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UN body asks India to respond on concerns around mega projects in the Andamans

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

UN body asks India to respond on concerns around mega projects in the Andamans

Environmentalists have been raising concerns about the Great Nicobar Island project.

Environmentalists have been raising concerns about the Great Nicobar Island project. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archives

CERD seeks anwers on steps taken to protect vulnerable communities.

The Central government is going ahead with two mega development projects in the eco-sensitive Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which environmentalists say pose a grave threat to the ecology of the islands and also endanger the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) inhabiting these islands.

It has been pushing ahead with the developmental projects ignoring protests by environmentalists, but the issue has now reached a top United Nations (U.N.) body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD has sought answers from the Government of India on the steps being taken to protect the vulnerable tribal groups inhabiting these islands and the compliance with the existing laws and policies to protect these groups.

The two mega development projects, to be completed by 2050, are called the Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island, and the Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island Vision Document. The Nicobar island project envisages building an international greenfield container transshipment terminal, an international greenfield airport, a power plant, and a greenfield township for 650,000 people; the Little Andaman project entails building a coastal township in pristine forests, home to the Onge tribes.

The projects will directly affect five tribal groups notified as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), namely the Great Andamanese, the Jarawas, the Onges, the Shompens, and the Sentinalese. Despite an uproar by environmental groups, the government had decided to go ahead the Terms of Reference (TOR) for Environmental Impact Assessment Studies last year.

CERD, which received a complaint in January this year about the projects, sent a letter to the Government of India on April 29, seeking answers to the issues thrown up by the projects. The CERD letter categorically states that these two projects would have a harmful impact on the five PVTGs, which are already on the verge of extinction. According to the letter, the Nicobar project will put significant ecological pressure on the island and its surroundings.

The Andaman project, it says, will require de-reserving 32 per cent of the reserve forest and de-notifying 31 per cent of the tribal reserves, with detrimental consequences for the PVTGs. The letter reminds the government that these projects violate existing laws and policies of the government such as the Shompen Policy of 2015, which establishes the prioritisation of tribal rights over large-scale developmental projects; the Forest Conservation Act of 1980; the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation of 1956; and the Indian Forest Act of 1927.

CERD has asked the government about the measures adopted to prevent adverse and irreparable impact of these projects on the PVTGs, the impact on the ecosystem, on biodiversity, and on the livelihood and existence of these tribes. It has also asked the government about the steps taken by it for ensuring strict observance of existing laws and policies. The letter had asked the government to give a reply by July 15.

It is not yet known whether the Government of India has replied, but it is certainly ironic that while the nation is celebrating a tribal person getting elevated to the highest public office in the country, extremely vulnerable tribal groups are facing an existential threat: the threat of losing their livelihoods, their habitat and their lives.

CERD also raised concerns last week over India’s discrimination against Arunachal tribal communities.