PM Modi Goes Snorkelling in Lakshadweep: WHY?
Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared images of himself snorkelling off the shores of Lakshadweep and reflecting on the pristine beaches and staring into the horizon.
The Prime Minister’s choice of Lakshadweep as a holiday destination isn’t coincidental, as His Highness never takes holidays, they say. (grand salute!)
Lakshadweep as a union territory, consists of 36 islands situated off the coast of Kerala, with only ten inhabited, leaving the remaining islands completely untouched. These islands are characterized by an impressive 97% forest cover, rendering them ecologically sensitive.
Despite their small size, with the largest being approximately 4.5 km wide and an elevation of about 3 meters above sea level, they require careful preservation. The region is home to a delicate coral formation and the aforementioned extensive forest cover, both necessitating protection.
Adding to its significance, Lakshadweep shelters a substantial population of tribal indigenous people, comprising nearly 94% of the total inhabitants, who are under the protection of the government.
With a population of around 64,000, the islands hold a rich history of environmental importance and the safeguarding of tribal communities.
What are the government’s plans for Lakshadweep?
Since 2019, the central government has articulated a vision for comprehensive development, initially proposed by Niti Aayog, focusing on transforming the Lakshadweep islands into a global tourist destination akin to the Maldives.
The ambitious plan involves constructing expansive beach luxury villas, including iconic sea villas standing in the water, intending to replicate the allure of the Maldives in Lakshadweep.
Praful Khoda Patel, the BJP leader heading the local administration, took a significant step in 2021 by inviting international bids for the construction of 370 beach floating villas, amounting to a total expenditure of 800 crore rupees.
However, this move sparked substantial criticism from environmentalists, who raised concerns about the potential irreversible damage caused by drilling through the Coral rocks during the implementation of the tourism project. Additionally, the project faced accusations of violating coastal regulations.
Ecological experts emphasized the vulnerability of the Lakshadweep islands to climate change, cautioning that any construction activity could exacerbate existing environmental challenges. The debate intensified as critics argued that the proposed development might lead to severe consequences for the delicate ecosystem of the region.
During a recent visit, the Prime Minister inaugurated infrastructure, tourism, and sustainable development initiatives on the Lakshadweep islands, with an estimated value of 1,156 crore rupees. Despite acknowledging the potential of the islands as an internationally desirable tourist spot, the Prime Minister’s announcement further fuelled the ongoing discourse on balancing development goals with environmental preservation in the fragile island ecosystem.
Interestingly, whenever discussions arise about island tourism, the focus tends to gravitate towards the Andaman Islands rather than Lakshadweep.
Why hasn’t Lakshadweep been a tourist destination up until now?
Lakshadweep, despite its scenic beauty, has not gained widespread tourist attention primarily due to restrictions in place. While tourism began in 1994, it has been limited to the uninhabited Bangaram Island, with only a few resorts permitted. Visitors are prohibited from exploring other islands, especially those with indigenous populations, to safeguard their culture and the sensitive naval base.
Stringent regulations, including a ban on alcohol consumption across the islands until recently, were enforced. Patel’s recent initiative aims to liberalize alcohol sales, but less than 7% of the population currently consumes alcohol. The restrictions were in place to preserve the environment, protect the local population, and maintain the security of the naval base.
The push for tourism in Lakshadweep now takes on added significance in light of recent geopolitical developments. The election of the Maldivian President, Mohamed Muizzu, who adopts a pro-China and anti-India stance, and calls for Indian forces and people to leave the islands of Maldives, has prompted India to explore alternative tourism destinations.
Lakshadweep, with its 36 small islands, may emerge as a potential competitor to the Maldives. While the Maldives heavily relies on tourism, with over 1190 islands, Lakshadweep offers a unique opportunity for sustainable tourism development, presenting an alternative to India amid shifting diplomatic dynamics.
To sum up, the ecological sensitivity of Lakshadweep is a significant concern in relation to the government’s ambitious tourism development plans.
The online images featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi snorkelling in the Lakshadweep islands convey important messages regarding development, the strong interest of the Indian populace in visiting the exceptionally beautiful destination, and potential implications involving the governments of Maldives and China.
Undoubtedly, the stunning beauty captured in these images adds to the appeal for Indian travelers, but the delicate ecological balance of the region must be carefully managed amid growing interest and development initiatives.
Images from different sources
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