Astounding as it may sound for an emerging telecom and IT superpower, all connectivity to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the Indian mainland until now was through satellites. Laying down an undersea cable, for which the nod from the Union Cabinet is expected in the next six months, may prove to be a life-changing experience for the archipelago.
“As of now, all our communication with the outside world is through satellites, although we have landlines within. The Central government has given the in-principle approval for laying an undersea cable from Chennai to Port Blair and four other islands,” Lt Gen (retired) AK Singh, lieutenant governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told HT. “We have already made the DPR (Detailed Project Report) and expect Cabinet approval by the year-end. After that, we have plans for another undersea cable from Port Blair to Kolkata. Communication problems will be resolved once and for all,” he said.
Connectivity to the archipelago—a group of 456 islands, 1,200 km from the nearest point on the mainland —is a priority for the government, with an emphasis on the “Look East, Act East” policy.
“Till now we have looked at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands more as a strategic fortress. The time has come to change it to a ‘springboard mentality’ -- a springboard for India’s engagement with south-east Asia and Asia-Pacific,” Singh said.
“We have now taken up the issue with the Centre. The PM has entrusted the task to the cabinet secretary and we have been given 10-12 transponders,” Singh said.
Regarding safeguards for the many tribal communities, Singh said, “Our policy with the Nicobarese tribe is proactive; we are selectively looking at how to open them up to tourism. We are very protective with vulnerable communities like the Jarawas while with the Sentinelese, our policy is ‘hands off but eyes on’.”