Great Nicobar Draft Environment Impact Assessment Report

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    • The recently released draft environment impact assessment (EIA) report for the mega-development project in the Great Nicobar Island has raised serious questions related to submission of incorrect or incomplete information, scientific inaccuracy and failure to follow the appropriate procedure. 

    Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

    • It is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
    • UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. 
    • It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. 

     

    About the Project

    • The NITI Aayog-piloted ?72,000-crore integrated project in Great Nicobar that includes the construction of a mega port, an airport complex, a township spread over 130 sq. km of pristine forest and a solar and gas-based power plant.
    • Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd. (ANIIDCO) is the project proponent.
    • The pre-feasibility report for the project was prepared in March 2021 by the Gurugram-based consultant AECOM India Pvt. Ltd.
      •  A committee of the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) issued terms of reference (ToR) to prepare the EIA report in May 2021.

    Significance

    • Connectivity: 
      • The project will lead to improved air and sea connectivity leading to the holistic development of the island.
    • Job opportunities:
      • The creation of world-class infrastructure will require manpower at all levels and hence create numerous job opportunities.
    • Tourism:
      • The infrastructure development will lead to high-end eco-tourism which in turn would provide the country with increased revenues.
    • Cultural exchanges:
      • The increased inflow and outflow of people will lead to cultural exchanges and will also lead to the demographic development of the island.
    • Strategic 
      • The overall development will lead to better logistics and continuous surveillance of marine activities.
      • It will help India secure its territory and protect its trade routes even as China aims to expand its naval reach.

    Concerns Raised

    • Ecologists and researchers have been raising concerns about this project for over a year as it ignores tribal, ecological concerns and the recent draft EIA has not been able to allay those fears. 
    • The consultants appointed to carry out the draft EIA have only one empanelled expert on ecology and biodiversity in its team — and it is not clear what his area of expertise is.
    • There are also serious issues of scientific accuracy and integrity where the data presented is concerned. 
      • Large parts of Section 3.9, which is on ecology and biodiversity, have in-text citations but no references. 
      • Tables with lists of plants and animals found on the island are incomplete and with no sources provided. 
      • The information in other places is internally inconsistent and/or incorrect.
        • The area of the island is mentioned in one place as 1,045 sq. km, while it is 910 sq. km (the current official figure) in another.
    • The executive summary mentions that the Galathea port area does not record any coral reefs, whereas the ZSI study appended to the EIA, reports a coral reef spread over 116 hectares in Galathea Bay.
    • It says 330 species of fauna are recorded on the island, while the same ZSI study puts the number at more than double at 695.
    • The EIA says in another place no migratory birds have been reported from Great Nicobar, whereas it is well known that these islands are located along two globally significant bird flyways and more than 40 species of migratory birds have been recorded from Great Nicobar.
    • It is evident that there are serious procedural lapses, a lack of transparency and a lack of any seriousness in this EIA process. 

    Suggestions

    • Keeping in mind the complex ecological, social and geological vulnerabilities, the area needs to be protected from ecological, environmental and biodiversity points of view.
    • 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.
    • The right of the tribal shall be well protected and taken care of” and whenever any exemption from the existing regulations/policies/law of the land is required to be provided for the execution of the project.

    Andaman & Nicobar Islands

    • It is a union territory of India and is located in the Indian Ocean, in the southern reaches of the Bay of Bengal, nearer Indonesia and Thailand. 
    • This comprises two island groups – the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands – which separates the Andaman Sea to the east from the Indian Ocean.
      • These two groups are separated by the 10° N parallel, the Andamans lying to the north of this latitude, and the Nicobars to the south
    • The capital of this territory is the Andamanese town of Port Blair.
    • There are 836 Islands/Islets/Rocky Outcrops in the territory, of which only some 38 are permanently inhabited.
    • Hindi and English are the official languages of the islands. Bengali is the dominant and most spoken language, with 26% of the population speaking Bengali.

    Flora & Fauna

    • These Islands are blessed with a unique luxuriant evergreen tropical rainforest canopy, sheltering a mixed germplasm bank, comprising Indian, Myanmarese, Malaysian and endemic floral strains.
    •  So far, about 2200, varieties of plants have been recorded out of which 200 are endemic and 1300 do not occur in mainland India. 
    • This tropical rainforest despite its isolation from adjacent landmasses is surprisingly enriched with many animals.

    Image Courtesy:andaman.gov.in

    Source: TH