The grandiose Rs 72,000-crore infrastructure development plan for Great Nicobar Island, though formulated after prolonged deliberations, has several worrisome aspects which should not be left unaddressed.


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.
  • The economic importance of Great Nicobar Island stems from its vicinity to the East-West international shipping corridor, which serves as a passage for a sizable part of the world’s shipping trade. The proposed port can, therefore, become a hub for cargo ships plying on this route.


What is the issue?

  • This ambitious project, to be implemented over the next 30 years, is conceived, evidently, to exploit the location advantage of this largest of the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands in the Bay of Bengal for economic and strategic gains. This territory is almost equidistant from Colombo in the southwest and Singapore in the southeast.
  • However, the works to be undertaken as part of this project, it is feared, may adversely affect the fragile ecology and rich biodiversity of this region, and jeopardise the rights of the indigenous communities.



  • This island is known for its pristine and untouched rainforest ecosystems, having unique coral reefs and rare species of turtles and other fauna and flora, which, according to environmentalists, would be unwise to tamper with.
  • Besides, it also lies in the seismically active zone and is prone to maritime hazards like tsunamis. Part of it was actually devastated during the 2004 tsunami, resulting in a heavy loss of tribal population.
  • More importantly, nearly 850 square kilometres (sq km) of the island’s area of around 900 sq km is notified as tribal reserve under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulations, 1956.
  • It was also designated as a biosphere reserve in 1989, and made part of Unesco’s “Man and Biosphere Programme” in 2013.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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.



Thus, given the vulnerabilities of Great Nicobar Island, and also taking into account its strategic importance in view of the growing Chinese naval incursions in this zone, it might be prudent to modify, if not shelve, the proposed project to minimise damage to its distinctive natural ecosystem.


SourceBusiness Standard


QUESTION – What is the proposed ‘Great Nicobar Plan’? What precautions should be taken in the project considering its environmental and strategic significance, and why is it important to approach the same with caution?