NGT panel to review green nod for Greater Nicobar project
NGT acknowledged that part of the project is in CRZ 1a areas where construction of a port is prohibited
New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal has constituted a high powered committee headed by the secretary, union environment ministry to revisit the environmental clearance (EC) granted by the environment ministry to the Great Nicobar township and area development and other infrastructure projects involving an area of 16610 hectares in the ecologically fragile islands.
NGT issued this order on April 3 after several discrepancies were pointed out by appellants—Mumbai based Conservation Action Trust and ecologist, Ashish Kothari who had appealed against the environment and forest clearance granted to the project despite the severe impact it would have on rainforests and unique biodiversity of the region. NGT’s eastern bench headed by chairperson, Adarsh Kumar Goel pointed out that appellants have highlighted several deficiencies which now need to be addressed by the committee and that further work on environmental clearance will not progress until the committee’s findings are submitted except “for the work which may not be of irreversible nature.”
Environmentalists are worried that the order may not help.
Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, said the matter was not listed for hearing on April 3. “Our concerns were not even heard before passing this order. The issues we have raised in our petition have also not been addressed. And more importantly, how can a subordinate authority headed by secretary, environment revisit the EC granted by their own ministry?” he asked.
“There are some unanswered deficiencies pointed out by the appellants which need to be addressed. By way of instance, it is pointed out that out of 20668 coral colonies, 16150 are proposed to be translocated without any mention of threat to remaining 4518 coral colonies. It is pointed out that Coastal Regulation Zone Regulations prohibit destruction of corals. Further, data collected for impact assessment is only of one season as against the requirement of three seasons,” NGT’s order stated.
NGT also acknowledged that part of the project is in CRZ 1a areas where construction of a port is prohibited. “These aspects may call for revisiting the EC by a High-Powered Committee (HPC) which we propose to constitute. The same will be headed by Secretary, MoEF&CC, GoI. Other members will be Chief Secretary, Andaman & Nicobar, Zoological Survey of India, Botanical Survey of India, Central Pollution Control Board, nominee of Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog, nominee of Secretary, Ministry of Shipping and Director, Wildlife Institute of India. Secretary, MoEF&CC may appoint a nodal officer, not below the rank of Joint Secretary, for facilitating functioning of the Committee,” the order added.
The committee has been ordered to meet within two weeks and finalise its proceedings within two months.
One of the main contention’s of Goenka’s petition is against the so-called Stage-I forest clearance (FC) dated October 27, 2022 granted by the environment ministry for diversion of 130.75 sq km of forest land in the Great Nicobar Island. The challenge to the FC is on the grounds that the impact of diversion of pristine tropical rainforests on biodiversity, wildlife habitats and tribals has not been considered. Crucial information was withheld , according to the petition. Forest land cannot be diverted for township and non-site specific projects, it claims. Mandatory process under the Forest Rights Rules has also not been followed, it adds. According to the petition, a forest dwelling community , the Shompen and a coastal dwelling community, the Nicobarese have settlements in the area that need to be diverted and de-notified. These contentions have not been addressed by NGT in the order Goenka said.
HT reported on November 27 last year 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 the environment ministry. The Aravallis are over 2,400 km away in a different ecological zone from Great Nicobar, but rules do allow for such remote compensatory afforestation. The Centre on November 1, 2022 granted environmental clearance to an International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), a 450 MVA gas and solar power plant, an airport and associated townships over 166.1 sq km in Great Nicobar Island, according to documents seen by HT.
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