Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Issues with Great Nicobar Island (GNI) Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: GNI Project

Mains level: Read the attached storye


The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has now flagged alleged discrepancies with respect to the forest clearance granted for the ₹72,000-crore Great Nicobar Island (GNI) Project.

What is GNI Project?

  • The GNI Project refers to the “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island,” a proposed mega project being piloted by NITI Aayog.
  • The project aims to develop the southern end of the Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands in the Bay of Bengal by constructing –
  1. Transshipment port
  2. Dual-use military-civil international airport
  3. Power plant and
  4. A township over a span of 30 years on more than 160 sq. km of land, of which 130 sq. km is primary forest

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.

Significance of the project

(1) Economic significance

  • Making India transshipment giant: The proposed port would allow GNI to become a significant player in cargo transshipment, as it is positioned equidistant from Colombo, Port Klang (Malaysia), and Singapore.
  • En-route of busiest shipping lane: It located close to the East-West international shipping corridor that sees a vast amount of the world’s shipping trade.
  • Huge source of revenue: The proposed ICTT can potentially become a hub for cargo ships travelling on this route.

(2) Strategic significance

  • Securing IOR: The proposal to develop GNI has been on the table since the 1970s, and it has been highlighted repeatedly as a crucial element for national security and consolidation of the Indian Ocean Region.
  • 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.
  • Oceanic outpost: The ANI is an oceanic outpost for continental India.
  • Combatting Chinese presence: In recent years, the escalating Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean has added greater urgency to this imperative.

Issues with the Project

  • Threat to Biodiversity: The construction of the port, airport, and township, and the influx of people that the project is expected to bring, are likely to result in habitat destruction, fragmentation, and degradation, which could threaten the survival of several species.
  • Displacement of Indigenous Tribes: GNI is home to two isolated and indigenous tribes, the Shompen and the Nicobaris, who have lived on the island for thousands of years. The project could displace these tribes and disrupt their way of life and culture.
  • Deforestation: The project is expected to result in the cutting down of an estimated 8.5 lakh trees in the island’s prehistoric rainforests, which could have a significant impact on the island’s ecology and biodiversity.
  • Lack of Adequate Environmental and Social Impact Assessments: The project has received several easy clearances with uncharacteristic haste, raising questions about the adequacy of environmental and social impact assessments.
  • Fragile Topography: Experts have raised several concerns relating to the tectonic volatility and disaster vulnerability of the islands, which have experienced nearly 444 earthquakes in the past 10 years. The tribal communities, who were displaced in the 2004 Tsunami, are still recovering from its impact.

Concerns highlighted by the NCST

(1) Discrepancies with FRA Compliance

  • The island administration did not recognise or grant ownership of any forest land to local tribespeople as per FRA, a requisite step under the Forest Conservation Rules, 2017, before Stage-I clearance is granted.
  • This is despite the fact that Rule 6(3)(e) of Forest Conservation Rules-2017 (FCR) requires that any diversion of forest land first requires the District Collector to recognise and vest rights to locals under the FRA.
  • The legislation allows forest communities the right to control and manage the use of the forest land over which they hold titles, and their consent is mandatory for diverting it.

(2) Inconsistencies with Stage-I Clearance

  • The Stage-I clearance for the project was granted in October 2022, two years after the application was received.
  • Monthly progress reports show that the district administration did not process any claims over forest land under the FRA in the 26 months since project sanction.
  • A Gram Sabha meeting was called with less than a day’s notice to villagers where a resolution was passed consenting to the diversion of forest land for the project.

(3) Withdrawal of Consent

  • Weeks after the Stage-I clearance was granted, the Tribal Council at Campbell Bay withdrew the consent granted by the Gram Sabha.
  • NCST alleged that the minutes of the meeting were typed after securing members’ signatures.

Back2Basics: National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

Formation NCST was set up with effect from 19th February, 2004.

Created by inserting a new article 338A in the Constitution through the 89th Constitution Amendment Act, 2003.

Hence a constitutional body.

Objective To oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to STs under the Constitution or under any other law for time being in force or under any other order to the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards.
Composition It consists of a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and 3 other Members who are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.

At least one member should be a woman.

The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members hold office for a term of 3 years.

The members are not eligible for appointment for more than two terms.

The Chairperson has been given the rank of Union Cabinet Ministers, the Vice Chairperson has the rank of a Minister of State and other Members have the rank of a Secretary to the Government of India.



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