The Centre has initiated massive infrastructure development in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with an eye on the Indian Ocean Region. In this context, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Jagdish Mukhi, who administers the islands, told The Sunday Guardian about the major development projects that he has flagged off there. Excerpts:

Q: What is the significance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the nation?

A: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are as much an integral part of India as any part of the mainland, even though they are 1,200 km away. The territory has a historical connection that goes back many centuries. It is also deeply rooted in our freedom struggle.

Q: Strategically, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are important and infrastructure development is a key to the fortification of the islands. What steps have you taken to improve the infrastructure there?

A: Since I took oath in August 2016 as Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, my focus has been on giving a boost to infrastructure development in these islands. My top priority is to improve intra-island and inter-island connectivity.

Q: Seaways, roads and railways are the three primary ways to boost connectivity. What steps have your administration taken to improve these in the islands?

A: First of all, the importance of sea voyage is much higher than railways and roads in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The sea is our highway and the sea is our railway; therefore, increasing the number of ships is my top priority. With the induction of MV Coral Queen, a ship with increased load capacity of 400 passengers and 100-tonne cargo, my administration has started adding more and more ships to the existing fleet.

Our administration is pulling out all stops to develop the infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, given the strategic importance of the islands. The projects in the islands include building major bridges over Middle Strait and Humphrey Strait Creeks and an 87-km road network. Other projects include a road stretch between Bombooflat (a town) and Chatham Island, the Beonabad-Ferargunj road section and the upgrade of a 56-km section of National Highway 4 to two lanes. These will be completed soon.

A concerted strategy has been adopted for the islands to project India’s presence in the region and beyond with strategic projects such as expansion of the Naval air stations at Shibpur and Campbell Bay on the Great Nicobar Island. I have also sent a proposal to the Ministry of Railways to revive a proposal to build a railway line from the capital of Port Blair to Diglipur in the North Island.

Q: Internet connectivity has been in a bad shape in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The previous administration did not do much to improve it. What is your administration doing to solve this problem?

A: Much progress has been made towards improving internet connectivity, and the same will continue in the future. Once undersea fibre optic cables, connecting Chennai to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, become operational, internet connectivity problems will become a thing of the past.

Q: Traditionally, the islands have been using diesel generated power. How will your administration ensure greener ways of generating power?

A: Diesel generated power in the Andaman and Nicobar is costly and it is also polluting the islands and damaging their ecosystem. Therefore, my administration has planned a total shift from diesel to solar and wind power generation. We have started promoting the installation of solar power systems by giving higher subsidies. The vast coastline of these islands also provides ample scope for developing wind energy.

Q: What is the status of tourism in these islands and what about better exploitation of the marine resources? Please also shed light on the status of the “Tuna Mission”.

A: I took the initiative to increase daily flights for the islands and added six more flights daily to the existing 12. The addition of more flights has lowered passenger fares and translated into more footprints. The tourism industry in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has registered a sharp 35% increase in business. The islands are endowed with rich marine resources, with an estimated 1.48 lakh tonnes of exploitable resources. In particular, for tuna and tuna-like fish, the exploitable potential is around 65,000 tonnes, as against a figure of current exploitation below 1,000 tonnes per annum. The Andaman and Nicobar administration will develop infrastructure for tuna fishing and processing to give a boost to tuna fishing in the islands, which may lead to the development of the fisheries sector in the region. We are planning to hire ships and instruments for the development of fisheries in the high seas.