Development Project on the Great Nicobar Island

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    • Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change gave environmental clearance for the development project on the Great Nicobar Island. 
      • The port is expected to be commissioned by 2027–28. 

    More about the news

    • The development project consists of:
      • A “greenfield city” has been proposed
      • An International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), 
      • A greenfield international airport, 
      • A power plant, and 
      • A township for the personnel who will implement the project.
    • Infrastructure management:
      • The port will be controlled by the Indian Navy.
      • The airport will have dual military-civilian functions and will cater to tourism as well. 
      • Roads, public transport, water supply and waste management facilities, and several hotels have been planned to cater to tourists.
    • Total island area under the project:
      • A total 166.1 sq km along the southeastern and southern coasts of the island have been identified for project along a coastal strip of width between 2 km and 4 km. 
      • Some 130 sq km of forests have been sanctioned for diversion, and 9.64 lakh trees are likely to be felled.

    Significance of the Project

    • National security:
      • The proposal to develop Great Nicobar was first floated in the 1970s, and its importance for national security and consolidation of the Indian Ocean Region has been repeatedly underlined. 
      • Increasing Chinese assertion in the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific has added great urgency to this imperative in recent years.
    • Economic and strategic importance:
      • The island has a lot of tourism potential, but the government’s greater goal is to leverage the locational advantage of the island for economic and strategic reasons.
      • Location:
        • Great Nicobar is equidistant from Colombo to the southwest and Port Klang and Singapore to the southeast
        • It is positioned close to the East-West international shipping corridor, through which a very large part of the world’s shipping trade passes. 
    • Cargo transshipment:
      • The proposed International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT) can potentially become a hub for cargo ships travelling on this route.
      • The proposed port will allow Great Nicobar to participate in the regional and global maritime economy by becoming a major player in cargo transshipment.
    • Job generation:
      • More than 1 lakh new direct jobs and 1.5 lakh indirect jobs are likely to be created on the island over the period of development.

    The Island

    • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands:
      • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a cluster of about 836 islands in the eastern Bay of Bengal, the two groups of which are separated by the 150-km wide Ten Degree Channel
      • The Andaman Islands lie to the north of the channel, and the Nicobar Islands to the south.
      • Great Nicobar, the southernmost of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has an area of 910 sq km.
    • Great Nicobar island:
      • India’s southernmost point:
        • Indira Point on the southern tip of Great Nicobar Island is India’s southernmost point, less than 150 km from the northernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago. 
      • Protected area:
        • Great Nicobar is home to two national parks and a biosphere reserve.
      • Inhabitants:
        • The island is inhabited by the Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples, along with ex-servicemen from Punjab, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh who were settled on the island in the 1970s.
      • Flora & fauna:
        • The Great Nicobar Island has tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching almost 650 m above sea level, and coastal plains. 
        • Fourteen species of mammals, 71 species of birds, 26 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, and 113 species of fish are found on the island, some of which are endangered. 
        • The leatherback sea turtle is the island’s flagship species.

    Ecological concerns regarding the developmental project

    • Ecologically important and fragile region:
      • The proposed massive infrastructure development in an ecologically important and fragile region, including the felling of almost a million trees, has alarmed many environmentalists. 
    • Impacting coral reefs & mangroves:
      • The loss of tree cover will not only affect the flora and fauna on the island, it will also lead to increased runoff and sediment deposits in the ocean, impacting the coral reefs in the area, they have cautioned.
      • Coral reefs, already under threat from warming oceans, are of enormous ecological importance. 
      • Environmentalists have also flagged the loss of mangroves on the island as a result of the development project.

    Government response & way ahead:

    • Relocation of reefs:
      • India has successfully translocated a coral reef from the Gulf of Mannar to the Gulf of Kutch earlier. 
      • The Zoological Survey of India is currently in the process of assessing how much of the reef will have to be relocated for the project. 
    • Conservation of the leatherback turtle:
      • The government has said that a conservation plan for the leatherback turtle is also being put in place.
    • Only small percentage of area to be disturbed:
      • The project site is outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Park.
      • The Centre has said that the development area is only a small percentage of the area of the island and its forest cover and that 15 percent of the development area itself will be green cover and open spaces.
    • Official Shompen Policy of 2015:
      • Apart from that, 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 they should be taken care of.

    Source: IE