The government has denied the claim by V. Atoll Council and residents of the region that the agreement for the lease of V. Hulhidhoo for farming is no longer valid, due to lack of work in the island.
Dozens of people from V. Atoll staged a protest at sea on October 8, demanding the island be returned to them. A second protest was staged in Hulhidhoo on Friday.
The protesters argue the lease agreement between the government and Aarah Investment has expired, and is no longer valid.
Minister of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources, Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan said that the lease agreement with Aarah Investment remains valid, despite false assertations of some.
He said that there are no grounds for termination of the agreement.
“Because of Covid-19, many of the parties leased uninhabited islands faced difficulties starting projects. The duration has been extended,” he said.
Hassan said Aarah Investment had informed the government of delays in their project due to the pandemic, and that they had been granted an extension to the deadline at their request.
The failure to meet a deadline does not provide sufficient grounds for termination of an agreement, he said.
Hassan said the agreement remains valid, for as long as it remains unterminated.
He said the government has not discussed terminating the agreement.
Residents of V. Atoll argue that the island would better serve the region as a picnic island than remain unused.
V. Atoll Council previously told Sun that Aarah Investment had “destroyed” the island, by filling the mangrove lake on the island with soil, and by building a jetty in an area other than the one instructed in the Environmental Impact Assessment report.
They also said the company had removed a large part of the island’s reef to clear a path for a barge, and that though the island was leased for farming, the concept was developed with components of a tourist property – with a futsal field, café, and watersports center.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s director-general Ibrahim Naeem told Sun the agency is aware of the allegations of environmental damage to the island.
Naeem said the EPA was engaged in discussions with relevant parties, but that no one has admitted to damaging the island.
“We are aware. We have opened a dialogue. No party has admitted to it. We have to go and check for ourselves,” he said.
The V. Atoll Council alleges the island was leased with the influence of powerful government officials.
Aarah Investment is co-owned by the father of Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla.
The protestors have stopped their demonstrations and agreed to sit down with the government for discussion over the issue.
V. Atoll Council’s president Shujau Ali told Sun the council has agreed to sit down with Aarah Investment, Fisheries Ministry, Environment Ministry and President’s Office before October 20.
“The government has demanded an investigation into the unlawful activities and violations of the EIA in Hulhidhoo,” he said.
Developing a picnic island for the people of V. Atoll and returning Hulhidhoo to them had been one of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s electoral pledges.