Anthropologists write rebuttal to ANIIDCO over the disregard for the rights of the indigenous communities of Great Nicobar Island

Nicobar Adivasi
President Murmu interacts with members of local tribal communities in Nicobar (Photo Credit – X/@rashtrapatibhvn)

We are a group of anthropologists, social scientists, environmentalists, scholars of tribal studies and individuals who have worked with the indigenous communities of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and other indigenous communities in India in various capacities over several decades. We have come together to express our alarm and anguish over 1) the disregard for the rights of the indigenous communities of Great Nicobar Island by the very organizations that have been established for that purpose; 2) the misrepresentation of facts regarding these communities, especially the extent of their dependence on the places they occupy on the island; and 3) the future of the fast-dwindling populations of the two communities, if the project is not scrapped.

This letter is addressed to the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the NCST and Minister of Tribal Affairs, Shri Arjun Munda and is a point-by-point rebuttal of the 15-point submission made by the A&N Administration through ANIIDCO along with some additional points that have been ignored throughout the process of approval of the proposed project. Here is the link to access the full letter: ____.

Below is a summary of the letter.

NCST seeking clarification on the alleged violation of the rights of the indigenous communities:

According to ANIIDCO, since the Holistic Development of Great Nicobar is a project and not a policy matter, it suffices that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has issued a No Objection Certificate. However, since the approvals granted for the project have impugned on multiple laws and policies that protect the rights of the tribal communities and the safeguards of the Scheduled Tribal groups including the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group in the island have come into question, the NCST is within its constitutional mandate in seeking clarifications.

The denotification and renotification of the Tribal Reserve Area:

ANIIDCO states that to compensate for the 84.10 sqkm of Tribal Reserve Area in Great Nicobar which will be denotified, 76.96 sqkm will be renotified and thus effectively only 7.11 sqkm of the Tribal reserve Area will be denotified for the project and 743.96 sqkm of the island will remain protected as a Tribal Reserve. But the Tribal Reserve Areas being de-notified and re-notified do not correspond to the areas that the tribals have been using. Even without knowing the patterns of land use by the two communities, the Shompen (PVTG) and the Great Nicobarese (ST), the administration has allowed a project that spans over 166.10 sq km of land of which more than fifty percent falls under the Tribal Reserve.

Empowered Committee’s recommendation to denotify the Tribal Reserve Area:

As per ANIIDCO’s response, the Empowered Committee of the UT Administration has recommended de-notification of Tribal reserve. It is stated that Superintending Anthropologist from the Anthropological Survey of India, Port Blair and renowned Anthropologist Prof Visvajit Pandya were members of the Empowered Committee, so it is incorrect to say that due consultation with the AnSI was not done in this case. But the video report submitted by Prof. Pandya and his team shows the members of the Shompen community clearly stating that they are against any disturbances to their forested and riparian habitats and those of the Great Nicobarese community reiterating their demand to return to their ancestral villages. But these submissions were not entered into the records and discussed by the committee. What was the purpose of the consultation if the comments of Prof. Vishwajit Pandya were not incorporated?

ANIIDCO further states that the Empowered Committee’s recommendation for the approval of the denotification of the Tribal Reserve Area was subject to the conditions that i) Interests of tribal population are not adversely affected, ii) PAT regulation is strictly implemented, iii) Displacement of tribals will not be allowed and iv) Eco-tourism will be effectively regulated.


      (i)            There is clear evidence that both the Shompen and the Great Nicobarese will be adversely affected,

    (ii)            The implementation of PAT regulation is not in place even now with recent cases of trespassing and videography of Shompen.

   (iii)            The project will result in displacement of 2-3 Shompen settlements located in the Galathea river basin forests and the Great Nicobarese will not be able to return to their ancestral villages that they had to leave after the tsunami resulting in their permanent displacement and

   (iv)            There are no examples of eco-tourism being implemented in a controlled manner anywhere in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and multiple instances have emerged from Andamans where the locals are facing a shortage of water and electricity during the tourist season.

The NOC issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for the denotification of the Tribal Reserve Area:

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has given an NOC for the denotification of the Tribal Reserve Area, subject to compliance under the Forests Rights Act, 2006.  But it is evident that neither the conditions as stipulated by MoTA, nor the provision under FRA, 2006, to recognize the rights of the Autonomous Regional Group (the Tribal Council in this case) have been implemented in obtaining the NOC for diversion of forest for the project.

The Shompen Policy allows large scale development proposals:

ANIIDCO states that the Shompen Policy notified in the year 2015 allows large scale development proposals in Great Nicobar Island subject to consultation with the Ministry, Directorate of Tribal Welfare and AAJVS. However, as mentioned earlier, the NOC by MoTA was subject to the compliance of the FRA, 2006. Secondly, during the meetings held among the SDLC members between the 13th – 16th of August, 2022, the officer of AAJVS had clearly mentioned that the Shompen group in the Kokeon area will suffer because of the construction activities but this statement was not recorded in the proceedings of the meeting of the SDLC and which came to light later in the letter dated 22nd, November, 2022 in which the Tribal council had withdrawn their consent for the diversion of forest.

