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'Forget Others, How Do We Reach Mainland?' Lakshadweep Locals Wary of Tourism

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

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Video Producer: Divya Uppal

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

"If today you wish to travel from Agatti Island to Kochi anytime post noon, there are no options available. The only flight from the island has already left the airport at 10:54 am, and there are no ships scheduled for the day either," said Ameen Bin Mohammad, a resident of Agatti Island who owns a travel agency.

The 7.6 km-long island in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep is roughly located 459 km west of Kerala's Kochi, its only gateway to mainland. Agatti also has Lakshadweep’s only airstrip.

'What is the logic of promoting tourism, when we islanders struggle with such poor connectivity with the mainland?' asked Hussain, another resident of Agatti Island.

Lakshadweep has been making headlines ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the islands on 2 January. But things took a drastic turn when Maldivian ministers tweeted derogatory remarks against the prime minister — and said India could not compete with the Maldives in beach tourism.

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Thus emerged the social media trends #BoycottMaldives and #ExploreIndianIslands on X. From Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, and Salman Khan to cricketer Virender Sehwag, many took to promoting a visit to the archipelago. The Union Territory even remained the most searched keyword on Google Search over the weekend.

The online campaign further brought the limelight to Lakshadweep, seemingly increasing the popularity of the islands. This is backed by tour operators and hotel owners that The Quint spoke to telling them that they received "double the number of enquiries that they used to get before the Maldives row". 

However, locals said they are wary of the attention.

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'Poor Connectivity by Air, Water'

Currently, there are only two ways to reach Lakshadweep – by flight or by ship. Only one Alliance Air flight operates daily between Kochi and Agatti Island, and there are three ships – MV Corals, MV Kavaratti, and MV Lagoon – running operations between Lakshadweep and Kochi. The journey by water takes about 14-18 hours.

"Try booking a flight from Agatti, Lakshadweep's only airport to Kochi. No flights are available till end of March. Leave alone the tourists, how do we reach the mainland?"
Hussain

"Even the ship services are not available every day, and even if you book a ticket on one of the three ships, their services are so poor that they sometimes reschedule their trips multiple times," he added.

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

Ship schedule between Kochi and Lakshadweep Islands.

(Screengrab of the ship schedule for January released on lakport.utl.gov.in)

To verify Hussain's claims, this reporter tried booking a round trip from Kochi to Agatti between 9 January and 31 March. The results showed 'no flights available' between these dates.

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

Round trip flight search between Kochi and Agatti on MakeMyTrip.

(Screengrab of flight search on makemytrip.com)

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

Round trip flight search between Kochi and Agatti on EaseMyTrip.

(Screengrab of flight search on easemytrip.com)

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

Round trip flight search between Kochi and Agatti on Skyscanner.

(Screengrab of flight search on skyscanner.in)

While the websites show tickets are available for booking from Kochi to Agatti, the return tickets are unavailable till 3 April 2024.

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"The flight and the ship services can be increased only up to a certain limit because the land area and the resources of the island are limited. I live in Agatti. It is only 6 km long and up to 1 km wide, and the total geographical area comes to 3.84 sq km. Now, tell me, how many locals and tourists can be accommodated in such a small area?"
Mohammad Shafi, resort owner from Agatti Island

As per Lakshadweep's official website, the total area of the archipelago is 32 sq km, and it comprises 11 inhabited islands from a total of 36 islands.

"There are only 4-5 islands which are used for tourism. They cannot hold up more than 200 tourists at any given time. So, I don't understand what purpose will upping the tourist influx serve," another hotel owner Abdul Rehman told The Quint.

Speaking to CNN-News18, however, Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Patel said the administration was not worried about the inflow of tourists as Lakshadweep had sufficient infrastructure to handle them.

“We are anticipating a huge surge in tourists in Lakshadweep. We will be benefitted because of the prime minister’s trip – and not because of the anger of Maldives,” Patel told the news channel.

He also said that resorts and villas were being constructed on some of the islands for tourists. “This will help with accommodation. We have received direction on the development of tourism, and we are working on that. Some islands are strategically important so to keep a check on that, the system that is there [of taking online permits] if it continues, then there shouldn’t be an issue…,” he added.

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'Fix Issues Before Turning Lakshadweep into a Tourist Hub'

A resident, who wanted to stay anonymous, told us that "the islands face several issues which need to be addressed before the government's plan to use Lakshadweep as a tourist hub".

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

Litter on a beach in Agatti Island.

(Image accessed by The Quint)

"We have multiple issues. There is no proper waste management system here. Drinking water is not in abundance. Sea water is purified for daily usage. In fact, from March, when the temperature rises, water is scarce for our daily use," the resident claimed.

"Lakshadweep has several issues. We need proper waste management system, and drinking water is not in abundance."

Garbage collected on Agatti Island.

(Image accessed by The Quint)

Highlighting the lack of health services, travel agency owner Ameen told The Quint, "Promoting tourism is great. But what about developing and improving the health care services that we islanders desperately need? There is only one specialty hospital on the entire island which is in Agatti. One hospital each in Kavaratti and Minicoy. Other places just have primary healthcare centres or first aid centres."

He, too, raised concern over the waste management system that could "disturb the ecology of the island".

"A cruise service brings 1,500 tourists to the island. They dump their litter here and create pollution. In the long run, this will disturb the ecology of the island. If the government is planning such moves, it should understand the limitations of atolls," added Ameen.
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Another resident raised the issue of the scarcity of fuel on the island. "While Kavaratti and Kalpeni islands have fuel stations, Agatti doesn't have a fuel pump. The fisheries department distributes petrol like a monthly ration distribution. Petrol is capped at 10 litres per month for two-wheelers and 15 litres per month for four-wheelers. Do you think it's sufficient for locals as well as for the tourists?" they said on condition of anonymity.

Patel, in the same interview, however, said drinking water issues, issues of fishermen, and other issues were resolved by the prime minister in the last few years.

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Topics:  Maldives   Lakshadweep 

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