Friday, October 22, 2010



Runways Every 100 Miles…


China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region appears to have injected new momentum in India’s efforts to fortify its farthest military outpost - the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Plans are afoot to upgrade airstrips to support fighter operations, induct 5,000 more troops and deploy additional Warships, senior officials of the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) are reported to have said.


INS Viraat at Port Blair


Myanmar’s Coco Islands, where the Chinese navy has reportedly set up a surveillance post, are barely 40 km from the Andamans’ northernmost tip, the Landfall Island.


New Delhi may not openly flag concerns about China’s strategic moves to squeeze India with its presence in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but there is a growing realization that the Andamans hold the key to dominating a vital maritime zone.



Vice-Admiral D.K. Joshi, Commander-in-Chief, Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), is reported to have said that the airstrips at Campbell Bay and Shibpur in the Diglipur region of North Andaman, were being extended from 3,200 feet to 12,000 feet to support all types of aircrafts, including fighters. The airstrips are being upgraded for night-flying operations too.


I recently came to know from a defence website, Bharat Rakshak that the ANC sources told Rahul Singh of Hindustan Times that the army was planning to beef up its brigade-level deployment (around 3,000 soldiers) with three more battalions and support units. An officer said, “There are plans to induct a mechanized infantry battalion, an artillery regiment and an infantry unit.”


The navy, too, is deploying more warships and patrol vessels in the region. Asked if the navy was concerned about the Chinese navy’s expansion in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the then navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said, “The navy’s plans are guided by what’s happening in the region… not just by what a particular country is doing.”


The Andamans are more than 1,200 km away from mainland India. A significant volume of China’s oil imports passes through Malacca Strait, about 350 km from these islands.


The ANC is also India's first tri-services command, which means it has under its wing, assets from all three wings of the armed forces, as also the Coast Guard. Its chief is drawn by rotation from the army, the navy and the air force.


The ANC crew in action during 2004 Tsunami


I, along with scores of other islanders of the territory, have always been highly appreciative of the ANC, which also includes an element from the Coast Guard, as it had played a stellar role in the wake of the devastating Dec 26, 2004 Tsunami that ravaged the islands by providing succor to its inhabitants and also to countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives that too were badly affected.


As per the ongoing plans of the Indian defence think-tank, after Port Blair, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are now set to have full-length ‘all weather and all aircraft’ runways after every 100 miles.


Every 100 miles or so you will find an airfield capable of operating all aircrafts (which could include commercial ones) in all-weather conditions,” the Commander-in-Chief of the Islands, Mr D.K. Joshi, is reported to have said.


At present, only Port Blair, the capital has a full-fledged runway capable of operating all kinds of aircraft but considering the height of a hill, the Joggers Park or “Chaandmaari” as the locals call it, on the eastern side, it’s a uni-directional airstrip. However, it’s planned to be made bi-directional soon.


The Uni-directional runway at Port Blair airport


The runways in Car Nicobar, Shibpur and Campbell Bay are also proposed to be upgraded into full-length runways.


Meanwhile, it’s in the air that the famous Taj Group is setting up a venture at the famous Havelock Island to boost tourism in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, even as corporates are flocking with major investments. Tourism and other developmental activities are poised for high growth in the immediate future.


Also on the anvil is a container transshipment hub at Campbell Bay, for which feasibility study is in progress. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen as to how these runways will be operated and more importantly what will be the Logistical apparatus in place to sustain the same.


Admiral Gorshkov renamed “INS Vikramaditya” to join Indian Navy fleet by 2012


I reckon the proposed development of these runways must have come up keeping in mind the rising Air Force might in the East as also the Indonesian intentions of acquiring 180 Flankers. Also, the military establishment will work wonders towards boosting the economy of the islands. India has a pearl in the middle of the Indian Ocean... and we are finally realizing its true worth.


