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Nicobar project gets assent for diversion of 130 sq km of forest

Deforestation in Nicobar, but trees to be planted in Haryana, does it make sense?

The controversial 16,610-ha project on Greater Nicobar Island was approved by a panel of the Environment Ministry. The Union Environment Ministry has given in-principle permission to divert around 130.75 sq km of forest area in Great Nicobar Island for a developmental project that will have a transhipment port, an airport, a power plant and a greenfield township. However, the environmental cost of the project is massive.

In recent years, the Indian Ocean has become a strategic point. As the strategic value of this IOR grows, a critical mass of development in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is required to strengthen India’s regional presence.

8.5 lakh trees to be felled

The expert assessment committee of India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recommended the granting of the Coastal and Environment Regulatory Zone (CRZ) authorization for a major infrastructure and tourism on Great Nicobar Island which will lead to the diversion of 15 per cent of its forest area and the felling of 8.52 lakh (852,000) trees in phases.

With an estimated cost of Rs 72,000 crore, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) project will see the felling of around 8.5 lakh trees. About 15% of the densely forested 900 km² area – which serves as habitat for rare flora and fauna on the island – will be affected. The proposed diversion of forest land is the biggest in recent times as it accounts for nearly a quarter of all forest land (554 sq km) in the country in the last three years, according to information disclosed by the government in the Lok Sabha.

According to estimates by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the proposed deforestation practice will mainly affect evergreen tropical forests with high biological diversity and high endemism. The official document of the ministry states that the island is home to the best preserved tropical forests in the world, where about 650 species of flora and 330 species of fauna are found. What’s more, it is also home to endemic species like Nicobar Shrew, Nicobar Long-tailed Macaque, Great Nicobar Crested Serpent Eagle, Nicobar Paradise Flycatcher and Nicobar Megapod, among many others.

Facts

  • Great Nicobar is the southernmost island of the Nicobar Islands archipelago.
  • It contains 1,03,870 hectares of unique and threatened tropical evergreen forest ecosystems.
  • It is home to a very rich ecosystem, which includes 650 species of angiosperms, ferns, gymnosperms, bryophytes.
  • In terms of fauna, there are over 1800 species, some of which are endemic to the region.

Project wroth 72,000 crore

NITI Aayog has recently come up with a plan for the “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island” located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The plan includes the construction of an international container transhipment terminal, airport, thermal power plant and township housing for 6.5 lakh people, worth Rs 72,000 crore. The idea is to turn Great Nicobar Island into a bustling economic hub with about 8,000 residents, which will give India access to major shipping lanes and trade routes.

One thing is clear from this policy that till now there was a lack of a proper plan. The country actually has the Great Nicobar Island located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which can also serve as a military vantage point and an economic hub. For decades, the government could not take advantage of this, now the Modi government has come up with new thinking.

Project Given Clearance

The forest conservation department of the ministry issued a letter on October 27 confirming the approval.

According to The Hindu, the letter is signed by Sunit Bhardwaj, Assistant Inspector General of Forests, and states that the permission has been granted on October 7, 2020, “on the basis” of the island administration’s request after “careful examination” recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and its acceptance by the competent authority in the Ministry”.

A major condition for the green signal is the submission of a detailed plan for compensatory afforestation, to be done on “non-notified forest land” in Haryana.

Amazingly, the final EIA report mentions that compensatory afforestation will be done on 260 sq km (double the diversion area) in Madhya Pradesh and even includes a letter from the Andaman and Nicobar Forest Department certifying That the Government of Madhya Pradesh has submitted to the Government of Madhya Pradesh. There is no clarity on how the switch was done in Haryana and what process was followed for the same.

Violating norms

Meanwhile, environmental activists accused the officials involved in the case of violating norms related to forest protection. Debi Goenka, an executive trustee of the Conservation Act Trust, pointed out to the news outlet the “neglect” of several clauses of forest conservation rules and guidelines in the de-reservation process and violation of the November 13 Supreme Court order. , 2000 (reiterated on February 9, 2004) which ordered no further “dereservation of forests/sanctuaries/national parks”.

“It is unfortunate that we hear of the destruction of some of the country’s finest tropical forests, with our Environment Minister telling the world at the ongoing UN Climate Conference in Egypt that India is ‘a part of the solution’ and the problem No’. Clearly here, there is a huge gap between words and actions,” said a researcher on environmental issues on condition of anonymity.

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