The Indian Government needs to work more on recognising the value of India’s Southeast border.
The Indian government has formulated a Rs 75,000 crore development project for Great Nicobar, which has to be implemented in three phases over 30 years. This will include the construction of a greenfield international airport, an international container terminal, a township, and a power plant.
About Andaman and Nicobar Islands(ANI)
Andaman and Nicobar Island is a group of 572 islands located in the Indian Ocean, in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal. These are one of the global hotspots for rich biodiversity with almost 86% percent of the area of these islands covered with lush green forests. It is situated close to Indonesia and Thailand.
India does not fully appreciate the significance of these islands from strategic and economic points of view. Hence, the region continuously faces the problem of environmental degradation too because of persistent human activities going on. Hence, the area needs attention and focus concerning sustainable development to flourish the economy of the island as well as to strengthen India’s maritime capabilities.
Significance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands for India
Treasure of Tribal Groups: These islands are home to a treasure of tribal groups. ANI is home to five Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups(PVTGs) such as Onges, Shompens, Andamanese, Jarwas, and West Sentinelese.
Several Development Plans for Andaman and Nicobar Islands:
Outer Countries Development Assistance: For Andaman and Nicobar Islands, countries like Japan too approved a grant aid of USD 265 crore in 2021. And, in march 2022, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Government of India signed a grant for a power supply project in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
NITI Aayog assistance for the area: India has separate plans for Andaman and Nicobar. While for Andaman, India plans for the development of a new greenfield coastal city. This will be built to compete with countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, which will require a huge expenditure.
On the other hand, for great Nicobar, there are different plans. India plans to build an airport, international container transhipment terminal, powerplant, township, etc for Great Nicobar Island. Located in the southernmost part of the Indian territory. It holds significance for India in the way that India gets a commanding geostrategic presence in the Bay of Bengal, also providing access to South and Southeast Asia.
The government plans to set up four water aerodromes on the Islands to develop the Union Territory as a tourist attraction. The government believes to make it a way to compete with the countries of Mauritius and Maldives in the long run.
Various Challenges related to Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Development of Tribal People affected- Constant displacement of especially Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in the name of development remains a constant problem in this area. Also, there is no effective rehabilitation program available after the encroachment.
Illegal Migration and Smuggling- Andaman and Nicobar Islands face a greater challenge to their internal security through the migration of people from the littoral states of the Bay of Bengal, poaching of marine and forest resources as well as narcotics smuggling. This is basically due to uninhabited islands and natural disasters.
The threat of emerging as a major tourist attraction- Since, these islands are emerging as the major tourist attraction. It has consequently led to many development projects in the region. Though on one hand, it may transform the region and help to generate a lot of revenue. On the other hand, it can cause an ecological imbalance in the area.
This will also impact the coral reefs in the area, which are under threat from ocean warming and are of great ecological importance. Also, the mangroves in the area have suffered great losses due to the development projects.
Nicobar and Car Nicobar (northernmost Nicobar Island) lost almost one-fifth of its population and close to 90% of its mangroves.
Natural Disasters always take place- Several natural disasters keep on rocking these islands such as earthquakes or tsunamis. For instance, the 2004 earthquake and accompanying tsunami wrecked large parts of the island chain.
Geo-political Instability- These islands are also part of the Indo-Pacific region, where China is constantly expanding its influence.
China is trying to expand its influence throughout the Indian Ocean. Even the Hambantota port has been taken in the lease by China for 99 years. Also, the neighbouring areas too, are trying to expand their presence. Hence, it is a kind of threat to our maritime security.
Therefore, India needs to keep the security of these islands intact. Many naval ships disguised as fishing boats also have been sighted. While many other ships make their
visit the ports of Pakistan as well as Sri Lanka.
Steps that must be taken to protect these islands:
Sustainable Island Development Framework- Infrastructure and development projects in this area can indeed increase India's maritime and strategic capabilities but this should ensure that such development must not come at the cost of the exploitation of the ecosystem that the island has.
Government must ensure a sustainable island development framework for this region. The government should have an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment before commencing any development activity in the region. This framework can also be implemented for the other Indian islands too.
Community Development- Laws must be made to strengthen the indigenous communities and protect them during calamities. A proper rehabilitation program must be started.
Revitalising Linking Projects- Digitising the area involved by starting linking projects. There is a need to revitalise the plan of linking the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the mainland through Submarine Optical Fiber Cable(OFC).
This cable will also assist these Islands in providing cheaper and better connectivity and all of Digital India’s advantages, especially in online education, telemedicine, and online trading.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands hold great importance for India because of their strategic and economic significance. Hence, the Indian government must take care of these islands because they serve India’s large geopolitical interests and hence should not be taken lightly.
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