IMPORTANCE OF ANDAMAN ISLANDS
Emerging Sino-Indian competition
This can be seen through China's routine deployment of submarines, the construction of submarine surveillance networks, and the expansion of Chinese naval bases with the formation of a military base in Djibouti.
In addition, by widening the scope of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) as the Maritime Silk Path, China challenges India's hegemony in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as India has joined hands with Japan and the US in the Malabar Naval Exercises.
- The role Andaman & Nicobar in the development of the region 's security scenario is critically dependent on India's Look East Policy (LEP) and Indo-Pacific Strategy.
- For India, these islands have a unique location because they stretch India's land surface and maritime boundary right to the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Leveraging these islands will improve India 's relationship with the countries of ASEAN.
- The presence of these islands, which could be a possible source of underwater resources, is the source of almost 30 percent of India's EEZ.
- The key community of these areas, can be given a push to build a modernized and sustainable ecosystem of inland fisheries and aquaculture integrated with the vision of the 'Blue Economy.'
- Large-scale hydrocarbon exploration is feasible, including deep sea oil drilling and methane gas hydrate production, etc.
- It is possible to explore the varied environment for its medicinal plants and exotic plant species, and to propagate sustainable agriculture and horticulture practices conducive to the agro-climatic conditions of the regions.
- Tourism can be encouraged to further help improve the region's economy to a large extent due to its rich flora & fauna and attractive geographical locations & topography.
IMPORTANCE OF LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS
- The extension of these islands has granted India 20,000 sq. km. of territorial waters and 400,000 sq. km. of Economic Zone Exclusive (EEZ).
- The lagoons and EEZ around the Lakshadweep Islands have substantial economically valuable fisheries and mineral resources.
- The Nine Degree Channel, located near Lakshadweep Islands, is the most direct route for ships sailing from the Persian Gulf bound for East Asia. Proximity to the Indian western coast as well as to other island nations such as Sri Lanka and Maldives, nearness to busy shipping lanes, and wide geographical spread makes these islands extremely important for ensuring security of Sea Lanes of Communications (SLoCs) and also for maritime security of India.
- The islands have gained prominence in terms of national security following the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
India’s efforts for Island Development:
- A single tri-service (land, sea & air) theatre command was established by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to exploit the strategic advantage provided by these islands in 2001.
- Off the coasts of Andaman (E.g. Tat Rakshak) & Lakshadweep (E.g. Neptune II), security forces have conducted frequent coastal security exercises.
- To draw private investors, Pre-offer meetings have recently been held with prospective investors for the Islands' broad-based social and infrastructure development programme. NITI Aayog was mandated to direct the "Holistic Development of Islands" process.
- The Island Development Agency (IDA) was founded in 2017 to concentrate on community-based tourism for the holistic development of the islands. Under its aegis, main infrastructure projects are carried out on a priority basis, such as the upgrading of Diglipur Airport near Port Blair and the development of Minicoy Airport, the increase of satellite bandwidth, etc.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has also relaxed restrictions on tourists, such as the Restricted Areas Permit (RAP) requirement to visit 29 inhabited islands, to improve tourism.
- Environmental: more than 90 percent of the islands are forests and are environmentally vulnerable and many islands lack drinking water, it is difficult to entertain the possibility of any new settlement.
- Also mass tourism would have an effect on the fragile environment, so the only possible way is to allow high-value, low-volume tourism on different islands, which is also approved by the Supreme Court of India.
- Geographical: Threats such as frequent earthquakes (2004 tsunami triggered by an earthquake near the Nicobar Islands) must be included in every development plan.
- Infrastructure: Because of bureaucratic obstacles, an undersea cable connection between India's mainland and the islands remains incomplete even after several years. Internet access is stated to be sporadic, even at the naval base in Port Blair, the capital.
- Road construction, airstrip construction, and even jetty construction are sluggish, as heavy rainfall limits construction operation and the distance from the mainland adds to construction costs.
- A big problem is the monitoring of the southern group of islands. The destruction of the road by the tsunami has meant that only air and sea connect the two groups of islands.
- Social: The Andaman and Nicobar (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation (ANPATR), enacted in 1956, protects indigenous peoples and has declared reserves for areas inhabited by them. Without permission, no visitor is permitted to venture close to these reserves. Moreover, as is evident from the recent death of American explorer John Chau at the hands of local people, several tribes such as Sentinel oppose any contact with outsiders.
- Enhance engagement: promote migration from the mainland and carefully open up some of the uninhabited islands strategically placed to tourism. Other ways of doing so include is to open these islands for commercial operations, as a matter of soft strategy, to supplement the Strait of Malacca
- Reinforce military infrastructure: the development of the necessary infrastructure on the islands would allow the establishment, in the event of conflict, of an anti-access and area-denial zone of maritime exclusion.
- Improve the execution of the Coastal Protection System, with particular emphasis on the establishment of coastal police stations equipped with sufficient manpower and interceptor ships.
- Improve the uninhabited islands' vigilance by keeping watch at points of entry and exit. Station air assets in the region of the island and put watchtowers and radar sensors input.
- Address the problems of turf wars, finances, and poor decision-making at the Andaman Unified Command.
- Permanent naval fleet location in the Islands to supplement the Vishakhapatnam-stationed Eastern Fleet.
- Electronic sensors are deployed to allow automatic vessel identification and long-range identification and tracking systems.
- Improving economic activities in the region in different ways, such as:
o Develop deep sea fishing off the Andaman coast, as fishing on these islands is highly sustainable.
o Expedite the proposal to establish a transhipment terminal at Great Nicobar's Campbell Bay, just 90 km from the Malacca Strait (the main sea route between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean).
o To draw the private sector and foreign alliances in order to meet the enormous financial requirements and the technical and administrative skills to execute these projects optimally.
- Tourism as a soft power: India has in the past promoted mountaineering / adventure expeditions in the Himalayas along international borders and opened Tawang to foreign tourists to communicate that in these areas it has effective jurisdiction and control.
o Open up uninhabited islands, where access is currently limited, by allowing Indian and foreign tourists (similar to China's approach to the South China Sea, where Hainan Island has been established as a tourist hub).
o Establish desirable tourist enclaves within these islands' national parks (as is done in South Africa's Kruger National Park).
o Develop a well-defined policy integrating adequate protection for marine-based activities such as scuba diving, sailing, deep sea fishing, live on-board diving, etc. Such practices will keep a check on security issues such as poaching etc. and environmental concerns such as marine life loss etc.
- Seek stronger international collaboration:
o In order to monitor Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean, the Quad Alliance (India, USA , Japan & Australia) will mount sonar surveillance systems on islands.
o A deeper engagement with Indonesia to import the materials needed for the construction of infrastructure, which would be much cheaper.