Great Nicobar Development Plan – UPSC GS3

NITI Aayog’s Great Nicobar Development plan:
  • NITI Aayog developed a ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ plan which includes construction of the following:
    • An international container trans-shipment terminal,
    • A greenfield international airport,
    • A power plant and a township complex spread over 166 sq. km
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) will be the nodal agency for the implementation of the Great Nicobar Development plan.
  • The ‘pre-feasibility report of the Great Nicobar Development plan was prepared by a Gurugram-based consulting agency Aecom India Private Limited for NITI Aayog.
  • The report mentioned the implementation of the plan will require an estimated cost of ₹ 75,000 crores.
What were the concerns of the Environment Appraisal Committee?
  • Incomplete information: Like details of the township, information on seismic and tsunami risks, freshwater requirement details for projects and settlements, etc.
  • Disproportionate Population: After the completion of projects, it is expected that nearly 6.5 lakh people will live on the island. The current population is only 8,500 on Great Nicobar
  • No Details of Tree to be chopped: 130 sq. km. of the project area has some of the finest tropical forests in India. Hence, the numbers of chopped trees could run into millions.
  • No Corporate Environment Policy in Place: Company needs an environmental policy, a prescribed standard operating procedure to deal with environmental and forest violations.
  • Hasty Plans: Pre-feasibility report has proposed 2022-23 for the start of work on the site. However, one year is not enough if the government and project proponents follow the EAC’s recommendations in letter and spirit.
  • Galathea Bay Issue:
    • The Plan aims to construct a port in Galathea Bay. But, this has a number of issues in the plan.
      • Ecological surveys have reported a number of new species, many restricted to just the Galathea region. These include the critically endangered Nicobar shrew, the Great Nicobar crake, the Nicobar frog etc. These are not mentioned in pre-feasibility report.
      • The beaches at the mouth of the river Galathea in South Bay are among the most prominent nesting sites of Giant leatherback turtles.
      • Site selection for the port had been done on technical and financial criteria. The environmental aspects were ignored.
  • At present, the ANIIDCO is involved in activities such as tourism, trading and infrastructure development for tourism and fisheries. Its annual turnover for 2018-19 was ₹ 379 crore. But to manage the infrastructure project valued to cost ₹75,000 crore is way beyond its capacity.
Action points suggested by the Environment Appraisal Committee:
  • The need for an independent assessment of terrestrial and marine biodiversity
  • A study on the impact of dredging, recovery and port operations, including oil spills.
  • Analysis of risk-handling capabilities and a disaster management plan.
  • Details of labour, labour camps and their requirements.
  • The need for studies of alternative sites for the port with a focus on environmental and ecological impact
  • Conducting a hydro-geological study to assess the impact on ground and surface water regimes.
Significance of development of A&N:
  • Strategic location: These islands help India to defend its vital stakes in Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • Economically important: It gives a boost to tourism and business there.
  • Counter Chinese presence in IOR: In recent years, China strengthens its overall presence in IOR. Examples include deployment of a submarine at Colombo harbour, developing naval bases at Gwadar and Djibouti etc.
  • Buffer Zone: These Islands act as a buffer zone between India and rest of the nations present in IOR.
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