Island

THE LAND


The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were shrouded in mystery for centuries because of their inaccessibility. They are a paragon of beauty and present a landscape full with scenic and picturesque extravaganza. These islands shimmer like Emeralds in the Bay of Bengal. The dense forests which cover these islands and the innumerable exotic flowers and birds create a highly poetic and romantic atmosphere.

The Islands have a great maritime importance. During the British period political leaders considered dangerous to the interest of the Raj and other dreaded criminals were deported from the mainland to the Cellular Jail -the Indian Bastille, situated on the sea coast of Port Blair at Atlanta Point in the North Eastern part of the settlement. These islands were infamously known as the ‘Black Water Prison’ or ‘Kala Pani’.

The Islands are a group of picturesque islands, big and small, inhabited and uninhabited, a total of 572 islands, islets, lying in an arch in a long narrow broken chain, approximately covering 900 Kms. It is logical to presume a former land connection from Cape Negris in the Southern part of Burma to the Achin Head (Cape Pedro) in Andalas (Sumatra). The flora and fauna of these islands however indicate that this land connection if it existed, should have been prior to the development of their present life form.

The topography of the islands is hilly and abounds in evergreen forests. The sandy beaches on the edge of a 1900 Km meandering coastline are fringed with coconut palms that sway to the rhythm of the sea.

The sea around the islands offers excellent scope for water sports. The flora and fauna, under-water marine life and corals, with crystal dear water and mangrove-lined creeks, offer a dream view of the rare gifts of nature. Adventure tourism like scuba diving, trekking, island camping, snorkeling are the prominent attractions. A visit to these islands is an enchanting experience.

THE GEOGRAPHY


The monsoonal climate of the islands is generally hot and always humid, often oppressively so. Heavy though, rainfall can be, and is quite unpredictable from year to year and can fall most unevenly within a small area. On islands with few perennial streams a lack of fresh water can quickly become a serious problem. During December to March temperature and humidity tend to be lower and there is less rain but it would be an exaggeration to call it a “dry” season. Violent thunderstorms occur during the wet South West monsoon from mid May to end September while tropical revolving storms usually form to the south, west and north of the Andamans, moving towards India without directly affecting the islands.

Despite their coral reefs most Islands themselves are not of coral origin, instead they are the peaks of a drowned mountain range. While there is only a narrow littoral there are some shallow banks off the coasts of the Andamans, especially to the North West and South East.
Geologically the Andamans and Nicobars represents the highest peaks of an under water mountain range which is itself an extension of the Arakan range in Burma and the Sumatran Barisan ranges to the South. The islands lie parallel to a geological fault line to the east passing the Andaman Sea from north to South. The line marks two tectonic plates rubbing against each other. The eastern plate, an extension of the huge Eurasian plate, is stationary, while the Indian plate to the west is moving north to north east at the rate of a few centimeters a year, taking the Andaman Islands with it. This slow but steady movement is still pushing up the Himalayan Mountains and causes earthquakes and volcanic activity in and around the islands. India’s only active volcano is on Barren Island while Narcondam Island is an extinct volcano sitting directly on the fault line.

Despite the abundant greenery, the soils are not fertile, with low capacity to hold moisture. They are mostly soft, deep sandy loams with acidic or slightly acidic reactions and are rather deficient in calcium.

There is little variety in mammal life. Most noticeable is the absence of the large carnivores with only 19 land-living species of small mammals sharing the islands with humans. The seas, on the other hand, teem with large mammals. There are sea cows (dugong), dolphins and whales. Among non-mammalian groups there is rather more variety: there are 72 kinds of reptiles such as snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodiles and no less than 255 kinds of birds.

THE TRIBES


Since pre-historic times these islands were the home of aboriginal tribes. The tribes in the Andaman group of islands are the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and Sentinalese, all of Negrito origin, while the tribes in the Nicobar group are the Nicobarese and Shompens, both of Mongloid stock.

