Abstract 

The NITI Aayog has come up with a plan for the “Holistic Development of the Great Nicobar Island” situated at the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The plan aims to develop a new Greenfield city with a diverse and robust economy based on Maritime services and tourism. A Consulting Agency named AECOM India Private Limited (AECOM) was engaged in the purposes of preparing a development master plan. The 125-page report submitted by AECOM outlays an extensive framework for the development of the Great Nicobar Island. [1] However, in a RTI filed, the NITI Aayog has denied on any such developmental plan for the Andaman and Nicobar Island. The Authors through this report, have tried to outlay the intricacies of the plan, its viability and the legal footing, with highlighting an important question of the impact and consequences on the account of approval of this plan by the concerned authorities.

Introduction

Great Nicobar Island

The Great Nicobar Island is situated at the foot of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and extends from Ranganatha Bay on the east coast to southwards to Galathea Bay and around the corner of Indira Point to Pemayya Bay. It stretches over to a total area of 910.074 sq.km and consists of two national parks, a biosphere, and is home to the Shompen and Nicobarese tribes. 

A joint family of 14 species of mammals, 71 species of birds, 26 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, and 113 species of fish, it houses significant number of endemic and/or endangered species including Crab-eating Macaque, Nicobar Tree Shrew, Dugong, Nicobar Megapode, Serpent Eagle, Salt Water Crocodile, Marine Turtles and Reticulated Python. [2]

NITI Aayog’s Ambitious Master Plan

The project of building a new Greenfield coastal city, that will be developed as a free trade zone has been birthed as a branch to strengthen India’s status, economy, trade and tourism. The primary push for this project has been the vision to turn Andaman & Nicobar Islands into an economic hub, strengthening India’s presence in the Andaman Sea and the Southeast Asian region through the establishment of a major cargo transshipment center. This comes true on paper due to the location of the Great Nicobar Island which is just north of the main east-west shipping route that links East Asian exports with the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal and Europe. 

The fruition of this plan brings into focus the ripples this development will create which include elevated participation of India in the global shipping trade, creation of a myriad of employment opportunities for citizens and improvement of quality of life for current and future residents of Great Nicobar Island. 

The said projects outlays the development plan and demarcates 75 square kms for urbanized area, 33 square kms for residential area and 42 square kms for commercial development, and enlists under it, four major development projects including an International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT) under Category 7 (e), a Greenfield International Airport under Category 7(a), a Power Plant under Category 1(d) and Township under category 8(b), which together form the core of the main components of the holistic master plan. [3] From the perspective of environmental assessment, the ICTT is considered to be the primary project. It is to be noted that the proposed project site is falling outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Parks.

Understanding the Key Takeaways from the Plan 

The development plan entails a range of ambitious projects that are aimed at the commercial development of the entire region. Some of the key takeaways from the plan are listed below:

International Container Transshipment Terminal 

The idea behind this project is to enable India to use its geographical access to major shipping routes between East Asia and South Asia and major trade cities like Colombo, Port Klang and Singapore to its leverage and to pocket, a significant share of the regional maritime economy. The geographical vicinity will act as major economic benefit due to the instance of cost savings for containers shipping costs. 

The proposition put forward a list of 5 potential sites for the establishment of this project including Galathea Bay, Casuarina Bay, Anderson Bay, Pemayya Bay and Campbell Bay. The selection of Galathea Bay as the proposed site was done because it was closest to the International Shipping Line minimizing cost risks, it required least Reclamation of Land to develop Onshore Storage Facilities in comparison to other alternate sites, minimizing negative environmental impacts as it falls under Island Coastal Regulation Zone 1B, minimal dredging is required due to natural depth availability of 20m, no rehabilitation and resettlement of existing residents is anticipated as there are currently no residents on this site, no hill cutting envisaged, No Megapode Nests or crocodiles at site, Sufficient water depth is available close to shore, has minimal Littoral drift and as such would hardly require any maintenance dredging during the years of operation. This will result in low O&M Costs.

