Public hearing on January 27 for Great Nicobar development project
NEW DELHI: Great Nicobar’s development will have environmental impacts, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report has said ahead of a public hearing on January 27 for a project involving the construction of an International Container Transhipment Terminal, a greenfield airport, a residential township and a 450 MVA gas/solar-based power plant there.
NITI Aayog has conceptualised the Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands project.
“The development of Great Nicobar will have environmental impacts. The holistic master plan enables environmentally and socio-culturally sustainable development and identifies effective mitigating measures for any anticipated negative impacts,” said the EIA. It added the development of Great Nicobar Island, which is one of India’s most ecologically fragile and biologically diverse regions. requires a sensitive, holistic approach. The EIA noted the island is home to a dwindling number of indigenous people. “Development plans must not only consider the impact of growth on these people but also generate benefits for them as well as for future in-migrants and investors.”
Many reserved areas are expected to be de-notified for the project. They include land under the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve and a tribal reserve. Around 81.74% of the island covers national parks, reserves and forests.
The EIA said 15.02% of the forest land has to be diverted for the project. An area of 166.10 sq km is required for developmental activities in the first phase. This includes 84.10 square km of land under tribal reserved areas inhabited by the Nicobarese and Shompen tribes with a population of 1094 and 237.
An area of 11.032 sq km of the tribal reserve also falls within revenue villages and is required to be de-notified. The administration has proposed to re-notify 45.23 sq km of land in Campbell Bay and Galathea National Parks and 31.73 sq km of land outside the project area de-notified in 1972 to compensate for the loss.
Greater Nicobar Island has tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching a height of nearly 650m above sea level, and coastal plains.
“The tract is rich in plant diversity and fosters a number of rare and endemic species, including Cyathea albosetacea (tree fern) and Phalaenopsis speciosa (orchid). A total of 14 species of mammals, 71 species of birds, 26 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, and 113 species of fish have been reported. The region also harbours a large number of endemic and endangered species of fauna,” the EIA said.
There are 11 species of mammals, 32 species of birds, seven species of reptiles and four species of amphibians that are endemic including the Crab-eating Macaque, Nicobar Tree Shrew, Dugong, Nicobar Megapode, Serpent Eagle, salt-water crocodile, marine turtles and Reticulated Python.
The region also has coral reefs with varied thicknesses and diversity. In a few areas, new coral recruits have also been seen.
Along the coastal beaches of Nicobar Island, Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles are known to nest. Each Leatherback turtle lays about 100 eggs, and the success rate of the hatchlings was around 63.5% in 2020.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO), which is developing the project, has said it is critical because of the region’s strategic location adjacent to the Malacca Straits. Seven countries are close to Campbell Bay, which is the headquarters of the southernmost frontier of India.
Officials said foreign powers are strengthening and forging new diplomatic ties with other states in the Indian Ocean region, which India needs to counter by improving connectivity and the tourism sector as well as through economic development of the area.
“We are conducting the public hearing on behalf of the project proponent ANIIDCO. It is mandatory to conduct public hearings for environmental clearance. People have a month to read the details of the project,” said an Andaman and Nicobar Pollution Control Committee member, requesting anonymity.
Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said a proposal of this scale and intent required a socio-ecological assessment at the design and planning stage and not downstream in the decision-making process. “The public hearing and impact assessment process is being carried out in the shadow of the government’s intent to transform the demographic and ecological character of the islands. What will be up for the challenge will be whether the legal process and scientific assessments will be amenable to a predetermined outcome of the government’s version of holistic development.”