Lakshadweep Govt Goes Ahead With Ecotourism Projects Despite ‘Grave’ Ecological Concerns
The Lakshadweep administration has floated global tenders for developing “Maldives-like beaches,” 370 water villas, and other ecotourism projects in three islands, despite widespread protests and objections from locals and experts.
The three islands — Minicoy, Suheli, and Kadmat — are characterized by an extremely fragile coral ecosystem. The ecotourism initiatives are part of the land reforms (Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021) the administration passed in May, with many activists, scientists, and experts opposing the regulations. The “Save Lakshadweep” campaign, a collective of people opposing the reforms, has repeatedly urged the administration to reconsider the projects; citing infrastructural projects as a dirge to local livelihood and survival of marine ecosystems. A group of scientists even wrote to the President for intervention.
The administration, however, has proceeded with the initiative amid fervent criticism. With the present notification, the government is inviting bids from developers. The argument of the administration has been one of development and of building a “robust base for maritime economic growth with tourism development as its core.”
The problem is twofold: the employment generation claims the administration is using as a means to justify the project and, more importantly, the threat to the ecosystem.
The government had previously said 80% of employment generated by the project will go to the local community, but experts note the proposed documents only vaguely mention such a benefit. The government order states: “concessionaire shall make necessary efforts to employ locals to the extent possible by providing necessary skill training.”
The claims of employment also miss the mark owing to the social and economical value these ecological spaces bring. “The beaches being cultural and ecological spaces for the islanders, the project would be detrimental to the interests of the local community as well,” a petition by a group of scientists early last year noted.
But it is the ecological consideration that demands to be heard. “[The draft LDAR] will severely threaten the future survival of these beautiful atolls and its inhabitants,” Naveen Namboothri, director of NGO Dakshin Foundation, told Carbon Copy.
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A previous study noted the threat posed to Lakshadweep due to rising sea levels — almost 60% of the land along the shorelines of Kavaratti and Minicoy will be lost by the end of the century. This is a threat exacerbated due to projects that ignore the climate reality.
“It [the draft LDAR] will severely threaten the future survival of these beautiful atolls and its inhabitants… All these inshore reefs and underwater grasslands may be in deep peril if an ambitious tourism project – involving the construction of beach and water villas offering 370 rooms – becomes a reality,” a joint letter by 114 scientists from 30 universities noted, with marine biologists calling this a “serious developmental misstep.”
The idea of development and ecotourism are at the heart of any government defense. But the expansion of tourism ignores pressing issues: the scarcity of drinking water, sanitation issues, lack of adequate electricity, and waste disposal management.
“Lakshadweep is so small in size that its largest island, Andrott, is just 4.90 sqkm. So it is not pragmatic to compare it with Maldives, which has hundreds of islands. Local people don’t want this kind of development because they are content earning their livelihood through sustainable tourism, fishing, and coconut cultivation,” Fousiya A.A., a member of the Save Lakshadweep Forum, told ScienceWire.
The ecotourism project wildly ignores the climate reality of the archipelago. Experts have noted infrastructural activities like lack of proper sewage disposal, increased constructions, uncontrolled resource extraction, and unsustainable developmental activities, on the whole, will worsen the climate change impact.
Experts have noted the need for future development plans to account for climate change and fold in social safeguards to be truly sustainable. The 2014 Justice Raveendran Committee Report, for instance, made recommendations to prioritize the protection of corals and other ecosystems from manmade activities such as waste disposal, tourism activities, sand mining, to name a few.
Naveen Namboothri summarizes the tussle between development and environmental considerations as follows: “The islands have the highest population densities in India, and resources such as freshwater are severely limited. The islands provide limited opportunities for development, and any development plan needs to consider the social and environmental fragility of these islands and their carrying capacities.”