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NITI Aayog’s Great Nicobar Development plan – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

NITI Aayog’s  Great Nicobar Development plan aims to promote the holistic development of Greater Nicobar. Based on that, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) denotified the entire Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for building port and other related infrastructure.

This would facilitate the realization of NITI Aayog’s master plan for the development of the great Nicobar island. However, experts have expressed concern that this rapid development can lead to disastrous consequences.

Background
  • The Island Development Agency(IDA) was constituted in 2017 under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The IDA looks into the holistic development of islands.
    • Home Minister of India is its chairman. CEO of NITI Aayog acts as its convener.
    • The other members of IDA include Secretary- Tourism, Tribal affairs, the Home Secretary, Secretary Ministry of Environment, and Cabinet secretary.
  • NITI Aayog has been mandated with the task to steer the holistic development of the islands sustainably. The program aims to attain sustainable development in the identified Islands without damaging the pristine biodiversity.
  • In this regard, the NITI Aayog came up with a Great Nicobar Development plan.
Information about Great Nicobar Island

  • Great Nicobar is the southernmost and largest of the Nicobar Islands of India. The island of Sumatra has located 180 km to the south of Great Nicobar. It has an area of about 1045 sq. km.
  • According to the 2011 census, it has a population of about 8,069. The island is home to one of the most primitive tribes of India — the Shompens.
  • The island includes the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (GNBR) comprising the Galathea National Park and the Campbell Bay National Park.
  • Indira Point in the Great Nicobar Island is the southernmost point of India’s territory.
Current Scenario
  • The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) denotified the entire Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. 
    • The sanctuary is one of the ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’. Further, it is also an ‘Important Marine Turtle Habitats’ in the country as per National Marine Turtle Action Plan. 
  • Another Environment Ministry expert committee approved a “zero extent” Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) for the Galathea National Park. This would allow the use of land in the south-eastern and south-western parts of the island for the Great Nicobar Development plan. 
About the Great Nicobar Development plan
  • Firstly, The overall Great Nicobar Development plan envisages the use of about 244 sq. km. region for development purposes.
  • Secondly, Phase 1 of the plan will cover:
    • 22 sq. km. airport complex, 
    • Transshipment port (TSP) at South Bay 
    • Parallel-to-the-coast mass rapid transport system and 
    • Free trade zone and warehousing complex on the southwestern coast.  
  • Thirdly, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) will be the nodal agency for the implementation of the Great Nicobar Development plan.
Significance of the Great Nicobar Development plan
  1. Job opportunities for locals: The plan involves the creation of infrastructure (ports, airports, etc.). This will help in creating satisfactory jobs for the locals.
  2. Economic Development: It will help in creating tourism prospects in the region. This will aid the income generation in the region. 
    • The per capita income in Andaman & Nicobar Islands for the year 2015-16 was Rs. 1,24,361. This was much lower than the per-capita income of other Union Territories (Chandigarh, Delhi, and Puducherry.)
  3. Connectivity: The development of world-class infrastructure will help in improving inter-island connectivity. Thereby, improving governance and boosting export potential.
  4. Social Benefits: It would further create affordable state-of-the-art facilities for healthcare, quality education, and adequate air, sea and web infrastructure.
    • It will facilitate the delivery of e-governance services such as telemedicine and tele-education, as a part of the Digital India initiative.
  5. Strategic benefit: The Nicobar island located in proximity to the strait of Malacca. This demands the creation of robust infrastructure for meeting geopolitical interests in the region.
    • The islands are also home to India’s only tri-services command – the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC). 
    • The command holds immense relevance due to rising Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region. 
Concerns with the Great Nicobar Development plan
  1. Firstly, a threat to biodiversity: Any construction in the region threaten the survival of certain important organisms. Such as,
    • The beaches at the mouth of the river Galathea in South Bay are among the most prominent nesting sites of Giant leatherback turtles.
    • Similarly, 90% of the Nicobar megapode’s nesting sites are within a distance of 30 m from the shore.
  2. Secondly, jeopardizing environment for economics: Galathea sanctuary lies in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-I (the zone with maximum protection). But still, a slew of high-value projects got precedence over the pristine biodiversity.
  3. Thirdly, neglecting tribal rights: The proposed project areas are important grounds for the hunter-gatherer nomadic community especially Shompen. Initiation of work would make large forest areas inaccessible and useless for the Shompen.
  4. Fourthly, geological volatility: Andaman & Nicobar Islands are located in seismic zone V. Further,  The Andaman & Nicobar observe frequent storms and cyclones. This can easily destroy constructed structures.
    • For instance, In 2004 Tsunami caused a 3-4  metre land subsidence. This is the reason for the submergence of a lighthouse located at Indira point.
  5. Fifthly, undermining international obligations: The Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So preservation of this pristine biodiversity is an International Obligation of India. 
  6. And lastly, information Deficit: The rationale, process of creation, and other relevant provisions of the plan are still not publicly available. 
Suggestions
  1. Firstly, the work must be carried out with due regard to tribal rights. This would involve proper adherence to policies like the Shompen Policy of 2015. 
    • The Shompen Policy of 2015 calls for giving priority to tribal rights over large scale development proposals.
  2. Secondly, any construction under the Great Nicobar Development plan should involve a proper Environment impact assessment (as mandated by the Environment Protection Act 1986). This will make development more feasible. Further, It will minimise the threat of excessive environmental degradation.
  3. Thirdly, construction of infrastructure should be done using eco-friendly practices like strict adherence to GRIHA code for building construction.
    • GRIHA means Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment. It is the National Rating System of India. 
    • It has been conceived by TERI and developed jointly with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India.
  4. Fourthly, NITI Aayog and the agencies participating in planning should maintain transparency in data. The government should release the data on the rationale, the process of creation, consulted groups etc. in public domain. This will give a holistic view to critics and supporters.
  5. Finally, India should enhance Cooperation with countries like Japan, South Korea etc. This will help in developing successful island development models.   
Conclusion

India needs to achieve the Vision of “Happy and Prosperous Islanders on ecologically-protected Islands”. To achieve that, India needs to adopt development plans that are technically feasible, economically profitable and socially acceptable.

 

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