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Securing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

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The Andaman and Nicobar islands are of immense strategic significance for India. The geographical configuration and the location of the island chain in the Bay of Bengal safeguards India's eastern seaboard as well the approaches to the Indian Ocean from the east. Its proximity to the Southeast Asian region enables India to forge friendly relations with its Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbours. The physical isolation and remoteness of the archipelago, however, make it vulnerable to conventional and non-conventional threats. At present, any possibility of a conventional threat to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands appears remote given India's friendly ties with its Southeast and East Asian neighbours. Nevertheless, military intervention in the Indian Ocean by extra-regional powers, especially China, remains a potential cause of concern. Meanwhile, non-conventional threats such as poaching of marine and forest resources, illegal migration, arms smuggling and natural disasters have been posing serious challenges to the internal security of the island chain. Steps to address these problems have been undertaken by the government, but the issues of remoteness, inadequate infrastructure, poor coordination among security agencies and pervasive underdevelopment create hurdles. Building critical infrastructure and sustainable economic development is, therefore, imperative for securing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
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Securing the Andaman and Nicobar
Islands
Pushpita Das
Published online: 05 May 2011.
To cite this article: Pushpita Das (2011) Securing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Strategic
Analysis, 35:3, 465-478, DOI: 10.1080/09700161.2011.559988
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Strategic Analysis
Vol. 35, No. 3, May 2011, 465–478
Securing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Pushpita Das
Abstract: The Andaman and Nicobar islands are of immense strategic significance
for India. The geographical configuration and the location of the island chain in the
Bay of Bengal safeguards India’s eastern seaboard as well the approaches to the Indian
Ocean from the east. Its proximity to the Southeast Asian region enables India to
forge friendly relations with its Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
neighbours. The physical isolation and remoteness of the archipelago, however, make
it vulnerable to conventional and non-conventional threats. At present, any possibil-
ity of a conventional threat to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands appears remote given
India’s friendly ties with its Southeast and East Asian neighbours. Nevertheless, military
intervention in the Indian Ocean by extra-regional powers, especially China, remains a
potential cause of concern. Meanwhile, non-conventional threats such as poaching of
marine and forest resources, illegal migration, arms smuggling and natural disasters
have been posing serious challenges to the internal security of the island chain. Steps
to address these problems have been undertaken by the government, but the issues of
remoteness, inadequate infrastructure, poor coordination among security agencies and
pervasive underdevelopment create hurdles. Building critical infrastructure and sustain-
able economic development is, therefore, imperative for securing the Andaman and
Nicobar Islands.
The Indian Ocean is vital to India. At present, 97 per cent of India’s trade by volume
and 70 per cent of its energy imports transit through the Indian Ocean. As India’s
economy continues to grow, its energy requirements and trade relations will increase
manifold. It is predicted that India will soon emerge as the fourth largest consumer of
energy and that nearly 65 per cent of its energy needs will be imported, of which 90 per
cent will be from the Persian Gulf.1Its coal and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports
from Mozambique, Malaysia, Indonesia and Qatar are expected to rise substantially. In
addition, India has an extensive (2.2 million sq. km) exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
A large Indian diaspora exists in countries situated all along the Indian Ocean, right
from South Africa to Kenya, in the Gulf countries in the west to Malaysia, Indonesia
and Singapore in the east.
For the protection of its maritime interest in the Indian Ocean, it is imperative
that India establishes a foothold in the island territories that could function as for-
ward bases.2In this regard, India has been actively engaging the island nations located
strategically in the Indian Ocean. Thus, in Madagascar India has established an elec-
tronic listening post to monitor activities in the southwestern Indian Ocean. India’s
security engagement also extends to the Seychelles, Mauritius and the Maldives in the
southern Indian Ocean. India has gifted patrol boats and surveillance aircraft to these
Dr. Pushpita Das is an Associate Fellow at IDSA.
ISSN 0970-0161 print/ISSN 1754-0054 online
© 2011 Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
DOI: 10.1080/09700161.2011.559988
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466 Pushpita Das
island nations. Besides, India has agreed to train their defence personnel and supply
military equipment to them.3Indian naval warships periodically patrol the coasts of
these countries and make port calls as well. These engagements will enable India to
have a forward presence in the western and southern Indian Ocean.
India’s forward presence in the eastern Indian Ocean is enabled by the Andaman
and Nicobar Islands. The island chain is therefore of great strategic significance and
its security is in India’s vital interest. This paper highlights the strategic importance
of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the first section. The second section of the
paper discusses both the conventional and non-conventional threats to the islands. The
third section deals with measures undertaken to secure the islands. The fourth section
analyses the challenges faced and the final section makes a few recommendations for
managing those challenges.
Strategic importance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The location and geography4of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have given them
immense strategic importance. The archipelago forms the southeast frontier of the
country. It is nearer to Southeast Asia than to the Indian mainland (approximately 1,200
km away). The northernmost part of the island chain, the Landfall Island, is only 45 km
from Myanmar’s Coco Islands, and Indira Point, its southernmost tip, is 160 km away
from Indonesia’s Aceh province. Most importantly, the islands dominate the sea lines
of communication. The island chain straddles the Ten Degree Channel and overlooks
the Six Degree Channel and the Strait of Malacca, three important shipping routes in
the eastern Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the island chain contributes about 30 per cent
of India’s total EEZ and 35,000 km of continental shelf.
