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Nicobar Nightmare

Editor’s Note

Published : Jan 12, 2023 10:30 IST



Editor’s Note

The government is going full steam ahead with its misguided plans for Great Nicobar Island.

Under the euphemism of “holistic development”, the government is going full steam ahead with a misguided plan to convert Great Nicobar Island into a trade, tourism, and strategy hub. Dreamt up by mandarins in NITI Aayog, the plan includes a container transshipment terminal, international airport, and township.

Why is this sheer madness? Because the total area of the island is about 900 sq km. Because nearly all of this area is a designated tribal reserve. Because the island’s population is a sparse 8,000 and the plan sees this swelling to more than 300,000. Because the project will destroy close to a million trees of a pristine rainforest. Because for millennia Great Nicobar has been home to the Nicobarese and the Shompen, and the plan will evict them from their homelands.

Yes, the archipelago occupies a key strategic position that allows India to monitor sea lanes in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Yes, the islands need economic and material progress. But these factors can be addressed by small and self-contained schemes that do not threaten the ecology or the indigene population. Why this vulgarity of ambition that needs to annihilate everything?

Meanwhile, 15,000 km away, Brazil, which is home to nearly 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, saw a new President take office on January 1. After four years of Jair Bolsonaro’s ravaging of forest cover, Lula da Silva came to power on the promise of zero deforestation. Ironical that India is going the opposite way.

As always, Frontline brings together several experts to examine the issue from various dimensions, and they come to one conclusion—the project will be ecologically, structurally, and anthropologically harmful. Will the government pay heed?

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jan 27, 2023.)



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