Andaman & Nicobar Islands, a group of picturesque islands at the junction of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, are blessed with pristine sea beaches, attractive marine life and a large extent of forest cover with rich biodiversity. About 82.16 per cent of the total geographical area (6,777 sq km) has been reported under forest and tree cover in Andaman & Nicobar (India State of Forest Report 2017). The Islands possess a mix of natural ecosystems including mangrove forests, tropical rainforests, sandy beaches, rocky shores and coral reefs. In the limited geographical area, a high level of biodiversity with several species of mammals, birds and fish have been reported to occur in the Islands. Other strengths possessed by the Islands are rich cultural traditions, historical heritage sites and peaceful environment.
The unique strengths in the possession of Andaman & Nicobar Islands have attracted domestic tourists. The arrival of domestic tourists in the Islands increased significantly from 2,02,221 in the year 2011 to 3,84,552 in 2016. However, the inflow of foreign tourists to the Islands has been stagnant at around 15,000. It was 15,814 in the year 2011; 17,538 in 2012; 14,742 in 2013; 17,235 in 2014; 14,674 in 2015; and 15,466 in 2016 (India Tourism Statistics). This is in spite of the fact that globally, there is a high demand for eco-tourism, adventure tourism (sea sports, game fishing etc.) and cruise tourism. The demand provides an opportunity of better tourism-based development in the Islands.
Presently, tourism has the potential to be an efficient driver of high economic growth in the Islands. Development potential also exists in other sectors such as maritime trade, shipping, fisheries, under-sea mining, oil and gas. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a long coastal length of about 1,912 km. The Exclusive Economic Zone around these Islands is about 6 lakh sq km constituting 28 per cent of the total EEZ in our country . The Great Nicobar Island is only about 90 km away from the western tip of the Malacca Strait, an important shipping route between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Being at close aerial/shipping distance to a number of countries (Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand) and the Malacca Strait, the Islands have the potential of enhanced maritime trade, particularly for export of the products made in the Islands.
Existing situation calls for formulation of suitable strategies for holistic development of identified Islands. Effective implementation of well-planned strategies in tourism and other key economic sectors would lead to creation of more jobs and generation of additional income for the Islanders. However, while planning development interventions, both the ecological concerns and the tribal-related issues need to be fully addressed so as to ensure a sustainable development process.
As Islands are located in seismic zone V (highly vulnerable to earthquakes), suitable measures are required to be put in place for protection of the Island eco-system. A clean, green and healthy environment has to be maintained to support the desired economic growth. The strategy to replace use of diesel with promotion of non-conventional energy sources such as Solar Energy, Wind Energy, Tidal Energy and Ocean Thermal Energy would contribute significantly to environmental sustainability. In addition, interests of various tribes living in the Islands need to be fully protected. Andaman & Nicobar Islands are home to four 'Negrito' tribes namely Andamanese (Strait Island), Onges (Little Andaman), Jarawas (South and Middle Andaman) and Sentinelese (North Sentinel Island) and two 'Mongoloid' tribes namely Shompens (Great Nicobar) and Nicobarese (Car Nicobar, Chowra, Teressa, Bampuka, Katchal, Kamorta, Nancowrie, Trinket, Little Nicobar, Kondul, Pilomilo and Great Nicobar) . There is a necessity to maintain rich cultural traditions of all these tribes.
In view of the need to ensure ecological stability and also to safeguard the interests of the tribal population, development projects have to be planned carefully and scientifically. Careful planning is required also to ensure no threat to security of the strategically-located Islands. More than 500 islands, islets and coral rocks in Andaman & Nicobar carry strategic importance in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Realizing the potential in Andaman and Nicobar and more or less similar potential in Lakshadweep, holistic development of identified Islands has been accorded high priority by the Government. NITI Aayog has been mandated to steer the process of "Holistic Development of Islands". Final Site Potential Development Reports have been prepared for four Islands in Andaman & Nicobar (Aves, Long, Smith and Ross) and 5 in Lakshadweep (Bangaram, Cheriyam, Minicoy, Suheli and Thinakara). After carrying out systematic analysis, ready-to-launch tourism-based Projects (three in Andaman & Nicobar and another three in Lakshadweep) have been identified for implementation with private sector participation.
In two bigger Islands, Little Andaman and Great Nicobar, efforts are being made to identify suitable sites, outside Tribal Reserve, having potential for sustainable development. Some more islands have also been identified for sustainable development. These are North Passage, Cinque, Inglis, Viper, Neil (Bharatpur Beach), Ramnagar Beach, Karmatang Beach, Dhaninallah Beach, Kalipur Beach, Rutland, North Bay and Great Nicobar (B Quarry) in Andaman & Nicobar and Kalpeni, Kadmat, Agatti, Chetlat and Bitra in Lakshadweep. Priority is also being accorded to improving air, road and web connectivity in the Islands.
Diglipur Airport (Shibpur) is expected to be operational for civilian aircraft by December, 2018. Connectivity to Diglipur, Port Blair, Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay through smaller aircrafts supplemented with more helicopter services using the existing 17 helipads effectively will boost much required inter-islands connectivity in Andaman and Nicobar. That would yield immense benefits to the tourists and the Islanders. Efforts are also on to start international flights from Veer Savarkar International Airport, Port Blair. In case of Lakshadweep, there is a Plan to introduce better air connectivity to Minicoy Island. Existing Jetty at Kavaratti is proposed for modernization.
For improving web connectivity, augmentation of bandwidth from 1.118 Gbps to 2.118 Gbps has been taken up. Further for promotion of Industries, particularly IT based and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), incentives as contained in the North East Industrial Development Scheme (NEIDS), 2017 are being considered for Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. All these measures such as setting up of MSMEs; improvement of infrastructure for promotion of tourism; development of fisheries, under-sea mining and other important economic sectors; and increase in maritime trade would provide immense benefits to the Islanders.