The linear extension of the island chain gives it an extensive north-south spread
in the Bay of Bengal, ideal for generating domain awareness, which could be utilised
for countering traditional and non-traditional threats.5This geographical configuration
together with the defence facilities on the islands enables India to protect its east-
ern seaboard and eastern and south-eastern approaches. The islands also function as
operational and replenishment bases and offer ‘platforms for shore-mounted air, sur-
face and sub-surface acquisition and targeting systems along with dispersed protected
harbours’.6
The closeness of the islands to busy shipping lanes, especially the Strait of Malacca,
not only enables India to play an important role in ensuring the security of the sea lines
of communication, but also to use these islands as a trans-shipment hub, a bunkering
facility or a duty free port. The proximity of the archipelago to the Southeast Asian
countries facilitates India in fostering friendly relations with them by engaging them
in joint operations. It also helps India to keep abreast of the political and military
developments in its extended neighbourhood.7
Threat assessment
The remoteness of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the Indian mainland makes
them vulnerable to both conventional and non-conventional threats.
Conventional threats
In the 1970s, threats from extra-regional powers in the Indian Ocean region became a
dominant concern for India, especially when a US task force led by the nuclear armed
carrier USS Enterprise was deployed in the Bay of Bengal during the course of the 1971
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Strategic Analysis 467
war, raising the spectre of superpower gunboat diplomacy in the Indian Ocean region.8
This enhanced presence of superpowers in the region renewed fears of superpower
interventions in littoral states.9
The possibility of a conventional threat to the island chain from its immediate
neighbours, however, seems remote given India’s cordial relations with the Association
of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). India has successfully resolved its maritime
boundary issues with Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Under its ‘Look
East’ policy, India has also made concerted efforts to integrate its economy with
the dynamic and prosperous ASEAN region. Its trade with ASEAN has grown from
US$2.5 billion in 1993–94 to US$48.89 billion in 2008–2009.10 In addition, India is a
member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and a dialogue partner of ASEAN. It
is also closely cooperating in the security sphere with Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia,
Japan and South Korea.
However, military threats to the islands could be posed by a possible intervention in
the Bay of Bengal by an extra-regional power, especially China. Given its dependence
on seaborne supply lines in the Indian Ocean and the need to secure them both from
non-state actors and potential adversaries such as the United States and India, China
would be compelled to intervene militarily in the region in the future.11
Towards this end, China has been diligently developing port and other infrastruc-
tural facilities in the Indian Ocean littoral. The development of ports in Gwadar in
Pakistan; Hambantota in Sri Lanka; Chittagong in Bangladesh; Sittwe, Coco Islands,
Hianggyi, Kyaukpyu, Mergui and Zadetkyi Kyun in Myanmar; Laem Chabang in
Thailand; and Sihanoukville in Cambodia12 is in pursuance of this strategy. While
China and the littoral states have maintained that the infrastructure being established is
purely for commercial use, the utilisation of these facilities by China during a conflict
cannot be ruled out.
China is steadily increasing its naval strength, which will help it maintain its naval
presence in strategic locations to respond to potential incidents in far-flung areas. Given
the vulnerability of the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden to piracy and armed
robbery, through which around 80 per cent of China’s petroleum imports flow, China
remains deeply concerned. And as part of its maritime strategy, China now seeks to
extend its naval presence as far as West Asia and to the shipping lanes of the Pacific
by deploying warships as escorts for its commercial vessels.13 A future scenario of
Chinese submarines and ships patrolling the Indian Ocean, much to the discomfiture
of the United States and India, does not appear too improbable.
Moreover, China has been allegedly engaged in tracking India’s capability and
strengths in the Bay of Bengal, through various means. It has reportedly established
a signals intelligence gathering post on the Great Coco Island to monitor Indian
naval activities.14 Though discounted by various people including high ranking Indian
officials,15 speculation is still rife that in the hour of need the facilities on the Coco
Islands could be used by the Chinese military.16 Besides, there are reports of China
using fishing trawlers for intelligence gathering purposes. The seizure of the trawler Yu
Man Shing with a Chinese and Taiwanese crew off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
in October 200417 and the capture of Chinese fishing trawlers in August 199418 are
some examples of Chinese activity in the Bay of Bengal.
Non-conventional threats
As of now, the Indian security establishment maintains that the possibility of a con-
ventional threat to the Andaman and Nicobar islands is minimal given the ‘present
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468 Pushpita Das
day global geopolitical scenario in general, and the situation in the Southeast Asian
countries, in particular’.19 India’s current concerns are non-conventional threats such
as poaching, illegal settlements, gun running and use of its uninhabited islands as
hideaways by terrorist groups and smugglers, and natural disasters.
Poaching
Poaching has emerged as the biggest problem for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The waters of these islands are rich in marine life. Sea cucumbers, corals, fish, shells
and crocodiles, which abound in these waters, fetch very high prices, particularly in the
Southeast Asian markets. Prospects of a good catch lure poachers from neighbouring
countries to the Andaman waters. Islands where poaching is rampant are Hut Bay,
Little Andaman, Interview, Kamorta, and Tilang Chong. Poaching is carried out both
by highly mechanised fishing trawlers owned by fishing firms in Malaysia, Thailand,
Taiwan, China and Indonesia and by poor fishermen from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
However, the security forces have only succeeded in apprehending the poor poach-
ers from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Poaching trawlers with sophisticated navigation
and communication systems have been by and large successful in dodging the Indian
security forces. Over the past few years the number of poachers apprehended has gone
up as the security forces have stepped up their vigil. Despite this, there has been no
noticeable reduction in the number of poachers entering the waters of these islands
(see Figure 1).
Several factors have contributed to the emergence of the Andaman and Nicobar
Islands as a magnet for poachers. Firstly, the fishing industry in the islands is under-
developed. In all, the islands have only 98 fishing villages with a population of 15,300
people. Of these, only 7,000 persons are engaged in fishing using traditional boats.20
The small scale of the enterprise offers ample scope for foreign fishermen to fish
without any competition. Secondly, the isolated and uninhabited islands serve as ideal
hideaways for poachers since the security forces find it extremely difficult to patrol all
these islands. And finally, the existing policy of detaining arrested poachers in camps,
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
350
400
450
500
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Feb-10
Year
No.of Poachers
Sri Lankan
Taiwanese
Myanmarese
Thai
Philippines
n
Indonesia
Chinese
Total
Figure 1. Foreign poachers apprehended.
