Three months ago, in a packed auditorium at New Delhi’s Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra, the NITI Aayog made a strong pitch for private investment to develop the islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep. The agency also proposed a single-window clearance for all the projects through the Union Home Ministry’s Union Territory Division and the Island Development Agency (IDA). A deadline of January 2019 was set by the Aayog for signing of agreements between the developers and the IDA.
Set up on June 1, 2017, the IDA under Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has so far held three meetings. At its last sitting, held in April 2018, the IDA discussed projects on 26 islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep, with an expected investment of Rs 650 crore. It also said that the Restricted Area Permits (RAP) for foreigners would be relaxed.
Under the Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are a “Restricted Area” and outsiders need an RAP to stay on 13 islands, and to make day visits to another 11 of them.
In August this year, the RAP was dispensed with on 29 inhabited islands till December 31, 2022 “in the interest of promoting tourism and overall development of Andaman & Nicobar Islands”. However, following the death of US national John Allen Chau at allegedly the hands of Sentinelese tribals, there is talk that the government could re-impose it.
India has 1,382 off-shore identified islands with 7,500 kilometres of coastline. According to the Home Ministry, close to five lakh tourists visit Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands every year. According to the NITI Aayog, there are 600 unexplored territories in the two Union Territories which, if opened to tourists, could boost the GDP 1.3 times. “These are exotic locations. Lakshadweep is close to Maldives, and the Anadaman & Nicobar Islands are near several South East Asian tourist destinations,” says a Home Ministry official.
Under IDA, four tourism projects are being undertaken for the “holistic development” of Long, Neil, Smith and Aves islands in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. “There is a proposal to develop a 220-room premium island resort on a 42-hectare plot on Long Island, 50 beach tents across 2.75 hectares on Aves Island, 70 premium tents and tree houses in 25 hectares on Smith Island and a 120-room premium beach resort across 9.75 hectares at Bharatpur on Neil Island. Also, three projects have been launched in Lakshadweep,” the official adds.
Besides, the Centre has approved several infrastructure projects in the region — construction of jetties, bridges on the Andaman Trunk Road, upgradation of Diglipur airport, and augmentation of satellite bandwidth on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. In Lakshadweep, there are plans to boost tuna fishing and build ‘Lakshadweep Tuna’ as a brand.
In all, 18 projects have been identified for implementation in the two Union Territories, of which seven are being launched under the PPP model. “After implementation, investment of about Rs 650 crore is expected from the private sector,” a Home Ministry statement said.
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