UPSC Editorial Analysis

Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

GS Paper 3 - Environment and Ecology, Growth and Development


The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are very important to India’s security in the Indian Ocean. These Indian islands need development in terms of both defense and economic development. This development should prioritize the islands’ distinct environment and the well-being of the indigenous tribes.The proposed mega-project “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island” has sparked debates. Environmentalists fear that it will destroy the island’s unique nature and damage the Shompen people. The island’s remoteness raises concerns about the project’s economic sustainability. As a result, comprehensive development plans are required that emphasize both progress and the environmental and social well-being of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Significance of Andaman & Nicobar Islands

  • Guardian of East – The islands are situated about 1,300 km southeast of the Indian mainland, providing India with a crucial forward presence in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. This location allows India to monitor and potentially control key maritime chokepoints, particularly the Malacca Strait.
  • Projection of Naval Power – The islands serve as India’s first line of defense against possible threats from the east. They serve as a base for extending naval strength into the eastern Indian Ocean and western Pacific, which is critical given China’s rising naval presence in the region (for example, Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka).
  • Economic Zone Extension – The islands dramatically expand India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf under UNCLOS, allowing access to massive marine resources and subsurface minerals. The A&N Islands are home to indigenous tribes such as the Shompen, who have lived there for millennia.
  • Tri-Service Command – The Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), created in 2001, is now India’s sole tri-service theater command. It serves as a paradigm for integrated operations and may be critical in any future wars in the region.
  • Tourism Hub – The islands’ pristine beaches, coral reefs, and diverse species present enormous opportunities for eco-tourism. This can increase revenue, create jobs, and help the general Indian economy.

Challenges with Andaman and Nicobar Islands

  • Development and Conservation of Environment – The islands have unique habitats and wildlife. Balancing strategic and economic development with environmental protection presents a considerable challenge.
  • Ignoring Indigenous Tribes – Preserving the culture and rights of indigenous groups such as the Jarawas, Onges, and Sentinelese while seeking development is difficult. Critics claim that the islands’ growth frequently contradicts legislation that preserve these communities, such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal communities) Regulation of 1956.
  • Issues with Infrastructure Development –  The islands’ isolated position, tough terrain, and regular seismic activity present considerable hurdles for infrastructure development. This covers things like procuring resources, locating trained personnel, and assuring infrastructure resilience to natural calamities.
  • Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels – Low-lying islands are especially sensitive to the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels jeopardize infrastructure and indigenous communities, demanding long-term adaptation plans.
  • Gaps in Surveillance Networks –  Despite the islands’ strategic location, the surveillance network contains substantial gaps. The wide ocean area (reaching 780 kilometers north to south) necessitates an advanced network of radar stations, UAVs, and maritime patrol aircraft, which is currently insufficient.

Strategies for Balanced Development in Andaman and Nicobar

  • Establishing Indigenous Knowledge Integration Centre – Establishing a center that blends indigenous tribes’ traditional wisdom with modern science. This might lead to achievements in domains such as herbal medicine, sustainable forestry, and climate-resilient agriculture, all while protecting and promoting indigenous cultures.
  • Maritime Startup Incubator – Set up a dedicated incubator for entrepreneurs focused on maritime technologies, ocean protection, and sustainable island development. This might attract talent and investment, promoting innovation in fields such as marine robotics, ocean cleanup technologies, and sustainable fishing techniques.
  • Cultural and Diplomatic Exchange – Designate specific islands as international zones for diplomatic and cultural cooperation. Developing an innovative “island-hopping” summit model for regional collaboration that combines high-level sessions with immersive cultural excursions.
  • Waste Management – Implementing a circular economy approach to waste management in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in which garbage is used to create new products. This could include setting up composting facilities to convert organic waste into fertilizer, upcycling plastic trash into building materials, and researching novel bioconversion technologies to convert waste into biofuels.
  • Underwater Research and Innovation Hub – Transform the islands into a top-tier marine science and technology hub. Establishing undersea research stations and laboratories to investigate deep-sea habitats, advance blue biotechnology, and pioneer sustainable aquaculture techniques. This could lead to worldwide collaboration and establish India as a leader in ocean sciences.
  • Eco-Tourism Space Launch Site – Create a commercial space launch facility that also serves as an ecotourism destination. The equatorial location is perfect for satellite launches, and the facility might provide tourists with opportunities to view launches, engage in space science programs, and enjoy the natural beauty of the islands.

Way Forward

To ensure the future of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a strategic but environmentally responsible development plan is required. Infrastructure must be environmentally sustainable and durable, while maintaining the region’s natural integrity and seismic distinctiveness. It is critical to maintain indigenous tribes’ rights and culture while also ensuring that development adheres to protective legislation. Adapting to climate change is critical for protecting both the natural and human communities.

SOURCE: The Indian Express

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