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Indian Government Prioritizes Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands


The Indian government’s renewed emphasis on the development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) highlights their strategic importance in the Indo-Pacific region. This focus has led to intensified efforts to bolster infrastructure and security measures in the islands.


GS III: Internal Security

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Strategic Importance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  2. Challenges to the Development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI)
  3. Strategic Infrastructure Development Needed in Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N Islands)
  4. Historical Overview of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Strategic Importance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Geographical and Economic Significance

  • Located 700 nautical miles southeast of the Indian mainland.
  • Adds 300,000 sq km to India’s exclusive economic zone.
  • Potential for undersea hydrocarbon and mineral deposits.

Strategic Location

  • Positioned astride the Malacca Strait, a critical maritime choke point.
  • More than 90,000 merchant ships pass through annually, carrying about 30% of the world’s traded goods.

Maritime Boundaries

  • Shares boundaries with Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.
  • Provides India with substantial ocean space under UNCLOS in terms of exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Defence and Security

  • Serves as the first line of defence against potential threats from the East, particularly amidst China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Port Blair has the potential to become a regional hub for naval collaboration on disaster relief, medical aid, counter-piracy, search and rescue, and other maritime security initiatives.

Challenges to the Development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI)

Policy Shift and Strategic Importance

  • Transition from India’s Look East policy to a more robust Act East policy.
  • Growing recognition of the islands’ strategic significance due to the increasing capabilities of the Chinese PLA Navy.

Lack of Prioritization

  • Historically, the islands have not been politically prioritized.
  • The islands’ strategic importance has only recently been acknowledged.

Infrastructure and Distance

  • Challenges in developing infrastructure due to the islands’ distance from the mainland.

Environmental and Regulatory Constraints

  • Complex environmental clearance procedures.
  • Regulations related to forest and tribal conservation pose challenges.

Coordination and Vision Conflict

  • Coordination challenges due to involvement of multiple ministries and agencies.
  • Conflict between long-term strategic vision and immediate political gains.

Strategic Infrastructure Development Needed in Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N Islands)

Maritime Domain Awareness and Surveillance

  • Ensure comprehensive surveillance and awareness over the islands.

Defence and Deterrence Capabilities

  • Strengthen deterrence against naval threats from the East.
  • Increase military forces and deploy appropriate assets at the Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC).
  • Base surveillance and fighter aircraft at ANC and conduct frequent detachments.

Maritime Economy Infrastructure

  • Develop infrastructure to support India’s maritime economy, especially in the southern group of islands.
  • Develop the Galathea Bay transhipment port on Great Nicobar Island.

Connectivity and Transportation

  • Improve transportation and connectivity to facilitate development and tourism.
  • Revitalize the plan to connect A&N Islands to the mainland through Submarine Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) for better and cheaper connectivity and access to Digital India’s benefits.
  • Reduce the islands’ dependence on mainland for essential supplies and services.
  • Establish high-speed inter-island ferry services and a seaplane terminal.

International Partnerships and Concessions

  • Explore partnerships with the Quad and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) for development initiatives.
  • Seek infrastructure development concessions similar to those on India’s northern borders.

Historical Overview of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Historical Background

  • India’s association with the islands dates back to the aftermath of the 1857 War of Independence when the British established a penal colony for Indian revolutionaries.
  • The islands were occupied by the Japanese in 1942 and became the first part of India to be liberated from British rule in 1943 during Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s visit to Port Blair.
  • After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the British reoccupied the islands, which were later handed over to India on the eve of Independence.

Post-Independence Neglect and Development

  • The period from Independence until 1962 saw neglect due to their remote location and dark symbolism.
  • In 1962, a naval garrison was established due to concerns about a Chinese submarine.
  • The Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC) was established in Port Blair in 2001 after the post-Kargil War security review, marking India’s first joint and unified operational command.
  • The ANC, India’s first joint/unified operational command, places forces from all three services and the Coast Guard under a single commander-in-chief.

Geographical and Cultural Highlights

  • The Ten Degree Channel separates the Andaman Islands from the Nicobar Islands, located approximately at the 10-degree latitude mark.
  • Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island is the southernmost tip of the Nicobar Islands and India.
  • The ANI is home to 5 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups: Great Andamanese, Jarwas, Onges, Shompens, and North Sentinelese.

Development Projects and Proposals

  • NITI Aayog is undertaking a project for Great Nicobar that includes an international container transhipment terminal, an airport, a power plant, and a township.
  • A proposal for Little Andaman calls for the development of a new greenfield coastal city to compete with Singapore and Hong Kong.

Kra Canal Proposal

  • The Kra Canal is a proposed canal in Thailand aiming to connect the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea to create a shortcut for shipping between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

-Source: Indian Express


May 2024