The Great Andamanese were once the largest in population among the various tribes inhabiting the Andaman Islands. Their estimated population in 1789 was 10,000. By 1901, their number had decreased to 625 and by 1999 their number had decreased to 41 only. They have been rehabilitated in a small island named Strait Island. The Great Andamanese were foragers. They can cook food and use spices as ingredients. At times, they still go for hunting and gathering. Their traditional food items are fish, dugong, turtle, turtle eggs, crabs, roots and tubers. They also eat pork and Andaman water monitor lizard.

Onges are one of the most primitive tribes in India. They belong to the Negrito racial stock and they have been relegated to the reserved pockets both at Dugong Creek and South Bay of Little Andaman Island. They are also diminishing in number. They are the semi-nomadic tribes and fully dependent on the food provided by nature. They have now experienced the impact of outsiders. Efforts at befriending them have proved successful. They eat turtle, fish, roots and jackfruits. They have developed artistry and craft and can make canoes.

Jarawas inhabit South Andamans. They do not have good canoes but can make rafts, which they build to cross the streams. Isolated for long, the Jarawas otherwise appear to be healthy, with smooth skin, deep curly hair, long and sturdy hands and legs and sturdy bones. They are physically fit for hunting and fishing. As nomadic tribes subsisting on hunting, fishing and gathering activities, their traditional food articles consist of boar (wild boar), turtles and their eggs, crabs and other shore animals, etc. wild pig fruits and honey.

The Sentinelese are the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island. The area is about 60 Sq. Kilometers. They are probably the world’s only Paleolithic people surviving today without contact with any other group or community. They are considered as an off-shoot to the Onge-Jarawa tribes and have acquired a different identity due to their habitation in an isolated island and have lost contact with the main tribes. The Sentinelese are very hostile and never leave their Island. Very little is known about this hostile tribe.

The habitation of Shompens is the Great Nicobar Island, which is the largest among the Nicobar group of Islands. Like the Nicobarese, they belong to the Mongoloid race. The Shompens have two divisions, the smaller division being known as Mawa Shompens. They inhabit areas very close to the coastal region along the river valleys. They are very shy. They are quite intimate with the Nicobarese and from the major group of Shompens. The hostile Shompens live in Alexendra and Galathia river areas and also on the east coast of the area in the interior of the Island.

THE HISTORY


The Islands have been known to mariners since ancient times and find mention in the travelogues of geographers like Ptolemy and Marco Polo. The colonial powers started showing interest in the islands during the 17th & 18th centuries as the islands offered safe anchorages to ships sailing in the Bay of Bengal. The Nicobars changed hands from the Danes to the Dutch and later came under the British rule. The documented history of the islands starts with the arrival of Lt. Archibald Blair of the Royal Indian Navy in 1788 when he was commissioned to survey and establish a settlement on the islands. Based on his report the Governor General, Lord Cornwallis, ordered the setting up of a settlement, to be inhabited and supported by ex-convicts and convict labourers. Blair and Colebrooke landed on Chatham Island and developed it into a flourishing settlement. The harbour was named Port Cornwallis (now Port Blair). The settlement was shifted north, to the present day Diglipur, in 1792, which was considered a better heaven for sailing ships. But inhospitable climate and sickness forced this settlement to be closed down in 1796.

The First War of Independence in 1857 brought the islands into prominence again. The islands were thought to be the best place for the deportation of the so-called ‘mutineers’. As the first settlement at Chatham Island proved to be healthy it was decided to set up the penal settlement in its vicinity. The harbour was renamed Port Blair in honour of Lt. Archibald Blair, and the first batch of convicts arrived in March 1858.

