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Great Nicobar Development and Environmental Issues

Context

The ambitious Rs 72,000 crore development project on the strategically important Great Nicobar Island has received environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change. Over the next 30 years, the project will be implemented in three phases.

Relevance

GS Paper 3: Internal security, Ecology, Environment protection & EIA

Mains Question

India has recently implemented a proactive policy aimed at transforming the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Examine the strategic and economic significance of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. (250 words)


The Island of Great Nicobar

Location geographically

  • Great Nicobar is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ southernmost island.
    • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of approximately 836 islands located in the eastern Bay of Bengal.
  • The Andaman Islands are to the north of the Ten Degree Channel, and the Nicobar Islands are to the south. • Indira Point on the southern tip of Great Nicobar Island is India’s southernmost point, less than 150 kilometres from the northernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago.
  • The Great Nicobar Island’s ecosystem includes tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching nearly 650 metres above sea level, and coastal plains.
  • The island has two national parks (Campbell Bay and Galathea) as well as a biosphere reserve.
  • The Island is home to a number of endangered species. The leatherback sea turtle is the island’s symbol.

Nicobar Tribes

  • The Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples live on Great Nicobar.
  • The Shompen are hunter-gatherers who rely on forest and sea resources for food.
  • The Nicobarese, who lived along the island’s west coast, were mostly relocated following the 2004 tsunami.
  • An estimated 237 Shompen and 1,094 Nicobarese people now live in a 751-square-kilometer tribal reserve, 84 of which is proposed to be de-notified.
  • A greenfield city with an International Container Trans-shipment Terminal (ICTT), a greenfield international airport, and a power plant has been proposed.
  • The port will be controlled by the Indian Navy, while the airport will have dual military-civilian functions and will also cater to tourism.
  • A total of 166.1 sq km along the island’s southeastern and southern coasts have been identified for project along a coastal strip ranging in width from 2 km to 4 km.
  • A total of 130 square kilometres of forest have been designated for diversion, and 9.64 lakh trees are expected to be felled.

Why is the government so eager to develop this island?

  • Financial considerations
    • The government’s overarching goal is to capitalise on the island’s geographic advantage for economic and strategic reasons.
    • Great Nicobar is located southwest of Colombo and southeast of Port Klang and Singapore.
    • It is located near the East-West international shipping corridor, which transports a large portion of the world’s shipping trade.
    • The proposed ICTT could serve as a hub for cargo ships travelling along this route.
    • According to the NITI Aayog report, the proposed port will enable Great Nicobar to participate in the regional and global maritime economies by becoming a major cargo transshipment player.
  • Strategic and security considerations
    • The proposal to develop Great Nicobar was first floated in the 1970s, and its significance for national security and Indian Ocean Region consolidation has been repeatedly emphasised.
    • In recent years, increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific has added urgency to this imperative.

Concerns

  • Many environmentalists are concerned about the proposed massive infrastructure development in an ecologically important and fragile region.
  • The loss of tree cover will have an impact on the island’s flora and fauna as well as increased runoff and sediment deposits in the ocean, affecting the coral reefs in the area.
  • Environmentalists have also raised concerns about the island’s loss of mangroves as a result of the development project.

The government’s actions to address these concerns

  • The Zoological Survey of India is currently determining how much of the reef must be relocated for the project.
    • Previously, India successfully relocated a coral reef from the Gulf of Mannar to the Gulf of Kutch.
  • A leatherback turtle conservation plan is also being implemented, and the project site, according to the government, is outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Park.

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December 2022
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