Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the submarine optical fibre cable (OFC) which connects the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to mainland India. The cable connects Port Blair to Chennai. It also connects Port Blair to other areas of the Union Territory including Great Nicobar, Car Nicobar, Little Andaman, Rangat and Swaraj Dweep.
Why amidst COVID19 is PM Modi placing importance on this? The submarine OFC is important for several reasons. Not only will it improve the connectivity of the islands, but will also boost the economy and significantly expand India’s security capabilities.
A major aim of the submarine OFC is to improve telecom and mobile connectivity. The OFC will immediately connect the islands to other parts of India and the globe via efficient mobile, landline and internet availability. As a result, local businesses can incorporate e-commerce. Local citizens can embrace entrepreneurship. Simultaneously, online education, net banking and e-governance will increase as well. Islanders will be able to use the connectivity to become beneficiaries of online services. This is especially integral as India continues to combat the COVID19 pandemic.
Another major benefit of the submarine OFC is that it will boost the Indian economy considerably. Greater connectivity means more enabled, educated and empowered citizens. Through entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, island locals will now be contributing individuals to the state and national GDP. And once developed, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands would be significant contributors to the national economy in multiple sectors. The islands are rich in natural resources.
At present, the livestock industry, fishing industry and agriculture are major contributors to the local economy. The main food crop is paddy and cash crops include coconut, mango and root crops. Other integral industries include handcrafts and minerals and energy resources. With the connectivity provided by the submarine OFC, industries like sea-food, coconut-based products and organic products can be quickly formed and developed. These industries will greatly support the ‘vocal for local’ national movement encouraged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Furthermore, diversifying the domestic economy by incorporating these industries will successfully establish a long-term Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India).
Perhaps the most relevant advantage of the submarine OFC is because of the geographical placement of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Union Territory is comprised of 572 islands and is geo-politically immensely strategic for India. The islands’ location control not just the Bay of Bengal but also the Six Degree and Ten Degree channels. At least 60,000 commercial vessels pass through these channels every year. As national naval capabilities increase, India can play a lead role in controlling access of ships passing through these channels and the Malacca Strait.
The submarine OFC will also greatly boost India’s security infrastructure. Surveillance capability will improve immediately. Over the past few years, multiple nations have increased their presence in this region. Most notable is China, and its presence in this zone is of great concern for India. There have been reported sightings of Chinese naval ships disguised as fishing boats. China’s ships have also reached ports of Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The submarine OFC’s connectivity will boost India’s maritime capability with better surveillance, faster communication and more adeptness to check back countries like China trying to exert illegitimate influence.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself elaborated the importance of submarine OFC. He elaborated that interconnectivity empowers citizens through accessibility, boosts the economy and aids maritime strategy. The best part is that PM Modi realized the importance of this connectivity much prior to this OFC inauguration. In fact, he had laid the foundation for this project in December 2018. With an economy suffering from the impact of the COVID19 pandemic and with the recent, worrisome border violence with China, it is especially important that India becomes self-reliant ASAP. A well-connected Andaman and Nicobar Islands will greatly help achieve Atmanirbhar Bharat.