The NITI Aayog’s project in Great Nicobar

The NITI Aayog’s project in Great Nicobar


The contentious Great Nicobar Island project has recently come under intense scrutiny and criticism.


  • On June 17, the Congress party called for an immediate halt to all clearances granted to the NITI Aayog’s ambitious development project on Great Nicobar island.
  • They cited violations of due process, legal and constitutional provisions protecting tribal communities, and the project’s substantial ecological and human costs.
  • Other political entities, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and various environmental and tribal rights groups, have echoed these concerns, highlighting the severe repercussions of the proposed project.


GS – 3 (Environment, Government Policies & Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • About Great Nicobar and its Communities
  • The Great Nicobar Project and Its Challenges

About Great Nicobar and its Communities

Geographic and Ecological Overview:

  • Great Nicobar is the southernmost island of India, part of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. It spans an area of 910 sq km, characterized by hilly terrain, lush rainforests, and mangrove forests. The island receives approximately 3,500 mm of annual rainfall.
  • The island hosts numerous endangered and endemic species, including the giant leatherback turtle, Nicobar megapode, Great Nicobar crake, Nicobar crab-eating macaque, and the Nicobar tree shrew.

Indigenous Communities:

  • Shompen Tribe: The Shompen, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group, are primarily hunter-gatherers living in the island’s interior forests. They number around 250 and remain relatively isolated, with their own unique language and culture.
  • Nicobarese Community: This community comprises two groups: the Great Nicobarese and the Little Nicobarese. They engage in farming and fishing, and speak different dialects of the Nicobarese language. The Great Nicobarese, resettled in Campbell Bay post the 2004 tsunami, number around 450. The Little Nicobarese, about 850 in total, reside in Afra Bay and on other islands in the archipelago.

Settler Population:

  • Government Settlements: Between 1968 and 1975, the Indian government settled around 330 households from various states across seven villages on Great Nicobar’s east coast. These settlements included retired military servicemen and their families.
  • Migrants: The island has also seen migrations of fisherfolk, agricultural and construction laborers, businesspersons, and administrative staff. Post the 2004 tsunami, construction contractors and other settlers have increased the population to around 6,000.

The Great Nicobar Project and Its Challenges

Project Overview:

  • Development Plan: In March 2021, NITI Aayog proposed a ₹72,000 crore project aimed at the holistic development of Great Nicobar Island. The project includes constructing an international transshipment terminal, an international airport, a power plant, and a township.
  • Implementation: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) is tasked with implementing the project. The plan seeks to leverage the island’s strategic location near the Malacca Strait, a vital global maritime route.

Strategic Importance:

  • Military and Economic Significance: The project aims to bolster India’s military presence and economic participation in the region. It envisages the deployment of additional military forces and the development of infrastructure to support larger warships, aircraft, and missile batteries.
  • Maritime Economy: The international transshipment terminal is expected to position Great Nicobar as a key player in the global maritime economy, enhancing cargo transshipment capabilities and attracting international tourism.

Environmental and Social Concerns:

  • Ecological Impact: The project requires diverting about 130 sq km of forest land and felling around 10 lakh trees. The Galathea Bay wildlife sanctuary, a crucial nesting site for the giant leatherback turtle, is particularly at risk.
  • Tribal Rights Violations: The project poses significant threats to the Shompen and Nicobarese tribes, potentially devastating their way of life. Concerns include disease transmission to the Shompen, displacement from ancestral lands, and inadequate consultation with tribal communities.

Seismic Vulnerability:

  • High-Risk Zone: Great Nicobar lies in a seismically active region, experiencing frequent earthquakes. The 2004 tsunami caused significant subsidence, raising questions about the safety of large-scale infrastructure projects in such a volatile area.

Lack of Adequate Consultation:

  • Tribal and Community Consent: Critics argue that the local administration has not adequately consulted the Tribal Council and other stakeholders. The National Green Tribunal has called for a high-power committee to review the environmental and forest clearances, emphasizing the need for thorough and transparent processes.

Way Forward:

  • An impartial and comprehensive review of the project by parliamentary committees and environmental experts is essential. This review should consider the ecological, social, and economic impacts comprehensively.
  • Existing legal frameworks like the Forest Rights Act (2006) must be upheld to protect the rights and interests of the Shompen and Nicobarese tribes.
  • Inclusive Decision-Making: Ensuring that local communities, especially the tribal councils, are actively involved in the decision-making process is crucial. Their consent should be obtained through transparent and respectful consultations.
  • Eco-Friendly Infrastructure: Developing eco-friendly and sustainable infrastructure solutions can help balance development goals with environmental conservation.
  • Alternative Livelihoods: Initiatives to provide alternative livelihoods for affected communities can help reduce dependency on traditional practices that may be disrupted by the project.
  • Seismic Risk Mitigation: Incorporating advanced engineering solutions and disaster preparedness measures is vital to address the seismic risks associated with the region.
  • Early Warning Systems: Implementing robust early warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis can enhance the resilience of the island’s infrastructure and communities.