Lakshadweep: A reality check : The Tribune India

Join Whatsapp Channel

Lakshadweep: A reality check

PM Modi’s visit has triggered overwhelming traction, but experts and locals lay stress on sticking to the Lakshadweep model of tourism — environment first, community next and tourists last

Lakshadweep: A reality check

Most of the hotels offer no-frills stay with meals. Photos courtesy: AGX Explore



Seema Sachdeva

For more than three weeks now, the phone of Mohammed Shafi, manager at AGX Explore, Agatti island, hasn’t stopped ringing. Ever since the pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoying himself on the pristine white coral beaches of Lakshadweep dropped on social media, queries about travel to India’s smallest Union Territory have seen a sharp upswing. The kind of attention the islands are garnering is something Mohd Shafi hasn’t experienced in his five years in the tourism industry.

“Earlier, we mostly got travel queries from Kerala but now we are getting calls from other parts of the country as well. It is becoming too much for us to keep answering. The easy connectivity to Agatti due to direct flights from Kochi is making it a much sought-after destination. Till now, there was only one flight available but after the PM’s visit, another flight has started which flies twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” says Shafi. “There is, however, no availability till April. There are very few hotels and homestays in Lakshadweep since the number of tourists to the islands is restricted,” he says, adding that the simplified process of getting e-permit has added to the enthusiasm.

istock

The Lakshadweep archipelago, which consists of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea, lies in the range of 220 to 440 km from the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala. While the total island area is spread over 32 sq km, the entire population of nearly 70,000 people inhabits only 10 islands, which have availability of fresh water. The inhabited islands are Kavaratti, Agatti, Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat, Bitra, Andrott, Kalpeni and Minicoy. The rest include islets, submerged reefs, coral rings and sandbanks.

The Union Territory became the most Googled search trend for many days after controversial remarks by a junior minister of Maldives. Hashtags like #BoycottMaldives, #ExploreLakshadweep and #ChaloLakshadweep kept trending on X, besides throwing light on the already souring diplomatic ties with Maldives.

The connectivity to the islands is through the small airstrip at Agatti airport.

Meanwhile, travel websites like Thomas Cook, SOTC, etc, reported a sharp increase in destination searches for Lakshadweep getaways and cruise sailings. Thousands claimed to have cancelled their Maldives’ bookings. This traction for tourism that Lakshadweep, which has a lagoon area of 4,200 sq km, has received a mixed response from the islanders and industry experts. One thing that all of them agree upon is that the tourism model in this tiny group of islands can in no way be compared with that of the 1,192-island group of Maldives, which, they say, has been exploiting its fragile islands for commercial benefits.

Visiting the UT

  • The entry to Lakshadweep islands is restricted. One requires an entry permit issued by the Lakshadweep administration to visit these islands.
  • The entry permit to Lakshadweep can be obtained online at epermit.utl.gov.in
  • Police clearance from your local police station is required to apply for the permit.
  • At present, less than 150 hotel accommodations offer no-frills stay.
  • Most travel agents make a package of 3 nights, 4 days, starting at Rs 20,000. This includes stay and meals but excursions and adventure activities like scuba diving, kayaking, have to be paid for separately.
  • BSNL and Airtel 5G offer communication connectivity in the islands.
  • Flight tickets and connectivity remain a major issue. Book your return ticket beforehand.

“Prime Minster Modi’s photographs on the white coral beaches and snorkelling on the lagoon is an endorsement of the Lakshadweep model of tourism, which unlike Maldives, has followed the principle that tourism should be delicate: put environment first, community next and tourists last. Moreover, unlike Maldives, India doesn’t need commercialisation of its pristine beaches for economic development. Instead, the focus should be on preserving these islands,” says Jose Dominic, former CEO of CGH Earth, regarded as a pioneer of sustainable and responsible tourism in India. Credited with starting the first and only resort in Lakshadweep in the Bangaram island in 1988, Dominic made eco-tourism and experience tourism buzzwords four decades back when he sourced locally available material to develop and run the resort. More than 95 per cent of his staff members were locals. His Lakshadweep contract ended after more than two decades in 2010.

Rooms of the Bangaram Island Resort lie within the restricted limit of tree line. Photo courtesy: Jose Dominic

“Lakshadweep is a rare destination of coral atolls and can become a prime ground for tourism promotion. However, this has to be done with full regard to the challenging ecological requirements of the land while keeping in mind the assistance and participation of local people,” says Wajahat Habibullah, former Administrator of Lakshadweep, during whose tenure from 1987-1990 the Union Territory got its first and only resort at the formerly uninhabited island of Bangaram. “The Bangaram Island Resort , which was established after international tenders were floated following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the Lakshadweep islands, maintained the strictest ecological norms. The resort was an international hit with guests coming from all around the world to experience the natural, untouched pristine beauty of the islands,” he says.

