The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are two groups of islands in the Indian Ocean, extending approximately 970 km (600 mi) N – S and lying about 640 km (400 mi) W of both the Tenasserim coast of Myanmar and peninsular Thailand. Their total area is 8,293 sq km (3,202 sq mi); their population was estimated to exceed 188,000 in the mid-1990s. These islands together form a union territory with its capital at Port Blair. The legal system is under the jurisdiction of the high court of Calcutta.
The Andaman Islands extend more than 354 km (220 mi) between 10° and 14° N and 92°12′ and 94°17′ E . Of the 204 islands in the group, the three largest are North, Middle, and South Andaman; since these are separated only by narrow inlets, they are often referred to together as Great Andaman. Little Andaman lies to the south.
The Nicobars extend south from the Andamans between 10° and 6° N and 92°43′ and 93°57′ E . Of the 19 islands, Car Nicobar, 121 km (75 mi) S of Little Andaman, holds more than half the total population; the largest, Great Nicobar, 146 km (91 mi) NW of Sumatra, is sparsely populated.
The Andamans were occupied by the British in 1858, the Nicobars in 1869; sporadic settlements by British, Danish, and other groups were known previously. During World War II (1939–45), the islands were occupied by Japanese forces. They became a union territory in 1956. That same year, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Act came into force; this act, designed to protect the primitive tribes that live in the islands, prohibited outsiders from carrying on trade or industry in the islands without a special license. Six different tribes live in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the largest being the Nicobarese. There are lesser numbers of Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, Sentinalese, and Shompens in the dependency. Access to tribal areas is prohibited.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. The principal crops are rice and coconuts; some sugarcane, fruits, and vegetables are also grown. There is little industry other than a sawmill and plywood and match factories, but the government is making plans to promote tourism in the islands. These plans include the construction of a 1,000-bed hotel, a casino, and duty-free shopping facilities in Port Blair.
The union territory of Lakshadweep consists of the Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands, a scattered group of small coral atolls and reefs in the Arabian Sea between 10° and 13° N and 71°43′ and 73°43′ E and about 320 km (200 mi) W of Kerala state. Their total area is about 32 sq km (12 sq mi). Minicoy, southernmost of the islands, is the largest.
In the mid-1990s, the population of Lakshadweep was estimated to exceed 40,000. The inhabitants of the Laccadives and Amindivis are Malayalam-speaking Muslims; those on Minicoy are also Muslim, but speak a language similar to Sinhalese. The islanders are skilled fishermen and trade their marine products and island-processed coir in the Malabar ports of Kerala. The main cottage industry is coir spinning. Politically, these islands were under the control of the state of Madras until 1956. The present territorial capital is at Kavaratti. Judicial affairs are under the jurisdiction of the high court of Kerala.