February 1, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the impact of a proposed ₹75,000 crore project in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We also look at a pilot project that aims to make drones as first responders in Telangana, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The “Holistic Development” of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Unlike most other archipelagos, Andaman and Nicobar don’t necessarily bring up the best mental images for people. Unless you’ve actually been there, the general idea is more rainforests than pristine beaches and the heinous Kala Pani prison over themed resorts. While having entire islands for sombre reflection and unhindered nature isn’t a bad thing, the current administration is convinced that we’re missing the woods for a couple of trees.
Under the NITI Aayog’s “Holistic Development” programme, the islands are ready for a township, airport, shipment terminal and power plant. Looking at New Delhi’s sudden penchant for the Indian Ocean, this doesn’t shock us in the slightest. But as per environmental experts, the ₹75,000 crore project is set to strip the islands of the one thing that makes it unique – its isolation.
In September 2020, the NITI Aayog, our apex public policy think tank, issued a request for proposals (RfP) for the “Preparation of Master Plan for Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island”. Around two months later, the Gurgaon-based Aecom India Pvt. Ltd. put forward a 126-page proposal called the “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands”.
This plan is supposed to be a 15 year long, ₹75,000 crore project that focuses on opening the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) to world trade. The proposal, made for the NITI Aayog, talks about developing “greenfield cities” as Free Trade Zones. This city will have a diverse and steady economy based on tourism and maritime services. By 2050, this plan hoped to accommodate 6.5 lakh people on the island over 166 sq. km.
When news of this project broke, several islanders and ecologists ensured that their discontent was heard. You see, as of now, the land to be used for the primary and secondary urban settlements is covered by primal coastal systems and tropical forests. It truly is nature at its purest, and these plans for “development” definitely come in the way of that.
The backlash was so harsh that the NITI Aayog was even trying to deny its existence for a bit. All while still working on the most viable way to fortify the ANI. They even managed to get a cautiously reluctant pass from the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) in May 2021. Since then, they’ve opened the conversation up. And on 27 January 2022, a public hearing of all the comments and dissenting opinions about the project was held.
It’s not just the economy
From 2015 onwards, the Centre has been trying to turn the ANI into a maritime hub. Why? To stake a more substantial claim over the strategically placed archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In 2017, an analysis by Balaji Chandramohan pointed out that the islands “dominate the Bay of Bengal, the Six Degree and the Ten Degree Channels”. Over 60,000 commercial vessels pass by these routes annually.
It also acts as a barrier, securing several busy Sea Lines of Communications by forming natural chokepoints. The ANI also connects South Asia to Southeast Asia and covers around 30% of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This EEZ basically means that, under maritime law, the regions declared such can only be explored and used by one sovereign country. In the ANI’s case, it is India.
We can’t talk about the Indian Ocean and not bring up China. Its hopes to grow its influence beyond the Pacific and the South China Sea has manifested in increased Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China has also been eyeing the Malacca Strait, the western entrance of which is located adjacent to the ANI, to pull off their ambitious Maritime Silk Route dreams.
At this point, not covering our bases and overlooking the deployment of anti-submarine warfare equipment in the ANI could result in severe losses for us. Even global powers have a significant interest attached to the development of the ANI as it would ensure free movement in the IOR. For example, the shipment terminal and port proposed for the Great Nicobar Island would fall right by the Malacca Strait.
Considering India wants the added business of our neighbours, because of its proximity, that port could be regularly used by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia. This development project even opens the ANI up to global partnerships. Not only by investing in this “holistic” project, which the government has already sent out notices for, but also by the future prospects being set up by it.
Of course, economic growth and added employment are obviously on the table. From the construction phase to the establishment of the settlements, the demand for labour will be high. At the end of the 15 years, we’re expected to see a thriving population of 4 lakh on the islands. The power plant proposed, as well, will be built by Campbell Bay and Shastri Nagar, away from the island’s current residents and turtle nesting areas.
Leaving nature in tatters
Currently, the Great Nicobar Island houses around 8,000 inhabitants. Out of them, 237 belong to the aboriginal Shompen tribe and another 1,094 belong to the Nicobarese tribe. These tribes are forest-dwelling due to the island’s large forest cover, and the Centre’s plan fails to include them as legitimate stakeholders. Given the metrics provided in the proposals are the ones that will be followed eventually, the Shompens are at risk of losing access to a lot of the forest. And this is without bringing up the natural degradation associated with the urbanisation of habitats.
When the EAC greenlit this project, they pointed out the need to add proper environmental research and safeguards before entering construction. Presently, the Great Nicobar Island is one of the most ecologically diverse parts of the country, featuring over 1,700 species of animals. But fauna aside, new discoveries of rare flora is a regular part of the Nicobari experience. About 1,032 species in the ANI are endemic to the islands. It is widely recognised that this is possible only due to its geographic isolation. In fact, the presence of a terminal itself eats up space reserved for turtles nesting, including the endangered giant leatherback turtle.