Source: Andaman and Nicobar Police Headquarters.
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Strategic Analysis 469
Table 1. Present status of the apprehended foreign poachers.
Status/Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Feb-10
Repatriated 0 222 88 350 470 186 97 0
Escaped from camp 0 0 0 7300 0
Awaiting repatriation 0 0 0 0 0 400
In jail 100 0 1
564323+
Myanmarese +Thai
Source: Andaman and Nicobar Police Headquarters.
feeding them21 and then repatriating them to their home country in conformity with
international laws has taken away the element of deterrence. Most poachers come back
to fish in these waters after a year or so (See Table 1).
Illegal migration
Another security concern for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is the issue of illegal
settlements. Fishermen from Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Bangladesh continue
to temporarily squat on uninhabited islands and loot the marine and forest resources.
However, the number of illegal Bangladeshi settlers has been increasing over the years,
especially in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster. Rehabilitation work involving con-
struction required workers, who were brought by local contractors in large numbers
from the mainland, mainly from West Bengal. These workers were in fact Bangladeshi
citizens, who had entered India illegally.22 Though the stated policy is to send them
back after a project is completed, the dearth of construction labourers has meant
that instead of sending these workers back, contractors either retain them for other
projects or they are transferred to another contractor for re-employment. Thus, these
migrants continue to stay in the islands and settle there permanently. Similarly, people
from Myanmar are believed to be migrating and settling illegally mainly in northern
Andaman.23
The consequences of large-scale immigration into the ecologically fragile island
group with low carrying capacity can be extremely severe and create widespread socio-
economic tensions. In addition, a large floating population, especially around sensitive
instalments such as naval bases and jetties, poses serious security challenges. The pos-
sibility of some of the migrants indulging in illegal activities remains high, and they
are increasingly being reported.
Gun running and narcotics trade
The misuse of the Andaman Sea and various uninhabited islands of the archipelago for
drug trafficking and gun running remains another issue of grave concern. It is common
knowledge that the Andaman Sea has been a major conduit for arms smuggling and
drug trafficking. Drugs produced in the ‘Golden Triangle’, especially heroin produced
in Myanmar, are shipped to Western markets via the sea route and the money gener-
ated by the drugs trade is used to purchase arms and ammunition from Cambodia and
Thailand. These arms are then smuggled to Cox’s Bazaar through the Andaman Sea,
from where they are distributed clandestinely to various insurgent groups, in India and
Myanmar. The guns for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were routed via
the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
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470 Pushpita Das
In this undated handout photograph provided by the Indian Coast Guard, North Korean cargo ship
MV Mu San, left, is seen in Port Blair, India. India’s coast guard detained a ’suspicious’ North Korean
cargo ship after a six-hour chase off the country’s southeastern coast, but a preliminary search of the
vessel revealed it was carrying sugar and not illicit cargo. (AP Photo/Indian Coast Guard, HO)
The seizure of huge caches of arms and ammunition during various operations
in 1998 and 2001 brought to the fore the misuse of the Andaman Sea for gun run-
ning by insurgents and terrorists.24 Further, in April 2004, 10 truckloads of arms and
ammunition were seized at Chittagong. It was reported that the arms were purchased
from arms markets in Southeast Asian countries and were destined for India’s northeast
insurgents.25
Operations Leech and Poorab conducted in 1998 revealed that many islands of the
archipelago were used as sanctuaries or as trans-shipment bases by gun runners, terror-
ists and insurgents. Thick forested terrain, far-flung uninhabited islands and proximity
to insurgency-ravaged littoral states make the islands an ideal hideaway for insurgents.
Natural disasters
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The entire island chain is classified as seismic zone 5, indicating a high level of risk,
as was the case during the tsunami of 2004 which caused huge destruction of life
and property, especially in the Nicobar Islands. The huge sea waves, generated by
an earthquake of 9.1 magnitude, killed nearly 4,000 people and destroyed physical
infrastructure in the Nicobar Islands. Since then the archipelago has been intermittently
experiencing earthquakes.26 Proximity of the islands to Southeast Asia makes them
vulnerable to the outbreak of pandemics such as bird flu and severe acute respiratory
syndrome (SARS).
Securing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The security of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is the responsibility of the Andaman
and Nicobar Command (ANC), which was established on 1 October 2001 under
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Strategic Analysis 471
the command of Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar (CINCAN). The main
responsibility of the ANC is to defend the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, ensure that
the eastern approaches to the Indian Ocean remain free from threats, surveillance of
the EEZ and joint planning for contingencies and infrastructure planning.27
The ANC has been fulfilling these objectives by ensuring physical presence in the
area of interest, maintaining deterrence through maritime domain awareness (MDA),
conducting joint exercises, naval diplomacy and patrolling of the EEZ.28
The ANC has secured its presence in the island chain and the proximate waters by
suitably basing its assets on the two groups of islands. In the Andaman group of islands,
the ANC’s assets are concentrated mainly in Port Blair and Diglipur. Port Blair has a
10,000 ft long airfield, a brigade command with two and a half battalions, a protected
harbour, and logistics and maintenance facilities. Diglipur in North Andaman has a
coast guard station (DHQ-09) and an airstrip. Hut Bay has a coast guard station. An air
force base is located at Car Nicobar, a forward naval base (INS Kardip) has been set up
at Kamorta and a coast guard station (DHQ-10) and a naval air service station with an
airstrip has been established at Campbell Bay. The presence of these maritime units in
the Bay of Bengal enhances awareness of waters and demonstrates India’s commitment
towards protecting its interests in the region.
