By: Preet Sharma* |
An artificial dichotomy is mostly assumed between environmental protection on one hand and economic growth on the other. Environment, for a long time, has been viewed as being opposed to the developmental agenda. In the modern age of Sustainable development, the economic benefits of development can still be reaped even with the presence of social benefits of regulations by using technology, innovation sharing, and capacity building.
In a developing country, not going forward with development projects that may lift their population out of poverty is not an option. This is where sustainable technologies for development come into place. In the post-pandemic world, economic recovery has become a priority. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are seventeen integrated global goals that are aimed at socio-economic development and environmental sustainability. The goals like Zero Hunger, No Poverty, Clean Water, and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Reduced Inequalities are dependent on sustainable development projects being undertaken in major areas, especially in developing countries like India.
DEVELOPMENT OF ISLANDS AND ISLANDERS:
The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), in its document "Transforming Islands through Creativity and Innovation," elaborates on possible strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities in harnessing the potential of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep islands for a variety of purposes. Both these Islands have the potential to be famous tourist hubs, export seafood, export coconut-made products, etc. They can be developed as sites of water-based tourism like scuba diving, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing, etc. The development of these islands as sites of cruise holidays and nature tourism can be of great benefit as well.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands have attractive marine life, are rich in biodiversity, have heritage sites like Cellular Jail, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep, and Viper Island, etc. The Great Nicobar Island is in close range of Malacca Strait, a strategically significant shipping route between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and is also located in near aerial and shipping distances to several countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Lakshadweep Island is of strategic importance, being located in the Arabian Sea. Moreover, the development of these islands would benefit the people who reside there, the islanders. It will lead to the development of job opportunities, an increase in income, the establishment of educational institutions, and the development of civic amenities like access to safe drinking water at all times, an uninterrupted power supply, and internet connectivity. The aspiration behind the advancement of the islands, as the NITI Aayog document mentions, is to have "happy and prosperous islanders on ecologically protected islands."
The development of islands is based on the concept of Panchatantra Principles of Sustainable Development, a concept developed by Mr. Jitendra Kumar and Mr. A Muralidharan.
First of all, the development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands will have a mix of P2 (Public Projects), P3 ( Public-Private Partnership), and P4 ( People Public Private Partnership) projects. While the other two are fairly well known, in the P4 projects, the private land of Islanders would not be acquired; the plan is to offer equity share to each landowner in the project ownership. It is a remarkable move focused on enhancing the active support of citizens in the Islands. Second, this plan of P2, P3, P4 will also help in minimum dependence on budgetary resources. Third, it will lead to the creation of an environment that facilitates private sector participation. Fourth, people's participation in equity will be assured as people are treated as significant actors in driving the planning process, and fifth, this development strategy is regarded as the combination of social strategy and support strategy.
The NITI Aayog document regarding the development of the Island also argues for the development of each island as a unique brand such as Long Island in the Andaman and Nicobar will be developed as a model of emission-free village and Minicoy Island in the Lakshadweep as Maritime Trade Centre, for export of seafood. The document talks about the development and marketing of Aves Island as the "Romantic Gateway" and specifies that this brand-specific marketing would have a huge impact on attracting national and international tourists. The islands of Andaman, Nicobar, and Lakshadweep can be developed as sites for MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Conference, and Exhibition) tourism as the document argues.
THE CHALLENGES BEFORE DEVELOPMENT:
However, when it comes to the development of environmentally sensitive areas, certain issues must be given appropriate attention. The NITI Aayog document, taking into account the sustainability of the Islands, argues that tourist’s entry into islands must be restricted to the carrying capacity of the islands. Chamberlain (1997) defines carrying capacity as the maximum number of tourists a place can support without disturbing its ecological balance and without the resident community being adversely affected or the quality of visitors' experience declining.
Since, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep are located in seismic zones and are vulnerable to earthquakes, highly sensitive zones must be identified, and importance in planning should be given to full protection of the regional ecosystem. Also, to emphasize on the ease of doing business, the necessary environmental clearances for the projects will be obtained by the concerned Union Territory administration. A significant value to the bid for P3 projects will be added if upfront clearances are obtained.
Similarly, polymetallic nodules have metals like manganese, nickel, and cobalt, and these are found in the deep ocean, so the island has the potential to undertake deep-sea mining. The emphasis in the islands should be on the usage of non-conventional sources of energy for electricity, and power supply uses. Wind turbines and solar power projects must be prioritized for power generation. The government also aims on working towards enhancing connectivity between islands.
Since Malacca Strait is strategically significant and is close to Andaman and Nicobar Island, the prospects of militarization of the islands do not seem far-fetched. To counter China in India’s sphere of maritime interest, the militarisation of islands is often advocated. New Delhi and Tokyo in 2016 had discussed a plan to install a sound surveillance sensor (SOSUS) chain to improve India’s access in detecting Chinese submarines. But the project remains a proposal. At present, the Andaman and the Nicobar is the only Tri-Command structure overseen by Integrated Defense Staff. Further militarization of the islands has its own challenges. First of all, the islands are environmentally fragile and the carrying capacity of islands is limited. Secondly, collaboration with foreign navies in islands to establish joint infrastructure in order to counter China, requires sharing of sensitive information which New Delhi may not be very comfortable with. A deep assessment of advantages and disadvantages must be conducted before the militarisation of islands takes place.
However, certain issues left unaddressed must also be taken care of, like both the islands are prone to climate change. The destiny of the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) for whom the Galathea Bay located in Little Andaman serves as a nesting site and the destiny of the endangered bird Nicobar Megapode (Megapodius nicobariensis) must also be taken into account.
The zone is also prone to earthquakes and has a tribal population. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the condition of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) is grave and alarming. As per the census of 2011, only 229 Shompen, 380 Jarawa, and 101 Onge tribes are remaining in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The interests of Shompen and other tribal populations residing in the areas must be given adequate weightage. We have to recognize that it is not only a geographical area of residence but also a cultural landscape for the tribal communities. The tribes must be treated as important stakeholders in the project, and their voices and interests must be adequately safeguarded.
Development Projects are often criticized for not taking into account the interest of local people. But we also need to recognize that the government does take into account people's interests while developing a project. People are the priority stakeholders. The development of Islands in Andaman and Nicobar, along with The Lakshadweep, is important. They indeed can be developed into world-class tourist destinations.
The right will and intention of the government, with an emphasis on ecological and cultural sustainability, along with taking into account the interests of tribal population and islanders, will go a long way in creating sustainable, ecologically rich developed islands with a bustling economy and happy and prosperous people.
Transforming Islands through Creativity and Innovation by Jitendra Kumar and A. Muralidharan under the guidance of Yaduvendra Mathur for NITI Aayog, Peer Review by Dr. Yogesh Suri.
Link: Transforming Islands
*The author is a student at Hindu College, University of Delhi.