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Great Nicobar Island strategic significance – How India can beat Singapore as a trans-shipment hub?

Great Nicobar Island strategic significance – How India can beat Singapore as a trans-shipment hub?

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  • GS 2 || Polity || Union Territories and Special Areas || Union Territories

Why in the news?

The Great Nicobar Development plan aims to promote the holistic development of Greater Nicobar.

About Great Nicobar:

  • The southernmost island of the Nicobar Islands Archipelago, Great Nicobar, comprises 1,03,870 hectares of endangered tropical evergreen forest ecosystems.
  • It has a diverse ecology with 650 species of angiosperms, ferns, gymnosperms, and bryophytes, among other things.
  • There are approximately 1800 species of wildlife, some of which are indigenous to this region.
  • Ecological value of Great Nicobar:
    • The Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve harbours a wide spectrum of ecosystems comprising tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching a height of 642 m (Mt. Thullier) above sea level, and coastal plains.
    • Nicobarese, a Mongoloid tribe of around 300 people, used to dwell in villages along the west coast until being evacuated to Afra Bay in the north coast and Campbell Bay after the tsunami in 2004 destroyed their habitation on the west coast.
  • Tribal in Great Nicobar:
    • The Mongoloid Shompen Tribe, which numbers around 200 people, lives in the biosphere reserve’s woods, mainly near rivers and streams. They are hunters and gatherers who rely on forest and marine resources for their survival.

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Strategic importance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

  • Indo-geopolitical Pacific: As the Indo-geopolitical Pacific’s importance grows, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are located in the Bay of Bengal, will become more crucial.
  • Push Indian naval dominance:The Andaman and Nicobar Islands may be utilized to push Indian naval dominance into the Indo-Pacific and even beyond into the south-west Pacific.
  • Trans-shipment center: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands may be home to India’s Third Fleet, and the Car Nicobar trans-shipment center, the chain’s northernmost island, could be a geopolitical game changer, rivaling Singapore or Colombo ports.
  • Sonar surveillance devices: Sonar surveillance devices may be installed on the islands by India, Japan, and the US to track Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean. Australia could decide to join such an agreement as well.
  • Geopolitical link: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a geopolitical link between South Asia and South-East Asia.
  • Neighborhood connection: The archipelago’s northernmost point is just 22 nautical miles from Myanmar, while the archipelago’s southernmost point, Indira Point, is only 90 nautical miles from Indonesia.
  • Commercial ships: The islands dominate the Bay of Bengal, as well as the Six Degree and Ten Degree Channels, which are used by over 60,000 commercial ships each year.
  • Exclusive Economic Zone: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands make up only 0.2 percent of India’s landmass but account for 30% of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Current situation in Nicobar:

  • The Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary was denotified by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
  • The sanctuary is designated as one of the worlds most important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas. Furthermore, according to the National Marine Turtle Action Plan, it is one of the country’s “Important Marine Turtle Habitats.
  • A second expert group appointed by the Environment Ministry authorized a “zero extent” Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) for Galathea National Park. This would allow the Great Nicobar Development Plan to utilise land in the island’s south-eastern and south-western regions.

Great Nicobar Development plan:

  • The Great Nicobar Development Plan envisions the utilization of roughly 244 square kilometers of land for development.
  • Phase One of the plan will cover:
    • The airport complex covers 22 square kilometers, and the South Bay Transshipment Port (TSP) is located there.
    • On the southwestern shore, there is a mass rapid transit system that runs parallel to the coast, as well as a free trade zone and warehouse complex.
  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) would serve as the focal agency for the Great Nicobar Development Plan’s execution.

Significance of the Great Nicobar Development plan:

  • Economic Development: It will aid in the development of tourism opportunities in the region. This will help the region’s income creation.
  • Local job opportunities: The strategy entails the construction of infrastructure (ports, airports, etc.). This will assist in the creation of suitable jobs for the people.
  • Strategic advantage: The Nicobar Island is positioned near the Malacca Strait. This necessitates the development of a solid infrastructure to suit the region’s geopolitical interests. The Andaman and Nicobar Command, India’s sole tri-services command, is based on the islands (ANC). Because of growing Chinese aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific area, the command is extremely important.
  • Connectivity: The development of world-class infrastructure will help in improving inter-island connectivity. Thereby, improving governance and boosting export potential.
  • Social Benefits: It would also provide inexpensive, cutting-edge healthcare, high-quality education, and enough air, sea, and internet infrastructure. As part of the Digital India program, it would make e-governance services like telemedicine and teleeducation more accessible.

Concerns associated with Nicobar Development plan:

  • Ignoring tribal rights: The planned project sites are significant hunting and gathering grounds for the nomadic hunter-gatherer population, particularly the Shompen. The start of construction would render huge swaths of woodland inaccessible and worthless to the Shompen.
  • Threat to biodiversity: Any building in the area puts the existence of some of the region’s most significant species in jeopardy. For example, the beaches near the entrance of the Galathea River in South Bay are among the most important nesting locations for Giant leatherback turtles, while 90% of the Nicobar megapode’s nesting sites are within 30 meters of the coast.
  • Geological turbulence: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are in seismic zone V. Storms and cyclones are very common in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This has the potential to devastate built buildings. 2 The 2004 Tsunami, for example, produced a 3-4 meter ground subsidence. The submergence of a lighthouse at Indira Point is the result of this.
  • Putting the environment at jeopardy for economic reasons: Galathea Sanctuary is located in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-I. (the zone with maximum protection). Nonetheless, a spate of high-value projects were prioritized above pristine biodiversity.

What more can be done to avoid issues and develop the regions?

  • Shompen Policy: The work must be done in a way that respects tribal rights. This would necessitate strict adherence to policies such as the 2015 Shompen Policy. According to the Shompen Policy of 2015, tribal rights should take precedence over large-scale development plans.
  • Environmental impact assessment: Any construction undertaken as part of the Great Nicobar Development Plan shall be subjected to a thorough environmental impact assessment (as mandated by the Environment Protection Act 1986). It will be easier to develop as a result of this. It will also reduce the risk of excessive environmental deterioration.
  • GRIHA code: Infrastructure should be built with environmentally friendly methods in mind, such as strict adherence to the GRIHA code for building construction.
  • NITI Aayog and the agencies participating in planning should maintain transparency in data. The government should release the data on the rationale, the process of creation, consulted groups etc. in public domain. This will give a holistic view to critics and supporters.
  • Cooperation: India should enhance Cooperation with countries like Japan, South Korea etc. This will help in developing successful island development models.

Conclusion:

India must realize the vision of “happy and prosperous islanders living on environmentally protected islands.” India must embrace growth strategies that are technically viable, commercially profitable, and socially acceptable in order to achieve all development goals.

Mains oriented question:

What is the Great Nicobar Development Plan, and what does it entail? Discuss concern about it.