The National Green Tribunal has appointed a high-level committee to review the environmental clearance given to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIDCO) for the multi-component mega-project on Great Nicobar Island.
In addition to the development of an international container handling terminal, the project also includes the development of a dual-use military-civilian airport, gas, diesel and solar power plant and community.
The NGT heard appeals against deforestation and environmental deforestation, which were served to Project Proponent (PP) ANIDCO. Earlier, on January 11, it had requested a response from the Union Ministry for the Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the PP.
A bench of presiding judge AK Goel, along with judges Sudhir Agarwal, judge B Amit Sthalekar and judge Arun Kumar Tyagi, said proper studies should be conducted into the adverse impacts on coral reefs, mangroves, turtle nesting sites, bird nesting sites, other wildlife, erosion, disaster management and others conservation and mitigation measures.
There was also a need to comply with the 2019 Island Coastal Regulatory Zone (ICRZ) notification and ensure tribal rights and rehabilitation.
The bank, which also includes experts A Senthil Vel and Afroz Ahmad, said according to respondents (ANIDCO and MoEF&CC), such studies have already been conducted and more have been proposed.
“Respondents commit to complying with ICRZ, 2019 and tribal rights. They have also planned compensatory afforestation and mangrove plantations and so by and large the project is compliant and the EC does not request interference,” the bank said.
However, some “unanswered deficiencies” were highlighted, such as the threat to 4,518 coral colonies, the impact assessment for only one season compared to the mandated three seasons and part of the project in an area where a port was banned.
“These aspects may require a revisit of the EC by a High Level Committee (HPC), which we propose to set up. The same is headed by the secretary of the MoEF&CC,” the tribunal said.
Other members of the committee included the Chief Secretary of Andaman and Nicobar, Zoological Survey of India, Botanical Survey of India, Central Pollution Control Board, the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India, and the nominees of Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman and Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping. The court ordered the secretary of the MoEF&CC to appoint a node officer and ordered the committee to meet within two weeks and complete its proceedings within two months.
“In the light of the Committee’s report, the EC or its terms may be re-examined by the Competent Authority. Until then, further work under the contested EC must not proceed, except for work that may not be irreversible,” the court said as it settled the appeals.
The green panel emphasized that the forest cover in the area is more than 75% and also said that the FC cannot be affected either.
“The area is hardly developed. There is a need not only for economic development but also for national security… There is no conflict of interest as such,” it said.
During the trial, the tribunal also noted that while it limited itself to the material on file, it acknowledged without comment some media reports that “the area is part of China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy and is being pursued by the Indian authorities within the framework of the India’s ‘Act East’ policy will be thwarted.” “The Indian Ocean has become an important crossroads of Indian and Chinese strategic interests,” it said, adding: “The project will help fill the infrastructure gap on the island and to promote international trade, thereby saving enormous amounts of transhipment freight.” Earlier in January, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways said the project is expected to be completed with an investment of 41,000 rupees (US$5 billion), including investments in both both the government and the PPP concessionaire.
The proposed port will have the final capacity to handle 16 million containers per year and handle over 4 million containers in the first phase, it said.