But it should be noted that Turtle nesting sites are present at the mouth of Galathea river, a small portion of the west breakwater and backup area falls in tribal reserve, the proposed site is not connected through any road and can only be accessed through sea route and currently, there exists no reliable water source or water supply system, no power supply and no social infrastructure near the site for intended development. 

The total project area for port is 993 ha (out of which 766 ha is on land and 227 ha shall be created through reclamation). [4] 

For the purpose of development, there exists requirements for certain facilities like breakwaters of suitable length and orientation to provide round the year tranquility in the harbor, capital dredging would be needed to create the required water depths in navigational channel, mainly silty sand and silty sandy clay will be dredged and therefore minimal involvement of rock dredging, an approach channel in natural water depths and a turning circle of 800 m diameter, reclamation as well as site grading to develop the backup area container parking yard, port buildings, workshops, utility buildings etc., water supply, fire fighting system, drainage, sewerage system including STP, Power Supply and distribution system including diesel generators shall also be developed. 

Greenfield International Airport 

The proposed Great Nicobar Island International Airport (GNIIA) has been decided to be developed as an International Airport in Great Nicobar, Nicobar Islands of India. The airstrip should be developed to cater for operation of Airbus A-380 type of aircraft in all weather conditions having peak hour passengers’ capacity of 4000 PHP. 

For the establishment of airport, 3 out of 5 proposed sites were shortlisted: North Site – Ranganatha Bay, Central Site – Existing Runway of INS BAAZ and Southern Site- Gandhi Nagar/Shastri Nagar. After much analysis, the southern site was observed to be available from both north and south approaches and hence was assessed that it will be available for over 95% of time which is a requirement of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), whereas, the other two shortlisted sites were available for a mere 50% of time. In the proposed southern site, a large part of it is Revenue Land, minimal forest land will be affected, there exists land connectivity via roads, flight path will be over Sea and therefore, minimal disturbance will be inflicted to population, there are no turtle nesting areas and megapode area in this area but there are crocodile infested areas which will be affected.  The Gandhi Nagar/ Shastri Nagar site is the only site within the project area flat enough to facilitate bi-directional take-off and landing. The southern site is sparsely populated but there are two villages in that area which will need to be displaced and approximately 32 ha is under forest land. The southern site proves to be the best but limited rehabilitation and resettlement plan for human habitat is a pre-requisite for the success of this project. 

This proposed airport will gain traction through its locational advantage of their close proximity to international tourist island destinations like Senang City, Phuket Island and Langkawi Island and would put Andaman and Nicobar on the global tourist destinations map. 

The airport will occupy area of 1039 Ha (for air side, Land Side, approach road & a defense apron). The proposed project falls in Category 7(a) of the Schedule vide EIA notification 2006 amended to date involving preparation of Environment Impact Assessment study and Environment Management Plan. The plan along with the construction of the runway will include facilities like terminal building, Apron, Taxi Track, Shoulder boundary wall, perimeter roads, parking facilities, ATC, Fire Station, Technical block, electric substation, Category 9 level of protection, minimum 3 No. of Crash Fire Tender is required to be provided, RCC framed with filler bricks, Chain link fencing, Electrical Works & Other Equipment/Services (Electric substation building to be constructed on city side to house HT and LT panels, DG set, Transformers, APFC Panel, Bus duct cabling etc. with control office), Pump house and UG sump shall also be developed alongside of the substation for water supplies to the airport, E. Communication, Navigation & Surveillance (CNS) Planning Works (Provision of security system surveillance CCTV, Baggage Scanner, DFMDs, HHMDs, ILS, DVOR-DME, Flight Information Display, Intelligent building management, energy efficient internal/external lighting, LED TVs etc.) [5] 

Township and Development

The large majority of the land on Great Nicobar is forest land which leaves little non-forest land available for development. Therefore, it is unavoidable for some of the existing forest land to be utilized for future urban development. However, the approach is to minimize the impact of non-forest uses on forest land by using compact settlement patterns that require less land and much of the proposed development can be accommodated on the existing revenue land, using forest land for low-impact development such as institutional campus development (compact school, research or other institutional campuses surrounded by forest) and very low residential development (with minimum lot sizes for single family housing of 5-10 ha and restrictions on the amount of forest that can be cleared on those plots). A new Township will link the infrastructure facilities into complete physical framework of the new city.

