A grave mistake in Great Nicobar

Source– The post is based on the article “A grave mistake in Great Nicobar” published in “The Hindu” on 22nd March 2023. 

Syllabus: GS3- Environment 

Relevance– Environmental challenges related to development projects 

News– Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has given clearance to a mega project at the cost of about ₹70,000 crore at the southern tip of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

What are some facts about the mega project at Andaman and Nicobar Island? 

NITI Aayog is piloting the project and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation is the project proponent.  

The project aims to develop an international transshipment port of 14.2 mTEU cargo capacity at Galathea Bay along the island’s south­eastern coast, an international airport to support 4,000 passengers during peak hours, 

A 450 MVA gas and solar based power plant, and an ecotourism and residential township of about 160 sq km is also proposed. 

What are issues related to this mega project? 

Hasty clearance– The environmental clearance process seems very fast. The MoEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee initiated the process of environmental clearance in April 2021. 

The Great Nicobar Island has a population of about 8,000. Once completed, the project is expected to attract more than 3 lakh people. It is equal to the current population of the entire island chain.  

The ecological and environmental cost of this urbanisation project in a marine and terrestrial biodiverse area appears to not have been considered seriously.  

Ecological challenges– The island, which is spread over 900 sq km, was declared a biosphere reserve in 1989 and included in the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme in 2013. 

Afforestation is recommended as compensation for the loss of forest in the Great Nicobar Island is farcical. The EIA report says compensatory afforestation will be carried out in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Far­field afforestation makes no sense.  

However, the project will end up destroying vast stretches of coral reefs. The report recommends ‘translocation’ of these organisms. Transplanted corals do not have a high survival rate and are susceptible to bleaching. 

Impact on indigenous people– This project will impact the rights of vulnerable tribal communities, such as the Nicobarese and Shompen. They have been living in these areas for thousands of years and who depend on the forests for survival. 

Tectonic instability– The Great Nicobar Island is located close to the epicentre of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.  

The coastline of the Great Nicobar Island sank several metres during the earthquake. The island topography is slowly regaining its original height. 

The repeated up and down movement makes the Great Nicobar Island unsuitable to be developed as an urban port city. But the EIA report hardly considers the tectonic instability around Great Nicobar. 

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