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Great Nicobar Project, Components and Legal Challenges


  • The proposed Rs 72,000 crore infrastructure project at Great Nicobar Island aims to leverage the island’s strategic location for economic and military advantages. However, it faces significant opposition due to environmental concerns and potential impacts on indigenous communities.
  • The project’s progress and clearances continue to be contentious issues, with calls for thorough reviews and greater transparency.
  • The opposition party called for the immediate suspension of all clearances for NITI Aayog’s mega project on Great Nicobar Island.
  • They cited violations of due process, legal and constitutional provisions protecting tribal communities, and the project’s ecological and human cost.
  • The party also demanded an impartial review by parliamentary committees.
Great Nicobar Island
Location and Size

  • Great Nicobar is the southernmost and largest of the Nicobar Islands, with a fragile ecosystem and significant biodiversity.
  • It spans 910 square kilometres, mainly covered by tropical rainforest, in the southeastern Bay of Bengal.
  • Indira Point, the southernmost point of India, is located on this island and is only 90 nautical miles (less than 170 km) from Sabang, at the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island.

Ecological and Human Elements

  • The island is home to two national parks and a biosphere reserve.
  • It has small populations of the Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples, along with a few thousand non-tribal settlers.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

  • The archipelago consists of 836 islands, divided into two groups: the Andaman Islands to the north and the Nicobar Islands to the south.
  • These two groups are separated by the 150-km wide Ten Degree Channel.

About Great Nicobar Project

  • Cost: Rs 72,000 crore.
  • Implementing Agency: Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO).
  • Components: International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT),
    • Greenfield international airport,
    • Township,
    • Gas and solar power plant.

Great Nicobar Project, Components and Legal Challenges_4.1

  • Area: Spread across 16,610 hectares.
  • Strategic Location: Close to Malacca Strait, key for regional and global maritime economy.
  • Military Significance: Vital for India’s national security amidst Chinese naval expansion.
    • Ongoing military upgrades in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, including airfields, jetties, logistics, and surveillance infrastructure.
  • In March 2021, NITI Aayog unveiled a ₹72,000 crore plan called ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island’.
  • The project includes constructing an international transhipment terminal, an international airport, a power plant, and a township.
  • The project aims to integrate Great Nicobar into the global maritime economy and promote sustainable tourism.

Indigenous Inhabitants

  • Population: Small populations of Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples.
  • Legal Issues: Allegations of violating tribal rights and inadequate consultation with the Tribal Council. The Tribal Council revoked a no-objection certificate in November 2022 due to insufficient information.

Tribal Communities

  • Shompen: Approximately 250 in number, live in the interior forests, classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group. They are predominantly hunter-gatherers with their own unique language.
  • Nicobarese: Numbering around 450 on Great Nicobar, they were resettled in Campbell Bay after the 2004 tsunami. They engage in farming and fishing, speaking different dialects of the Nicobarese language.

Settler Communities

  • Settlers from mainland India, including retired military servicemen and their families, settled between 1968 and 1975.
  • Approximately 330 households were given land in seven revenue villages on the island’s east coast.
  • The total settler population is around 6,000, comprising fisherfolk, agricultural and construction labourers, businesspersons, and administrative staff.

Project Approvals and Legal Challenges

  • Clearances: Received in-principle forest and environmental clearances in October 2022.
  • National Green Tribunal (NGT):
    • In April 2023, NGT declined to interfere with the project’s clearances.
    • Ordered a high-power committee to review clearances, but the committee’s report status remains unclear.
    • An appeal against NGT’s order was dismissed in 2023.

Opposition to the Project

Ecological Concerns

  • The project requires the diversion of about 130 sq km of forest land and the felling of around 10 lakh trees.
  • Two wildlife sanctuaries, Galathea Bay and Megapode, were denotified to make way for the project.
  • Galathea Bay, a critical habitat for the giant leatherback turtle, is listed in the ‘National Marine Turtle Action Plan’ as a protected area.

Tribal Rights Concerns:

  • The Tribal Council of Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar withdrew its NOC, citing concealed information about tribal reserve lands.
  • Some land classified as “uninhabited” in NITI Aayog’s plan is the ancestral land of the Great Nicobarese, who have repeatedly sought to return to these lands.
  • Shompen communities face disease risks due to a lack of immunity from contact with the outside world. Their settlements overlap with areas proposed for the transhipment terminal.

Social and Environmental Impact:

  • The local panchayat of Campbell Bay raised concerns over the social impact assessment for land acquisition for the airport.
  • Researchers highlighted inadequate assessment of earthquake risks. The Andaman and Nicobar archipelago is in a seismically active region with high earthquake frequency, categorised as zone V for seismic hazard.

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