Great Nicobar plan needs transparency
Great Nicobar's ₹72,000 crore infrastructure project has repeatedly run into rough waters with the local populace and environmentalists
There appears to be a new twist in the already bewildering saga of the Great Nicobar township and development project. This newspaper reported on Sunday that non-islanders are not being allowed to enter Great Nicobar by the local administration, as per the residents of Campbell Bay, and environmental activists. Local residents say that Campbell Bay is not a tribal area and the entry of outsiders – those who don’t hold an islander card – was permitted till a few months ago. Though the administration has said that travel to Nicobar is permitted and visits to tribal areas are regulated as per the law, the development has fuelled speculation that the apparent restriction is linked to the ₹72,000 crore infrastructure project, called the Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island, which has repeatedly run into rough weather with the local population and environmentalists.
The development project proposed by Niti Aayog involves building an international container trans-shipment terminal, an international airport with a capacity to handle 4,000 passengers every day, a township and area development. But several discrepancies in the clearance of environmental norms were noted by the National Green Tribunal earlier this year. The Tribal Council of Little and Great Nicobar had also withdrawn the no-objection certificate given for diversion of forest land, roughly half of which is tribal reserve land.
The island sits on a strategic channel of water that is crucial to global trade routes and India’s plans to counter Chinese aggression in the Indian Ocean. But this has to be balanced against the benefits of preserving the ecologically fragile region, and the welfare of the tribal communities that inhabit these remote islands. There are already enough questions swirling around the project, notwithstanding the recent controversy. The authorities must prioritise transparency.