IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Great Nicobar Project

19th June, 2024 Economy

Great Nicobar Project

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  • The Congress party has raised significant concerns regarding the proposed Rs 72,000-crore infrastructure upgrade at Great Nicobar Island, calling it a "grave threat" to the island’s indigenous inhabitants and fragile ecosystem.
  • They have demanded an immediate suspension of all clearances and a thorough, impartial review of the project, including by relevant Parliamentary committees.

Great Nicobar

  • Location: Southernmost and largest of the Nicobar Islands.
  • Size: 910 sq km, mainly tropical rainforest.
  • Significance: Indira Point, India’s southernmost point, is located here, close to Sumatra, Indonesia.
  • Inhabitants: Small populations of Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples, alongside non-tribal settlers.
  • Protected Areas: Two national parks and a biosphere reserve. The two parks include: Campbell Bay National Park on the northern part of the island. Galathea National Park in the southern interior. The Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve encompasses a large part (some 85%) of the island of Great Nicobar.

ABOUT ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/andaman-nicobar-islands

The Infrastructure Project

  • Implementing Body: Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO).
  • Components:
  1. Galathea Bay International Container Transhipment Terminal (Galathea Bay ICTT), with 14.2 million TEUs (unit of cargo) capacity eventually.
  2. Great Nicobar International Airport (GNIA): greenfield airport with peak hour capacity of 4,000 passengers.
  3. Great Nicobar Gas and Solar Power Plant (Great Nicobar GSPP): with 450-MVA capacity, spread over 16,610 hectares.
  4. Coastal cities: two new greenfield coastal cities.
  • Area: 16,610 hectares.


  • Strategic Location: Close to Malacca Strait, important for regional and global maritime economy.
  • Clearances: In-principle forest and environmental clearances granted in October 2022.

Strategic Importance

  • Geopolitical Context: Vital for India’s security interests in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean region, countering Chinese naval expansion.
  • Military Upgrades: Enhancing airfields, jetties, logistics, surveillance infrastructure, and military personnel facilities in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Concerns: Environmental Impact & Mitigation


  • Mangrove Cover Loss: The project will result in the loss of 12 to 20 hectares of mangrove cover on the island.
  • Compensatory Afforestation: To mitigate this loss, afforestation will be carried out in Haryana's Aravallis, as permitted by regulations that allow for remote compensatory afforestation.


  • Coral Translocation: To address the risk of coral loss, corals will be translocated to reefs around the island, ensuring their preservation and minimizing environmental disruption.


  • Ecological Sensitivity: The project area within a 10 km radius of Galthea Bay is an ecologically sensitive zone, home to rare fauna such as Leatherback Sea Turtles, saltwater crocodiles, and the Nicobar macaque.
  • Conservation Sites: To protect these species, the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change's (MoEFCC) Expert Appraisal Committee has proposed three conservation sites: Little Nicobar, Menchal Island, and Meroe Island.


  • Population Increase: The project will increase the island's population to over 350,000, representing a staggering 4,000% increase from the current population and potentially threatening the indigenous communities.
  • Affected Inhabitants: Approximately 1,761 inhabitants, including the indigenous Shompen people and Nicobarese communities, are likely to be affected.
  • Tribal Reserve Impact: The island has 853 square kilometers designated as a tribal reserve under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956. This land is for the exclusive use of the community, and others cannot access it without permission. Around 10% of this tribal reserve will be affected by the project.
  • Forest Rights: According to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the Shompen people are the sole legal authority to preserve the forest reserve, emphasizing the importance of their role in managing and protecting their land.

Ecological Impact:

  • The implementation of the project will involve the felling of an estimated 8.5 lakh trees in Great Nicobar Island's prehistoric rainforests, exacerbating environmental concerns.
  • Destruction of coral reefs, affecting marine ecosystems.
  • Threat to terrestrial species like Nicobar Megapode birds and leatherback turtles in Galathea Bay.

