“Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island” Project


    In News

    • The “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island” project is facing widespread opposition for its impact on the island’s forest and coastal ecology and the indigenous tribes.

    More about the Project

    •  The Great Nicobar Development project proposes: 
      • The 8.45-square-km airport 
      • Rs 72,000-crore township (149.60 sq km); 
      • A container transshipment terminal (7.66 sq km); and 
      • A power plant (0.4 sq km).

    • 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.

    Significance of the Project 

    • Defence, Strategic, National Security, and Public importance:
      • As per the Ministry of Home Affairs, the proposed international airport will be “developed as a joint military-civil, dual-use airport, under the operational control of Indian Navy.”
      • It said that the “project is for Defence, Strategic, National Security, and Public Purpose. 
      • 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.

    Environmental Challenges

    • Diverting forest land:
      • The project is requiring to divert 130 sq km of forest land and cut 8.5 lakh trees.
    • 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.

    Way ahead

    • The Environment Ministry has withheld all discussions on the forest clearance to the entire 166.10-sq km project recommended by the statutory Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in which the airport falls. 
      • The FAC is an expert body that examines and authorises diversion of forest land for projects.

    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 inhibited 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.

    Forest Advisory Committee (FAC)

    • The FAC is a statutory body constituted under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to advise the government on granting approvals for forest clearance. 
    • It meets at least once a month to discuss proposals from an agenda pre-published by the ministry which also uploads the minutes of FAC meetings on its designated website.

    Source: TH