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. The project is to be implemented in three phases over the next 30 years.

 

What is the proposal?

  • A greenfield city has been proposed, including an International Container Trans-shipment Terminal (ICTT), a greenfield international airport, a power plant.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 

Concerns

  • The proposed massive infrastructure development in an ecologically important and fragile region has alarmed many environmentalists.
  • 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.
  • Environmentalists have also flagged the loss of mangroves on the island as a result of the development project.

 

Steps taken by the government to address these concerns

  • 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.
    • India has successfully translocated a coral reef from the Gulf of Mannar to the Gulf of Kutch earlier.
  • A conservation plan for the leatherback turtle is also being put in place.
  • As per the government, the project site is outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Park.

 

About ‘Great Nicobar Islands’

  • Great Nicobar, is the southernmost island of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
      • The Andaman and Nicobar 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.
  • Ecosystem —
      • The Great Nicobar Island has tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching almost 650 m above sea level, and coastal plains.
      • The Island has two national parks (Campbell Bay National Park & Galathea National Park) and a biosphere reserve.
      • Many endangered species are found at the Island. The leatherback sea turtle is the island’s flagship species.
  • Tribes of Nicobar —
      • Great Nicobar is home to the Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples.
      • The Shompen are hunter-gatherers who depend on forest and marine resources for sustenance.
      • The Nicobarese, who lived along the west coast of the island were mostly relocated after the 2004 tsunami.
      • An estimated 237 Shompen and 1,094 Nicobarese individuals now live in a 751 sq km tribal reserve, some 84 sq km of which is proposed to be de-notified.

 

About ‘Leatherback Sea Turtle’

  • It is the largest of the seven species of sea turtles.
  • Other species are: Olive Ridley turtle, Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Loggerhead turtle, Leatherback turtle
  • Except the Loggerhead, the remaining four species nest along the Indian coast.
  • It is found in all oceans except the Arctic and the Antarctic.
  • Within the Indian Ocean, they nest only in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • IUCN Status – Vulnerable
  • It is the only living species in the genus Dermochelys and family Dermochelyidae.
  • It can easily be differentiated from other modern sea turtles by its lack of a bony shell.
  • They are listed in Schedule I of Indias Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

 

About ‘Galathea Bay’

  • The Galathea Bay is adjacent to Galathea National Park in Great Nicobar Island.
  • It was earlier proposed as a wildlife sanctuary in 1997 for the protection of turtles and was also the site of a long-term monitoring programme.
  • The monitoring was stopped after the tsunami devastation of 2004, but it provided the first systematic evidence of numbers and importance of these beaches.