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Former civil servants write to President on Great Nicobar island plan

The project threatens to displace the ‘extremely vulnerable’ Shompen tribe as well deliver a significant blow to the ecology of the island, they aver

January 22, 2023 11:01 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:08 am IST - NEW DELHI

A mega-infrastructure project in the Great Nicobar island threatens to displace the ‘extremely vulnerable’ Shompen tribe, a group of former civil servants has said. File photo: Anthropological Survey of India

A mega-infrastructure project in the Great Nicobar island threatens to displace the ‘extremely vulnerable’ Shompen tribe, a group of former civil servants has said. File photo: Anthropological Survey of India

The Constitutional Conduct Group, which includes nearly 100 former civil servants, has written to President Droupadi Murmu protesting the government’s push for a mega-infrastructure project in the Great Nicobar island.

The Union Environment Ministry in November gave an in-principle (Stage 1) clearance for the diversion of 130.75 sq. km. of forest in Great Nicobar island for a ₹72,000-crore project that includes a trans-shipment port, an airport, a power plant and a greenfield township. The project implementation agency is the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO). The area is nearly 15% of the thickly forested Great Nicobar island, which is spread over 900 sq. km. This is one of the largest, single forest diversions in recent times, and nearly a quarter of all the forest land diverted in the past three years across the country.

Also read: Green panel allows Great Nicobar plan to advance

“We earnestly request you to advise your government to immediately stop the commencement of destructive projects in Great Nicobar,“ the letter notes. The project threatens to displace the ‘extremely vulnerable’ Shompen tribe as well deliver a significant blow to the ecology of the island, they aver.

“These shy and isolated tribal people, who are almost on the brink of extinction, need to be handled with extreme care and sensitivity, not carelessly removed from their existing home territory and resettled elsewhere on the island to make room for the ‘development project,” the letter notes.

“We are pained to learn that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has not only granted environmental and coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance with certain conditions, it has also given an ‘in principle’ clearance for diversion of 13,075 hectares of forest land, with compensatory afforestation to be carried out in the State of Haryana. The idea of replacing the virgin forests of Great Nicobar with planted forests in Haryana would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic,” the letter emphasised.

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