-Report by Anurag Sinha
To review the environmental clearance given by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF &CC) for the project by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (the project) in Great Nicobar Islands, the Eastern Zone bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has established a High-Powered Committee.
At the southernmost point of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a massive project will be carried out. An international airport, a terminal for trans shipping containers internationally, a township development, and a 450 MVA gas and solar-powered power plant are all included in the project, which spans an area of 16,610 hectares on the island. The NGT was hearing the appeal filed by the Conservation Action Trust and others against the Environment and Forest Clearances granted by the MoEF&CC for the project, including the clearance for the diversion of 130.75 sq. km of forest land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, on Great Nicobar Island.
The main contentions on behalf of the appellants are that the project will have an adverse impact on the rich biodiversity of the area and damage the habitats of the endangered species. The appellants emphasized that due to the existence of numerous coral colonies, the location of the port, which is a component of the project, is specifically forbidden in the CRZ-IA region. Additionally, the coast will erode as a result. While a thorough impact evaluation necessitates data collection for three seasons, this assessment only uses data from one season.
Additionally, the appellants argued that the Shompen tribes and Nicobari groups must be kept apart due to government policy, which has not been taken into account in this case. This element disregards the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation of 1956 and the Forest Rights Act of 2006, respectively. Additionally, a recognized firm has not carried out the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). There are two national parks – Campbell Bay National Park (in the North) and Galathea National Park (in the South) which also will be adversely impacted, added the appellants.
The project is important for Great Nicobar Island’s overall development as well as for defense, national security, and strategic reasons, according to responders MoEF&CC and the Project Proponent. With the completion of the project, India will have a stronger presence in Southeast Asia and the Andaman Sea. Additionally, a significant cargo transhipment terminal will be built, and a popular tourist destination will be established. The respondents claimed that the development of an international transhipment terminal offers significant prospects to further boost India’s commercial standing in the international arena.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the Tribunal determined there was no reason to interfere with the forest clearance, noting the necessity for both national security and economic development, neither of which could be proved to be unimportant. Regarding environmental clearance, the Tribunal asserted that the prescribed procedure had been followed, which included holding open forums, creating an environmental impact assessment (EIA), conducting an EAC assessment, preserving wildlife habitats, taking tribal welfare into account, and organizing necessary conservation measures. According to the MoEF&CC and the PP, all required steps will be implemented, eco-sensitive regions will not be covered, corals will be safeguarded, and the area proposed to be a part of the Port that is prohibited according to the CRZ notification will not be included. The Tribunal has directed that further work in pursuance of the impugned EC should not proceed, except for the work that may not be of an irreversible nature.
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