The creation of the MDA is yet another important task of the ANC. Inputs for the
MDA are generated by collecting information from various sources. Ships deployed
for sea patrols, Chetak and M18 helicopters, Dornier aircraft and Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles (UAVs) such as Searcher II and Heron for maritime reconnaissance gather
valuable information. Information thus collected, along with satellite imagery, has
contributed considerably towards improving MDA.29
Besides this, the ANC has been actively involved in naval diplomacy as it has the
‘unique responsibility, in consonance with India’s Look East policy, of reaching out to
the defence forces of India’s maritime neighbours and building bridges of friendship’.30
Milan hosted by the ANC is one such effort that showcases India’s growing political
and strategic influence in the Indian Ocean region.31 Milan has been effective in allay-
ing concerns of the Southeast Asian countries regarding India’s intents32 as well as
projecting India’s benign interests in the region. In fact, it has been contended that
because of the linkages established through Milan the Indian navy was able to provide
swift humanitarian assistance to neighbouring countries in the aftermath of the 2004
tsunami.33
The ANC has been conducting annual joint exercises and coordinated patrolling
with the objective of reinforcing deterrence, enhancing mutual understanding and
inter-operability between the various navies of the region.34 The ANC conducts the
Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX) with Singapore.35 Coordi-
nated patrolling is undertaken with Indonesia and Thailand.36 Bilateral and multilat-
eral exercises have been conducted with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan,
Australia and the United States in the Bay of Bengal. More recently, a proposal to
conduct joint marine commando exercises with Sri Lanka has been forwarded to the
government by the Indian navy.37
As stated earlier, poaching, illegal migration, narcotics and arms smuggling are
the recurring threats to the archipelago. The ANC has been involved in enforcement
of the rule of law at sea and has been conducting low intensity maritime operations
to address these problems. Though the army and navy periodically take part in such
internal security exercises, the policing of the coastal waters and the EEZ has been
assigned to the coast guard. One of the major activities of the coast guard are its
anti-poaching operations, which involve regular patrolling and anti-poaching exercises
such as Jwalamukhi and Dweep Raksha. For enhanced coastal surveillance, the coast
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472 Pushpita Das
Table 2. Foreign poachers apprehended by different agencies.
Agency/Year 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Navy 75 0 0 0 0 0 0
Army 281 40000
Coast guard 53 23 137 123 106 56 14
Police 59 38 216 328 77 53 21
Joint operation 7 26 0 23 12 13 0
Total 222 88 357 474 195 122 35
Source: Andaman and Nicobar Police Headquarters.
guard has installed eight radars in the island chain under Phase I, and 14 more planned
under Phase II.38 Sustained patrolling and increased vigilance have resulted in the
seizure of 176 poaching vessels and the arrest of 1,629 poachers by the coast guard
since 2000.39
Efforts of the coast guard to secure the coasts of the island chain are supplemented
by the Andaman and Nicobar marine police. Regular patrolling of shallow waters,
conducting anti-poaching exercises at regular intervals, checking and verification of
character, antecedents and registration of fishing dinghies are activities undertaken by
the marine police to prevent any illegal activities. Information and intelligence regard-
ing poaching are gathered from the fishermen. In addition, three quick reaction teams
of the India Reserve Battalion (IRBn) have been constituted and stationed at Port Blair,
Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay. The forest department of the Andaman and Nicobar
administration too conducts regular patrols to prevent poaching of marine and forest
resources. These initiatives of the marine police have been quite effective, especially in
apprehending foreign poachers. In 2007, out of 474 poachers apprehended by different
agencies, 328 poachers were apprehended by the police, and in 2009, 53 out of 122
poachers were arrested by the police (see Table 2).40
Security of the ports and harbours is important for protecting the islands. The
Andaman and Nicobar Islands have 23 ports and nine wharfs, handling both mil-
itary and civilian traffic and cargo such as food grain, cement, sand and liquefied
petroleum gas (LPG). Port Blair is designated as a major port. This port has been made
International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS) code compliant and the physical
security of the port is looked after by IRBn along with private security firms. Along
with Port Blair, three wharfs are also ISPS compliant.41
Challenges
Challenges to securing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands come from a variety of fac-
tors. Prominent among them are difficult topography, inadequate infrastructure and
manpower, lack of coordination, inefficient intelligence and underdevelopment.
Difficult topography coupled with remoteness makes the task of securing the
archipelago very difficult. The linear spread of the island chain includes nearly
1,960 km of highly indented coastline. The archipelago is also characterised by highly
scattered islands with great inter-island distances. Patrolling such a long coastline and
covering all the small creeks and bays is extremely difficult and a prolonged monsoon
accompanied by rough seas makes it even more so. Patchy patrolling and the resulting
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Strategic Analysis 473
gaps in surveillance are misused by criminals and anti-nationals. Troop movement is
also hampered by the rugged terrain and the thick forest cover.
A lack of infrastructure and manpower has also hampered the functioning of the
security forces. For instance, the island group has four airfields, of which only two are
geared for fighter planes and have night landing facilities. The airfields at Shibpur
and Campbell Bay are inadequate even for smaller cargo planes like the Dornier
and the AN-32, let alone fighter planes.42 The naval wing of the ANC does not
have major surface combatants among the warships that are permanently based at the
archipelago.43
Assets of the coast guard, which consist of six patrol vessels, one interceptor boat
and two inflatable boats along with two Dornier aircraft and two Chetak helicopters, are
inadequate considering the fact that the organisation has the responsibility of securing
six lakh sq. km of EEZ. Moreover, unavailability of a dedicated jetty and other com-
plementary services at Campbell Bay severely constrains functioning of the station. As
with every organisation, inadequate personnel strength adversely affects the efficiency
of the coast guard. In this case, the gap between the sanctioned and actual strengths is
quite high. The station at Diglipur functions with only three officers and 22 men, as
against the sanctioned strength of 12 officers and 123 men.
