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Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the cable project via video conferencing, in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the cable project via video conferencing, in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)

Modi launches optical fibre link between Chennai and Port Blair

  • The undersea cable is expected to boost 4G mobile connectivity and digital services in Andaman islands
  • PM Modi had laid the foundation for the 2,312-km-long cable project in December 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated an undersea optical fibre cable link between Chennai and Port Blair on Monday that will speed up mobile and broadband communication between mainland India and the islands situated on the edge of the eastern Indian Ocean, seen as strategically important to mount pressure on China.

Modi had laid the foundation for the 2,312-kilometre long cable project, implemented at a cost of 1,224 crore in December 2018. The cable will connect not only Port Blair but also other islands such as Swaraj Dweep, Long Island, Rangat, Little Andaman, Kamorta, Car Nicobar, and Greater Nicobar.

“The optical fibre connectivity project to connect Andaman and Nicobar with the rest of the country and the world is a symbol of our commitment towards ease of living," Modi said.

Internet speeds of up to 400 gigabyte (Gb) per second will be provided at Port Blair and 200 Gb per second for other islands, according to official data. The cable is expected to boost 4G mobile services and digital services such as tele-education, tele-health, e-governance services and tourism on the islands.

The connectivity through fibre optical cable shall usher in a new era in the islands, said D.K. Sharma, a former naval officer. Earlier, communication was difficult as it was primarily through satellite, which was being shared by the civilian administration, the local population, and the military. With the cable link “information flow will happen in real time," he said

The archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, spread over 8,000sq. km, consists of 300 islands. Analysts have often pointed out that the islands lie closer to Indonesia than to India to underline their geographical proximity to South-East Asia.

The islands sit at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, one of the busiest shipping thoroughfares of the world and a reason India set up its first tri-service command in the Andamans in 2001. At times of tension with China, India has the option of using its navy to “choke" the Chinese sea lanes of communications with assets based out of the Andamans, according to some analysts.

However, others point out that India would have to greatly enhance its infrastructure to develop the archipelago as a viable a military outpost. A 2004 Indonesian tsunami triggered by a massive undersea earthquake had shattered most of the infrastructure and this has slowed development in that regard.

“Physical connectivity through road, air, and water is being strengthened," Modi said, referring to two major bridges and a national highway that is being constructed to improve road access between north and middle Andaman. The capacity of the Port Blair Airport is being enhanced to handle 1,200 passengers, he said.

“Construction of a deep draft inner harbour in the east coast is also going on at high speed. Now there is a proposal to establish a trans-shipment port at an estimated cost of 10,000 crore in Great Nicobar," said the Prime Minister. The new port will enable big ships to anchor and increase India’s share in maritime trade and also provide new employment opportunities, he said.

“The Indian Ocean has been the centre of India’s trade and strategic prowess for thousands of years. Now that India is following the new policy and practice of trade and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the importance of our islands, including Andaman and Nicobar has increased," said Modi.

“Under the Act East policy, Andaman and Nicobar’s role in India’s strong relations with east Asian countries and other nations is very important and it is going to increase," he said referring India bolstering its strategic and economic engagement with South-East Asia, a region with deep economic links to China.

ishita.g@livemint.com

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