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Why NGT stayed Central Govt’s Nicobar development project?

NGT takes action against Sandeep Paper Mill over pollution charges

On April 3, the eastern court of the National Green Court (NGT) issued an order to stop the Great Nicobar Island project, which is worth Rs 72 billion.

NGT forms committee to review project clearance

The NGT chaired by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has identified deficiencies in the environment clearance granted to the Great Nicobar Island project and has formed a high-powered committee, led by the secretary of the union environment ministry, to revisit the clearance.

The committee has been instructed to convene within two weeks and conclude its proceedings within two months. The NGT has directed that no further work can be undertaken, except for work that is not irreversible in nature, until the committee completes its review.

A committee was formed to review the environmental authorization previously granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

The NGT has instructed a High Power Committee (HPC), led by the MoEF&CC Secretary, to provide updates on its procedures within two months.

The NGT received petitions questioning the rapid approval granted to the Great Nicobar Island project, citing certain inadequacies that need to be resolved.

For example, the proposed relocation of 16,150 out of 20,668 coral colonies without addressing the threat to the remaining 4,518 coral colonies violates the Island Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2019, which prohibits coral destruction.

The impact assessment data collected for the project was limited to one season instead of the required three, and the project’s CRZ IA area includes a prohibited port. Therefore, the NGT bench stated that a committee may need to re-evaluate the environmental clearance.

The Great Nicobar Island project has four components: a Rs 35,000 crore transhipment port at Galathea Bay, a dual-use defence-civilian international airport, a power plant, and a township that will be built over 30 years on more than 160 sqkm of land, of which 130 sqkm is pristine forestland. Several petitions were filed before the NGT, challenging the project’s swift clearances.

Forest clearance challenged over environmental impact

The clearing of forests for a project was challenged on the grounds that the impact on biodiversity and tribes of the diversion of 130.75 square kilometres of pristine tropical forest was not taken into account.

The NGT acknowledged that ANIIDCO had committed to complying with the 2019 Insular Coastal Regulation Zone and tribal rights, as well as planning compensatory afforestation and mangrove plantations.

The court found that the project was mostly compliant and did not require interference, but there were some deficiencies raised by appellants that needed to be addressed. For example, 16,150 of the 20,668 coral colonies were proposed for translocation without mentioning the threat to the remaining 4,518 colonies.

In accordance with court orders, an HPC will be formed, consisting of the Chief Secretary of Andaman & Nicobar, the Zoological Service of India, the Botanical Service of India, the Central Pollution Control Board, a candidate for Vice President of Niti Aayog, a candidate for the Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping and the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India.

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