From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Great Nicobar Islands
Mains level : Read the attached story
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change gave environmental clearance for the ambitious Rs 72,000 crore development project on the strategically important Great Nicobar Island.
About the Great Nicobar Development Project
- A “greenfield city” has been proposed, including an:
- International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT),
- Greenfield international airport,
- Power plant, and
- Township for the personnel who will implement the project
- The project is to be implemented in three phases over the next 30 years.
When was the project incepted?
- The proposal to develop Great Nicobar was first floated in the 1970s, and its importance for national security and consolidation of the Indian Ocean Region has been repeatedly underlined.
Scope of the project
- A total 166.1 sq km along the southeastern and southern coasts of the island have been identified for project along a coastal strip of width between 2 km and 4 km.
- Some 130 sq km of forests have been sanctioned for diversion, and 9.64 lakh trees are likely to be felled.
- Development activities are proposed to commence in the current financial year, and the port is expected to be commissioned by 2027–28.
- More than 1 lakh new direct jobs and 1.5 lakh indirect jobs are likely to be created on the island over the period of development.
Features of the Project
- Transshipment hub of the East: The proposed port will allow Great Nicobar to participate in the regional and global maritime economy by becoming a major player in cargo transshipment.
- Naval control: The port will be controlled by the Indian Navy, while the airport will have dual military-civilian functions and will cater to tourism as well.
- Urban amenities: Roads, public transport, water supply and waste management facilities, and several hotels have been planned to cater to tourists.
Why need such project?
- Geostrategic advantage: The Island has a lot of tourism potential, but the government’s greater goal is to leverage the locational advantage of the island for economic and strategic reasons.
- Critical shipping chokepoint: Great Nicobar is equidistant from Colombo to the southwest and Port Klang and Singapore to the southeast, the region through which a very large part of the world’s shipping trade passes.
- Huge source of revenue: The proposed ICTT can potentially become a hub for cargo ships travelling on this route.
- Countering Chinese presence: Increasing Chinese assertion in the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific has added great urgency to this imperative in recent years.
In recent years, China’s efforts to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean Region to overcome its ‘Malacca Dilemma’ (China’s fear of a maritime blockade at the Straits of Malacca) and fulfil its ‘Maritime Silk Road’ ambitions have fuelled apprehensions about freedom of navigation in these waters.
Issues with the Project
- Ecological damage: The proposed massive infrastructure development in an ecologically important and fragile region, including the felling of almost a million trees, has alarmed many environmentalists.
- Threats to marine ecosystem: The loss of tree cover will not only affect the flora and fauna on the island, it will also lead to increased runoff and sediment deposits in the ocean, impacting the coral reefs in the area.
Damage control measures by the govt
- India has successfully translocated a coral reef from the Gulf of Mannar to the Gulf of Kutch earlier.
- The Zoological Survey of India is currently in the process of assessing how much of the reef will have to be relocated for the project.
- The government has said that a conservation plan for the leatherback turtle is also being put in place.
- The project site already is outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Park.
- Given its physical location, the A&N Islands are the natural platform for collaboration between India and Southeast Asia.
- By most accounts, political will in India and other countries to develop these islands is high.
Back2Basics: Great Nicobar Islands
- Great Nicobar, the southernmost of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has an area of 910 sq km.
- It has tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching almost 650 m above sea level, and coastal plains.
- The A&N Islands are a cluster of about 836 islands in the eastern Bay of Bengal, the two groups of which are separated by the 150-km wide Ten Degree Channel.
- The Andaman Islands lie to the north of the channel, and the Nicobar Islands to the south.
- Indira Point on the southern tip of Great Nicobar Island is India’s southernmost point, less than 150 km from the northernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago.
- Great Nicobar is home to two national parks, a biosphere reserve, and the Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples, along with ex-servicemen from Punjab, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh who were settled on the island in the 1970s.