Singapore/Male: In a severe blow to Indian infrastructure major GMR, Singapore Supreme Court Thursday ruled that the Maldivian government has the authority to reclaim the Male airport from the firm even as India stressed on "fulfilment" of all legal processes regarding compensation.
The Court's ruling left GMR with no room for manoeuvring and Maldivian government officials in Male said a deal has been worked out with GMR for the handing over of the airport.
"Singapore Court of Appeal (the Supreme Court) has passed judgement that the Maldives Government has the authority to take back the airport," Maldives President Mohamed Waheed's Press Secretary Masood Imad said, adding that his government will go ahead with the transfer as scheduled.
"There was a final meeting held today with GMR officials including their CEO and our Acting Transport Minister and two other Ministers. They have agreed for smooth transfer tomorrow itself. A Transition Management Committee will be formed tomorrow for the same which will include representatives from GMR and Maldives Airport Limited Company," Imad said.
Despite repeated attempts for a reaction on the agreement for transfer, no GMR spokesperson was available for comments.
Reacting to the Court verdict, official spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin said in New Delhi that MEA as well as the Indian High Commission in Male is studying the judgement and their lawyers need to understand it.
Pointing out that there are two issues in the case--one sovereign right of a nation and other legality of the agreement, which was linked to compensation to GMR and its associates in Malaysia, he said the latter part has not been "affected or responded" in today's judgement.
"These issues are not affected with judgement or not responded to...Fulfilment of all legal process and requirement is what we want to see in this case and we hope that all relevant contracts and agreements would be adhered to and all legal process are carried through," he said.
On November 27, Maldives unilaterally terminated the over USD 500 million contract awarded to GMR during the previous regime of Mohamed Nasheed to upgrade its Male airport and to build a new terminal.
Today's ruling came just days after the Singapore High Court had stayed the termination notice that was issued by MACL on November 27. The Maldivian government had approached the Singapore Supreme Court after the HC ruling.
Asked about the compensation to be paid to GMR, Imad said, "We have maintained that we are ready to compensate GMR. We have already approached the Singapore Court for arbitration over the same".
As per the project contract, in case of any differences between parties, the law of either Singapore or UK would apply.
Earlier in the day, responding to the Singapore Supreme Court's verdict, a GMR spokesperson said, "We have no comments on the (court) order at this moment, as we are in the process of evaluating the same".
Taken by "surprise" over the GMR issue, India had earlier conveyed to Maldives that the move will have serious consequences on the bilateral ties as it is considering a "series of options", including slowing down cooperative programmes, if legal course is not followed.
While India acknowledges that the Maldivian government's decision to terminate GMR's contract for building Male airport is a domestic issue, it is upset over "anti-India sentiment being whipped up" in connection with the issue there.
Sources had said the possibility of some external forces playing a role in the cancellation of the airport contract cannot be ruled out, even though there was no clear evidence of Chinese angle so far.
In 2010, GMR-led consortium won the right to build and operate the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) for 25 years, which is extendable by another 10 years.
The deal was signed during the regime of previous government headed by Mohamed Nasheed.
But after the regime change in February, GMR had been facing an uphill task.
The current government in Male says the contract was signed under "dubious" conditions and was "void", a charge hotly denied by the Indian firm.
A number of anti-GMR rallies were organised in Male by certain right-wing coalition partners of the current regime.
Anti-Indian statements also seeped into the protests that were held in the Indian ocean archipelago.
Meanwhile, later in the day, a GMR spokesperson refuted Imad's assertion that talks had been held over transfer of airport.
"We have not had any discussion with the government of Maldives regarding handing over the airport," the spokesperson said.