EAC Recommends the Great Nicobar Development Plan for EIA Study

Synopsis: The Environment Appraisal Committee has recommended the  Great Nicobar Development plan for grant of terms of reference for EIA studies. The committee also flagged a few critical concerns.

Introduction 

The Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) had raised serious concerns about NITI Aayog’s ambitious project for the Great Nicobar Development plan. However, the EAC has also recommended the plan for a term of reference (TOR) for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies. 

About the NITI Aayog’s Great Nicobar Development plan:

NITI Aayog developed a ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ plan. 

The plan proposal includes construction of the following,

  • An international container trans-shipment terminal,
  • A greenfield international airport,
  • A power plant and a township complex spread over 166 sq. km
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) will be the nodal agency for the implementation of the Great Nicobar Development plan.

A Gurugram-based consulting agency, Aecom India Private Limited, prepared the ‘pre-feasibility report of the Great Nicobar Development plan for NITI Aayog. The report mentioned the implementation of the plan will require an estimated cost of ₹ 75,000 crores.

About the Environment Appraisal Committee:
  • A 15 member EAC headed by a marine biologist and former director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Deepak Apte was formed to study the pre-feasibility report.
  • Recently, the EAC made their decision and uploaded the documents on the MoEFCC’s Parivesh portal.
  • In that, it recommended the plan for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies.
  • Apart from that, the committee also raises few concerns with the plan.
What were the concerns of the committee?

The committee held two meetings one in March and the other in April. During that, it raises both technical and practical concerns. There was a delay in the discussion of the March meeting because of the incomplete submission of documents.

  1. The incomplete information includes the details of the township, information on seismic and tsunami risks, freshwater requirement details for projects and settlements, etc. Apart from that, the impact on the Giant Leatherback turtle was also incomplete.
    • After the completion of projects, the expectation are that nearly 6.5 lakh people will live on the island. The current population is only 8,500 on Great Nicobar. The current total population of the entire island chain is less than 4.5 lakh.
  2. The committee also pointed that there were no details of chopping off the trees. 130 sq. km. of the project area has some of the finest tropical forests in India. Hence, the numbers of chopped trees could run into millions.
  3. The committee asked for details of the corporate environment policy of the implementing agency. Similarly, the EAC also asks whether the company has an environmental policy, a prescribed standard operating procedure to deal with environmental and forest violations.
  4. AECOM’s pre-feasibility report has proposed 2022-23 for the start of work on the site. However, one year is not enough if the government and project proponents follow the EAC’s recommendations in letter and spirit. 
  5. Galathea Bay of Great Nicobar forms the centrepiece of the NITI Aayog proposal. The Plan aims to construct a port in Galathea Bay. But, this has a number of issues in the plan.
    • Firstly, ecological surveys 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 etc. These are not mentioned in AECOM’s pre-feasibility report.
    • Secondly, the beaches at the mouth of the river Galathea in South Bay are among the most prominent nesting sites of Giant leatherback turtles.
    • Thirdly, the EAC highlighted that the site selection for the port had been done on technical and financial criteria. The environmental aspects were ignored.
    • Fourthly, so the EAC has asked for an independent evaluation for the aptness of the proposed port site with a specific focus on Leatherback Turtle.
  6. At present, the ANIIDCO is involved in activities such as tourism, trading and infrastructure development for tourism and fisheries. Its annual turnover for 2018-19 was ₹ 379 crore. But to manage the infrastructure project valued to cost ₹75,000 crore is way beyond its capacity.
Action points suggested by the Environment Appraisal Committee:

More than 100 specific points of action are listed out by the committee. The important ones include, 

  1. The need for an independent assessment of terrestrial and marine biodiversity
  2. A study on the impact of dredging, recovery and port operations, including oil spills.
  3. Analysis of risk-handling capabilities and a disaster management plan.
  4. Details of labour, labour camps and their requirements.
  5. The need for studies of alternative sites for the port with a focus on environmental and ecological impact
  6. Conducting a hydro-geological study to assess the impact on ground and surface water regimes. 

Source: The Hindu

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