Kavaratti (Lakshadweep): Lakshadweep islands, India's untapped tourism potential, is all set to get a major makeover with a number of big projects in the pipeline.
As the first step toward bringing more tourists to the islands, the administration is improving the connectivity. Fly19 and Spice Jet have already got the necessary clearances for flight operations to Agatti Island.
A team from Indigo airlines held meetings with the island administration on Wednesday, expressing their interest in starting flights to the island.
According to administration sources, Fly19 will commence its operations by the end of this month.
At present, only Alliance airlines has a single daily flight to Agatti Island, with two trips on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Apart from the flight, there is only one ship doing the service between Kochi and Kavaratti in a week.
As more airlines line up to start operations, the Agatti Island airport is going for a major expansion.
According to an official, construction major L&T has been given the contract for the Rs 4,500 crore expansion works where the runway will be extended to 2,800 meters.
Apart from Agatti, another Greenfield airport will be coming up at Minicoy Island, one which lies next to the Maldives.
For the Agatti airport expansion, private lands will be acquired and also a sizeable chunk of sea floor will be reclaimed.
Once the connectivity part is being worked upon, the next step is to provide more rooms for the visiting tourists.
Tata Group had already proposed three major Taj resorts on three islands - Suheli, Minicoy and Kadmat. Of these, Suheli and Kadmat have already been approved by the district administration.
Taj Hotels and Resorts will be building Lagoon Villas, the first of its kind in India and land villas. Each of these properties will have more than 100 rooms.
"All these projects have been cleared only after a proper Environment Impact Assessment. We have very strict guidelines regarding development projects in the Islands and no project will be cleared without an EIA," K K Idrees Babu, Marine Biologist attached to the Department of Science and Technology, who leads the coastal ecosystem conservation projects in the Islands, told PTI.
He said the rules stipulated under the Integrated Island Management Plan are strictly followed.
He said the lagoon villas in the Maldives were "bad models" to follow and whatever wrong that they had done, which caused considerable damage to the coastal ecosystem in those areas, has been avoided here.
"We have done a proper EIA and the lagoon villas are planned without any such adverse impacts to the environment. Once completed, these villas will be an ideal case study for the rest of the world," Babu said.
UCK Thangal, a senior politician and former Chief Counsellor of Kavaratti, welcomed the tourism projects but said there was no consultation with the people of the island when these projects were planned.
"People have no role in the works going on in the island. The Panchayat governing body in Kavaratti is defunct for more than a year. People who do not know the history or culture of the Islands are now making the decisions," Thangal, who was the closest associate of the 10 time MP of Lakshadweep, PM Sayed, said.
"We are thankful to the Prime Minister for the new tourism projects in the islands as it can bring employment for the youth. But we demand that the public should be consulted and their opinions should be taken into account before finalising any project," the present MP of Lakshadweep, Mohammed Faizal Padippura of NCP, told PTI.
He said the present administrator has even kept the MP out of the loops and has alienated the islanders from the developmental activities in the Islands.
"The administration has been trying to snatch the land of the locals that has been in their possession prior to independence. Now we are fighting that in court," Faizal said.
Generally, the public are welcoming tourism projects but demand that it should be sustainable and restricted tourism activity.
"We have our own culture and we cannot accept any project that can compromise our culture," Hashim, a local fisherman said.
Apart from the major projects mentioned earlier, the Lakshadeep administration is also coming up with a smart city project and two city centres with five star hotels to be built in Agatti and Kavaratti.
Kavaratti will also get a 'Tent City' which will have tent accommodations on the coastline.
These tents can be dismantled and set up in different locations, a senior officer from the administration who does not want to be quoted said.
He said nine of the major tourism projects in the island will have concrete construction and said all structures will be eco- friendly.
He also said certain areas in each of the inhabited islands serve liquor to tourists now and the prohibition policy may be further opened up as tourism gathers momentum in the Islands.
India plans to project the island archipelago as an alternative to the Maldives for tourists.
A diplomatic row erupted between India and the Maldives over the derogatory comments made by some Deputy Ministers of the island nation on social media platforms against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India. Modi visited Lakshadweep in January.
India has also been a consistent and significant contributor to the tourism industry of the Maldives.
The number of Indian visitors was more than 2.4 lakh in 2022 while over 2.11 lakh Indians flew to the Maldives in 2021.