Nicobar Mega Infra Project – destructive of the local ecology and detrimental to the interests of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal communities- Revoke clearance for the project
Shri Bhupender Yadav
Union Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MEFCC)
Dear Shri Yadav,
I have enclosed here a copy of my letter dated 15-11-2-022 addressed to you on a mega infra project in Greater Nicobar Island, involving not only diversion of a vast tract of forests for non-forest use but also its adverse impact on the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) of Shompens.
It is particularly distressing that neither your Ministry nor the Andamans authorities have cared to consult the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a Constitutional authority nor the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), knowing well the debilitating impact that the project will have on the local tribal groups. Prior consultation with the NCST is a Constitutional obligation that the concerned agencies have apparently infringed with impunity.
I have since been able to access the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the project, which reveals many disturbing but inadequately analysed aspects of the project, its debilitating and disruptive impact on the lives of the local PVTG tribal families, their habitat in particular, and the Nicobar ecology in general.
The total extent of the Tribal Reserve in the Island is 751.00 sq km and the extent of the Biosphere Reserve is 733 sq km. The project apparently involves downgrading / excluding 70.60 sq km of Great Nicobar Biosphere reserve. 84.10 sq. km of the project area falls in the tribal reserve. It is unfortunate that the authorities, in order to accommodate this highly ill-conceived project, have already initiated the process of its de-notification. Out of this, an area of 11.032 sq. km of tribal reserve falls within the revenue villages and is required to be de-notified. This amounts not only to a serious infringement of the established norms of environmental conservation but also a gross violation of the human rights of the local vulnerable tribal communities.
The Consultant who prepared the EIA report has apparently no expertise in appraising such projects. The least that a paid consultant ought to have done would have been to consult the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI). Without such consultation, any study of the local environment is bound to be meaningless, as it is evident from a reading of the report.
I have just come across a news report (https://scroll.in/article/1038263/planned-destruction-of-adivasi-culture-and-lives-experts-raise-alarm-over-great-nicobar-project) that indicated that your Ministry had not only given “in principle”: forest clearance for the project but also Environment Clearance for it on November 4, 2022. I find that the concerned Andaman authorities had got the EIA report prepared in March 2022 and, for your Ministry to rush through the EIA process at a breakneck speed, without consulting the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST), which is a Constitutional authority, and without consulting the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI), is a matter of serious public concern. It certainly casts a shadow on your Ministry’s credibility as the custodfian of ernvironmental conservation.
Your Ministry derives its authority under Article 48A and the Ministry’s primary obligation is to safeguard the environment, not being used as a facilitator of pushing mega projects that destroy the Nicobar ecology and disrupt the lives of the Shompens and the Nicobarese.
I would appeal to you once again to revisit the issues I had raised in my enclosed letter, get the project thoroughly reappraised in close consultation with the NCST and the ASI and, as it is going to be the case, ask the concerned authorities of Andamans to revoke the project altogether.
I am sure you will ponder over this and do the needful.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India