Islands under Siege

By: Staff Reporter
The oceanic environment of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands endows them on one hand with unsurpassed beauty, and on the other exacerbates their fragility. The Islands also fall in the Zone V of the earthquake hazard map adding to their vulnerability.

Shri Bishnu Pada Ray, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands deliberated on the multifarious problems of the Union Territory in the Delhi Round Table Conclave on the 16th and 17th March, 2010 (G’nY was the Knowledge Partner). The Conclave outlined future issues pertaining to the oceans and seas around India and the science of climate change. The recommendations of the Conclave will be released in May 2010.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are blessed with adequate rain, vibrant tropical greenery, fertile productive soil and a biodiversity so rich that we are yet to uncover it in totality. It is not the lack of resources but the lack of plans, targeted programmes and committed will that withhold the island’s development to bring it at par with island nations that surround it, say for example Singapore. With only 770 sq. km of land (Andaman alone has 1500 sq. km of land area) the level of development that Singapore has achieved is enviable. Today the per capita income difference between the Union Territory and Singapore is more than 500 times.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands too can achieve such levels if systemic faults are eliminated. Land submergence is an issue that needs proactive action. The adaptation measures regarding agricultural practices, housing development and infrastructure upgradation need to be sorted out. Issues of security also need deliberation and action. China is reportedly occupying the uninhabited Coco Island where they have constructed a state-of-the-art runway, airport, helipad, jetty, barracks and more. Our Islands in fact are the safest havens for people involved in illegal activities. Out of 572 islands only 36 are inhabited – the rest are dense jungle. Poachers from Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Bangladesh use these Islands to reap the wealth from land and the surrounding seas. The wildlife, endemic species and precious timber are being looted before our eyes and we are unable to control them as we have no logistic support.  With rising unemployment locals readily join hands with the poachers. We have to create job opportunities as development is the key to stop this menace — and we urgently need schools, playgrounds and hospitals.

The policies regarding the primitive tribal groups living in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are archaic. The Jarawas are giving birth to children with mixed racial characteristics. They openly engage in barter, speak Hindi, use the medical systems set up by the Government, eat mainland food, and most importantly want to be part of the mainstream — get education and seek employment. We need to understand what the Jarawa wants rather than peremptorily imposing our will upon them. Our primitive tribal groups are a repository of knowledge. Where science has failed, generations of know-how has helped them to effortlessly survive the fury of the tsunami. Perhaps time has come to hold a serious discourse on the holistic development potential of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and not engage in piecemeal measures.

The above is an extract from the talk delivered on 16th March 2010 by the Hon’ble Member of Parliament.

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