Despite scientists’ caution, Lakshadweep admin goes ahead with mega beach villa project

Tender issued for 370 beach, floating villas on three islands posing serious threat to fragile coral reefs

Updated - August 02, 2021 10:31 am IST

Published - August 02, 2021 05:22 am IST - Kochi

Green concerns: Scientists and researchers fear the project will destroy the fragile ecology of Lakshadweep.

Green concerns: Scientists and researchers fear the project will destroy the fragile ecology of Lakshadweep.

Ignoring what marine biologists have warned of as a serious “developmental misstep”, the Lakshadweep administration is pressing ahead with plans to construct beach and lagoon villas on three islands of the Union Territory with its fragile coral ecosystem.

A tender notice inviting proposals from developers for building 370 such villas using the design, build, finance, operate and transfer (DBFOT) model on public private partnership (PPP) basis on Minicoy, Kadmat and Suheli islands was issued by District Collector S. Asker Ali, in his capacity as managing director of the Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS), on July 31. September 2 has been set as the last date for submission of proposals.

A group of concerned scientists and researchers had petitioned the administration early last year detailing why the NITI Aayog-led project will be ecologically disastrous and socio-economically ill-considered.

“The lagoon is a vital ‘insurance site’ protecting the islands’ land and freshwater supply. Lagoon coral patches are temperature-adapted and serve as refugia for climate-disturbed outer reefs in Lakshadweep. The planned lagoon development will destroy, permanently modify and pollute large areas of the lagoon and its ecosystems — seagrass meadows, coral patches and soft sediment communities,” the petitioners said, warning that floating villas will be perilous for the atolls and the lagoons encircling them.

The beaches being cultural and ecological spaces for the islanders, the project would be detrimental to the interests of the local community as well, they argued.

“Apart from being vital as nesting sites for several species of turtle, it is a multi-use environment for fish processing, copra processing, boat landing, fish sale, recreation and other critical social functions. Having access to the beach is critical to island life. Even beaches on uninhabited islands like Suheli are heavily used through the fair season for fish processing,” the scientists pointed out.

75-year rights

According to the tender notice and draft concession agreement issued by the administration, the plan is to award to the successful bidder exclusive rights over 8.54 hectares of land and 6 hectares of lagoon on Minicoy; 5.557 hectares of land and 6 hectares of lagoon on Kadmat; and 3.823 hectares of land and 6 hectares of lagoon on Suheli island; for a period of 75 years to build and operate these villas.

The proposed built-up area for the luxury project in Minicoy will be 13,702.5 sq metres on land (110 beach villas) and 5,020 sq metre (40 floating villas) on the lagoon; in Kadmat it will be 10,823 sq metre area on land (75 beach villas) and 4,500 sq metre (35 floating villas) on water; and in Suheli 9,945 sq metre on land (60 beach villas) and 6,300 sq metre (50 floating villas) on water.

Altogether, the project is estimated to cost about ₹806 crore.

While there was earlier talk of 80% of employment generated by the project going to the local community, the documents only mention in passing that the “concessionaire shall make necessary efforts to employ locals to the extent possible by providing necessary skill training”.

A press release issued by the Lakshadweep Administration claimed that the “total number of keys for water villas to be developed conferred to the carrying capacity numbers assessed by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), which was further strengthened by the holistic development master plan”.

“All the applicable clearances required for the projects prior to the construction are given upfront including that of CRZ clearances. National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) was engaged to prepare Environment Impact Assessment Report (EIA) required for CRZ clearance. In February, 2020, LCZMA [Lakshadweep Coastal Zone Management Authority] gave its recommendations for the three projects, based on which the MoEF&CC appraised and granted CRZ clearance for the ambitious water villas projects in its 274th EAC (CRZ) meeting held on September 30, 2020,” said the release.

The village panchayats of Kadmat, Minicoy and Kavaratti (for the uninhabited Suheli island) had issued NOC for the ecotourism projects in late 2019 and the Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPPAC) recommended the Minicoy project on May 11 this year while the Standing Finance Committee (SFC) recommended the Kadmat & Suheli projects on June 25, the release said.

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