The imperial Japanese Navy occupied the islands on 23 April 1942 after firing only a warning shot. From that day till the end of the war, and the subsequent liberation of the islands by the allied forces on 9th October 1945, the Andaman & Nicobar islands again saw brutality like tortures and massacres by the Japanese. The worst act of cruelty was the cold-blooded murder of several citizens of Port Blair at a place called Hamfrygunj on suspicion of being British spies. Similar atrocities were committed in the Nicobar too.
An important event during the Japanese occupation was the visit of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. On 29th December 1943, Netaji flew into the Islands and visited the Cellular Jail. On 30th December 1943 he addressed a public meeting in the historic Gymkhana grounds, where he hoisted the National Tricolour and declared the islands the first Indian Territory to be freed from foreign rule. Japan handed over the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to the Provincial Government of Free India under the leadership of Netaji. However the islands continued to be administered by the Japanese till the end of the war.

THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL


As a struggle for freedom gained momentum on mainland India, the need arose to construct a jail to use mainly for the solitary confinement of the freedom fighters, who were committed revolutionaries and intellectuals in order to break their spirit. The work on the three-storied structure with 7 wings radiating form a central watchtower began in 1896. As it had only individual, cells numbering 698, it got the name Cellular Jail.

Even today the Cellular Jail is the single largest masonry structure in the islands. Within the confines of this jail all kinds of instruments of torture were installed like flogging stand, oil mill, bar fetters and the gallows with the facility to hang 3 persons at a time. A tyrant by the name David Barry was appointed as jailer who subjected the inmates to inhuman tortures.

With the completion of the jail in 1906 freedom fighters accused of various conspiracies were brought here. Though they were political prisoners they were made to perform tasks like turning the oil mill and pounding coconut husk to make rope. Any short fall in competing the task was met by severe punishment like flogging. Extreme torture and hard labour imposed upon the political prisoners lead to strike. A decision to stop deportation of prisoners was taken in 1937 and the last batch of political prisoners left the islands in January 1938.
Oil Mill Bar Fetters

It originally was a seven pronged, puce-coloured building with central tower acting as its fulcrum and a massive structure comprising honeycomb like corridors. The building was subsequently damaged and presently three out of the seven prongs are intact. The jail, now a place of pilgrimage for all freedom loving people, has been declared a National Memorial. The saga of the heroic freedom fighters in Kala Pani is brought alive in a moving sound and light show “Son-et-Lumiere”, shown daily inside the jail compound. There is also a Museum, an Art Gallery, and a Photo Gallery, which are open on all days.

ISLANDS TODAY


The Andaman & Nicobar Islands lying between 92o to 94 o East and 6o to 14 o North latitude cover an area of 8249 Sq. Kms. These 572 Islands. Islets and rocks can be divided into the Andaman (Northern) & the Nicobar (Southern) groups. The highest peak in the Andaman Group is Saddle Peak at 732 mtrs. and Mount Thullier at 642 mtrs. is the highest point in the Nicobar Group.
With 92% of its area under forest cover the Islands have a population of 3.56 lakhs concentrated in 8% of the area i.e 660 Sq. Kms. The Islands have a density of 43 persons per Sq. Km. There is only one urban area, of 16.6 per Sqm Kms (Port Blair town and its environs), which caters to a population of 1,16,407 persons. The Islands are administratively divided into two districts-the Andamans District & the Nicobars District with a population of 3,14,239 and 42,026 respectively.

The policy of the government after independence was to inhabit these islands and to this purpose refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan were settled here. This policy continued till the mid-seventies and led to a very high population increase over the decades. In the decades ending 1971 the decadal growth rate of the islands was over 80%, which has subsequently been brought down to 26.94%. As compared to the All India decadal growth rate the Islands’ growth is slightly on the higher side but concerted efforts are on to control it.
The status of the major social, physical and economic indicators of the Islands are as under:

The total birth rate in the islands is 17.81 while the death rate is 3.46 per 1000 population. The infant death rate is only 17.33 per 1000 live births Amazingly, the birth rates and the death rates in the rural areas are much lower than those in the urban areas.