Public Hearing of the project:

ANIIDCO makes the mention of the Public Hearing for the project held in January, 2022 which was attended by the Chairman of the Tribal Council on behalf of the tribal community.  However, ANIIDCO fails to mention that the Chairman had very clearly said that they wish to return to their ancestral villages. This point raised by him was entirely ignored and not addressed at any point in the process of the Environmental Clearance. Nor was there any consideration given to the letter submitted by the members of the Indian Anthropological Association during the Public Hearing which listed out the impact of the project on the indigenous communities of the island.

Constitution of the Forest Rights Committees and the RoFR certificate:

ANIIDCO states that the Hon’ble Lt. Governor, A&N islands has constituted the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC), District Level Committee (DLC) and State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) as per the Forests Rights Act, 2006. Field functionaries of AAJVS and the office bearer of Tribal council of Great Nicobar have been included as the members of FRA committees. The RoFR certificate has been issued by the District Level Committee, the decision of which on the record of the Forest Right will be final and binding as per the FRA, 2006.

However, the constitution and responsibilities of the committees are questionable. How many Nicobarese are among the members of the SDLC and SLMC other than the Chairman of the Tribal Council? Was the quorum that is mandatory for the SDLC, DLC and SLMC met with? Was the Great Nicobarese community explained by the SDLC that they would not be able to go back to their ancestral villages and would lose rights over the said area? Have the community members been told that more than 50% of the project area falls into the Tribal Reserve which will be de-notified? Were the Shompen consulted to understand how they use the areas for their livelihood that are to be de-notified and re-notified as Tribal Reserves? Given that the office bearer of the Tribal Council was a member of an FRA committee, the withdrawal of his signature from the NOC renders the whole exercise null and void.

Geo fencing, monitoring committee and Special Medical Unit for the tribal communities:

The letter suggests that as per conditions of the Environmental Clearance granted to the project, Geo fencing cum surveillance towers has been stipulated for the protection of the tribal habitat. Further a monitoring committee has also been constituted under the Chairmanship of DC (Nicobar) to oversee welfare and issues related to Shompen and Nicobarese and the A&N Administration will establish a Special Medical Unit. But the proposal to use Geo fencing cum surveillance towers is not in keeping with the dense canopy and extreme weather conditions of the island. More importantly, the effect of fencing the Shompen and their forest on their bonafide movement and needs, has not been assessed. With regard to the monitoring committee till date there has not been a single meeting held with the Tribal Council and nor has there been any announcement about the composition of the committee and whether any member has actually worked with either of the tribal communities before. In keeping with the hands-off approach of the Shompen Policy, rather than creating a special medical unit, the attempt should be to not create conditions that allow for exposure of diseases that the Shompen have no immunity for.

In conclusion, if this project is not scrapped, the A&N Administration and the Government of India will be knowingly subjecting the indigenous communities of the Great Nicobar Island to irreversible damage, which will in due course lead to their extinction. The southern Great Nicobarese have barely recovered from the aftermath of the tsunami, and if the project is not stopped, they will be forced to see their ancestral land getting ravaged by pillars, earth cutters, and dredgers. The forest-dwelling Shompen community will be subjected to the unfathomable trauma of seeing a million trees cut.

We challenge every single point that ANIIDCO has written in its response to NCST and strongly oppose the Great Nicobar project. We appeal to the A&N Administration and the Govt. of India to (1) Scrap the project (2) Facilitate the return of the southern Great Nicobarese to their ancestral villages and (3) Notify the Tribal Reserve Area in the island in places that are outside of the reserve and are used by the Shompen and (4) Follow the due process of recognition of rights over claims for the land used and/or currently and/or historically occupied by the Great Nicobarese and the Shompen as mandated under the Forest Rights Act 2006 with formation of Gram Sabhas comprising the members of both the communities and ensuring their full participation. We urge the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to intervene immediately and put a halt to this project before it’s too late.


1.       Dr. Vishvajit Pandya, Former Director, Andaman & Nicobar Tribal Research Institute

2.       Dr. Madhumita Mazumdar, Team member, Project ANG KATHA, Andaman & Nicobar Tribal Research Institute

3.       Dr. Manish Chandi, Independent Researcher, Former member, Tribal Welfare & Research Advisory Board, A&N Administration

4.       Prof. Ajay Saini, Assistant Professor, IIT Delhi

5.       Dr. T.N. Pandit, Fomer Director, Anthropological Survey of India

6.       Dr. Anstice Justin, Former Deputy Director, Anthropological Survey of India

7.       Ashish Kothari, Kalpavrish and Vikalp Sangam

8.       Nicholas Barla, Adivasi Samanway Manch Bharat, Delhi

9.       Dr. Virginius Xaxa, Former Professor, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University

10.   Ruby Hembrom, Publisher, Adivaani

11.   Adv. Purnima Upadhyay, Founder, KHOJ

12.   Prof. Mukul Sharma, Environmental Writer and Author

Read the full letter here

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