By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: In order to push India’s strategic-economic interests in the Indo-Pacific Region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched an ambitious project that will connect the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands with the mainland through an undersea Optic Fibre Cable (OFC).
The Indian Ocean Region has been the centre of India’s trade and strategic prowess for millennia, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will play an important role in India’s new trade strategy, and boost its connections with the East Asian countries under the Act East policy.
According to Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses experts, the archipelago provide India a commanding geostrategic presence in the Bay of Bengal and access to South Asia and South East Asia, and a focused development plan for the islands is expected to greatly enhance the country’s geopolitical leverage in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a strategic asset for India to assert its dominance on the major East-West maritime trade route that passes through the Straits of Malacca.
As close to 80 per cent of China’s seaborne trade passes through this region, the possibility of the sea lanes of communication being choked raises the spectre of the ‘Malacca Dilemma’ for China. The move to connect the archipelago with OFC comes amidst a bitter India-China border standoff along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.
“The submarine cable will help Andaman and Nicobar get cheaper and better connectivity and all the benefits of Digital India, especially in improving online education, telemedicine, banking system, online trading and in boosting tourism,” the prime minister said, while launching the 2,300-km OFC through video conferencing.
Modi had laid the foundation stone for the project on Dec. 30, 2018 at Port Blair. The service is available on a major chunk of the islands from Chennai to Port Blair, Port Blair to Little Andaman and Port Blair to Swaraj Island.
India wants to model Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a hub of port-led development, as it is at a competitive distance from many international ports. In the recent months, during the COVID-19 lock down, India had permitted commercial shipping crew changes at Port Blair, a move that led India to become the most preferred location for such activity after Colombo port was locked down by Sri Lanka.
Realising that a country with better network of ports and their connectivity will be able boost trade in the 21st century, India is moving forward to establish itself as an important player in the global supply and value chain. Towards this goal, India is continuously removing legal bottlenecks in the development of port infrastructure.
Further, India is also focusing on promoting ease of doing business in the sea and simplifying maritime logistics, Modi said, as he referred to the speedy construction of the deep draft inner harbour and the proposal to construct TransShipment Port in Great Nicobar at an estimated cost of Rs 10,000 crore ($1.34 billion).
The project would enable big ships to anchor and help increase India’s share in maritime trade and create new employment opportunities. Blue economy like fisheries, aquaculture and seaweed farming in the island will help accelerate modern infrastructure in Andaman and Nicobar, which hopes to have a prominent place on the World Tourist Map.
The Island Development Agency was formed three years ago to boost infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the projects pending for years are now being completed. The submarine cable project is part of India’s commitment to speedy development of national security linked border areas and island states.
Apart from better internet and mobile connectivity, the effort is to further improve physical connectivity through road, air and water. Also, high impact projects are being expanded in 12 islands of Andaman and Nicobar, work on two major bridges and the NH-4 is on to improve the road connectivity of North and middle Andaman.
Further, the capacity of Port Blair airport is being enhanced to handle 1,200 passengers and airports in Diglipur, Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay are being readied. Four ships, being built at the Cochin Shipyard Limited, will be delivered soon to improve connectivity between the Islands and the mainland.
Passenger terminals in Swaraj Dweep, Shaheed Dweep and Long Island along with water aerodrome infrastructure like floating jetty will be ready in the coming months.