The sex ratio in the islands has always been lop-sided, due to selective in-migration of males and the islands have recorded a low sex ratio of 846 females per 1000 males.
The A&N Islands have 147 health institutions comprising 3 hospitals, 4 Community Health Centre, 19 Primary Health Centres, 5 Urban Health Centres, 107 Primary Health Sub-Centres and 9 dispensaries. 132 Doctors and other supporting staff man these. There is total bed strength of 1005. 75% of the facilities cater to the rural areas. Of the total 34 Sub-centres, 4 PHC’s, 1 CHC, 3 Homeo Dispensaries and 1 District Hospital cater to the tribal population which comprises 9.53% of the population.

81.18% of the population in the islands is literate. The literacy percentage among males is 86.07% while 75.29 % females are literate.

There are 21 Pre-Primary schools and 2 Ashram Schools in the Islands. 208 Primary Schools, 55 Middle Schools and 44 Secondary Schools with 48-Sr. Sec. Schools comprise the formal education system. Of these 321 institutions 60 cater to the needs of the tribal students. The Islands are the only place in the country where education is imparted in 5 languages– Hindi, English, Tamil, Telegu and Bengali. There are a total of 84,073 students and 4472 teachers, the student teacher ratio being 19:1, which is an exceptionally good figure. In order to impart vocational training an

Industrial Training Institute, Teachers Training Institute and a B.Ed. College are functioning in the islands. There are 2 Govt. colleges, one in Port Blair and another in Mayabunder.

The per capita income based on a gross State Domestic Product of Rs 957.26 crores was Rs. 26965 by the end of 2000-2001.

The Islands have 504 inhabited villages. Of these 394 villages are fully provided with treated water supplies and 110 villages are partially covered. 52 partially covered villages were augmented to fully covered villages in the last 2 yrs. The Indira Nallah and Panchawati Nallah projects have been taken up and 3 water treatment units have been constructed in rural areas at Bakultala, Garacharma & Diglipur.

There are a total of 1163 Kms of blacktopped road in the islands. 114 Kms of urban road falls in the Municipal limit and the ATR stretches for 333 Kms. Of the 504 inhabited villages 256 are connected by road.

The per capita energy consumption in these islands is about 250 KWH per person per annum whereas the national average is 350 KWH per person per annum. There are 34 diesel-generating powerhouses scattered in various islands with an aggregate generating capacity of 38.8 MW. The installed capacity of the stations ranges between 6 KW to 12500 KW. Of the 504 villages, 477 villages have been electrified and the total numbers of electricity consumers are 66196.

Of the total revenue area of 75,000 hectares, 25,000 hectares is under “deemed forest” and only 50,000 hectares of land can be brought under cultivation. Of this 9,800 hectares of land is under paddy and production during 2002-2003 was to the tune of 32111 MT, which is much below our needs.

The area under forest equals 7171 sq. km of which 2929 sq km is reserved forest and 4242 sq km is protected forest. No timber was extracted as per the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme court. However the Forest Department earned a revenue of Rs 7.85 crores during the year

2002-03. There is one zoological garden, one biosphere reserve, one biological park and nine National Parks, 98 wildlife sanctuaries and one forest training school and two Govt. saw mills in the islands.
There is one Employment Exchange and 5 Employment Information and Assistance Bureaus in the island with 41,381 applications on the live register. The total placements made during the year 2002-2003 were 902.

There were 6 medium scale industries in these islands and of these only 2 are now actually functioning. Of the 1479 small scale Industrial Unit 48% are now closed.

969 Co-operative societies with the membership of 73,185 and a share capital of Rs.3.46 crores reflect the vibrant Cooperative Movement in the islands.

5 ships ply in the mainland island sectors, while 21 ships in the Inter-island sector, 6 vessels in the foreshore sector and 26 vessels in the harbour ferry sector are the lifeline of these islands.

