When a tree falls in the forest
You wouldn’t associate the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with industry, but I’ll have you know that we used to be no strangers to it. The atoll may lack anything called an industry today but it wasn’t always that way. During British rule the massive Chatham Saw Mill was built in the Andamans, which was believed to be the biggest in Asia. Thanks to the saw mill and the endless rainforest, the timber industry had a glorious run in the Andaman. But after the Supreme Court ban on tree felling in the Andaman in 2002, the timber Industry collapsed overnight, leaving thousands of people without jobs. At one point of time, some of the finest plywoods used to be made in the Andamans but now the entire timber industry is dead and buried.
There are fish, but no fishermen
There is a saying here that “fishes in the Andaman Sea die of old age” as there is no one to catch them. The A&N Islands have 28 per cent percentage of the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of India but the fishing industry has not even taken birth here. This is mainly because there is no infra or expertise for deep sea fishing. That gives poachers from Myanmar a free run.
And then we have crocs
Yes, of course we do have a tourism industry. But then there’s this saying: “Come to Andaman, jump in the water, if you are lucky you can see a crocodile, if not a crocodile will see you.” Saltwater crocs did stir up a tourist scare six years ago when an American girl was alleged to have been attacked. But really, crocs aren’t the real problem affecting the islands’ tourism industry. High air fare, GST, lack of good ferries, forest and defence restrictions, dead slow internet, poor mobile connectivity and pathetic infrastructure are jointly killing the Andaman tourism industry, which is still in it its infancy.
Only a very meagre number of tourists visiting the Andamasn are high-value (read phoren) tourists while other island nations in the vicinity attract them by the planeload. Andamans Tourism is struggling to touch the 5 lakh mark annually.
See, it’s the sea
But seriously, there’s reason why industry has never taken root here. It’s the sea, for god’s sake. The vast marine expanse makes raw material expensive to bring to the Andamans. So have to be content with finished products shipped to us. Due to the lack of industry, the economy is dependent on small and medium-level entrepreneurs who are in turn dependent on annual grants from New Delhi, which amounts to about Rs 3000 crore.