Kolkata, Feb 19 (IANS) Discussing strategic convergences and divergences on the Bay of Bengal, a panel on Monday encouraged the idea of having a free port in the Andaman and Nicobar islands but said massive infrastructural development is still required there to achieve that aim.
“A free port can be of tremendous boost to the economy of not just the Andamans but for the entire country. However, we would need a huge amount of infrastructural development. I think infrastructure is the most important aspect of the region, from both civilian as well as security perspective and it needs to happen at a faster pace,” a retired navy officer, who also served as the Commander-in-Chief, Andaman & Nicobar Command said here.
“Sometimes people worry more about security. But look at countries like Japan and China, there are enough examples that security and economics can move parallely. So do not look at Andamans only through the prism of security. A free port is highly possible” he said.
Stating that the Andamans have progressed a long way in terms of Humanitarian Assistance And Disaster Relief (HADR) since the Tsunami in 2004, he also said formation of a ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’ brigade for ‘HADR’ is possible, if all the member countries of BIMSTEC are willing to commit and develop the necessary infrastructure.
“I think the idea of a BIMSTEC is a bit farfetched, but not impossible. If all the members of BIMSTEC are willing to contribute and commit such a force. HADR needs all the scopes that are required to react to a particular situation… After the Tsunami the Andamans have moved a long way as far as HADR is concerned not only for itself but also for the neighbouring countries,” he said.
Another researcher present in the panel said the BIMSTEC has focused by and large on security since 2016 and one of its ideas has been to come up with such a brigade.
“But to form such a brigade, all the stakeholders involved has to have a certain kind of infrastructure like SER helicopters and shallow-craft amphibious vessels. Unless you have these capacities in other countries, India cannot be the only member to contribute in this brigade,” he said.
He also said local police cooperation and intelligence sharing among the BIMSTEC countries is needed to stop human trafficking.
The panel also observed that India is reluctant to accept foreign funding for security development of the islands as it is situated at a strategically sensitive position.
“We are accepting foreign funding mostly for the development of the islands like the ongoing smart island project. The focus is mostly on the connectivity between the mainland and the bigger islands. So the development that is taking place in the Andamans is in the civilian site but not so much on the military site,” the panel said.