The recently introduced Pawan Hans Helicopter Services are a vital link in day-to-day life and emergencies in the islands. At present it connects six islands with Port Blair. Of these 3 islands are in the Southern group. Three more islands in the Northern group are planned to be started in the near future. The Islands have helipads in 30 islands, which can be used during emergencies.
During 2001, 27243 tons of fish, valuing Rs.11.464 crores was landed. 2964 Fishermen are engaged in fishing of which 1821 are using country craft while 222 are using mechanized boat.

Due to the concerted efforts in the Animal Husbandry field, the efforts of the Veterinary services are visible. The livestock as per the livestock census shows a total livestock of 1,88,310 and total poultry of 8,00,950.

The Law and Order position is quite good in these islands. There are 16 Police Stations and 17 Police Out Posts and 1 District Jail with the A&N Police. Conviction Rate is as high as 49.30% in case of offences committed under IPC of which 99.96% in case of Local Special Laws.

There are 67 motor transport buses that operate on 76 routes covering a route length of 15,99,000 Kms.

RECENT MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS


Airport Extension: The length of the airport runway has been extended from 6000 ft. to 11000 ft to make it fit for landing of wide-bodied aircraft like Airbus. It will be operational in the near future.

Jetties: Mus jetty wharf and breakwater at Car Nicobar constructed at a cost of Rs 85 crores have recently been inaugurated.

Shipping: 16 vessels of different categories have been acquired by the Administration in the last 4 years. This is exclusive of a 1200 passenger cum 1500 Tonne cargo vessel built by M/s Hindusthan Shipyard – M.V Swaraj Dweep.

Power: A 50 KWP Grid connected Solar PV Power Plant has been made operational at Neil Island. A 20 MW power station at Bambooflat commenced operation under a power purchase agreement between M/s Surya Chakra Power Project and the Administration.

Bridges: An RCC Bridge across Austin Creek constructed at a cost of Rs 8.83 crores has been inaugurated.
Identity Cards: Of the 3,69,390 islanders enumerated, 2,72,728 have been found eligible for Islanders Identity Card. Of these 1,40,654 have been issued

cards. Out of a total electoral roll of 2,30,555 photo identity cards have been issued to 1,95,070 persons.

Medals: During the period 1987 to 2002, 22 medals were bagged by sportspersons in International level competition and 333 medal bagged in National levels.

Health: No case of Diphtheria has been reported. No case of polio has been reported in the last 16 years. Incidence of whooping cough is negligible and only 15 cases of measles have been reported in the last 2 years.
Registration of Births and Deaths: There is 100% registration of birth events. The urban birth registration center has been computerized from 2nd December 2002.

Helicopter Services: The much awaited inter-island helicopter service by Pawan Hans was launched by the Hon’ble Lt. Governor Shri N.N. Jha on 17th May 2003 and regular service started from 19th May 2003.

Shipping: Order for a new 500-passenger vessel has been placed on M/s ABG Shipyard, Surat in April 2003.
Medicinal Plants Board: A Medicinal Plants Board has been set up in May, 2003.

Fishing: Approval has been granted for a fish-landing center at Junglighat jetty at Port Blair.
Water Supply: A decision has been taken in principle for raising the height of Dhanikhari Dam by 5 mtrs to augment the water supply in Port Blair. DPR is being prepared.

Fresh Water Supply: It is proposed to develop a fresh water lake by connecting the crown point of Flat Bay to Mithakhari by an embankment. Environmental clearance for the same has been obtained.
IDA Meeting: The Xth meeting of the Island Development Authority under the Chairmanship of Hon’ble Prime Minister was held on 19th January, 2003 at Port Blair. The IDA identified high value agriculture, fisheries and tourism as developmental thrust areas and a Standing Committee of Secretaries has been constituted for the purpose. The Administration has actively participated in preparation of cabinet notes for the purpose of including/obtaining clearance of the Committee of Secretaries and the matters are in the final stages of taking proposals to Cabinet for implementation.