Most of the hotels offer no-frills stay with meals. Photos courtesy: AGX Explore

Besides its rare coral beaches, Lakshadweep has strategic importance for India, he says. “The 4,00,000 sq km in the Arabian Sea is India’s exclusive economic zone as per international law. This area is a huge revenue-earning zone for the country since ships from faraway countries like Japan come to fish for the abundant tuna in these waters. From the country’s security point of view, too, a signalling service can be installed in Lakshadweep, instead of Maldives, to monitor activities in the Indian Ocean,” adds Habibullah.

The many concerns

Even as the country sets its eyes to explore the pristine islands, most of the locals and marine experts are worried that the ‘development’ initiatives being carried out by the government would actually harm the ecologically fragile islands, besides affecting the livelihood of a large majority of population which is dependent on fishing and coconut cultivation. Experts and islanders have also been vocal about the need to withdraw Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Patel’s draft plan of Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation of 2021, which seeks to bring major changes in ownership and usage of land.

Hospitality major IHCL plans to construct beach villas and water villas at its Taj-branded resorts on the islands of Suheli and Kadmat. There are already voices of concern. Red flags have been raised that ‘development works’ in the ecologically fragile islands are against the ‘Integrated Island Management Plan’ issued by the Supreme Court-appointed Justice RV Raveendran Commission, which limits construction in the eco-sensitive zone, besides permissible number of tourists entering the densely populated islands.

“Carrying capacities have already been reached or even exceeded limits on some islands. Any additional burden can break these already stressed ecosystems, leading to major long-term implications for these islands,” says marine biologist Naveen Namboothri, whose organisation Dakshin Foundation has been working closely with the local population since 2012 to promote sustainable fishing. “We need to imagine a tourism model that provides adequate protection to the reefs, leads to zero waste production, does not create any further stress on local resources like fresh water and takes into consideration the local dependence on these resources and long-term impacts of climate change,” he says.

There is hardly any land here, says Sabith PK, a construction contractor. “While the inhabited islands are already overpopulated and have very little land, the uninhabited islands, mostly Pandaram land, are being used by the locals. For instance, the sandbank between Cheriyam and Kalpeni islands is Pandaram land, which people from the Kalpeni island use for coconut cultivation and fishing, the main source of income. With plans afoot to convert this land for tourism purposes, it will restrict people from going into the area, thus directly affecting their livelihood.”

Distinct from the private property of people, the native islanders have, for centuries, been using the Pandaram land. It was demarcated during the British rule and locals were allowed to use it for cultivation and fishing. The Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in 2019 regarding an amendment to the Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands Land Revenue and Tenancy (Amendment) Regulation, 1965, which brings in changes in land use.

“Tourism can provide proper entrepreneurial jobs for local population but if you bring highly sophisticated luxury hotels, they will get city-trained people from hotel management institutes from across India and abroad. Local islanders will not be able to compete with these highly-qualified mainlanders, which will eventually see the local population getting only housekeeping and cleaning positions,” says Dominic.

No doubt, the emphasis on tourism will be good but the islands need to focus on generating opportunities for the local population, which is among the most literate in the country, says Alif Jalil, a PhD scholar here. “Most of the young here are postgraduates and are doing well in all fields. But due to lack of job opportunities, they are moving to the mainland. It is essential to generate growth opportunities that are in keeping with their qualifications.”

As per the population census of 2011, the average literacy rate in Lakshadweep district is 91.92 per cent (males 95.84 per cent, and females 87.79 per cent).

Ziyad Tharrakal, BJP prabhari in Kadmat, who is constructing his four-room hotel, is hopeful that the tourism impetus, along with initiatives like laying down of optical fibre, desalination project and improved connectivity, will help generate employment opportunities.

“As of now, the availability of groundwater is limited. Besides better healthcare facilities, the sewage and garbage disposal system too need improvement. Instead of bringing in big corporate houses to run fancy resorts, the government should help promote small-scale tourism, which involves the local people. The regulatory authority should also ensure that the strict environment regulations are followed,” says an islander, who preferred anonymity.

“The only possible tourism here is: less is more. Lakshadweep can handle only a handful of people. Drilling through the fragile corals to create huge properties will bring a fate similar to that of Maldives, where the corals are dying. Tourism promotion here should not become a juggernaut, smashing all that it encounters,” concludes Dominic.

#Environment #Lakshadweep #Narendra Modi #Social Media


Top News

IAS trainee Puja Khedkar's mother Manorama detained in  'gun brandishing' video case

IAS trainee Puja Khedkar's mother Manorama detained in 'gun-brandishing' video case IAS trainee Puja Khedkar's mother Manorama detained in 'gun-brandishing' video case

A two-minute video shows Manorama Khedkar wielding a pistol,...

2 STF personnel killed, 4 injured in IED blast in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur

2 STF personnel killed, 4 injured in IED blast in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur

Naxalites detonated IED in Tarrem area of Bijapur district o...

Two soldiers injured in fresh gunfight with terrorists in J&K's Doda

Two soldiers injured in fresh gunfight with terrorists in J-K's Doda Two soldiers injured in fresh gunfight with terrorists in J-K's Doda

Security forces noticed suspicious movement following which ...


Cities

View All