It is predicted that very little rehabilitation and resettlement of existing residents is anticipated for the development of project of township and development. Only the development of infrastructure will require resettlement. But the development of a new north-south road will require some land takings for public utility.

Power-Plant

The project proposes the development of a power plant to accommodate a city-wide demand of 450 MVA. The power generation plan for the project envisages the solar plants, Gas based plant and some Diesel generating stations. The priority is to improve energy efficiency to reduce the dependency on diesel for power generation. In addition, LNG-based power plant for 50 MW is being established by NTPC. Diesel Gensets is proposed to be used in initial phase of development and shall be about 15% of the total Demand of 450 MVA. About 10% is planned through solar panels and balance shall be gas based.

For the geographical placement of the power plant, three sites were considered -Near Campbell Bay, near Shastri Nagar and near port. After analysis, the site near the port came out to be the winner as it is less environmentally sensitive, near load center, it will cost less Transportation cost of fuel¸ less generational expenses, it is not affecting turtle nesting areas, crocodile or megapode infested areas and no rehabilitation and resettlement of existing residents is anticipated for this project as there are currently no residents on the proposed site. The area is predicted to be around 39 ha.

All economic activities require and rely on uninterrupted power supply. Electric power is necessary for operation of the port, airport, and township. Without it, even the thought of establishment and construction seems like a distant dream. The power plant will act as the pillar on which this entire project is boasting its weight on. In the UT of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Diesel Generating (DG) sets are the major source of energy in this Union Territory of A&NI. Power Generation Sources are 75% LNG based (337 MVA), 15% DG Set Power (68 MVA) and 10% Solar Power (45 MVA) in the proposed project.

The power plant is proposed to be set-up in two parallel trains in a phase manner.

Employment

The initiation of the project will mark the steep rise in employment opportunities. From the construction phase, to the establishment, to the functioning and eventual settlement, the demand for workers from the economic drivers would translate into the residing population for the region.

The project anticipates that investment in the Trans-shipment hub, tourism facilities and the airport, among other economic activities, will generate approximately 105,141 jobs by 2050. This direct employment will have in turn through the multiplier effects in service and support industries generate another 157,711 jobs. The total number of employees is anticipated to be approximately 2.6 lakh thirty years from now. Associated with that employed population is a dependent population estimated at about 3.9 lakh. The total population in 2050 is estimated at approximately 6.5 lakh. [6]

In terms of the phasing of the investment, employment generation, and urban growth, it is anticipated that approximately 2.5 lakh of the anticipated population growth will take place during Phase 1 (2021-2036), while the balance growth of 4 lakh population will take place over the 15-year period after that (Phase 2: 2037-2051).

Tourism

It is safe to say that the islands of Andaman & Nicobar are one of the hidden gems of the country. It entails within them such beauty that will attract the world to be a party to its paradise-like features. The project plans on establishing tourism facilities (hotels, resorts, dining, shopping, and entertainment) within the urban centers up and down the coast. Often, they will be located on the seaside, to facilitate easy access to the beach. Eco-tourism resources are marine and terrestrial; they include the beaches, the sea, on one hand, and the interior tropical forest on the other. These two very distinct areas will attract tourists from around the world and cater to them in an environmentally sensitive manner that will help conserve the integrity of these world class resources without staining them with the much-shamed mark of humanity.

