NITI Aayog’s push for island tourism has no takers

Maitri Porecha/TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on January 21, 2020

In Andamans, the government has proposed setting up eco-tourism resorts in Aves, Long and Smith Islands   -  R Ravindran

Bidders concerned about ecological impact, economic viability

It’s been three years since NITI Aayog called for investments in ‘island tourism’, but few have responded, may be because of economic viability.

Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs, along with NITI Aayog and the Ministries of Environment, Fishieries, Defence and Tourism, among others, held a meeting to review the progress on the proposal to develop the Union Territories of Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) as well as Lakshadweep Islands.

In Andamans, the government has proposed setting up eco-tourism resorts in Aves, Long and Smith Islands. However, the deadline for bidders to submit proposals has been extended twice over —- once by January 14 and then till January 31 — as entrepreneurs are reluctant to invest in these projects.

Aves Island is a virgin beach with a coastline of just two kilometres. According to the census, there are only two adult males living in one village on the island.

Bidders are apprehensive about accommodating a staff of 100-plus outsiders, arrange for fresh water, electricity requirements and construction material, as the government has stated that developers should shoulder those responsibilities. Their key concerns are reduction of waste generation, a proper disposal plan, and the local administration’s and Cnetre’s support in infrastructure development.

While the government in its request for qualification has mentioned that the bidder has to build 50 four-star resort rooms on Aves island by investing ₹36 crore, one of the bidders expressed concerns about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) stating that the current land area of 2.75 hectares will not be able to sustain a load of a 50-key camp.

“There would be an additional burden on land to house a staff of over 100; fewer number of guest rooms and a smaller employee count shall ensure less waste generation and low burden on the ecology of the island. It is a win-win scenario for the environment and private players,” stated the bidder. To this, the government replied saying there would be no change in the provisions.

“The number of rooms has been estimated based on site surveys and a technical analysis carried out by technical consultants. (There will be) No change in the number of keys for the eco-tourism resort at Aves island,” it stated.

In Lalaji Bay (Long Island beach), up to 220 rooms are being proposed; in Smith Island, eco-tourism tents and tree houses of up to 70, in an area of 25 hectares with an approximate budget of ₹60 crore, are being proposed; and in Shaheed Dweep, close to 40 villas for ₹120 crore.

While Long Island has one private resort and two forest guest houses, Aves and Smith Islands have no tourist accommodations currently. So, the bidders are also concerned that in Aves and Smith Islands, for instance, there is no mention of local assistance and opening up of areas to snorkel, diving or undertaking forest treks on nearby islands. These must be thought through to ensure multiple activity and experience options for guests.

Bidders are also apprehensive about the governments not sharing documents on conversion of land use (CLU) and coastal regulation zone (CZR) at request for quotation. The Centre has stated that it will share these details only with shortlisted applicants and that upfront CRZ approval as well as CLU has been done for almost all of the proposed properties.

Pankaj Sekhsaria, Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, who has extensively written about the problems of the islands, said that A&N islands are one of the most seismically active zones, with earthquakes occurring almost twice a month, and any development activity should take into account the geological, socio-cultural and ecological factors of the islands.

“The 2004 tsunami sunk some parts of Nicobar by 15 feet and raised some parts of Andamans by four feet. Then, are tourism-driven properties closer to the coast not vulnerable? We have to acknowledge these problems and think of a solution. Also, conversion of land use and coastal regulation zones permissions should be put in public domain,” Sekhsaria said.

In Lakshadweep, the plan is to open eco-tourism resorts in three islands — Kadmat, Minicoy and Suheli Islands. Tenders have been floated for 110 keys (60 beach villas and 50 water villas) at a cost of ₹247 crore in Suheli Par, 110 keys (75 beach villas and 35 water villas) at a cost of ₹240 crore in Kadmat Island, and 150 keys (110 beach villas and 40 water villas) at a cost of ₹319 crore in Minicoy Island.

The officials aware of the projects said all these islands are very ecologically fragile zones, and are doubtful whether they have the carrying capacity to host numerous tourists and support staff.

“Look at Suheli Par island, for instance. It currently has a population of 10 people, and the highest elevation point is at a height of 1 metre. It is a coral atoll which can be easily destroyed by a milling crowd,” said one of the officials.

Published on January 21, 2020

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