The vision is the overall development of Great Nicobar Island, with a diverse and robust economy based on maritime services and tourism amongst other economic drivers
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Recent news reports indicate that the government has approved 75,000 crore worth of infrastructure projects in Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANC). These projects are to include an International port, an International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT), Greenfield International Airport, a township and power plants. The project is planned to be executed in the Great Nicobar Island using 16,610 hectares of the evergreen forest. Great Nicobar is the southernmost island of the Nicobar Islands Archipelago. It covers 1,03,870 hectares of unique and threatened tropical evergreen forest ecosystems. It is home to very rich ecosystems, including 650 species of angiosperms, ferns, gymnosperms, bryophytes, among others. In terms of fauna, there are over 1,800 species, some of which are endemic to this area.
Naturally, the environment concerns would be large, given the current scale of natural disasters because of lip service towards climate change by the world at large, particularly by the developed nations. It is ironical that while the UN General Secretary António Guterres in his address at the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) demanded that “polluters” must pay more for environmental protection, the US has consigned Europe to burn coal during winters because of its unilateral sanctions (in conjunction the European Union) on export of Russian gas.
These types of projects are necessary not only for the development but also for the security of the ANC by increasing Indian presence in these islands
The vision for the project ‘Preparation of Master Plan for Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island in ANC’ apparently is “To capture the locational advantage of being on International sea route and develop Great Nicobar as a Sustainable, Green, Global Hotspot for business, trade and leisure”, overall development of Great Nicobar Island, with a diverse and robust economy based on maritime services, tourism amongst other economic drivers.
The proposed port and ICTT (14.2 Million TEU) is to allow participation in regional and global maritime economy. The Greenfield International Airport (4000 Peak Hour Passengers-PHP) is to support both the maritime sector and the tourism sector, attracting international and domestic tourists to experience the outstanding natural environment and participate in sustainable tourism activities. A Mixed-use urban development in the vicinity will be necessary to support quality of life for the residents that will generate and enable growth in the various economic sectors,primary and secondary urban infrastructure networks including 450 MVA Gas and Solar based power plants.
Government has been closely examining multiple issues connected with environmental sensitivity related to the above project, including construction, operation or decommissioning of the project involving actions, which will cause physical changes in the locality - topography, land use, changes in water bodies, and the like. No indication has been given by when the project is likely to commence and its likely completion timeline. But the fact remains that these types of projects are necessary not only for the development but also for the security of the ANC by increasing Indian presence in these islands.
By building the ICTT in Great Nicobar Island, India can participate more in the global shipping trade and generate lakhs of new jobs
Not only is China focused on militarising the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Chinese investments and hold on Sri Lanka requires that we reduce our maritime trade through Colombo. Besides, countries like Myanmar, China and Sri Lanka are already set to develop deep water ports in the Indian Ocean. By building the ICTT in Great Nicobar Island, India can participate more in the global shipping tradeand generate lakhs of new jobs.
Without doubt the envisaged integrated infrastructure development of Great Nicobar Islands will also give India a strategic advantage. But the question is how long is it likely to take given our chaotic democracy and inimical forces, both foreign and within, focused on limiting India’s rise? Witness the Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport being developed by the Adani Group at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, already delayed by over two years, which continues to face opposition from various groups including environmentalists and fishermen.
In August 2022, more than six years after Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) began developing the 5,552 seaport project in December 2015, fishermen groups supported by inimical forces have launched agitations on the construction site, blocking further development. The protests began after Karan Adani, Chief Executive Officer of APSEZ visited Thiruvananthapuram on July 24, 2022 and met the Kerala Port Minister Ahmed Devarkovil to discuss the progress of the project, after which, Ahmed said that the first phase of the project will be commissioned in September 2023.
Without doubt the envisaged integrated infrastructure development of Great Nicobar Islands will also give India a strategic advantage
The seaport project in Vizhinjam was subjected to intense security by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) before securing the environmental and coastal regulation zone clearance in 2014, from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The agitation is based on soil erosion from beaches which has been happening for decades globally and has no correlation with the project. There is speculation that Chinese intelligence is behind the agitation to halt further development of the project because of Chinese interests in the Colombo Port, which appears quite plausible. By the same logic, China will not spare any effort to block infrastructure projects planned to be developed in Great Nicobar Islands.