The bottom-line is – The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are precious and prized strategic assets for India. India's resource box and geographical location has it quite nicely geared up for Asian dominance and these pristine islands, besides being an enviable floating paradise for tourists from the world over, are a proud natural aircraft carrier of India. :-)


Stats: Bharat Rakshak

Friday, October 1, 2010



Sentinelese –

The Heroes of Andaman



Poachers targeting rich fishing grounds in India’s Andaman Islands are endangering the world’s most isolated tribe.


More than a hundred illegal fishermen from Burma have been arrested in recent weeks. Fourteen were fishing off North Sentinel Island, home to the Sentinelese tribe, who attack anyone approaching their island. Members of the tribe killed two fishermen in 2006.


Burmese and local poachers also threaten the survival of the Jarawa tribe, who have only had contact with outsiders since 1998. A local poacher and a Jarawa man died in a conflict in the Jarawa’s reserve in 2008. The Jarawas denounce poachers who invade their land.


The Indian Coast Guard has announced a series of arrests of more than a hundred Burmese poachers since late August this year, mostly in the vicinity of the Jarawa reserve. However, local poachers are rarely targeted.



Poachers catch turtles and dive for lucrative sea cucumber for the Chinese market, and also hunt in the Jarawa’s forest. Local poachers often enter by the illegal Andaman Trunk Road that cuts through the tribe’s land. Many NGOs like Survival International have repeatedly urged the local authorities to close the road, but it remains open.


Local sources say the scale of the problem is much greater than the recent arrests suggest, with most poachers going undetected. Both the Jarawa and the Sentinelese are hunter-gatherers, and theft of the fish and animals in their territory endangers their food supply. Poachers also risk introducing common diseases to the tribes. The Sentinelese are especially at risk: their complete isolation means they are likely to have no immunity to diseases such as flu and measles.



Survival campaigner Sophie Grig said recently, “The Indian Coast Guard’s recent crackdown shows they are taking the poaching problem seriously, but it also reveals the huge scale of the threat. The Jarawa and the Sentinelese have lived on the Andaman Islands for about 55,000 years, but if this invasion of their territory continues, their days could be numbered.


The Sentinelese are believed to be the World’s Most Isolated Tribe, and have had no contact with outsiders. The neighboring Bo tribe of the Great Andamanese group on the Andaman Islands became extinct in January this year with the death of its last surviving member, Boa Sr.


Boa Sr, the last surviving member of the Bo Tribe, who expired in January this year.


The Sentinelese live on their own small island, North Sentinel, and continue to resist all contact with outsiders, attacking anyone who comes near. They hit the headlines in the wake of the 2004 Tsunami when a member of the tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter.



A Sentinelese man, as seen in the picture above, aimed his bow and arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter as it flew over his island on Dec. 28, 2004, surveying for Tsunami damage. Circumstantial evidence suggests that these indigenous tribes used precious ancient know-how to save themselves from the catastrophic Tsunami.


Like the Jarawa, the Sentinelese hunt and gather in the forest, and fish in the coastal waters. They live in long communal huts with several hearths, and use outrigger canoes to travel the seas around their island.


The Government of India has made several unsuccessful attempts to establish ‘friendly’ contact with the Sentinelese. According to the NGOs, contacting the tribe would almost certainly have tragic consequences, as their isolation makes them very vulnerable to diseases to which they have no immunity. The government now says it will make no further attempt to contact them.


Since the coastal waters around the Jarawa reserve have been so heavily used by poachers, these illegal fishermen are now turning their attention to the waters surrounding North Sentinel. In 2006, members of the Sentinelese tribe killed two fishermen who had illegally approached their island.



The Sentinelese are a real inspiration - Heroes not only of the Andaman Islands, but of the entire Indigenous world. They even seem to be heroes to the mainstream. The amazing photographs in the media of the warriors firing upon a helicopter were meant to elicit pity for the Sentinelese, "left behind" by the modern world.


The articles backfired. Fervent responses from indigenous and non-indigenous readers alike indicated more envy than pity. One reader, claiming to be sick of civilization with nothing but work and bills and sex and worry, said, "I wish I was on the beach with my bow and arrow."


Stats courtesy: Survival International/ Woorama (Suite101)