Congress demands suspension of environment clearance given to Nicobar project | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Congress demands suspension of environment clearance given to Nicobar project

ByJayashree Nandi
Jun 18, 2024 02:10 PM IST

Congress leader and former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh said the project is a grave threat to the region’s tribal communities and natural ecosystem

The Congress has demanded the immediate suspension of all environment and forest clearances granted for the proposed “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island in Andaman & Nicobar Islands” on the grounds that it is a “grave threat to the region’s tribal communities and natural ecosystem”.

The Congress has sought an impartial review of the proposed project, including by parliamentary committees.
The Congress has sought an impartial review of the proposed project, including by parliamentary committees.

In a statement issued on Monday, member of Parliament and Congress general secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh said that there were numerous red flags over the proposed 72,000 crore “Mega Infra Project” in Great Nicobar Island, initiated in March 2021 at the instance of the NITI Aayog. He called for a suspension of all clearances and the conduct of an impartial review of the proposed project, including by parliamentary committees.

The Union environment ministry in 2022 gave an “in principle” clearance for diverting 13,075 hectares of forest land in the area, according to official documents. “This area is about 15% of the island’s land mass and constitutes one of the country’s largest forest diversions in a nationally and globally unique rainforest ecosystem. Compensatory afforestation for the loss of this unique rainforest ecosystem has been planned in the state of Haryana, thousands of kilometres away and in a vastly different ecological zone... the coastline where the port and the project is proposed to come up is an earthquake prone zone, and saw a permanent subsidence of about 15 feet during the tsunami of December 2004,” Ramesh, a former Union environment minister, said in the statement.

He added that locating such a massive project at Great Nicobar puts investment, infrastructure, people, and the ecology, in harm’s way. “The project poses a direct threat to the well-being and survival of the Shompen, an indigenous community classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). The administration has compromised on due process in its rush to get approval,” the Congress leader alleged.

He also said that the project “violates the letter and spirit of the Forest Rights Act (2006), which holds the Shompen as the sole legally empowered authority to protect, preserve, regulate and manage the tribal reserve”.

HT reported on April 14 that The Tribal Council of Little and Great Nicobar in November 2022 withdrew the no-objection certificate (NOC) given in August that year for the diversion of land — roughly half of which is tribal reserve land — for the controversial Great Nicobar Township and other infrastructure projects.

On November 28, 2022, HT reported that the loss of forests in Great Nicobar Island on the Bay of Bengal will be compensated by afforestation in Haryana’s Aravallis, according to a decision by officials of the environment ministry.

In 2023, the Constitutional Conduct Group, which includes nearly 100 former civil servants, wrote to President Droupadi Murmu, protesting against the government’s push for a mega-infrastructure project in Great Nicobar.

The officials of the Union environment ministry were aware of the Congress statement but did not respond immediately.

MoEFCC’s Parivesh website shows that the terms of reference, one of the first steps in the process of environmental clearance, was granted on May 25, 2021, to Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This includes the integrated development of an International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT) with a Greenfield international airport, town and area development, and a 450 MVA gas and solar based power plant. The environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee recommended the proposal for environmental and coastal regulation zone clearance with the specific conditions on August 23, 2022.

The stage-I forest clearance (FC) to the project was granted on October 27, 2022, by the environment ministry for diversion of 130.75 sq km of forest land in the Great Nicobar Island, according to documents accessed by environmentalists.

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