By : Neetu Singh
offshore-identified islands of India hold immense unexploited potential for
fostering growth and achieving cohesive socio-economic development of the
region in particular and also, the nation as a whole. They can significantly
contribute to the GDP by leveraging the gains from promoting infrastructure and
tourism on a large scale.
However, care must be
taken to safeguard and maintain the position of these islands as vital
strategic assets for national security while keeping their nature and
composition as biodiversity hotspots intact.
Because of the strategic location of Andaman and Nicobar (A&N Islands) and the Lakshadweep Islands and China’s belligerent expansionist policy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), not only is there a need to develop critical infrastructure and upgrade the military base in these regions, but also to harness the multiplier effect generated as infrastructure connectivity strengthens. This in turn, is expected to boost tourism and spruce up economic activity in the region.
Of late, the Islands have garnered special attention in the wake of the rising maritime territorial tensions at the international front. India’s only tri-service command is established at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the entrance of the Malacca Strait, the 2.8 km long -world’s most congested choke point, and the primary route for Chinese oil supply. However, with the recent Indo-Japanese initiative to expand civilian infrastructure in its vicinity, China has started exploring alternative land routes to the Middle East for oil, most notably, through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
competition in the region can be seen through the routine deployment of
submarines by China, development of underwater surveillance networks, expansion
of Chinese naval bases with the establishment of a military base in Djibouti
and extending the reach of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) mega-initiative as
India joins hands with Japan, Australia and the US in the Malabar Naval
Exercises. This sentiment is mirrored in the recent formation of the ‘Quad’
coalition group by the same nations. The Doklam standoff and the recent Chinese
policy of forming strategic/ critical commercial alliances with India’s
neighbouring countries as the United States displays a clear proclivity towards
India, makes fast-paced Island development all the more imperative.
The Islands host an unexplored
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with clearly demarcated boundaries that
can be capitalized on in numerous ways; the varied ecosystem can be exploited
for its medicinal plants and exotic plant species, sustainable agriculture and
horticulture practices conducive to the agro-climatic conditions of the regions
can be propagated, large-scale hydrocarbon explorations can be undertaken, and
alternate renewable energy resources can be exploited so as to meet the energy
needs of the nation.
harvesting can be popularized so as to both conserve water and also
narrow the critical water infrastructure deficit in the region due to scarcity
of resources and inefficient management. Fisheries, the mainstay of the
larger populace of these regions, can be given a thrust so as to develop
modernized and sustainable inland fisheries and aquaculture ecosystem
integrated with the ‘Blue Economy’ vision. Most
importantly, the Islands can be developed as prime Tourist Hotspots for not
just the country, but also internationally. The pristine beaches, coupled with
rich tropical vegetation, can be turned into a more economical and attractive
alternative to conventional destinations such as Bali and Maldives, thereby
creating many forward and backward linkages and help boost the economy of the
regions to a large extent.
The A&N Islands
alone account for 30% of India’s EEZ-revenue. Given their unrealized potential,
bridging the infrastructure gap becomes the next crucial step. Historically,
Ship Building and Ship Repairing have been the high priority areas for
infrastructure initiatives in the islands. However, acknowledging the urgency
and potency of the pending development in these regions, the government in
2016, identified 26 Islands for promoting and implementing development based on
sustainable approach to building a thriving economy of the project islands.
Moreover, considering the unique maritime and territorial bio-diversity of the
islands, the government has identified enhanced connectivity as one of the key
In 2017, the
Island Development Agency (IDA) was established for the holistic
development of the islands, focusing on community-based tourism. Key
Infrastructure project are being accorded priority accordingly, such as :
- creation of
- Roll-on/Roll-off ships;
- Bridges on Andaman Trunk
- Upgradation of Diglipur
- Construction of Minicoy
- Modernization of
existing Jetty at Kavarati;
- Augmentation of
Satellite Bandwidth from 1.118 Gbps to 2.118 Gbps in Andaman & Nicobar;
- augmentation of
helicopter services for Islanders and tourists etc.
communication services, Information Technology based and other Micro, Small and
Medium Enterprises (MSME) would be promoted in the Islands. Further, after
carrying out systematic study, 18 Projects, both in Andaman & Nicobar and
Lakshadweep, have been identified for implementation, out of which 7 Projects
are ready for launch through Public-Private Partnership.
The ten islands chosen from a total of 1382 mapped by
the government, include Smith, Ross, Aves, Long and Little Andaman in Andaman
and Nicobar and Minicoy, Bangaram, Suheli, Cherium and Tinnakara in
Lakshadweep. These islands will be divided and developed in three
collaborations can also be banked on for the same. The 2016 Indo-Japan Joint Statement on Bilateral Cooperation envisioned
to develop “Smart Islands” on the line of the ‘Smart Cities’ project.
Japanese capital and expertise can be both pioneering as well as beneficial to
this endeavor. The development of the Reunion Islands by France can be a
guiding example and also opens up the opportunity for prospective collaboration
with Paris in implementation of such projects. The positive response by OECD
countries in taking on ‘Smart Cities’ projects further demands similar
indeed, the need of the hour in this regard as provision of a robust regulatory
environment by the government is needed so as to not encroach upon the natural
and socio-economic rights of the Particularly
Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PTVG) and also preserve the ecological balance of
the region, while facilitating better connectivity and maritime security
infrastructure. Moreover, the high financial costs entailed in such investments
create a need for private sector involvement, where their operational and
managerial expertise is required so as to optimally deliver on these projects.
Similarly, International best practices can be modified suitably and replicated
so as to maximize returns further.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands are of maritime importance to India with
its potential for trade and surveillance. It is also a vital military base
housing the country’s only tri-service command.
One of the key projects planned is a transshipment
terminal at Campbell Bay at Great
Nicobar, the largest of the Nicobar islands. Campbell Bay is 90km away from
Malacca Strait, the principal sea route between the South China Sea and the
China, which is dependent on Malacca Strait to ship oil
from West Asia, is pursuing an alternative route under its controversial China-Pakistan
Economic Corridor project that India is opposed to as it passes through parts
of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
A large port facility at Campbell Bay could offer a
better opportunity for India to trade with the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) region, which is in the vicinity. The project may also have a
strategic dimension considering the way China is influencing the dynamics
around the region.
The transshipment terminal is among 10 projects identified by the government as part of its island
development plan prepared by federal policy think tank NITI Aayog. The projects
are in the areas of road, sea and air connectivity, clean energy, development
of resorts, digital connectivity, healthcare and education, for which
expressions of interest will be invited.
The plan also proposes to extend benefits available to
businesses in the north-eastern region under a scheme notified in April this
year. These include subsidy on capital investment and interest on working
capital loans, reimbursement of insurance premium for plant and machinery, and
reimbursement of the central government’s share of the goods and services tax.
The fiscal benefits plan, however, needs to be approved by the government.