Great Nicobar Plan Advances

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    Recently, the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) has flagged serious concerns about NITI Aayog’s project for Great Nicobar Island and has recommended it for grant of Terms of Reference (TOR) for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies.

    • The EAC was responding to a pre-feasibility report, ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, prepared for the NITI Aayog by the Gurugram-based consulting agency Aecom India Private Limited.

    About the Project

    • It was piloted by the NITI Aayog to leverage the strategic location and natural features of the island and also for the holistic and sustainable vision for Great Nicobar.
    • It includes an international container transhipment terminal, a greenfield international airport, a power plant and a township complex spread over 166 sq. km. (mainly pristine coastal systems and tropical forests), and is estimated to cost Rs. 75,000 crores.
    • The proposal is pivoted along with three development zones.
      • Zone 1: 102 sq km will be the financial district and medi-city; include an aerocity; a tourism and hospital district.
      • Zone 2: 85 sq km of a pristine forest; leisure zone; film city; a residential district and a tourism Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
      • Zone 3: 52 sq km of a pristine forest; a nature zone, further categorised into an exclusive forest resort, nature healing district and a nature retreat, on the western coast.
    • It is significant in terms of enhanced connectivity, economical benefits, social development and geopolitical and strategic benefits.
    • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) has been made the nodal agency.
      • ANIIDCO, the Port Blair project proponent, is a government undertaking involved in activities such as tourism, trading and infrastructure development.
    • In January 2021, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) denotified the entire Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to allow for the port there and an Environment Ministry Expert Committee approved a “zero extentEcologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) for the Galathea National Park to allow the use of land.

    (Image Courtesy: MOI)

    Concerns Highlighted

    • Structural Concerns
      • The vision document has maps without explanations and uses inappropriate photographs plagiarised from the Internet.
      • There is no mention of the geological vulnerability of the place, which was amongst the worst-affected in the earthquake-tsunami combination in 2004.
      • West Bay on the western coast is secluded and difficult to reach with lack of good connectivity with the Indian mainland and global cities.
    • Ecological Concerns
      • It de-reserves 32 per cent of the reserved forest.
        • Some 640 sq km of the island is Reserve Forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
      • West Bay on the western coast is one of the most important nesting sites of the Giant Leatherback turtle
      • The area is vulnerable to seismic and tsunami hazards.
      • Large diversion of forest land would cause obvious environmental loss leading to irreversible damage to the rich flora and fauna.
      • Habitats of various wild animals including endangered sea turtles would be affected.
    • Sociological Concerns
      • The key factor is the presence of indigenous tribes and concerns for their welfare.
      • The plan de-notifies 138 sq km or 31% of the tribal reserve and suggests the relocation of tribes to other parts of the island.

    Suggestions

    • Keeping in mind the complex ecological, social and geological vulnerabilities, the area is needed to be protected from ecological, environmental and biodiversity points of view.
    • The existing protected area network in Great Nicobar should be expanded for the protection of Megapode which is not covered under the area yet.
      • Megapodes, also known as incubator birds or mound-builders, are stocky, medium-large, chicken-like birds with small heads and large feet in the family Megapodiidae.
      • It is a globally endangered bird unique to the Nicobars.
    • More emphasis needs to be given to the official Shompen Policy of 2015 which noted that the welfare and integrity of these people should be given priority with regard to large-scale development proposals and these should be taken care of.
    • There is a need to factor in issues of the geological volatility of these islands and a need for studies of alternative sites for the port.
    • The NITI Aayog vision document itself should be re-examined for the rationale behind it and the processes under it.
    • ANIIDCO should disclose details about its corporate environmental policy, a prescribed standard operating procedure to deal with environmental and forest violations and a compliance management system.
    Environment Appraisal Committee

    • It is an Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
      • EACs exist at the Union as well as state levels (state expert appraisal committee or SEAC) to advise the government on environmental clearance of development projects.
    • The role of EAC is integral to the process of granting environmental clearance to development projects.
    • According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, evaluation of proposals involves four steps: screening, scoping, public hearing and appraisal

    Giant Leatherback Turtle

    • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea.
    • Features
      • They are named for their shell, which is leather-like rather than hard, like other turtles.
      • They are the largest sea turtle species and also one of the most migratory, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
    • Distribution: Wide across the oceans and in India, Galathea Bay is an iconic nesting site.
    • Threats: Intense egg collection and fisheries bycatch.
    • Protection Status
      • IUCN Red List: Vulnerable (global).
        • Many subpopulations (such as in the Pacific and Southwest Atlantic) are Critically Endangered.
      • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I.

    (Image Courtesy: WWF)

    Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

    • It was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1997.
    • It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and has one of the best-preserved tropical rainforests in the world.
    • India’s National Marine Turtle Action Plan has listed Galathea Bay as one of the ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’ and ‘Important Marine Turtle Habitats’ in the country.
    • It is also included in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-I, the zone with maximum protection.
    • Ecological surveys in the last few years have reported a number of new species, many restricted to just the Galathea region.
      • These include the critically endangered Nicobar shrew, the Great Nicobar crake, the Nicobar frog, the Nicobar cat snake, a new skink (Lipinia sp), a new lizard (Dibamus sp,) and a snake of the Lycodon sp that is yet to be described.

    National Board for Wildlife

    • It is the apex body in India for all wildlife-related matters, responsible for the promotion of wildlife conservation and the development of wildlife and forests.
    • It is a statutory body constituted in 2003, under Section 5A of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
      • It replaced the Indian Board for Wildlife, an advisory board formed in 1952.
    • It is an advisory board and approves projects in and around environmentally protected areas.
    • It is chaired by the Prime Minister.
    • Under the provisions of the 1972 Act, it can constitute Standing Committees.

    Source: TH