‘Grave threat to tribals’: Congress seeks review of Great Nicobar infra project | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Grave threat to tribals’: Congress seeks review of Great Nicobar infra project

PTI |
Jun 17, 2024 04:53 PM IST

Citing ecological concerns and lack of due process during regulatory approval, Congress demanded suspension of clearances and an impartial review of the project

The Congress on Monday demanded a thorough review of a proposed "mega infrastructure project" in Great Nicobar initiated at the "instance" of the Niti Aayog, claiming that it poses a grave threat to the island's tribal communities.

Havelock Islands, Andaman & Nicobar: Known for its pristine white-sand beaches, coral reefs and great scuba diving experience, this island is part of the stunning Ritchie's Archipelago and attracts several tourists.(Unsplash)
Havelock Islands, Andaman & Nicobar: Known for its pristine white-sand beaches, coral reefs and great scuba diving experience, this island is part of the stunning Ritchie's Archipelago and attracts several tourists.(Unsplash)

Raising red flags over the proposed project, Congress general secretary and former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh said all clearances given to the 72,000-crore project should be suspended immediately and an impartial review of it conducted, including by the parliamentary committees concerned.

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"The Union government's proposed 72,000-crore 'Mega Infra Project' in Great Nicobar Island is a grave threat to Great Nicobar Island's tribal communities and natural ecosystem. The project, initiated in March 2021 at the instance of the NITI Aayog, shows numerous red flags," Ramesh said in a statement, which he also posted on X.

"The 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 said.

He claimed that the environment, forests and climate change ministry has given an "in-principle" clearance for diverting 13,075 hectares of forest land.

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"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," the Congress leader said.

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

"The coastline where the port and the project is 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," he said in the statement.

"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). Thirty-nine experts from across the world have warned the administration that the project poses the threat of genocide to the Shompen," Ramesh said.

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"The administration has compromised on due process in its rush to get approval. The administration did not adequately consult the Tribal Council of the Islands, as is legally required. The Tribal Council of Great Nicobar Island has in fact expressed objections to the project, claiming that authorities had earlier 'rushed them' into signing a 'No Objection' letter based on misleading information -- and that the No Objection letter has since been revoked," he claimed.

The administration has "ignored" the island's Shompen Policy, notified by the Union tribal affairs ministry, which requires authorities to prioritise the tribe's welfare when considering "large scale development proposals", the Congress leader said.

He also claimed that the administration appears to have skipped the legally mandated consultation with the Scheduled Tribes Commission, required by Article 338 (9) of the Constitution.

"The 'social impact assessment' conducted as part of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR) ignored the existence of the Shompen and the Nicobarese," Ramesh said.

"Parts of the project site come under CRZ 1A (areas with turtle nesting sites, mangroves, coral reefs), which has been noted in an NGT (National Green Tribunal) order in response to petitions challenging the clearances. Allowing port construction here is clearly violative of the said provisions," he claimed in the statement.

The former union minister alleged that 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

"In view of these numerous violations of due process, legal and Constitutional provisions protecting tribal communities, and the project's disproportionate ecological and human cost, the 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 said.

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This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.
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