In the case of the marine police force, only 289 police personnel (executive and
technical) have been deployed under the Coastal Security Scheme, a number that is
woefully inadequate. Presently, most of the police stations in the island chain either do
not have any trained marine police personnel or have only a few.44 An inadequately
trained marine police force is yet another area of concern. The short training
programmes without a proper syllabus combined with different weapons used during
training and those actually available on the job have all contributed to the discontent
of the marine police. Because of these factors, the police are reluctant to shoulder
additional responsibilities of coastal security.45
As far as infrastructure is concerned, the marine police force has 48 boats, out of
which only 11 are speed and mechanised boats, while the rest are all rubberised boats
and wooden dinghies. Most police stations in the island chain do not possess proper
boats. One rubberised boast is shared by five police stations in the Nicobar group
of islands. The absence of proper boats compels the police force to deploy dinghies
with limited seafaring capabilities for patrolling purposes. In the process, surveillance
becomes a casualty.46
The lack of coordination between various security agencies is also an issue of con-
cern. Ironically, the ANC was established to ensure better coordination between the
four forces on the islands. Though it is claimed that the ANC has been successful in
providing a platform for the three services and the coast guard to interact and under-
stand each other’s ethos and modes of functioning for better coordination, in reality a
lot remains to be achieved. Coordination between the ANC, the police and the forest
department is also poor. While a joint operation centre has been set up at Port Blair, the
police do not have any direct interaction with it.47 The absence of standard operating
procedures (SOP) adds to the confusion. The obvious fallout of such poor coordination
is serious security lapses and unsuccessful joint operations.
Added to this is the issue of ineffective intelligence gathering. Fishermen are the
primary source of intelligence on poachers and smugglers. But because of poor means
of communication, especially along the western side of the archipelago,48 informa-
tion is received after a delay of a few days, mostly when fishermen return to the
shore. Responding to delayed intelligence does not yield any results. Collection of
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474 Pushpita Das
intelligence is grossly insufficient as only a handful of fishermen venture out in
the sea, leaving vast areas uncovered. Moreover, most fishermen do not possess any
communication equipment such as mobile phones or wireless sets, making it difficult
for them to relay any information to the security forces from the sea.
The greatest challenge to the security of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is,
however, pervasive underdevelopment. The economy of the islands is characterised
by a stagnant primary sector and declining industrial activity. Per capita income has
remained stagnant since 1993 and labour productivity has declined. Transportation
and communication infrastructure is underdeveloped. Inter-island connectivity and
connectivity with the mainland remains poor. Despite being rich in natural resources
and scenic beauty, a lack of foresight, a diffused approach and excessive rules and
regulations have hampered the overall development of the archipelago.49
At present, only 5.62 per cent of the land is available for development as almost 90
per cent of the land is covered under notified or deemed forests. Most of the available
land has been designated as revenue land and hardly any land can be acquired for future
development. Establishment of defence assets and enlargement of existing bases, con-
struction of transportation and communication networks, housing for civil and military
people, construction of an international trans-shipment terminal at Campbell Bay, etc.,
are not considered feasible because of the paucity of land.50
Way forward
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have hitherto received little attention from the
policymakers and military planners. At best, this archipelago has been looked upon
as a vulnerable and distant outpost requiring constant maintenance and protection
from the mainland. This mindset is beginning to change with the rise of India as a
vibrant economic and military power. In commensuration with its economic growth,
India’s security perimeter is also expanding. The region from the Persian Gulf in
the west to the Strait of Malacca in the east is now perceived to be India’s strategic
space. Safeguarding India’s maritime interests by projecting its power in the Indian
Ocean, preventing extra-regional powers from intervening in the region, protecting the
vital sea lines of communication and choke points remain a vital task for the Indian
navy.
In this regard, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are increasingly being seen as a
strategic asset. The vision is to transform the island group into a formidable forward
base capable not only of defending itself and the Indian coastline, but of deterring
extra-regional powers.
Concerted efforts are being made by the government to plug the infrastructural gaps
for enhancing surveillance, air defence and coastal security. The Indian navy has been
engaged in developing ‘longer sea legs’ in consonance with its wide-ranging military
and diplomatic role. In this regard, it is ‘preparing to supplement its existing 136 vessel
force, which includes 65 combatants, 40 coastal ships and 26 auxiliaries, with around
42 additional vessels’,51 some of which will be deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar
Islands. The recently acquired INS Jalashwa (USS Trenton)52 has been stationed in
the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Given the geographical configuration of the island
chain, the establishment of amphibious warfare training and ‘basing a sea-and-land
fighting unit to provide teeth to its capability to take the battle into enemy shores’ is
also in the pipeline.53
Plans are also afoot for building two air bases at Shibpur and Campbell Bay.
For this the airstrips have to be lengthened and night operation facilities have to be
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Strategic Analysis 475
installed to enable them to operate all types of aircraft round the clock. There is also a
proposal to station Sukhoi squadrons and install radars for aerial and ground surveil-
lance. Speculations of increasing the current strength of the army unit from a brigade
to a division (15,000 personnel) have been quite widespread. However, at present no
such plans appear to be sanctioned.54
A proposal for establishing additional coast guard stations at Havelock and Ranggat
to enhance its surveillance capability has also been forwarded. The coast guard has also
asked for additional manpower and ships. The marine police, on its part, have com-
pleted a vulnerability analysis and have forwarded a plan for implementation under
CSS Phase II. It has proposed the acquisition of 10 offshore vessels and 23 inflat-
able boats along with the establishment of 23 check posts and three watch towers. The
creation of 2,245 additional posts has also been proposed. For enhancing communica-
tion, a proposal for providing very high frequency (VHF) wireless sets to fishermen
for quick transmission of information has been forwarded to the concerned author-
ities. Significantly, the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has agreed to erect
communication towers along the western coast of the island chain.
