Panel raises concerns over Andaman water aerodrome project
The Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) has raised several concerns about the environmental impact of constructing a water aerodrome at Swaraj Island, formerly Havelock Island, in Andaman and Nicobar.
The aim of the project, part of the Centre’s Udan scheme (for regional airport development), is to connect remote areas of the island to Port Blair to promote tourism “resulting in growth in economic condition,” the minutes of the EAC meeting held on April 12 and published earlier this month stated.
But the aerodrome will involve the loss of 3,500 sq m of forest land which has been transferred to Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd (ANIIDCO).
As per the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, the project site for the construction of the terminal building (1568.9 sq m) and associate infrastructure (453.3 sq m) falls partly in a large patch of mangroves. The speedboat pathway is dominated by mangroves on both sides.
However, the management plan submitted by Andaman and Nicobar Administration does not address the impact on the mangroves due to the project.
The EAC found the EIA report inadequate. “Since the EIA consists of mostly secondary data on biodiversity without actual site-specific biodiversity studies with respect to aquatic and natural environment in effect of tourism, the project proponent needs to resubmit the revised EIA covering biodiversity conservation/ management plan, including water and air quality data,” minutes of the EAC meeting, seen by HT, said.
The study on biodiversity should be conducted by any national lab, it added.
The EAC also asked for a comprehensive risk analysis for sea-plane crashing/catching fire at the sea-aerodrome, status of coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance at the state and central level and reassessment of the impact of the noise level during landing and take-off on the fauna in the area.
T Haque, EAC chairman who presided over the meeting, died of Covid-19 complications last week. A senior environment ministry official, on condition of anonymity, said: “Mr Haque is no more. We will have to look into details of this project to be able to respond.”
“Considering the high level of endemism in the species found in Andaman and Nicobar and their uniqueness, no EIA should be accepted without primary data. First, the biodiversity of Havelock region needs to be studied by a competent organisation. In the case of Galathea in Great Nicobar, as we know it is among the most important and largest nesting sites for leatherback turtles in India. The nesting and distribution of leatherback turtles is restricted to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,” Bivash Pandav, director of Bombay Natural History Society, said.
“The central government's UDAN scheme to set up airports for regional connectivity makes all the right noises about extending transport infrastructure to "underserved" places. But there have been numerous problems in how this scheme has been used to repackage old, unviable projects by cash starved states/UTs and to grab land. One of the main issues, as usual we might say, has been acquiring land and obtaining environmental approvals for projects in ecologically sensitive locations. State governments have pushed these locations for airport development even though they are well aware of the problems. In this case, the corporate wing of the Andaman administration is pushing this unassessed project that sounds more like an adventure ride. The project proposal states that the site is not critically polluted. That is actually the problem. This biodiversity rich island ecosystem may become that thanks to such a project,” said Manju Menon, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research think tank.