Green nod for strategically-crucial Great Nicobar Island mega project

The Union Department of the Environment has approved the development of a strategically critical, multi-component mega-project on the island of Great Nicobar that will involve the felling of approximately 8.5 lakh trees in pristine rainforest, the loss of 12 to 20 hectares of mangrove cover and significant coral translocation.

The project includes the development of a military-civilian dual-use airport, an international container transhipment terminal, a gas, diesel and solar power plant and a community.

According to a letter dated March 30 from the Union Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Environment, the proposed airport in the Gandhi Nagar-Shastri Nagar area would be a dual-use joint military-civilian airport under the operational control of the Indian Navy.

“This project serves defense, strategic, national security and public purposes. In view of this, the part of the deliberations for the airport component must not be made public,” it said. The Great Nicobar Island (GNI), the southernmost part of Indian territory, is one of the most strategically important areas. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands offer India a superior geostrategic presence in the Bay of Bengal and access to South and Southeast Asia.

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The project is likely to affect 1,761 people, including the Shompen and Nicobarese Indigenous communities. The island is home to rare flora and fauna including the leatherback sea turtle, Nicobar Megapode – a flightless bird endemic to the Nicobar Islands; Nicobar macaques and saltwater crocodiles.

The project site is within a 10km radius of Galathea Bay National Park and Campbell Bay National Park but outside of the designated Ecologically Sensitive Zone surrounding the two national parks. Three leading institutes – Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) – provided scientific input to the Ministry of Environment’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on the impact of the project on the flora and fauna of the ESD. “While the ZSI categorically stated in its recommendation that the proposed project will have no impact on GNI flora and fauna and can be mitigated by stringent mitigation measures, the WII provided cautious inputs that are very specific to leatherback turtles and only interpreted this an has less site fidelity and may move to other suitable breeding grounds in GNI,” the minutes of the meeting read.

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WII said the project can be done, but more intensive assessment and research on the leatherback sea turtle and its movements is needed to develop a site-specific mitigation strategy and proposed a 10-year roadmap to systematically implement mitigation measures. The EAC said it is clear that about 30 of the 51 active Nicobar Megapode nests within the proposed project areas will be permanently destroyed. SACON and WII have presented a 10-year reduction plan in this regard. The Department of Environment and Forests, Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Administration has prepared a mangrove conservation and management plan.

The coral cover to be relocated from the proposed site is approximately 10 hectares. Approximately 16,150 of the 20,668 coral colonies will be relocated. The EAC has also ordered the establishment of three independent committees to oversee matters related to pollution, biodiversity and welfare, and issues related to the Schompen and Nicobar tribes.

The panel also urged the project advocate not to cut down trees all at once. “These will be carried out in stages and on an annual basis depending on the progress of the work.” Such trees should be protected as much as possible.

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The committee said safe wildlife corridors should be provided at eight locations along the east side of the island, connecting the forest and coast through viaducts (elevated crossings) on the north-south thoroughfare. In addition, culverts and canopies for the movement of wild animals are provided in appropriate places. The A&N administration has been directed to establish a dedicated medical unit with state-of-the-art infrastructure, medicine and qualified medical personnel at the GNI within six months to monitor man-made diseases due to the expected influx of large national and international populations. “All mechanisms must be in place to ensure that Shompen and Nicobarese are not exposed to the risks associated with introduced diseases,” the EAC said. PTI GVS ZMN

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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