Besides the development of infrastructure, it is imperative to address the grey areas
that hamper the effective functioning of the security forces. Firstly, better coordination
between various security agencies, especially between the coast guard, police and for-
est department, has to be ensured. It is important that an MDA be created among them
and the SOP be standardised at the earliest. Added to this, the intelligence gathering
processes should be made effective and streamlined. Both HUMINT (human intelli-
gence) and ELINT (electronic intelligence) have to be strengthened. Clarity in policy
planning has to be ensured to mitigate any confusion. For instance, overall maritime
security is the responsibility of the ministry of defence (MOD), whereas coastal secu-
rity is handled by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) leading to confusion over issues
of grants, responsibilities and coordination.
Above all, a holistic development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has to be
undertaken. Tourism can act as a catalyst for the development of the islands. For this,
inter- and intra-island connectivity has to be improved. More islands could be desig-
nated as tourist destinations and infrastructure could be developed accordingly. The
industrial sector, particularly the fishing industry, should be developed, which will
contribute greatly towards reducing poaching in the island waters. Given the location
of Campbell Bay along the major shipping route, the island could be developed as
a bunkering facility to serve marine traffic. In terms of India’s ‘Look East’ policy,
since the archipelago is situated in the Bay of Bengal, Port Blair can be promoted as
the possible headquarters of the Bay of Bengal Initiative of Multi-Sectoral Technical
and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).55 However, development of the archipelago
should be undertaken within the framework of sustainable development, keeping in
mind the fragility of the region’s ecology. A secure and prosperous Andaman and
Nicobar Islands acting as a forward base would be a great strategic asset for the country.
Notes
1. Robert D. Kaplan, ‘Center Stage for the Twenty-First Century: Power Plays in the Indian
Ocean’, Fore i g n A f f a i r s , March–April 2009, p. 20.
2. K.M. Panikkar, India and the Indian Ocean:An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian
History, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1945, p. 93.
3. ‘Navy Augments Anti-Piracy Efforts, Deploys One More Ship to Patrol off Seychelles and
Mauritius’, Press Information Bureau, 23 November 2009, at http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.
aspx?relid=54375 (accessed 30 April 2010).
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476 Pushpita Das
4. Situated in the Bay of Bengal and spread over 700 km between 6and 14north latitude and 92
and 94east longitude, in a north-south alignment, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprise
572 islands, islets and rocks with a total area of 8,249 sq. km. Of these 572 islands, only 37 are
inhabited with a total population of 356,152 persons (2001 census). The two main island groups,
Andaman and Nicobar, are separated from each other by the Ten Degree Channel (90 nautical
miles wide). The Andaman group of islands includes North Andaman, Middle Andaman, South
Andaman, and Little Andaman. The Nicobar group of islands consists of, among others, Car
Nicobar, Tarasa, Katchall, Little Nicobar and Great Nicobar. The British occupied the Andaman
group of islands in 1789 but, because of the unfavourable climate, abandoned them in 1796.
In 1858, the British again gained control of the islands and established a penal colony. The
Nicobar Islands were occupied in 1869. Prior to the British, the Nicobar Islands were under
Dutch control from 1758 to 1869. During World War II, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
were occupied by the Japanese between 1942 and 1945. For a brief period of time (21 March
1944 to 7 October 1945), the Islands were under the nominal authority of Arzi Hukumat Azad
Hind of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. After independence, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
were incorporated into the Indian Union and declared a union territory in 1956.
5. G.S. Khurana, ‘Shaping Security in India’s Maritime East: Role of Andaman and Nicobar’,
Strategic Analysis, 30(1), 2006, p. 171.
6. D.N. Christie, India’s Naval Strategy and the Role of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,
Working Paper No. 291, Strategic and Defence Studies Center, Canberra, 1995, p. 19.
7. G.S. Khurana, no. 5.
8. Rahul Roy Choudhury, ‘The Role of the Navy in Indian Security Policy’, Contemporary South
Asia, 2(2), 1993, p. 155.
9. Chandra Kumar, ‘The Indian Ocean: Arc of Crisis or Zone of Peace?’ International Affairs,
60(2), 1984, p. 240.
10. ‘Enhancing India-ASEAN Trade’, Confederation of Indian Industries, January 2005, p. 1.
Also see ‘Export-Import Data Bank’, Department of Commerce, Government of India, at
http://commerce.nic.in (accessed 27 April 2010).
11. G.S. Khurana, no. 5, p. 171.
12. Chris Devonshire-Ellis, ‘China’s String of Pearls Strategy’, China Briefing, 18 March
2009, at http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2009/03/18/china%E2%80%99s-string-of-
pearls-strategy.html (accessed 28 April 2010). Also see Robert Karniol, ‘New Base is Boost
to Naval Power’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 12 September 1992, p. 31.
13. ‘Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power’, New York Times, April 24, 2010, at
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/world/asia/24Navy.html (accessed 11 June 2010). For
related topic, see A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics, August 2009, at http://www.
fas.org/irp/agency/oni/pla-navy.pdf (accessed 8 March 2011).
14. Robert Karniol, no. 12. Also see ‘Coco Islands’, global security.org,athttp://www.
globalsecurity.org/intell/world/china/coco.htm (accessed 10 June 2010).
15. In October 2005, the Chief of Naval Staff confirmed that there were no listening posts on Great
Coco Island. Andrew Selth, ‘Burma, China and the Myth of Military Bases’, Asian Survey, 3(3),
2007, p. 279. For more denials, see ‘There Are No Bases in Indian Ocean: Menon’, expressbuzz,
11 September 2009, at http://expressbuzz.com/finance/Business/no-chinese-bases-in-indian-
ocean-menon/102488.html (accessed 10 June 2010).