The major urban center is located at Campbell Bay. Starting at Anderson Bay, secondary urban centers are proposed at each of the five largest bays along the coast to Gandhi Nagar. The urban centers are linked together by a major arterial road that integrates a mass transit solution (which will inculcate connectivity.

Major Criticism

The ambitious development plan has been the object of criticism from both Environment Activists as well as Ecology Experts. Stated below is the list of major criticism that the plan has unfortunately attracted: 

Potential Existential Threats

Some of the staunch critics are of the opinion that however attractive the proposition of the project is portrayed; one cannot just ignore the fact that it is stigmatized with real dangers which can in a short while erase the much accredit islands of Andaman & Nicobar from the face of the earth. Their primary concern is based on the very much real fear of depletion of water resources. It’s almost ironical that an island with three rivers flowing through it (Alexandria, Dogmar and Amritkaur) faces upon urbanization the fear of exhaustion of consumable water resources. There exist perennial streams naturally which make water available throughout the year but before even thinking of any sort of urban development, there is a pre-requisite need for drawing out an engineered plan to use the available water resources sustainably. The other fears include the loss of tropical forest upon tourist attracted capitalism, contamination of surface or ground water which is limited in source as the rivers that flow are fed by rain and therefore, waste management must be the primary goal to prevent irreparable damage to natural water supplies. Another very dangerous repercussion of urbanization can be the degradation of natural habitat in the Tribal Reserve Areas and intrusion of outsiders into Shompen and Nicobarese areas which will render the forest unsafe for then, go against the Shompen Policy of which establishes prioritization of tribal rights over large scale development proposals and be against the constitution.

Environment Appraisal Committee’s Verdict

The Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) – Infrastructure I of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) reported major red flags in the analyses on the ‘pre-feasibility’ report of ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ prepared for NITI Aayog by AECOM India Pvt. Ltd. [7] This 15-membered committee was headed by headed by marine biologist and former director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Deepak Apte. [8]

The issues reported were primarily concerning using Galathea Bay as the prime central site for the project which houses nests of India’s iconic Giant leatherback turtles which are the world’s largest marine turtles. The committee translated this to the fact that the selection of site was done while completely ignoring the environmental importance and therefore has proposed an independent study for the suitability of the proposed site with special focus on fauna pertaining to its geography. The committee highlighted the need for more assessments to be done and prompted the same in areas pertaining to impact of dredging, reclamation and port operations, oil spills, analysis of risk-handling capabilities, a seismic and tsunami hazard map, a disaster management plan, details of labour, labour camps and their requirements, an assessment of the cumulative impact, and a hydro-geological study to assess impact on round and surface water regimes.

That being stated, the committee surprisingly, gave the project the initial go by recommending it for grant of terms of reference (TOR) for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, which will include baseline studies over three months.

Author’s View

The Sustainable Development Test

The principles of Sustainable Development promote development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. [9] It is driven by the concept of needs and the idea of limitation. The first instance of its discussion can be traced back to the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. [10] which was further advocated by the Brundtland Report in 1987 and thereafter, officially codified in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992. [11]

In India, the Supreme Court has time and again recognized and safeguarded the presence and implementation of the Principle of Sustainable Development with Justice Kuldip Singh at the forefront as the torch bearer. The Supreme Court established the adherence to the principle of Sustainable Development as a constitutional requirement, [12] and also, while recognizing the importance of economic development stated that it should not be allowed at the cost of ecology or causing widespread environmental violation or destruction. [13]

Development and protection of the environment, each hold their importance but not at the sake of another. Thus, it is pertinent to strike and thereafter, maintain a fine balance between these for sustainable growth.

The islands of Andaman & Nicobar remain to this date, one of the few ecologically rich and well-preserved hubs of biodiversity thriving without human intervention. They are geographically already at extreme risk due to rising sea levels, [14] lying in zone V of the Alpine-Himalayan belt which is most prone to seismic activity, and, is recognized as a distinct eco-region in the WWF global risk with high endemism. The islands are already at the risk of becoming inhabitable. Any further large-scale disturbance like the aforementioned development will push it to the brink of making it completely inhabitable and ecologically robbed.

