Discrepancies With Great Nicobar Island Project
The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has raised concerns about suspected irregularities in the forest clearance granted for the 72,000-crore Great Nicobar Island (GNI) Project.
Points to Ponder:
- The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has raised concerns about suspected irregularities in the forest clearance granted for the 72,000-crore Great Nicobar Island (GNI) Project.
- The NCST submitted a notification to district officials in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in April, stating that the project will have a substantial impact on local tribespeople’s rights and that the NCST was not consulted.
- The National Green Tribunal halted the project earlier this month and formed a committee to reconsider the environmental clearance.
- According to Tribal Affairs Ministry implementation reports, the island administration did not identify or grant ownership of any forest area to tribespeople under the FRA, a required step under the Forest Conservation Rules, 2017, before Stage I clearance is issued.
- The approval was obtained two years after the application was lodged, in October 2022. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation’s proposal includes a transhipment port, airport, power plant, and greenfield development.
- The government has stated in Parliament that the project will utilise approximately 7.114 square kilometres of tribal reserve forest land inhabited by the Shompen, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), and the Nicobarese. It asserted that no locals will be relocated as a result of the initiative.
- In a letter delivered to the island administration this month, the NCST requested a thorough action-taken report on the alleged procedural failures within 15 days. The Commission stated that it was investigating a complaint filed by retired bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma, the former Tribal Affairs Secretary for the Andhra Pradesh government.
- According to Mr Sarma, the Constitution requires the government to engage the NCST on any issue impacting tribal rights. He went on to say that the panel was not consulted on the GNI project and that there were FRA violations as well.
- Any diversion of forest land would require the District Collector to first recognise and vest rights in local people under the FRA, according to Rule 6(3)(e) of the Forest Conservation Rules-2017 (FCR). Only then do the rules allow officials to seek permission from the now-rights-holder gramme panchayats to divert this land.
- However, monthly progress reports filed with the Ministry show that, even after the clearance was granted, the district administration did not receive or process a single claim over forest land under the FRA in the 26-month period between October 2020 and November 2022.
- Instead, residents in Laxminagar, Gandhi Nagar, and Campbell Bay panchayats were given less than a day’s notice for a special Gramme Sabha meeting on August 12, 2022. A resolution was allegedly voted at this special Gramme Sabha, consenting to the diversion of forest area next to their communities for the purpose of the project.
- On August 15, the Campbell Bay Sub-Divisional Level Committee met, obtained a No-Objection Certificate from the Shompen tribespeople, and forwarded the file to the District-Level Committee. The administration’s Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) represented the Shompen at the meeting.
- While opposing the Forest Conservation Rules-2022, which eliminated the consent clause entirely, the NCST wrote to the Environment Ministry in October last year, highlighting a similar problem with FRA compliance in other projects that required forest land diversion.