Development of Great Nicobar: strategic imperative and ecological concerns

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Source: The post is based on an article “Development of Great Nicobar: strategic imperative and ecological concerns” published in The Indian Express on 22nd November 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Infrastructure

News: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has given environmental clearance for the development of a project on the Great Nicobar Island. The project is to be implemented in three phases over the next 30 years.

What is the project?

A “greenfield city” has been proposed, including an International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT), a greenfield international airport, a power plant, and a township for the personnel who will implement the project.

The proposed port (ICTT) will allow Great Nicobar to participate in the regional and global maritime economy by becoming a major part in cargo transshipment. The port will be controlled by the Indian Navy.

The airport will have dual military-civilian functions and will be useful for tourism.

Roads, public transport, water supply and waste management facilities, and several hotels have been planned for tourists. The project will also help in creating direct and indirect jobs on the island.

However, the proposed project will lead to cutting of trees and acquiring the forest area.

What is the purpose of the project?

Tourism: The project will help in the growth of the tourism industry in the Great Nicobar Island. Further, the location of the island is important for economic and strategic reasons.

Hub for Cargo Ships: Great Nicobar is equidistant from Colombo to the southwest and Port Klang and Singapore to the southeast, and is close to the East-West international shipping corridor. The proposed ICTT can become a hub for cargo ships travelling on this route.

National Security: Great Nicobar is also important for national security purposes and consolidation of the Indian Ocean Region. The increase in the presence of Chinese ships in the region of Bay of Bengal and in the Indo-Pacific is also a major concern.

What are the concerns with the project?

Great Nicobar is an ecologically important area and the development of the project will lead to deforestation affecting the flora and fauna of the region.

It will also lead to increased runoff and deposits of the sediments in the ocean, which will impact the coral reefs including loss of mangroves on the island.

What has the government done to address this concern?

The Government has successfully translocated a coral reef from the Gulf of Mannar to the Gulf of Kutch. The Zoological Survey of India is also assessing the amount of reef required to be relocated for the project.

The government has said that a conservation plan for the leatherback turtle is also under consideration.

As per the government, the project site is outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Park and the project will acquire only a small portion of the island.

Moreover, 15 percent of the development area itself will be green cover and open spaces. Therefore, it is necessary to develop the project as it is important for national security and strategically.

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