However, development cannot be ignored for a country like India too. No doubt can be cast upon the fact that the development in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands will aid India economically while enriching its strategic and maritime capabilities, and creating a myriad of employment opportunities but the economic gains might just not be enough to compensate for the ecological disturbance and damage.

The NGT has taken decisions on large scale development plans that have reinstated the prevalence of principles of Sustainable Development. It ordered that development should be within the parameters of environmental concerns and should satisfy the principles of sustainable development and for the same reason suspension of the establishment of the POSCO steel plant in Odisha. [15]

The Hon’ble NGT in the case of Sarang Yadhwakar and others v. The Commissioner, [16] held, “one must, while permitting development, not only ensure that no substantial damage is caused to the environment but also take such preventive measures, which would ensure no irretrievable damage to the environment even in future on the premise on intergenerational equity”.

The development plan aims at the holistic development of the Great Andaman region, but the Authors are of the opinion that the tourism-attracted capitalism could result in the loss of tropical forest. We are of the view that the rampant urbanisation can be deadly and degrade the natural habitat in the Tribal Reserve Areas. The intrusion of outsiders into Shompen and Nicobarese areas goes against the Shompen Policy which establishes prioritization of tribal rights over large scale development proposals.

Also, contamination of surface or ground water which is limited in source as the rivers that flow are fed by rain and therefore, waste management must be the primary goal to prevent irreparable damage to natural water supplies. Another very dangerous repercussion of urbanization can be the degradation of natural habitat in the Tribal Reserve Areas and intrusion of outsiders into Shompen and Nicobarese areas which will render the forest unsafe for then, go against the Shompen Policy of which establishes prioritization of tribal rights over large scale development proposals and be against the constitution.

This puts forward the idea of the need for further studies on the viability of the plan, the limitations of the islands, alternative sites, a detailed study on the environmental and ecological impact, a seismic and tsunami hazard map, a disaster management plan, details of labour and labour camps, an assessment of the cumulative impact, and a hydro-geological study to assess impact on round and surface water regimes and a report on the sustainability of the plan if implemented. This is crucial for the decision makers to understand whether this development will be beneficial in the long go not only for the country but for the world.

Tribal Rights

The proposed Development Plan fails to recognize the rights of the tribals and falls short of expectations. It does very little to include or take consent of one of the most important stakeholders of the entire region- its tribal population.

It was explicitly noted in the Official Shompen Policy of 2015 that the integrity and welfare of Shompen people should be given priority with regards to large-scale development proposals in the future for the Great Nicobar Island (such as transshipment port/container terminal etc.). [17] If the government goes along this plan, large areas of the forest could become inaccessible for the Shompen community.

The Constitutional mandate of ensuring the Rights of the Tribal population needs to be balanced if and when this plan is given the go ahead.

Volatility of the Area

In the wake of the deadly Tsunami, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur prepared a report which claimed that approximately 8-metre-high waves hit the shores of Andaman on December 26, 2004 as a result of which a lighthouse on Indira Point, the southernmost point of India, got submerged in water. [18] This is a clear indication that the area is extremely volatile and a slight tweak into the normal indices could result in a catastrophe.

Let alone making any provisions, the proposed plan has ignored and failed to recognize the topographical situation of the region, which renders the entire Development Plan one-dimensional. It seems that various factors which are crucial to the Andaman’s were not even considered. The draft puts up a weak show as only the commercial benefits were considered. However, the commercial benefits are only good till it is balanced with the ecological and social demands. 

Concluding Remarks

The authors are of the opinion that the proposed Development Plan is one-dimensional and needs to be revised with proper research and assistance from experts so that the chance of the holistic development of the entire Andaman & Nicobar Islands could, in fact, become a possibility.