16. Author’s interview with military personnel at Port Blair and Car Nicobar, February 22–
March 4, 2010. Also see Harsh Pant, ‘Many in Denial over China’s Quest for Naval Bases’,
The Japan Times, February 10, 2010, at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo201002
12a1.html (accessed 10 June 2010).
17. V.K. Shasikumar, ‘Beware of the Dragon’, Tehelka, 18 December 2004, at http://www.
tehelka.com/story_main9.asp?filename=Ne121804Beware_of.asp (accessed 10 June 2010).
18. Swaran Singh, ‘China’s Indian Ocean Policy’, Journal of Indian Ocean Studies, 8(1&2), 2000,
pp. 76–77.
19. ‘Sub-conventional threats a cause of worry: army’, Indian Express, 1 March 2006, at http://
www.expressindia.com/news/hellstory.php?newsid=63654 (accessed 8 March 2011).
20. Of the 3,112 registered fishing boats, 1,620 are traditional craft and 61 are mechanised. Data
gathered from coast guard regional headquarters, Port Blair, 24 February 2010.
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Strategic Analysis 477
21. Presently, Rs. 120 is being spent on food and lodging for each arrested poacher. Given the
number of poachers arrested every year by the security forces, the budget for hosting these
poachers runs into lakhs – an unnecessary drain on the islands’ exchequer.
22. These workers, however, claim that they are from West Bengal. They even carry valid Indian
identity cards.
23. There is, however, a legal Burmese (Karens) settlement in and around Mayabunder in North
Andaman. These people were settled there in 1925 during the British rule and issued with
Burmese residential permits. They continue to maintain strong cultural ties with their parent
country.
24. On February 11, 1998, Operation Leech was launched by the Indian army in the Andaman
and Nicobar Islands. During the operation, the Andaman Sea, used as a conduit for the trans-
shipment of arms and ammunition, was blocked. That led to the confiscation of a large quantity
of arms and ammunition and the arrest and killing of many cadres of the Arakan army and
the Karen National Unity. Again, on 31 May 1998, two Thai vessels carrying 50 kg of heroin
near Narcondam Island were seized during Operation Poorab. In February 2001, the Indian
navy intercepted a shipment of weapons, ammunition and explosives believed to be meant for
the LTTE off the Sri Lankan east coast. Ramesh Chandra (ed.), Global Terrorism: A Threat to
Humanity, Vol. 6 (Terrorism in India), Kalpaz Publications, New Delhi, 2004, p. 178.
25. Haroon Habib, ‘A Deadly Cargo’, Frontline, 21(10), 2004, at http://www.thehindu.com/
fline/fl2110/stories/20040521000206100.htm (accessed 10 June 2010). Also see ‘CID Gets
Time Till March 22 to Probe Chittagong Arms Haul Case’, The Daily Star, 4 January
2010, at http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/latest_news.php?nid=21470 (accessed 10
June 2010).
26. ‘Powerful Earthquake Rattles Andaman and Nicobar Islands’, livemint, 13 June 2010,
at http://www.livemint.com/2010/06/13114654/Powerful-quake-rattles-Andaman.html?d=2
(accessed 24 June 2010).
27. Vice Admiral Arun Prakash (retd.), ‘Evolution of Joint Andaman and Nicobar Command
(ANC) and Defence of Our Island Territories (Part II)’, USI Journal, 133(551), 2003, pp.
31–32.
28. Admiral Arun Prakash (retd.), From the Crow’s Nest: A Compendium of Speeches and Writings
on Maritime Issues, Lancer, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 104–105.
29. MDA is generated by arriving at a composite picture of the maritime traffic as well as of the
deployment and operating patterns of various naval forces. Such a picture provides early warn-
ing by tracking any deviations from the normal, thereby preparing the security forces for a
quick response to any eventuality. Author’s interview with senior naval officer at Port Blair on
4 March 2010.
30. To quote CINCAN Air Marshal P.P. Raj Kumar. ‘Andaman Military Base Gears for
Energy Security Role’, India e-news, 23 March 2007, at http://www.indiaenews.com/
india/20070323/44468.htm (accessed 24 June 2010).
31. Milan is a biennial gathering of the navies of the Indian Ocean Region with the purpose
of promoting regional cooperation and mutual understanding on maritime issues of com-
mon concern. The event focuses on naval exercises and search and rescue (SAR) operations
with the aim of establishing interoperability with the participating navies. The importance of
Milan can also be gauged from the fact that 13 countries participated in Milan 2010 –held
from 3–6 February 2010 at Port Blair – making it the largest gathering since its inception
in 1995. ‘Milan Exercise Concludes with Passage Exercise’, The Hindu, 9 February 2010, at
http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article103300.ece (accessed 24 June 2010).
32. Southeast Asian countries in general and Indonesia in particular were apprehensive of the
Indian navy’s modernisation plans in the 1980s. Indonesia believed that by establishing bases
at Andaman and Nicobar, India was trying to extend its ‘policeman role to the east’. Thailand,
Malaysia and Singapore had started preparing themselves to counter India’s so-called power
projection. For more details see Kripa Sridharan, The ASEAN Region in India’s Foreign Policy,
Darmouth, Aldershot, 1996.
33. ‘Milan Meet Convened by the Indian Navy’, Press Bureau of India, 24 February 2010, at
http://www.pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=58284 (accessed 24 June 2010).
34. ‘Indian Navy and Indonesian Navy to Conduct Two Weeks of Coordinated Patrol from
18 Oct 09’, Press Information Bureau, October 16, 2009, at http://pib.nic.in/release/
release.asp?relid=53231 (accessed 24 June 2010).
