Lakshadweep has strategic importance and tourism potential

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Lakshadweep has strategic importance and tourism potential

Friday, 16 February 2024 | umang kohli

China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and also now in Maldives. This compels us to look at Lakshadweep with a fresh sense of urgency

Lakshadweep-Maldives-Chagos group of islands are actually the tops of a vast undersea mountain (Chagos-Laccadive) Range in the Indian Ocean. Lakshadweep has 36 islands that are located 400 km to the west of the nearest coast. The islands have a total land area of 32 sq km but add to a 400,000 sq km Exclusive Economic Zone to India as 200 nautical miles astride the nearest land area is economic zone of that country as per the international maritime law. Possession of these islands away from the mainland provides a strategic, military and political advantage to India.

Lakshadweep stands as India's fingers in the Indian Ocean, almost touching the Sea Lines Of Communication that pass through the ‘Nine Degree Channel’. The channel is used by all ships shuttling to and from Europe, the Middle East, West and South East Asia and also the Far East. It's thus essential that these islands are given due infrastructure so that they can be hubs of tourist and commercial activity in the years to come.

So the question now is how do we get the infrastructure built and add on to the integration of the islands with the mainland? Should an Integrated Tri-service unit come up in Lakshadweep in the years to come, with a suitable component of the Coast Guard? Should we add on to the existing infrastructure or just start building a new set-up altogether? Should we concentrate on tourism aspects initially or go for a multi-dimensional approach to development straight away? Are the people of Lakshadweep on board for a rapid pace of development? These questions need to be answered before we can make tall claims of disturbing the Apple Cart of some third country.

Lakshadweep islands can be used as a launch pad during symmetric and asymmetric conflicts and hence must have the basic infrastructure to support a Tri-service setup to include a multipurpose airport and a proper dockyard. Lakshadweep Islands can also then be used as a vantage point to monitor any movement of vessels in the Arabian Sea. These islands would play a key role in controlling the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) during conflicts/crises due to their close proximity to many choke points.

For now, the basic infrastructure exists in bits and pieces. Tourism requires ample accommodation and sustainable infrastructure to facilitate comfortable stays, which right now is limited as compared to the potential increase we envisage in the years to come. Obviously, Mumbai is a major feeder point for all foreign and domestic tourists. Cruise lines like Cordelia provide accommodation at sea and access to tourists as well. This kind of tourism model could be very effective and sustainable without adversely affecting the land and population of Lakshadweep. The cruise line right now acts as a major feeder of tourists to Lakshadweep. More such cruise lines are a must to boost the economy of Lakshadweep and also to establish trade routes further South.

Adding on to the existing infrastructure is always the first step of development, though obviously, new projects would come in some time. Private public partnership in this regard could be very helpful. Education of locals also needs to be a priority for them to be able to interact with tourists in both Hindi and English. Small helipads in all ten islands that are inhabited would facilitate fast movement between the islands and could be used as air taxis by the tourists, further adding to the charm of Lakshadweep. These helipads would also be handy for setting up an anti-drone grid, so essential for the protection of these islands. They could help in times of Tsunami and medical emergencies as well.

Suitable communication means along with numerous satellite communication channels need to come up on an urgent basis. The islands have no petrol pumps and maybe that is good, for subsidized electric vehicles must be provided to locals which would be very effective there. Since the distances to be travelled are short, the range barrier of electric vehicles won't be an issue. So a multidimensional approach to development along with a push to tourism for Lakshadweep and Andaman may go a long way in consolidating India's position in the Indian Ocean.

China has interests in the Indian Ocean and has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and also now in Maldives. This compels us to look at Lakshadweep with a fresh sense of urgency. It would be prudent if we educate the population of the mainland about the overall importance of these islands. Each island in the Indian Ocean needs to be protected and integrated with the mainland.

Lakshadweep is India's Strategic Sentinel, Maritime and Trade Route Guardian. The current ‘Maldives political row is a spark that should propel us to take steps to develop India’s maritime muscle. A well-orchestrated use of these islands would go a long way in helping India establish itself as a major economic and military player. Make no mistake that the ten inhabited islands of Lakshadweep act as ten fingers of India in the Indian Ocean. These fingers give us a long arm to help us build up resources, beyond our imagination.

(The writer is an expert on international relations; views are personal)

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