According to the dean of the Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies Janki Andharia, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report does not include any “systematic risk assessment”. It simply goes over the number of earthquakes the region has seen and lets it go. This, from a monetary standpoint alone, is highly unfavourable as the ANI are prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. This means that once a natural disaster hits the archipelago, all the investments made to establish settlements can literally be reduced to rubble.
Sure, economic prowess is very important in today’s world, but hasty progress simply for the sake of progress generally doesn’t seem too “holistic”.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The development of Great Nicobar Island will be good for the archipelago.
b) The development of Great Nicobar Island will not be good for the archipelago.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
From Service to Servitude
For the Left:
Former Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s Statement on Indian Democracy Presumptuous and Preposterous
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Renukaji dam (Delhi) – This December, construction on the Renukaji dam multi-purpose project will begin. It could help Delhi with its water shortage issues. The 148-metre dam will store water on the Giri river and supply water to Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana. Per an MoU, Delhi will get additional water on a priority basis. It will meet 40% of Delhi’s drinking water requirement. 90% of the cost (₹3,892 crores) will be borne by the Centre. The remaining ₹432.5 crores will be shared by the states in proportion to water allocated to them.
Why it matters: Delhi’s water shortage problem is well known. Currently, it has a demand-supply gap of about 300 million gallons per day of drinking water. In the summer, the shortage is more acute. Once the dam is completed and operational, Delhi is expected to receive 299 million gallons per day. The dam has been a long time coming. In 2008, Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit took up the project and brought it to the national level. Last December, the government approved the project.
Eyes in the sky (Telangana) – In a first for India, the Telangana police are testing software that will link drones with a patrolling vehicle as the former can become the first responders. When a person dials 100, the patrolling vehicle of the particular jurisdiction gets alerted. A drone linked to that vehicle will go first and fly above the spot while the vehicle is en route. This gives the police some time to assess the situation before officers arrive at the location. The estimated cost for each drone is ₹5 lakh.
Why it matters: Drones are increasingly being used by Indian officials. Recently, some states have used them to deliver medicines and supplies in tricky geographical locations. As the pandemic set in, states like Delhi and Maharashtra used drones to ensure lockdowns were being followed. With this came concerns about privacy and security. Last year, India introduced new liberalised drone rules that laid out the requirements for someone to pilot a drone and a framework on the different areas where they can be flown.
Return of Leprosy (Odisha) – There are fears of the return of leprosy in Odisha. Per the National Leprosy Eradication Programme’s (NLEP) 2020-21 report, Odisha had 6148 cases of leprosy, out of which 421 were in children. Last year, as part of a door-to-door survey to identify people with COVID-19 symptoms, 1625 leprosy cases were confirmed. This has raised alarm bells in the state’s health department. Reasons for increased cases seem to be a lack of awareness and discrimination. With limited mobility due to lockdowns, patients haven’t had access to healthcare services.
Why it matters: India declared itself leprosy free in 2005, and Odisha followed suit in 2007. Despite this, India accounts for 60% of the world’s new leprosy patients. Several districts in the state have reported new cases. The state has designated one trained personnel at every block to support healthcare workers in leprosy-related activities. Among the treatments being used to break the transmission is prophylaxis. The state will need to step up its surveillance, reporting, and treatment to achieve the goal of Zero Leprosy by 2030.
India’s first Geo Park (Madhya Pradesh) – India’s first Geo Park will be set up at Lamheta village on the banks of the Narmada river. It was approved by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) with ₹1.30 crores sanctioned to prepare a project report. The estimated cost of the park is ₹35 crores. A Geo Park is a unified area that ensures the protection and use of geological heritage sustainably. It also helps the local communities economically. This is the first time such an initiative is being taken to conserve rock formations of geological significance.
Why it matters: The site chosen is already a part of the UNESCO geo-heritage tentative list to conserve natural heritage. In this particular area, several dinosaur fossils were found with the first one in 1828 by Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer William Sleeman. UNESCO started to recognise Geo Parks worldwide under its UNESCO Global Geopark programme. Last April, the GSI identified 26 geosites across India for development as Geo Parks.
Leopard census (Assam) – The state forest department will undertake an exclusive leopard census in Assam’s forest and non-forest areas. It will begin on January 31 by the North Kamrup Forest Division in the leopard-dense areas of Amingaon in the Kamrup district. The census will be done through 50 cameras installed in the Sila Forest Reserve, Changsari, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education & Research (NIPER), AIIMS, etc. The survey will take 24 weeks to complete.
Why it matters: While there are many leopards in the state, the exact number is unknown. This survey will give a clear idea of the leopard population in Assam. Per the 2018 Status of Leopards, Co-predators and Megaherbivores in India report, there were only 154 leopards in the northeast. The state has also seen a rise in human-leopard conflicts. This is due to an increase in the human population and increased expansion of human settlements. The data from the survey will help officials track leopards, mark danger zones, and install alarm devices on the periphery.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹1.66 lakh crore – The amount ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India will invest in Gujarat on six different projects. The projects include a Green Steel Plant and renewable power generation plants.