The NITI Aayog in its reply to an RTI outrightly denied the existence of such a plan which only added to the mystery. If at all, it decides to go ahead with the aforementioned plan, it needs to overhaul the entire proposed framework.

Editorial Team

Managing Editor: Naman Anand 

Editors-in-Chief: Akanksha Goel & Aakaansha Arya 

Senior Editor: Jhalak Srivastav

Associate Editor: Swadha Sharma 

Junior Editor: Janvi Johar

 

About the Authors

Aabhas Pareek, ACIArb. is the Managing Partner of GL Pareek Chambers of Law.

Swadha Sharma is a 3rd year law student at USLLS, GGSIPU and an Associate Editor at IJPIEL.

Preferred Method of Citation 

Aabhas Pareek and Swadha Sharma, “NITI Aayog’s Project for Great Nicobar Island” (IJPIEL, 5 August, 2021).

<https://ijpiel.com/index.php/2021/08/05/niti-aayogs-project-for-great-nicobar-island/>

Endnotes

[1] Alexa Heidrich, et al, “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman & Nicobar Islands – Pre Feasibility Report” (March, 2021), http://environmentclearance.nic.in/DownloadPfdFile.aspx?FileName=mfeaYaYbdxRbeR8PGLUycwXyG0OWE2QWwm72WXjOAxHQbrEhaMSFRfBrbP1c1ckmdhZ1B7qes6LgOQOuwF2N5mJ2kxDbKrCShi1WB4/MMxE=&FilePath=93ZZBm8LWEXfg+HAlQix2fE2t8z/pgnoBhDlYdZCxzXmG8GlihX6H9UP1HygCn3pCkAF2zPFXFQNqA4krKa1Aw==.

[2] “Report of the Task Force on Islands, Coral Reefs, Mangroves & Wetlands in Environment & Forests”, Planning Commission (March, 2007), https://niti.gov.in/planningcommission.gov.in/docs/aboutus/committee/wrkgrp11/tf11_Islands.pdf.

[3] Supra Note 1.

[4] Supra Note 1.

[5] Supra Note 1.

[6] Supra Note 1.

[7] Pankaj Sekhsaria, “Green panel allows Great Nicobar plan to advance”, THE HINDUSTAN TIMES (May 9, 2021, 9:08 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/green-panel-allows-great-nicobar-plan-to-advance/article34521310.ece.

[8] Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Order, F.No. 1-2/2020-IA.III (Issued on July 13, 2020), http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/public_display/orders/1330659027$EAC%20Infra1%20Reconstitution%20order%20.pdf.

[9] Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5987our-common-future.pdf.

[10] Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment UN Doc.A/CONF.48/14, at 2 and Corr.1 (1972).

[11] United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. (1992). Agenda 21, Rio Declaration, Forest Principles, United Nations.

[12] T.N. Godavaraman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2008 2 SCC 222).

[13] Indian Council of Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, (1996 5 SCC 281).

[14] Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, IPCC (2019), https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/11/SRCCL-Full-Report-Compiled-191128.pdf.

[15] Prafulla Samantray v. Union of India, Appeal No. 8 of 2011, NGT (India).

[16] Sarang Yadhwakar and others v. The Commissioner, Appeal No. 2 of 2013, NGT (India).

[17] Pankaj Sekhsaria, “NITI Aayog vision for Great Nicobar ignores tribal, ecological concerns”, THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, (March 20, 2021 11:19 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/niti-aayog-vision-for-great-nicobar-ignores-tribal-ecological-concerns/article34120093.ece.

[18] “IIT Kanpur: Tsunami Records of the Last 8000 Years in the Andaman Island, India, From Mega and Large Earthquakes: Insight on Recurrence Interval”, BUSINESS STANDARD (March, 20, 2020, 09:56 AM), https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/iit-kanpur-tsunami-records-of-the-last-8000-years-in-the-andaman-island-india-from-mega-and-large-earthquakes-insight-on-recurrence-interval-120032000321_1.html.