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Indian islands to be developed under Swiss challenge model

Govt to soon appoint consultant to explore opportunities for shortlisted Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep island clusters

The Centre is going to implement a comprehensive plan to develop Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands, for an integrated modernisation of the region, under its 'Sagarmala' initiative. The plan is to develop these islands under the 'Swiss challenge system', where third parties make offers (challenges) for a project within a designated period to avoid exaggerated project costs.

As a step forward in this direction, the government will soon appoint an island development consultant to identify opportunities for each of the shortlisted island clusters and prepare a detailed project report. The consultant will also manage the bidding process for the clusters and set up a cell to monitor the project implementation process.

Islands with more than two sq km in area are to be taken up for commercial activities like tourism, agriculture, fisheries and handicraft. According to government data, India has 1,238 islands, of which only 104 are inhabited. Of the 46 inhabited ones that are bigger than two sq km, 27 are located in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.

"These islands' remote location and small size make many forms of economic activity unviable. However, the Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands are home to over 440,000 people. Therefore, there is a need to study the holistic development of Indian islands," said an official who did not wish to be named.

The study is to be done in four phases. In the first, the selected consultant will assess, shortlist and create island clusters. It will develop a selection framework on the basis of some critical metrics (environmental and security clearances) to identify islands that do not have major roadblocks for commercial development. It will then consider the area of the islands in each cluster after discussing with the state governments which ones could be taken up for a techno-economic feasibility study.

In Phase-II, a techno-economic feasibility study will be conducted for the shortlisted islands. Based on factors like island availability, land usage restrictions, clearances required and ease of obtaining, site accessibility, etc, the consultant will evaluate the scope of potential analysis in tourism, agriculture, fisheries, and other commercial activities like handicraft, etc.

The study will also look at the feasibility of tourism circuits around the island clusters, and estimate demand for tourism facilities for them on the basis of both macro- and micro-market analysis. Similarly, it will study the land availability, soil and climatic conditions and viability of water for irrigation to identify the potential crops that can be allocated island clusters for agriculture.

For the preparation of a potential analysis of these sectors, the consultant will interact with relevant ministries like those of tourism and agriculture, besides the state government and district administration, to obtain inputs on the possible commercial activities that can be undertaken in the selected islands. It will also identify infrastructure equipment.

In the third phase, detailed development plans will be prepared. The consultant will develop a concept with site layout plan and area statements of proposed facilities, based on the recommended commercial activity in the island clusters. It will also recommend on-site and off-site infrastructure on the basis of identified commercial activities for the island clusters. In addition, the consultant will estimate broad project costs, operation and maintenance expenses and estimated revenues from the project.

Subsequently, the islands will be bid out to developers choosing these islands to invest in under the 'Swiss challenge method'. Under the method, the original proponent is accorded the right of first refusal and is asked to match any superior offer.

Phase-IV will involve setting up of a project monitoring and coordination cell to oversee the project implementation progress.

According to Pankaj Sekhsaria of the Indian environmental group Kalpavriksh, however, any activity in the islands should be taken up very cautiously. "The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are an ecologically sensitive belt. They are home to indigenous tribes. So, the government must take these things into consideration before finalisation of any project report," he said.

A senior shipping ministry official said the Union government wanted to develop these islands keeping in mind the local tribe 'Jarawa'. "This is the reason that we are undertaking a comprehensive study before taking any step."


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