6. LAKSHADWEEP The Laccadives, Minicoy and Amindivi group of islands were renamed as Lakshadweep in 1973. Lakshadweep, a group of coral islands consist of 12 atolls, three reefs and submerged sand banks. Of the 27 islands, only 11 are inhabited. These lie scattered in the Arabian Sea about 280 km to 480 km off Kerala coast between 8° and 12° 3' North Latitude and 71° and 74° East Longitude. It has a total area of32 sq km with a total population of 60,650. Kavaratti is the capital city and the principal languages are Jeseri (Dweep Bhasha) and Mahal
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY
Not much is known about the early history of these islands. The islands that were supposed to have been inhabited first are Amini, Andrott, Kavaratti, and Agatti. It was earlier believed that the islanders were originally Hindus, and later converted to Islam under the influence of Arab traders, sometime in the 14th century. But Archaeological evidences unearthed indicate that there were Buddhist settlements around the 6th or 7th century. Earliest Muslim converts or settlers pre-date the year 139 AH of the Hijra year (eighth century), of which period grave stones have recently been discovered in Agatti. This would tend to bear out the traditional belief that Islam was brought to the Island by Arab Saint, Ubaidulla in 41 AH. Probably independent till 16th century, the Islands were driven to seek the assistance of Raja of Chirakal to help them avert establishment of Portuguese domination. This enabled him to establish his authority, and later, the islands were transferred in jagir to Ali Raja, head of Moplah community in Cannanore, who later became an independent ruler himself. The Arakkal rule was not popular and in 1787, Tipu Sultan acceded to the petitions of the Northern islands to annex these islands. After the fall of Tipu Sultan, the Islands were passed to East India Company, but continued to be ruled de facto by the rulers of Cannanore, till their ultimate annexation by the British in the early 20th century. In 1956, the islands were constituted into a single territory, and since then, have been directly administered by the Union Government through an Administrator.
Coconut is the only major crop with a production of 553 lakh nuts per year. The area under cultivation is about 2,669 hectares. Lakshadweep coconut is branded as an organic product. In India, Lakshadweep stands first in coconut production, and productivity per hector is 19,667 per ha, and average yield per palm per year is 97 nuts. The Lakshadweep coconuts are the highest oil content nuts in the world (82 per cent).
Fishing is another major activity. The sea around the island is highly productive. The islands stand first in the country in per capita availability of fish.
Coconut fibre extraction and conversion of its fibre products is the main industry in the islands. Under Government Sector, there are seven coir fibre factories, seven coir production cum demonstration centers, and four fibre curling units, functioning under coir sector. These units produce coir fibre and coir yarn in addition to other coir products like curled fibre, corridor mat, mat and mattings. Small coir units are also functioning under private sector in different islands.
At present various ferries like M.V. Sultan, M.V. Bharat Seema, M.V. Dweep Setu, M.V. Amindivi and M.V. Minicoy handles the passenger traffic in mainland-island and interisland sector. Two inter-island ferry vessels M.V. Khadeeja Beevi and M.V. Hameedath Bee Provide connectivity between the Islands except Minicoy island with Kavaratti as base port. The cargo traffic in this sector are handled with four cargo harges namely M.V. Ubaidulla, M.V. Thinnakara, M.V. Lacadives and M.V. Cheriyam. Further one Oil Barge M.V. Suheli (60 MT) is being utilised for providing bunker to inter-island ferries. Besides, the Administration operates an ambulance helicopter service between the islands and to mainland and Indian Airlines connects Agatti island and Kochi daily except Sundays. The 15 years Perspective Plan for shipping requirements in UTL approved by the Ministry of Shipping. Government of India has recommended for acquisition of 3x150 passenger high speed vessels, 2x250 passenger cum 100 Mt Cargo ships, one 100/150 MT Oil Barge, one LPG cylinder ship, eight Landing Barges, one 400 passenger ship and two Bullard Tugs. Further the Government of India has also sanctioned 3x50 passenger and one 15 passenger high sped inter-island fries under PMGSY scheme. Out of the above Administration has placed construction orders for 3x150 passenger, 3x50 passenger and one 15 passenger high speed vessels and one 10T Bullard Tug. The Bullard Tug has been delivered on 9 May 2006 and and will be put in operation shortly. The 15 passenger and 150 passenger vessels are to be delivered by June 2006, November 2006 and February 2007 respectively. As recommended in the Perspective Plan it is proposed to acquire 2x250 passenger vessels, six Landing barges, one 150 MT Oil barge, one Bullard Tug and one LPG cylinder ship duirng 2006-07 and 400 Passenger ship and two Landing Barges during 2007-08
Tourism in Lakshadweep is developing into an important industry. Important tourist places are Agatti, Bangaram, Kalpeni, Kadmat, Kavaratti and Minicoy, etc.