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Major Infrastructure Boost for Great Nicobar Island, southernmost tip of India

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Port Blair: The Great Nicobar Islands, which is the Southernmost Island of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Southernmost tip of India is all set to get a Greenfield International Airport, an International Container Transhipment Terminal, a Township and Power plant.

A prestigious project of holistic development of Great Nicobar Island (GNI), aiming to transform the Island into a hub of port-led development, has obtained a green signal, an official release of the Andaman and Nicobar Administration said here on Sunday.

The GNI project has been conceived based on the principles of Sustainable Development wherein the ecological, economic and social factors have been given due consideration at every stage.

Considering the national importance of the project in view of the security, socio-economic benefit and strategic location of the transhipment terminal, the Govt. of India has conceived the project at an estimated cost of Rs 72,622 crores after careful consideration of the environmental status of Great Nicobar Island.

Quoting a report by leading newspapers of India, the Information and Publicity Division of Andaman and Nicobar Administration today issued a press release saying that the Environment Ministry’s panel has cleared a project to construct a Greenfield International Airport, an International Container Transhipment Terminal, a Township and Power plant in Great Nicobar Island.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) consists of few government officials, mostly subject experts and eminent scientists from various fields of Environment, Pollution control, Groundwater, Road research, ocean technology, infrastructure, Power amongst others, after extensive rounds of deliberations and meetings recommended grant of Environmental and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Clearance for the project in its meeting held on 22.08.2022 – 23.08.2022. A series of meetings and deliberations including for Terms of Reference (ToR) for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and EAC were held from March 2021 and finally concluded in August 2022 before the recommendation for grant of Environmental and CRZ clearance by the EAC for GNI project.

“The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in general and the Indian Ocean in particular has turned into a strategic hotspot in recent years. In response to the increasing strategic value of this IOR, a critical mass of development in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is necessary for strengthening India’s regional presence,” the release issued by IP Division quoted.

The Great Nicobar Island also represents a significant economic development opportunity as the main east-west shipping route that links East Asian exports with the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal and Europe runs just to the south of this Island, it said.

“By building a container port in this location, India can participate more fully in the global shipping trade” and generate lakhs of new job, the report said.

Other countries like Mayanmar, China and Sri Lanka were gearing up to develop deep water facilities for taking a major share of trade by developing suitable harbour facilities and it is therefore imperative that India should do the same, the report contended.

Great Nicobar Island is considered perfect as a site as it is equidistant from Colombo, Port Klang and Singapore and is also very close to the East-West International corridor.

Out of 910 sq. km of Great Nicobar Island, only 166.10 sq. km of area is proposed for development which is approximately 18% of the total area. The remaining area of 82% will stay covered under Protected Forest, two National Parks, Eco Sensitive Zones and Biosphere Reserve and managed for conservation of biodiversity at ecosystem, species and genetic levels.

The total forest area to be diverted out of 166.10 Sq. Km. including deemed forest is 130.75 Sq. Km. Remaining project area of 35.35 Sq. Km. lies in the Revenue area.

About 50 pc of the total forest area to be diverted forming 65.99 Sq. Km. will be reserved as green area and no tree felling is envisaged here.

In the remaining forest area to be diverted, felling of trees is proposed in a phased manner over a period of 30 years. Further, Compensatory Afforestation is proposed to be carried out as per the guidelines of the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for diversion of forest land.

“EAC has mandated specific conservation and management plan and high funding for the endemic species, Mangroves and Coral and other fauna besides several other caveats,” the release added.

EAC said three independent committees will be set up: one to oversee pollution-related matters, another on biodiversity and the third to oversee welfare and issues related to Shopmen and Nicobarese tribes. Accordingly, an EIA has been undertaken for the preparation of conservation and management plan to have minimal environmental and social impact due to the project.

The exhaustive Environmental Management plan will be put in place and monitored on a regular basis. Accordingly, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History (SACON), Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have been entrusted byA & N Administration for preparation of conservation/mitigation plans for bio-diversity including leatherback turtles, megapode, crocodile, etc.

Conservation and protection of Nicobar macaque, robber crabs, endemic birds, mangroves, giant clams and other endemic flora and fauna have been given due consideration.

Additionally, the UT Administration is in the process of notification of three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Leatherback Turtles in Little Nicobar (13.75 sq.km), Megapode in Menchal (1.29 sq.km) and Corals in Meroe Island (2.73 sq.km), for conservation of these species.

The EAC in its deliberations and recommendations has ensured that the conservation of different Flora and Fauna is taken up in a scientific manner. Experts have been roped in and entrusted with the preparation of effective plans and conservation measures.

Substantial financial provision has been earmarked upfront towards the Environmental Management Plan (EMP). All construction activity to be taken up in the project will be ensured as per the highest environmental standards.

Special studies relating to Fauna and Flora in GNI are proposed relating to various species, landscapes, Biodiversity etc.

“The Andaman & Nicobar Administration, in line with its Shompen policy is committed to recognize the social, ecological, economic diversity of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups of the Islands, preserve and protect their cultural heritage and ensure their well being. The tribal reserve measuring 743.96 sq. Km after de-notification will remain protected as tribal reserve. The project will not displace any Shompen tribals. The tribal communities will continue to have unfettered right of meeting their day-to-day requirement for their sustenance,” the release added.

The project will not only ensure a significant presence of the country in the Malacca Strait but also enhance socio-economic growth and usher in a new era for all round development of Andaman &

Nicobar Islands and Great Nicobar Island in particular.

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