The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of 836 islands spread over an area of 8,249 km in the south of the Bay of Bengal. There are only 38 islands where the combined population of 4,30,000 people lives. It is directly controlled by the Government of India in the name of Andaman and Nicobar Administration. These two islands alone constitute 30 per cent of India’s exclusive economic zone.
The Northernmost island of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is 22 nautical miles from Myanmar and Indira Point, the southernmost point, is 90 nautical miles from Indonesia. The island group is located at the Western entrance to the Strait of Malacca, which means it is close to the world’s busiest, strategic and commercial waterway. The location of these islands has its dominance over the 10 degree channel and six degree channel which are considered very strategic. More than 60,000 merchant ships transit through these channels daily.
Can you believe the misfortune of India that the development of such a strategic location was continuously neglected since Independence, resulting in commercial and strategic losses?
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to some of the rarest tribal groups and a large number of animal and plant species.
In a changing world, the Indo-Pacific region has emerged as one of utmost importance. The most important region in the Indian Pacific is the Indian Ocean. After the end of the Cold War, the Indian Ocean is once again emerging as an arena of strategic power. In such a situation, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands can prove to be a trump card for India to establish its dominance in this region.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands emerge as India’s first maritime hub
With these strategic points in mind, the Narendra Modi Government is formulating and implementing unprecedented policies in Andaman and Nicobar. In 2015, the Modi Government declared this island group as India’s first Maritime Hub and announced a budget of Rs one lakh million. In 2018, PM Narendra Modi visited these islands and inaugurated several projects related to energy, communication and tourism.
Under the Island Coastal Regulation Zone Notification passed in 2019, the land acquisition project for port and shipping port was started here. In the same year, the Central Government also made a defence plan of Rs 5,000 crores for Andaman. In effect, India is advancing its military and economic development at its southernmost point at a rapid pace.
Rapid development of Nicobar – Rs 75,000 crore allocated for infrastructure projects
In 2022, a huge budget of Rs 75,000 crore was approved by the Modi Government for infrastructure projects in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Under this, four projects are to be developed on 16,610 hectares of land in Great Nicobar Island. The plan is to set up a green field international airport, an international container transshipment terminal, development of large townships and a power plant.
The Ministry of Environment has ensured a large budget under the Conservation and Management Plan to ensure the protection of the aquatic environment along with the tribal fauna and flora. Along with this, three independent committees will be established here, which will work for environmental control, biodiversity and protection of tribal society.
Through these projects, India will establish a new power over the Indian Ocean. At the same time, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will be established as the Great Wall of India, in the Indian Ocean, against China.
Strategic importance of Great Nicobar Islands
According to NITI Aayog, the Great Nicobar Island is the most valuable and important island of the region. It is adjacent to the East West International Shipping Corridor. This corridor connects Indian Ocean to Europe via Suez Canal. Great Nicobar Island is equidistant from Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port, Malaysia’s Klang Port and Singapore. Thus, the location of Great Nicobar will give tough competition to all regional ports in future for ships coming from Malacca strait.
The port to be built on this island will emerge as an alternative trans-shipment facility for Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. India will become a direct participant in international waterways trade and the Great Nicobar port will emerge as a billion-dollar market place.
Dubai, Indonesia and Singapore have taken their country’s economy towards prosperity by becoming mere trans-shipment hubs. Interestingly, the area of Great Nicobar Island is equal to the combined area of Dubai and Singapore.
The Andaman and Nicobar group of islands is only 200 kilometers from the Malacca Strait. This is a strategic area in the world’s commercial waterways, from where 90 per cent of world trade by value and 70 per cent by volume passes through this narrow channel. Every year 85 to 90 per cent of the world’s crude mineral oil is traded through this route. China’s 78 per cent oil supply and 70 per cent trade with Europe, Gulf countries and Africa passes through this route. India’s most effective pressure on China at present is India’s presence near the Malacca Strait.
Strategic experts from all over the world call it the Malacca Dilemma for China, because of this strategic presence of India. This is the reason why China has been working rapidly on the modernisation of its navy. It has commissioned 80 warships in the last five years.
Under its String of Pearls policy, China has built permanent military bases in Indonesia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. But from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, these three military bases will be in the range of the Indian missile. To deal with the string of pearls policy, India has started work on two plans.
Double Fish Hook Strategy
The first one is the “Double Fish Hook Strategy”. Its Eastern Hook starts from Andaman Nicobar and ends at Diego Garcia Bar. In this Eastern Hook, India has signed a Logistics Exchange Agreement with Australia and a Board Development Project and Logistics Support Agreement with Indonesia. This has strengthened India’s partnership with Indonesia and Australia in the eastern region of the Indian Ocean.
