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  • 21 March, 2021

  • 15 Min Read

NITI Aayog vision for Great Nicobar

NITI Aayog vision for Great Nicobar

  • Great Nicobar Island is the southernmost island in the Andaman and Nicobar group.

  • More than 150 sq. km. of land is being made available for this. This amounts to nearly 18% of the 910 sq. km. island, and will cover nearly a quarter of its coastline.
  • The overall plan envisages the use of about 244 sq. km. — a major portion being pristine forest and coastal systems.
  • Projects to be executed in Phase I include a 22 sq. km. airport complex, a transshipment port (TSP) at South Bay at an estimated cost of ?12,000 crore, a parallel-to-the-coast mass rapid transport system and a free trade zone and warehousing complex on the south western coast.
  • What stands out prominently in the whole process, starting with the designation in mid-2020 of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) as the nodal agency, is the speed and co-ordination with which it has all unfolded.
  • The other is the centrality of the NITI Aayog.
  • First, on September 4, 2020, the Director, Tribal Welfare, A&N Islands, constituted an empowered committee to examine NITI Aayog’s proposals for various projects in Little Andaman and Great Nicobar Islands.
  • A copy of the 2015 ‘Policy on Shompen Tribe of Great Nicobar Island’ was part of the communication sent out, giving an indication of the aims of the committee.
  • Significant changes have also been effected to the legal regimes for wildlife and forest conservation.

Role of National Board for Wildlife

Indian Board for Wildlife or National Board for Wildlife

  • It is a Statutory organization under WPA, 1972.
  • Aim: To promote the conservation and development of Wildlife and Forests.
  • It is an apex body to review all wildlife-related matters and approves projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries.
  • No alteration of boundaries in NP & WS can be done without the approval of NBWL.
  • Composition: NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister, MoEF is the vice chairmen and members include 150 Non govt members, 19 ex- officio members and 10 government officials such as secretaries.

  • In its meeting on January 5, 2021, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) denotified the entire Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to allow for the port there.
  • The NBWL committee seemed unaware that India’s National Marine Turtle Action Plan that was under preparation then (it was released on February 1, 2021) had listed Galathea Bay as one of the ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’ and ‘Important Marine Turtle Habitats’ in the country. It is included in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-I, the zone with maximum protection.

National Marine Turtle Action Plan

  • The documents contain ways and means to guide improved coordination amongst the government, civil society, and all relevant stakeholders on the response to cases of stranding, entanglement, injury or mortality of marine mammals, and also conservation of marine turtles.

These two documents highlight:

  • actions to be taken for handling stranded animals on the shore, stranded or entangled animals in the sea or on a boat,
  • management actions for improved coordination,
  • reducing threats to marine species and their habitats,
  • rehabilitation of degraded habitats,
  • enhancing people’s participation,
  • advance scientific research and exchange of information on marine mammals and marine turtles and their habitats.

Five species of Indian turtles along with their IUCN status are as follows:

  1. Olive Ridley – Vulnerable
  2. Green turtle – Endangered
  3. Loggerhead – Vulnerable
  4. Hawksbill – Critically Endangered
  5. Leather back – Vulnerable
  • They are protected in Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, under Schedule I.
  • They are also protected under the Biodiversity Conservation and Ganga Rejuvenation programme.

  • Then, on January 18, another Environment Ministry expert committee approved a “zero extent” Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) for the Galathea NP to allow use of land in the south-eastern and south-western part of the island for the NITI Aayog plan.
  • The October 2020 draft notification for this zero extent ESZ had ironically listed out in great detail the park’s ecological uniqueness — that it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, houses a range of forest types, has one of the best preserved tropical rainforests in the world, is home to 648 species of flora and hosts 330 species of fauna including rare and endemic ones such as the Nicobar wild pig, Nicobar tree shrew, the Great Nicobar crested serpent eagle, Nicobar paradise flycatcher and the Nicobar megapode.
  • It also notes that the park is home to the indigenous Shompen community.
  • The notification says that an ESZ is needed to protect the park from an ecological, environmental and biodiversity point of view, but goes on in the very next para to propose a zero extent ESZ for nearly 70% of the periphery of the park.

Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) or Areas (ESAs)

  1. EPA, 1986 doesnt mention the word ESZ. Section 3 of EPA, 1986 says that Central Government can restrict areas in which industries, shall not be carried out or carried out subject to safeguards. ESZ is also identified as per Rules 5 (1) of Environment Protection Rules.
  2. The purpose of ESZ was to provide more protection to parks by acting as a shock absorber or transition zone.
  3. MoEF has approved a criteria to declare ESA
    1. Species Based (endemism, rarity etc.)
    2. Ecosystem Based (sacred groves, frontier forests etc.)
    3. Geomorphological feature based (uninhabited islands, origin of rivers etc.)
  4. It is an additional tool to strengthen buffer and corridors around the protected areas network, to check the negative impact of industrialization.
  5. In this background the National Board for Wildlife in 2002 under PM adopted a "Wildlife Conservation Strategy 2002" in which 1 action was to notify lands falling within 5 km of the boundaries of National Parks and Sanctuaries as Eco fragile zones under EPA, 1986. SC in Dec 2018, has directed MoEF to declare 10 km area around NP and WS as ESZ.
  6. Woodfelling, setting up sawmills, hotels or resorts; and night traffic in the zone would be restricted.
  7. Forest and Wildlife Department will demarcate ESZ.

Madhav Gadgil Report, 2011

Kasturirangan Committee Report

  1. It defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management.
  2. It proposed that this entire area be designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
  3. Within this area, smaller regions were to be identified as ESZ I, II or III based on their existing condition and nature of threat.
  4. Hence 64% area would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks. 3 indicators for ESZ1 are elevation, slope and natural vegeatation. Nothing was permitted in ESZ I.
  5. The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
  6. But none of the 6 States accepted the recommendations.
  7. Plachimada Panchayat vs Coca Cola case
  1. It was set up to examine the Gadgil Committee report in a holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received.
  2. It brought just 37% of Western Ghats under ESA (unlike 64% suggested by Gadgil).
  3. The villages falling under ESA will be involved in decision making on the future projects.
  4. All projects will require prior informed consent and no objection from Gram Sabha.
  5. A ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining and new polluting industries. No new thermal power projects, but hydro power projects allowed with restrictions.
  6. Forest diversion could be allowed with extra safeguards.
  7. Building and construction projects up to 20,000 sq m was to be allowed but townships were to be banned.

Source: TH

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