Trees to be planted in Haryana’s Aravallis to make for forest loss in Nicobar
The loss of forests in Great Nicobar Island on the Bay of Bengal will be compensated by afforestation in Haryana’s Aravallis, officials of the environment ministry have said.
The loss of forests in Great Nicobar Island on the Bay of Bengal will be compensated by afforestation in Haryana’s Aravallis, officials of the environment ministry have said. The Aravallis is over 2,400 kmaway in a different ecological zonefrom Great Nicobar, but rules allow for such remote compensatory afforestation.
Major infrastructure projects have been planned in the ecologically fragile Great Nicobar. The Centre on November 11 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.
The project will involve diversion of around 130.75 sq km of forest land in three phases. The total land area of Great Nicobar Island is 910.074 sq km and around 15% of forest area will be diverted for the projects. The total area required for the proposed project is 166.1 sq km, according to the clearance letter issued by the environment ministry.
“The project proponent (M/s Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd) has proposed to conduct the compensatory afforestation of the project in the Haryana Aravallis. They have had meetings with Haryana government already for plantations over Aravalli region in an area of around 260 sq km,” a ministry official said, seeking anonymity.
“This may be very beneficial for control air pollution in the national capital region. If more land is needed, then afforestation will be taken up in Madhya Pradesh also, in addition to Haryana,” he added. Haryana has forest cover of only 3.63%, according to the Forest Survey of India.
The Great Nicobar Island proposal was considered in the 293rd meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee held on March 24 and 25, 2022, and again in the 297th meeting of EAC held on 24 and 25 May, 2022. Based on a response submitted to some queries raised by the EAC, the proposal was again placed in the 306th meeting of EAC held on August 22 and 23. Terms of Reference for the project was granted on May 25, 2021 according to the ministry letter to project developer.
The EAC had raised concerns about the environmental impact of the project, according to the minutes of the panel’s meeting dated April 5 and 6 available on the Parivesh website. “The Committee notes that the site selection for the port component has been done keeping primarily the technical and financial viability in place. The environmental aspects were not given much weightage while selecting the site. The Island has a large number of endangered species, including Leatherback Turtle at the Galathea Bay,” the minutes said.
The summary of the project on Parivesh website states the port will allow Great Nicobar “to participate in the regional and global maritime economy by becoming a major player in cargo transhipment. The proposed airport will support both the maritime sector and the tourism sector, which will attract international and national tourists to Great Nicobar to experience the outstanding natural environment and participate in sustainable tourism activities”. The total project is worth ₹75,000 crore.
AECOM India, a Gurugram-based consultant, had prepared the pre-feasibility report for Niti Aayog, as per documents on Parivesh portal. The report said four interlinked projects will add considerable socioeconomic value at a relatively low social and environmental cost.
“The ICTT and Power Plant project sites are uninhabited. Only the airport project requires resettlement, and the number of affected persons is low. The large majority of the existing corals have been avoided... The urban development will be kept on a small footprint along the edges of the island that are least frequented by the Shompen and the Nicobarese (indigenous people).”
“The project is strategically important for India and hence it was given absolute priority. Only the area of strategic importance has been allowed to be developed. The Greenfield airport for greater connectivity with Great Nicobar is yet to be cleared,” the ministry official said, adding that various conditions have been imposed on the project proponent to ensure minimal environmental impact.
Among various conditions proposed by EAC to reduce environmental footprint of the project, three new wildlife sanctuaries have been identified -- Leatherback turtle sanctuary of 13.75 sq.km at Little Nicobar Island; Menchal Island of 1.29 sq.km as a Megapode Sanctuary; Meroe Island of 2.73 sq.km as a Coral Sanctuary.
Great Nicobar is an important habitat for saltwater crocodiles. The crocodiles have been sighted in Magar nallah, Dillon nallah, Vijay Nagar, Laxminagar, Galathea bay and Navy Dera in the project area in the past and also in Casuarina Bay and Alexandria Bay in the west coast falling outside the project area. Wildlife Institute of India has prepared a ‘Conservation & Management Plan of Salt Water Crocodile in Great Nicobar Island.’
The port area has been directed to place series of ecological marker buoys for every 200 m along the proposed extended breakwater line. Such an arrangement will clearly mark the ‘area to be avoided to aid turtles,’ the EAC has said.
“As per forest norms, compensatory afforestation may not be carried out in states with over 75% forest cover. They should be carried out where forest area is less. Andaman and Nicobar has over 82% forest cover. Where can one conduct compensatory afforestation there? Haryana has very low forest cover so it has been selected,” another senior official of the forest conservation division said.
On May 22, 2019, the environment ministry had issued guidelines to all state governments, stating that states and UTs having forest land of more than 75% irrespective of the total geographical area shall not be insisted on providing non-forest land equal to the forest area diverted. Compensatory afforestation can be taken up in any other state or UT having deficient forest land.
“Offsetting the loss of forests across ecologies or geographies has been legitimized by the design of India’s compensatory afforestation mechanism,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research. “This has made it possible to decontextualize forest loss and compensate for it anywhere within the country.”
Under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining or industry, the project developer is supposed to identify non-forest land of an equal area and also pay for planting forests over this, or when that is not available, on twice the area of degraded forest land.