On January 9, 2020, the Communications, Electronics & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad flagged off a ship at Chennai. It has a task to do along with covering the 2,300 kms long sea route up to Andaman & Nicobar Islands. In the next 5-6 months undersea internet cables will be laid which will provide high-speed internet service to the Islands.
This is one among the series of measures the Modi government has been taking to ensure the even the farthest and remotest parts of the country do not remain untouched by race of development . The Indian Islands, once remembered mainly by the administration as some sort of secretive destination for the former PMs to explore thrill for their family, now receiving a people-centric governance under the Modi government.
Work of laying under sea Internet cable between Chennai and Port Blair will be completed by June 2020. It will provide high speed Internet connectivity to entire cluster of islands in Andaman and Nicobar. #DigitalIndia pic.twitter.com/O27v7IYoVa
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) January 9, 2020
Digital Road to Islands – Governance and Strategic Significance
Back in 2016 the Modi government had given its approval for provision of a direct communication link through a dedicated submarine Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) between Chennai and Port Blair & five other islands viz. Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Havelock, Kamorta and Great Nicobar with an estimated cost of ₹1102.38 crore.
This project will certainly boost all the Digital India efforts of the Indian government besides helping the establishment of enterprises & e-commerce facilities.
From a geopolitical perspective, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are of immense strategic significance for India. Hence, having secure and reliable telecom facilities in these islands is of great importance . At present, telecom connectivity between mainland and Andaman & Nicobar Islands happens though satellites; however, the bandwidth available is limited to 1 Gbps. Satellite bandwidth is very costly and its availability is limited, due to which future bandwidth requirement cannot be met solely through it.
This is the reason why Modi government’s project of laying a digital bridge to A&N Islands under the sea through fibre network holds such significance.
The Island Focus
Journalist Nitin Gokhale in his book, ‘Securing India, The Modi Way’ writes an interesting nugget which shows the importance that the Modi government has attached to the Islands in its strategic thinking. Here is an extract the author recounted in one of his articles as well.
“Apparently, in one of the meetings in the PMO sometime in June 2015, Modi asked the number of islands India possesses. As officials from MHA scrambled to get the exact figures from Survey of India, some officials in the PMO itself tried to add up the number by getting the figures from state governments and from the census records. But the figures varied widely. It was clear that the records were old and not updated in years.”
“ISRO scientists got down to work immediately with a hand-picked team. They were asked to not just determine the numbers but also look at the exact status, distribution and area (of the islands).”
“Once the number was determined, the ISRO team developed an Island Information System that has 34 attributes. At the same time, ISRO satellites are keeping a continuous watch on these island territories.”
Bringing Islands to Mainland’s Discourse
Our earlier article From Mainland to Islands: Development Reaching Everywhere detailed how the Modi government has given a push to a plan through institutionalizing it and establishing Islands Development Agency (IDA).
PM Modi himself is involved in consistent engagements with Islands which is helping in bringing the rest of India to be more and more aware of those regions. For instance in December 2018 he took part in an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the hoisting of Tricolour on Indian soil by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Andaman, and renamed Ross Island as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Dweep and Neil Island as Swaraj Dweep. His visit to the cellular jail where Veer Savarkar was kept had reignited the moments Indian freedom struggle to the present generation.
Media reports also reflect the developmental spirit of the present government in Indian Islands.
Laying undersea cables to A&N Islands further strengthens the relationship of the Islands with the Indian mainland. What we also see is the return of a strategic and governance approach that was evidently lacking in the previous decades of Independent India.