Jairam Ramesh: Infra project in Great Nicobar Island endangers tribal groups, ecosystem

The project poses a direct threat to the well-being and survival of the Shompen, an indigenous community

By Newsmeter Network  Published on  18 Jun 2024 2:11 AM GMT
Jairam Ramesh: Infra project in Great Nicobar Island endangers tribal groups, ecosystem

Hyderabad: In a public letter, Congress leader and AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh wrote that the Union government’s proposed ‘Mega Infra Project’ in Great Nicobar Island is a grave threat to Great Nicobar Island’s tribal communities and natural ecosystem.

He said it was initiated in March 2021 at the instance of the NITI Aayog and listed numerous ‘red flags’ that the project has:

- The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has given ‘in principle’ clearance for diverting 13,075 hectares of forest land. This area is about 15 per cent of the island’s land mass and constitutes one of the country’s largest forest diversions in a nationally and globally unique rainforest ecosystem.

- Compensatory afforestation for the loss of this unique rainforest ecosystem has been planned in Haryana, thousands of kilometres away and in a vastly different ecological zone.

- The coastline where the port and the project are proposed to come up is an earthquake-prone zone and saw a permanent subsidence of about 15 feet during the tsunami of December 2004. Locating such a massive project here puts investment, infrastructure, people, and the ecology in harm’s way.

The project poses a direct threat to the well-being and survival of the Shompen, an indigenous community classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG).

No consultation done with locals’

He also alleged that the administration has compromised on due process in its rush to get approval such as not adequately consulting the Tribal Council of the Islands.

“The Tribal Council of Great Nicobar Island has in fact expressed objections to the Project, claiming that the authorities had earlier ‘rushed them’ into signing a ‘No Objection’ letter based on misleading information. He said that the No Objection letter has since been revoked.

He also said that the administration ignored the Island’s Shompen Policy, notified by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which requires authorities to prioritise the tribe’s welfare when considering ‘large-scale development proposals’

“The administration appears to have skipped the legally mandated consultation with the Scheduled Tribes Commission, required by Article 338(9) of the Indian Constitution,” he said in the letter.

He said that allowing port construction here is clearly violative of the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR). “The project violates the letter and spirit of the Forest Rights Act (2006), which holds the Shompen as the sole legally empowered authority to protect, preserve, regulate and manage the tribal reserve,” he said.

The Indian National Congress demands an immediate suspension of all clearances and conduct of a thorough impartial review of the proposed project, including by the Parliamentary committees concerned, he added.

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