Mauritius could hand over 2 islands to India

Location of Agalega (Source: Wikimedia)

Financial Express | Oct 14, 2010

Rajat Guha

New Delhi: India and Mauritius have resumed discussions over a proposal to hand over the twin islands of Agalega in the Indian Ocean to India either on long-lease or by perpetual ceding of control. The Mauritius-held islands with a total area of 24 sq km or 2,400 hectares (the official figure is much higher at 70 sq km) is seen as ideal for development as a tourist destination by India, which is closer to it than the African country which is 1,100 km south of it.

According to sources privy to the talks, the idea is to let Indian corporates develop hotels and resorts and upgrade the existing airstrip into an airport. The land could also be used for agriculture and other strategic purposes by India.

The two countries had briefly discussed the matter about five years ago, but the talks fell apart due to lack of full political support in Mauritius.

If India gets rights over the Agalega islands, it will mark a move towards the country having a footprint on another Indian Ocean island. Currently, New Delhi governs Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Pamban island on the eastern Indian Ocean and Lakshadweep in the western part. Australia, France, Malaysia and Indonesia are other countries controlling islands in the Ocean. The US owns Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which is used as a large military base.

Agalega has two islands —North and South Agalega—which are over 1,100 km from Mauritius. According to sources, if the islands are handed over to it, India might develop one of them to start with.

Private participation is needed to develop the island as the cost of developing it into a premium tourist destination would set back the Mauritius government by a substantial amount.

Official statistics say the two islands have a combined land area of around 70 sq km, but the actual area is much less.

Sources added that given the nature of Mauritian politics, it could still be an uphill task before a formal handover. The island nation's politics is built around balancing the interests of various ethnic communities such as the Francophone Creoles and the Indo-Mauritians. Creoles have a serious objection to the deal. At present, people travel to the islands at their own risk, for which an undertaking is insisted upon.

Agalega is a two-island dependency of Mauritius in the western Indian Ocean. Copra and coconut oil are produced and exported, and some poultry and cattle are raised and vegetables grown for subsistence. The principal villages are Vingt Cinq on North and Sainte Rita on South. There are few roads motor vehicles.

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