet the requirements of placement of fish-aggregating devices for the Ministry of Fisheries.
- Survey of Le Morne as projected by the National Coast Guard, Ministry of Tourism and Leisure and the Mauritius Research Council.
Clearly, if India accepts the Mauritian offer and gradually develops a military base, the reach of the Indian Navy will be phenomenally enhanced giving India a strategic presence in the Indian Ocean at par with what the US developed at Diego Garcia over the years.
In the long run the arrangement may turn out to be a win-win situation for both countries.
Here’s the full text of the Press note:
Dr. The Honourable Arvin Boolell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of the Republic of Mauritius is on an official visit to India from 04 to 07 July 2012. Yesterday, he met the Hon. Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, Mr. S.M. Krishna, the Minister of External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition, the corporate and the press.
Discussions with Indian authorities focused mainly on how two friendly countries with deep historical and cultural links can strengthen their bilateral cooperation and ways to resolve outstanding issues on a win-win basis. In this regard, Minister A. Boolell also gave several interviews to the written press. In a 30 minutes interview with NDTV Profit, he highlighted solutions to resolve outstanding problems for the mutual benefits of the two countries.
In the several interviews given by Minister A. Boolell to the written press, never was the issue of Agalega raised either on a stand-alone basis or as part of a trade-off for the DTA issue. The issue was also never discussed with the Indian authorities.
At no point in time did the Minister refer to any “deal” as mentioned in an article entitled “Mauritius offers India 2 Islands in effort to preserve tax treaty” in today’s edition of “The Times of India”. The said article is erroneous, misleading, false and malicious.
Discussions with the Indian authorities have centered on how to resolve outstanding problems and focused essentially on exchange of information, curbing of round-tripping, enhancing of substance and providing certainty, clarity and stability to the DTAC.
06 July 2012