By Umesh Agarwal

The Lakshadweep Islands are sparsely inhabited coral strips in the Indian Ocean region and are of strategic importance to maritime interest of India.

During the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan wanted to occupy the Islands desperately. However, due to the statesmanship of Sardar Patel saved these Islands & immediately placed Lakshadweep under the control of the Indian Navy before Pakistan could think of deploying its forces.

Recently the new administrator of Island archipelago of Lakshadweep, Praful Patel, has introduced a slew of measures like ban on cow slaughter, anti goonda act, removing the ban to serve liquor, restrictions with regard to entry of outsiders in the Island, law banning individuals with more than two children from contesting local body elections, establishing integrated island development plan has caused fresh protest & sparked huge outcry in the Island leading to formation on Save Lakshadweep Forum.

The protest is politically motivated by the Opposition Indian National Congress to stall the development of the Island as global tourist hub. The strict laws and sweeping changes were necessitated after reports emerged that the Island was being used as a safe haven for ISIS terrorists. In March this year the Indian Coast Guard intercepted suspicious vessels on the Minicoy Isles of Lakshadweep exposing large scale drug trafficking involving narcotics trade and seized 1.6 Tons of contraband substances valued at approximately Rs.5000 crore.

The Islands of Lakshadweep archipelago are of strategic importance to Indian Maritime interest as the Andamans are in the east. The chain of 36 Islands with 32 square kilometres of land area provide India with around 20,000 Km of territorial waters and an Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 400,000 Km. Exclusive Economic Zone is a sea zone on which a country has special rights regarding exploration as well as the use of marine resources, including energy production from wind and water.The strategic Indian Ocean Region has become flash point for India & China where both Asian giants are battling out to establish its dominance & primacy in the seas. To counter India’s historical dominance in the Indian Ocean region the communist nation has constructed an infrastructure network consisting of Chinese military & commercial assets in the Indian Ocean to support Chinese naval operations along the sea route which extend from Chinese Mainland to Port of Sudan. The main aim for Dragon is to secure its energy routes of shipments from the Middle East & Africa.

The string of pearls woven by China encircling India, starts from Port Sudan to Gwadar Port in Pakistan, Hambantota port in Srilanka, Coco Islands (Myanmar), Kyaukphyu (Myanmar), Chittagong port (Bangladesh) has effectively encircled India. Recently the Srilankan Parliament passed the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill which gives exclusive sovereign rights to China over the 269 hectares of land. The development has raised eyebrows in New Delhi with a supposedly Chinese colony in a South Asian state,290 km from the Indian territory. The Indian Government has responded with investing and financing to the building of Chabahar port of Iran to counter the Chinese presence in Gwadar port. The western Indian Ocean region Island of Lakshadweep is being converted into a full fledged operational base and to help in expanding India’s maritime cooperation with Mauritius, Maldives & Seychelles. The Central Government plans to have dedicated fiber optic connectivity by the end of the next year.

The Indian Govt has discovered 62 blocks of deposits of heavy minerals such as zirconium, titanium, thorium, tungsten and rare earth elements have been found in India’s territorial waters & Exclusive Economic Zone. The sea floor on the coast of Lakshadweep is a bed of a variety of rare earth minerals waiting to be explored. The estimated 288 million tonnes of very high grade calcareous sand beneath the one metre depth of lagoon floors is raw material for the manufacture of high grade cement. The other rare earth mineral is ilmenite which is used in manufacture of Titanium an important metal used in manufacture of Titanium & monazite used to recover thorium that can be enriched into uranium.

In 2012 a massive scam involving the illegal mining and covert export of thorium was exposed in the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu & Kerala. According to estimates some 2.1 million tonnes of monazite has gone missing, which amounts to approximately 195,000 tonnes of thorium. In India the government body Department of Atomic Energy extracts & processes monazite. The extracted resources end up in foreign soil owing to lack of expertise in public sector companies like Indian Rare Earth Minerals to handle such rare earth minerals. The estimated loss to the national exchequer was estimated to be whopping Rs.60 Lakh crores. According to geostrategic expert Gaurav Pradhan the coast of Lakshadweep is also prone to illegal mining of rare earth minerals. And the proposed Sethu Samudram Project conceived by the UPA govt was done with the motive to encourage the illegal mining of rare earth minerals by foreign vessels.

Former President of India & Missile Man of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam firmly believed that India should go in for nuclear power generation on a large scale, using thorium-based reactors. The global energy supply relying on uranium fuel for atomic reactors will cease by the end of the century and Research & Development is required for development of thorium based reactors to sustain demand of energy in the next few centuries. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has developed a research nuclear reactor that is powered by thorium at Kalpakkam near Chennai and work has also begun on a 500 MW fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam.

The bottom line conclusion from above post is clear that new sweeping rules are necessary to stop the safe haven for Islamist extremist, stopping narcotics trade, promoting tourism, stopping illegal extraction which can potentially damage the fragile coastline causing ecological imbalance in addition securing maritime interest and checking China global expansionist plans by making it to agree to follow United Nation Conventions for Law of Seas.

The setting up of QUAD will lead to Joint Military Exercises & Maritime Drills with the United States, Japan, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom in the future. And it will be a strategic vantage point for allies to park their maritime assets to effectively control the Chinese piracy in the open seas.

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