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Speech by Shri N.N. Jha Lieutenant Governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
49th N.D.C. Meeting
, 1st September 2001, Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi.

Respected Prime Minister, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Chief Ministers and Members of the National Development Council.

When we received the approach paper of the 10th Five Year Plan we had sent certain comments to the Planning Commission, from the point of view of A and N Islands. These were :

  1. Further delegation of financial powers needs to be made in order not to delay important schemes/projects of the U.T. Administration while seeking approvals and sanctions from the Govt. of India.
  2. Many of the Centrally sponsored schemes do not suit the far flung territories like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands due to geographical constraints, low population, less agriculture activity, etc. Such territories may be allowed to propose changes in the schemes/patterns of the system to suit their peculiar needs.
  3. Some financial flexibility needs to be given to such areas possibly on the lines of the scheme "Untied Funds" that prevails in the North-Eastern States.

The theme of these comments has been further amplified in my subsequent remarks.

The 9th Plan has been a period of significant achievements in the field of infrastructure specially construction of power plants, expansion of Runway, ordering/acquisition of new Ships and completion of the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR). Greater coverage has been achieved in the fields of Education, Health services as well as Water supply. Towards the end of the Plan, we are now in the process of activating the Panchayat Raj Institutions, like the Zilla Parishad etc., through making effective the delegation of powers already made and through larger allocation of funds.

The people of A and N Islands are now fully exposed to the wider economic and social forces in the mainland and further afield and expect standards of living on par with those obtaining in the mainland, supplemented by extra facilities needed to cope with the inaccessibility and isolation of the islands. The A and N Islands can no longer be viewed as far flung and vulnerable outposts to be protected through the transfer of a settler population and stationing of security forces, but as a well settled chain of islands with tremendous potential for development of Tourism and Fisheries through opening up to the rest of the world. Our major asset in this opening up is to be our expanded runway allowing quick air connections to the mainland, to the

South East Asia and beyond. This airport needs to be declared an International Airport in the immediate future.

We would like the Govt. of India to recognize the Tourism asset that this chain of Islands represents and focus on opening it though a Tourism Task Force, directly under the highest supervision. These islands must receive the best policy inputs with the assistance of the Govt. of India, greater funding for tourism, faster environmental clearances and, perhaps, most importantly a sustained level of publicity worldwide to enable us to fully explore its potential. To allow tourism to remain fettered by environmental and security constraints of the most restrictive kind would be depriving these Islands of an economic future and a waste of the heavy investments being made in infrastructure.

While the focus in the 9th Plan was on basic infrastructure, our focus of the 10th Plan will be in three important areas :

  1. To spend more money on provision of basic amenities and on upgradation of Rural infrastructure enhancing the availability of rural and rural water supply,
  2. In line with national priorities Self Help Groups will be primarily used for income generation and asset creation, and
  3. Tacking the problem of unemployment through greater reliance on the private sector in creating job opportunities in the Tourism, Fisheries and IT sectors, to exemplify.

However, private sector initiative in these areas will not be forthcoming in if the supporting infrastructure is not in place. Thus, improvements in the shipping sector, specially inter-island travel for local passengers and tourists, and widening and improvement of the ATR are likely to remain major necessities. We will need to upgrade our port facilities as well, specially in outlying islands of tourist interest. Faster movements between islands and better ports and harbours are a prerequisite for the development of our Tourist potential. It is often urged that better facilities should not be made available in the Andaman islands as this will only attract a larger influx from the mainland which will end up in encroachments on forest land. While the pull factor of such facilities is undeniable what the Administration requires is a strengthened set of powers to deal with the issue : both to control influx as well as to control encroachments in forests areas. Here I would humbly suggest that the IDA be made far more active and purposeful than has been the experience of the last decade or so, and if legal powers need to be conferred on the local administration to curb influx and encroachments this should be recommended.

In the Fisheries sector, we need to attract investment from the mainland both in fishing as well as in setting-up processing units. In this regard licensing powers have just recently been liberalized. Nevertheless, such investment will not be forthcoming in good measure without enhancement of other infrastructure like electricity, water, civic facilities, shipping, roads etc. While some of the infrastructure is already in place substantial expansion is still needed. In the IT sector, for which the Island offers a conducive environment, encouraging private initiative requires enhanced Satellite connectivity or even connection with the high bandwidth undersea cable passing through the area. The feasibility of either proposition needs to be assessed at an early date and we would urge greater attention to such needs of these islands.

The fact that the per capita availability of funds is higher for the Islands than in the mainland, need not make us hesitate to invest more in order to exploit its tourism, fisheries and other potential. If nature has been kind to these islands in terms of beauty and climate we need not hesitate to invest further in their development. The nation has something to gain by developing these Islands for which we should always be ready to pay the price.

I would like to point out at this stage that the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS) enjoins all coastal states to promote the objective of optimum utilization of the living resources in the EEZ and to determine its capacity to harvest the living resources therein. The EEZ around the A and N Islands is highly underutilized, except for the illegal exploitation by poachers from other countries. The entire allowable catch needs to be used by India for which it needs to invest in fisheries in these Islands. This requires clear long term policies especially in the area of deep sea fishing, which have been delayed. It would be unfortunate if the allowable catch becomes a surplus under the UNCLOS which others may wish to have access to in terms of its provisions. Thus, the A and N Islands needs that its Draft Marine Fisheries

Regulation presently before the Government be immediately approved and the Govt. of India brings out a deep sea fishing policy at the earliest to give an impetus to the exploitation of the Andamans EEZ.

Our existing population requires better health care, including introduction of widespread and easily available telemedicine facilities which are particularly suitable for these isolated Islands as a cost saving device. The population also requires access to better educational facilities in terms of more and better teachers and better infrastructure to allow them to live a productive life and contribute to the development of the islands.

While we are presently engaged in evolving policy directions for different sectors of our own 10th Plan, I wish to bring to your notice that the achievement of some of the proposals highlighted above is not possible without a substantial increase in the delegation of financial powers. While the powers have been increased to some extent in 1998, which led to easier ordering of a number of vessels in 1999 the delays yet inherent in obtaining sanctions from different Ministries make it necessary to increase these powers. A detailed and purposive review is called for with a sincere effort to enhance the powers available to us if the Islands are to develop faster. Further, in keeping with a trend towards decentralization incorporated in the approach to the 10th Five Year Plan, the outlying territories need to be allowed to suggest patterns of assistance of Centrally sponsored Schemes that suits their local conditions. In the case of A and N Islands, the IDA can function as a policy body looking at such issues and recommending patterns suited to local conditions. Another need of outlying areas without a significant resource base, is to have some portion of their plan funds made available to them as Untied funds to be deployed as required by local needs, subject to the usual delegation of powers. Such a facility is available in the Northeastern states but is yet to be advanced to the Union Territories and would go a long way in meeting changing local situations as well as offer flexibility of response.

As we shift our focus to increase our reliance upon the service sector, we need to consider how long to continue with the Mainland-island and Inter-island transport subsidy which, at present, supports the existing, limited industry in these Islands. An estimate shows a loss of 1200 jobs directly if all subsidies are withdrawn completely and of 20000 jobs indirectly. Do we need to make the transition gentler, or to bring the subsidies to an abrupt end ? This question is, perhaps, best answered by those presently studying the issue.

I would once again urge full support to our endeavour to develop these Islands even though some of our plans may seem ambitious.

Once again, I thank the Prime Minister and the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission for having given me this opportunity to place our views before this august National Forum.