The Western Hook starts at Duqm Port in Oman and ends at Diego Garcia. A Government of India has signed a Merry Time Transport Agreement with Oman. Mauritius, Madagascar Comoros, Seychelles and French Reunion are present on this stamp. India has strengthened its relations with all of them in the last few years. Also, all these small countries are also part of the Indian Ocean Commission. In 2020, India joined the Indian Ocean Commission as an observer member. India is also tying up with all major countries like the USA, France and Japan for interoperability in all these hooks. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement signed with the US in 2019 is a vivid example of this.
Metal Chain Strategy
To block China in the Western Pacific, there is a chain of US-backed caskets that extend to the Kuril Islands Japan, Ryukyu Taiwan, the Philippines and Borneo. In the same sequence, by making Andaman and Nicobar a metal chain, India can stop (sea deny) China in the Indian Ocean region as well.
Sea Denial Strategy is an important naval strategy, under which warships of another country block the way to reach their country. In the event of a war, taking advantage of Nicobar’s position, India can block Malacca Strait and cause trade losses to China. Also, by anchoring its nuclear submarine here, India can trace any ship coming from the strait that threatens India’s sovereignty.
India’s Necklace of diamonds
India’s Necklace of Diamonds strategy proves effective against China’s String of Pearls strategy. Under this, direct access to Singapore’s Changi Naval Port, Indonesia’s Sabang Port, Seychelles’ Assumption Island, Iran’s Chabahar Port, Oman’s Duqm Port have been obtained. Along with this, India has laid a new foundation of friendly relations with all the neighbours of China, under which our relations with Mongolia, Japan and Vietnam have been further strengthened.
China has built military bases in Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. From A&N Islands, all three will be in the range of the Indian missile
In this sequence also, Andaman and Nicobar has emerged as an important link, which is why three Air Force stations have been established here. INS Utkrosh is present in Port Blair, INS Baaz in Great Nicobar and INS Kohasa in North Andaman. Experts believe that these islands should be developed as a natural waterway, which can act as a permanent and strong deterrent for China.
On March 31, 2022, India has also signed a grant agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, by which Japan is providing an assistance of US $133 million for power supply to these islands. It is clear that the development of Andaman and Nicobar is not only important for India but also for other anti-China forces including Japan.
Strategic Importance of Lakshadweep
When it comes to India’s dominance in the Indian Ocean, another important island group strengthens India’s strategic position in the Arabian Sea – the Lakshadweep. This archipelago is also one of the most important strategic assets of India. Lakshadweep literally means a group of one lakh islands. It is situated at a distance of 400 km from mainland India.
This island group is divided into three parts by the Nine Degree Channel and the 11th parallel north line. The strategic importance of this channel can be understood by the fact that 12 merchant ships cross it every minute. It is the lifeline of the global trading waterways. This unique waterway connects the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman to Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. India has taken the crucial decision to construct an airstrip on the Minicoy Island. This would ensure quick response to Chinese and Pakistani activities in this maritime area.
There are only 10 islands in the group of 36 islands, spread over an area of 32 square kilometers, in which a total of 60,000 people reside. Compared to the mainland, this tiny land area is very important strategically. In addition to fish trade, there are also reserves of very important minerals.
Maldives can be a potential threat to India due to its political instability and China’s role as an ally in the String of Pearls. In such a situation, India definitely gets the benefit of Lakshadweep being very close to Maldives. Due to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia, the potential crisis of pirates in the Arabian Sea can also be handled best through Lakshadeep.
Coastal security in India was not given much attention after Independence. The Governments started considering this issue seriously only after the Mumbai terror attack. Intelligence reports suggested Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba can use an uninhabited island of Lakshadeep as its base.
In 2010, the Indian Coast Guard station was commissioned at Kavaratti and Minicoy islands. In 2016, a naval attachment at Androt Island was also commissioned. The Modi Government is now planning to build a high star naval base at Lakshadweep. This base would help India control smuggling, piracy and terrorist activities by establishing surveillance and control in the region.
The Centre is also considering increasing the airstrip on Agati Island from 1000 to 3200 meters. Through this airstrip, the Boeing P-8I Poseidon aircraft of the Navy and the Albatros squadron based on INS Razali can also be stationed here.
Steps being taken to boost internet and air connectivity
The Modi Government is also working on a plan to connect Lakshadweep with sea cable for better Internet connectivity on the lines of Andaman. Another project is the construction of 2.5-km-long airstrip on Minicoy Island. Along with strengthening India’s strategic power, it is being built to expand the possibilities of tourism in Lakshadweep.
For the first time since Independence, due importance is being given to the strategic development of our island groups, adding them to the mainstream. Necessary infrastructure is also being developed to promote coastal tourism. Indian tourists will soon have the option of enjoying holidays on our own islands instead of visiting Maldives, Fiji etc. Tourism would also ensure better income for the people of Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep.