Male: Two years after it handed over the Male International Airport's operations to Indian infrastructure major GMR, the Maldives' state-run MACL was back at the helm on Saturday.
The Maldives Airport Company Limited took over operations from GMR, which was awarded a USD 511-million contract in 2010 by the previous Nasheed government to build and operate the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport for 25 years.
The Indian firm was unceremoniously ousted when the new Maldivian government abruptly terminated the contract on November 27 and was given time till December seven to hand over airport operations to MACL, taking India by surprise.
"The airport operations are now being handled by MACL. The handing over was very smooth and seamless," President Mohamed Waheed's Press Secretary Masood Imad said.
However, reports here suggest that GMR officials were not present at the "handing over" ceremony held late last night.
Imad said there is a three-week transition period during which GMR and MACL will work together.
He also sought to allay any fears of loss of jobs or any vendetta against the employees.
"All workers of the airport, who wish to stay back after GMR leaves, will be taken on board by MACL.
This also includes Indian workers," Imad asserted.
There are currently 1,663 employees, including about 110 Indians.
Maldives' Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim said at the ceremony that there would be major changes in MACL management.
"I would like to say that we will reconstitute the management of MACL and further strengthen the company," he was quoted as saying by 'Haveeru' daily.
He added, "We accept that GMR had worked towards the development of the airport. We thank GMR for that".
The takeover happened a day after the Singapore Supreme Court ruled that Maldives government has the "power to do what it wants, including expropriating the airport", dealing a severe blow to GMR which earlier got a temporary reprieve with the Singapore High Court staying the termination.
The contentious issue saw various twists and turns both on legal and diplomatic fronts with India expressing its strong displeasure over the "unilateral" decision of termination and had conveyed to the Maldives that the move will have an adverse impact on the bilateral ties.
In 2010, the GMR-led consortium won the right to build and operate the airport.
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 headed by President Mohamed Waheed, which is under pressure from its coalition partners, 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.
The Male airport venture has been the most profitable for GMR in terms of its airports business segment. The company had so far invested about USD 250 million on managing and upgrading the facilities at the Male airport.
Situated on Hulhule Island in the Maldives at the South western tip of India, Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the region.