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478 Pushpita Das
35. SIMBEX has graduated from being an anti-submarine warfare exercise in 1994 to a
complex multidimensional exercise encompassing multifarious sea operations. The 17th
SIMBEX was held in April 2010. ‘Singapore and Indian Navies Conduct Bilateral
Maritime Exercise’, Ministry of Defence, Government of Singapore, 16 April 2010, at
http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/news_and_events/nr/2010/apr/16apr10_nr.html (acces-
sed 24 June 2010).
36. The ANC conducts coordinated joint patrolling with Indonesia codenamed ‘Ind-Indo Corpat’.
The first Ind-Indo Corpat was conducted in October 2002 and since then 15 rounds of
joint patrolling have been carried out along the India-Indonesia maritime boundary, the last
being in March 2010. ‘Indian, Indonesian Navies Sync Patrols’, Stratpost, 22 March 2010,
at http://www.stratpost.com/indian-indonesian-navies-coordinate-patrols (accessed 24 June
2010).
37. ‘India-Lanka Joint Exercise Proposed’, Asian Tribune, 15 June 2010, at http://www.
asiantribune.com/news/2010/06/15/india-lanka-joint-Navy-exercises-proposed (accessed 24
June 2010).
38. Author’s interview with senior coast guard official at Port Blair, 23 February 2010.
39. Data provided by coast guard headquarters at Port Blair, 23 February 2010.
40. Information provided by police headquarters, Port Blair during the field visit from 22 February
to 4 March 2010.
41. Author’s interviews with Director Shipping and Harbour Master at Port Blair on 23 February
and 4 March 2010.
42. Author’s personal observation and interviews with naval and coast guard officials at Campbell
Bay and Diglipur, 26 February and 2 March 2010.
43. ‘India to Plug Gaps in Security of Andaman and Nicobar Islands’, DNA India, 8 February
2010, at http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_india-to-plug-gaps-in-security-of-andaman-
and-nicobar-islands_1345128 (accessed 20 April 2010).
44. For example, the police station at Diglipur does not have any marine police force. Author’s
interview with senior coast guard personnel at Diglipur; also author’s personal observation at
Diglipur, 2 March 2010; author’s interview with station-in-charge, Chatham police station, Port
Blair, 24 February 2010.
45. Author’s interview with police officials at Port Blair, 22 February–4 March 2010. Ironically,
the concept of a marine police force as recommended by the Group of Ministers’ Report on
National Security was inspired by the marine police force of the Andaman and Nicobar islands,
which was established in 1957.
46. Author’s interview with senior police official at Car Nicobar, 25 February 2010.
47. Author’s interview with senior police official at Port Blair, 23 February 2010.
48. The eastern coast of the Andaman and Nicobar islands has settlements whereas the western
coast is declared as reserved forest. Hence, means of communication are well developed only
along the eastern coast whereas the western coast does not have any mobile towers.
49. Andaman and Nicobar Development Report, Planning Commission of India, New Delhi,
2008, p. 23.
50. Vivek Rae, ‘Benchmarking of A&N Islands with Reference to Other Islandic States’, Security
and Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, seminar proceedings, 4–5 September 2009,
p. 54.
51. Rahul Bedi, ‘Force of Reckoning: India Bulks up Its Maritime Muscle’, Jane’s Navy
International, June 2008, p. 27.
52. ‘INS Jalashwa Commissioned’, The Hindu, 23 June 2007, at http://www.hindu.com/2007/
06/23/stories/2007062350511300.htm (accessed 25 June 2010).
53. ‘Andaman and Nicobar to Become a Major Amphibious Warfare Base’, DNA India, February 8,
2010, at http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_andaman-and-nicobar-to-become-a-major-
amphibious-warfare-base_1345123 (accessed 25 June 2010).
54. Author’s interview with senior air force and army official at Car Nicobar and Port Blair, 25
February and 4 March 2010.
55. Shyam Saran, ‘India’s Foreign Policy and Andaman and Nicobar Islands’, Security and
Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, seminar proceedings, 4–5 September 2009,
p. 114.
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... On the contrary, India is also developing its own infrastructure, projecting connectivity initiatives, and establishing its own sub-regional development cooperation for economic, defense, and strategic relations with the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean countries Islam, 2013). Das (2011) has explained on the need of development of armed infrastructures in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and how these may provide India with protected position in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The paper will, thus, explore the nature of the strategic competition of the two countries in the Bay of Bengal region, and will determine the reasons for regional cooperation (Das, 2011& Islam, 2013. ...
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Over the past 20 years what had long been seen as a peaceful 'British lake' has turned into an arena of confrontation. Competing strategic and commercial interests have led to a rapid arms build-up. The article reviews the political developments which have contributed to the transformation. If the Indian Ocean states could establish greater cooperation among themselves, they might influence the major powers to relinquish their lucrative arms industry and achieve a zone of peace. -J.Robertson
Article
Complex and amorphous threats confront India's security environment in its maritime East. India has very high stakes in the Bay of Bengal and its adjoining seas. The confluence of vital sea lines makes this region one of great strategic relevance to other powers as well. This translates into both challenges and opportunities for India. The Andaman & Nicobar archipelago had long been perceived as India's key vulnerability due to its remote location and a history of some of its islands 'slipping away' from the Indian dominion. Such wariness may be unfounded in the present times. Appropriate measures have been taken to strengthen its defence. The island chain can now play a greater role towards securing India's vital interests in the East beyond merely protecting itself. To achieve this, India needs to adopt a two-fold approach – first, augment its intrinsic capabilities, and second, actively engage its maritime neighbours.
India's Naval Strategy and the Role of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Working Paper No. 291, Strategic and Defence Studies Center
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Confederation of Indian Industries Also see 'Export-Import Data Bank', Department of Commerce, Government of India
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