Seismic Risks:

  • The GNI lies between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in a tectonically sensitive zone.
  • Researchers and NGOs from across the country have raised several concerns relating to the tectonic volatility and disaster vulnerability of the islands, which have experienced nearly 444 earthquakes in the past 10 years.
  • The tribal communities, who were displaced in the 2004 Tsunami, are still recovering from its impact.

Legal and Administrative Issues

  • Consultation Concerns: Allegations of inadequate consultation with the Tribal Council of Great and Little Nicobar Islands.
  • Tribal Council Revocation: In November 2022, the Tribal Council revoked a no-objection certificate for forest land diversion, citing lack of full information.
  • National Green Tribunal (NGT): In April 2023, the NGT declined to interfere with project clearances but ordered the formation of a high-power committee to review the clearances. There is no current clarity on the committee's findings.
  • Hasty Clearances: Researchers and activists have raised concerns about the inconsistencies in the chronology of clearances, with some procedures starting before formal approval. The path for the shipment port was facilitated in January 2021 when the Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary was denotified by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). The MoEFCC declared a zero-extent eco-sensitive zone for the Galathea and Campbell Bay National Parks, making forest land available for the project along the central and south-eastern coast of Great Nicobar Island.


  • The proposed infrastructure project at Great Nicobar Island has sparked significant controversy, balancing strategic and economic benefits against environmental and indigenous rights concerns.
  • The debate underscores the need for comprehensive, inclusive decision-making processes and the careful weighing of developmental goals against ecological and social impacts.

Way Ahead for the Nicobar Project:

Comprehensive Environmental Assessment:

  • Conduct a thorough and independent environmental impact assessment (EIA) to evaluate the potential ecological consequences of the project.
  • This assessment should involve experts and stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the environmental risks.

Community Engagement and Consultation:

  • Initiate meaningful consultations with indigenous communities, including the Shompen and Nicobarese, to understand their concerns and incorporate their perspectives into the project planning process.
  • Respect their rights and traditional knowledge in decision-making.

Mitigation Strategies:

  • Implement robust mitigation measures to minimize the adverse effects on biodiversity, including the translocation of sensitive species and extensive afforestation programs to compensate for lost forest cover.

Sustainable Development Practices:

  • Integrate principles of sustainable development into the project design and implementation, emphasizing resource efficiency, renewable energy adoption, and waste management strategies to reduce environmental footprint.

Regulatory Oversight:

  • Strengthen regulatory oversight and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations.
  • Hold accountable those responsible for any violations or lapses in environmental safeguards.

Public Accountability and Transparency:

  • Promote transparency in decision-making processes related to the project, providing access to information and opportunities for public scrutiny and participation.

Adaptive Management Approach:

  • Adopt an adaptive management approach, allowing for flexibility in project implementation to address emerging environmental and social challenges effectively.
  • Regular monitoring and evaluation should be conducted to assess the project's impacts and adjust strategies accordingly.

Capacity Building and Empowerment:

  • Invest in capacity building initiatives for local communities, empowering them to participate actively in conservation efforts and sustainable development initiatives.
  • Provide training and resources to enable their meaningful engagement in decision-making processes.

Research and Innovation:

  • Encourage research and innovation to develop alternative technologies and practices that minimize environmental disruption while achieving project objectives.
  • Foster collaboration between government agencies, research institutions, and civil society organizations to explore innovative solutions.

Long-term Planning and Legacy:

  • Develop a long-term vision for the project that goes beyond immediate economic gains, prioritizing the preservation of biodiversity, cultural heritage, and social well-being for future generations.
  • Ensure that the project leaves a positive legacy that enhances the resilience and sustainability of the Nicobar Islands ecosystem.


Q. Discuss the challenges involved in balancing developmental goals with ecological and social impacts, particularly in the context of mega infrastructure projects in ecologically sensitive areas. Illustrate your answer with relevant examples and suggest measures to ensure sustainable development while safeguarding environmental and social well-being.