Misleading Report: “Airport, Container Depot, Township in 16,610 hec of Pristine Nicobar Cleared”

Ravindra Nath Saxena

Facts of the matter and Critical Analysis

The Economic Times has published a news item about the “forest diversion” and “environment clearance” accorded to the Airport, Container Depot, Township in 16,610 hec of Pristine Nicobar.

The facts of the project have not been analysed in the right perspective. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1986 and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 are not “conservation oriented and prehistory” in nature. Accordingly, “Forest Appraisal Committee” (FAC) and Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has accorded “statutory clearances” after due examination of the application.

For critical analysis of the case, the “Status of Forest Report, 2021” of Forest Survey of India has been obtained. The geographical area of A&N Islands is 825,000 hectares with 94.68% forest cover. The vital South Nicobar island is having almost 100% forest cover. The diversion of 16,610 hectares is tantamount to diversion of 1.94% of the regional ecosystem. Even after diversion about 92.74% of the regional ecology shall remain intact. The western states of India like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab are surviving with less then 10% of forest cover. Considering high rainfall of A&N Islands, there is not likely to be any problem in regional ecology.
It has been reported that, the diversion area is a part of Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere Reserves have been notified under the “Man & Biosphere Reserve Programme” of the United Nations Organization. Thus these Biosphere Reserves are only “administrative units” and not protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. There is no prohibitory regime for diversion under “Man & Biosphere Reserve Programme”.
The news article has reported presence of Andaman Megapod in the area. This species is endemic to A&N Islands and with the loss of only about 1.94% of the habitat, its survival shall not be adversely affected. Except this vulnerable species, no other RET species has been reported in the diversion area. The “Marine Crocodiles” are having vast habitat available for their survival, hence this project is not likely to affect this species. This is a terrestrial project, hence not likely to harm marine fishes and biology of the coastal area.

The defence Dimensions
The South Nicobar Island is situated just north of the shipping route of Indian Ocean. All petroleum crude carrying vessels, originating from Middle East and heading towards South East Asia, Japan, Taiwan and China pass through this shipping route. The Airbase at South Nicobar Island shall be for both civil and military use.

South Andaman is about 70 -80 kms. from the Malacca Strait. All petroleum crude transporting vessels have to pass through the narrow Malacca Strait and there is no other alternative available to them. It is utmost important to mention that China is already having one large Naval Base in 2 Coco Islands, obtained from Myanmar on lease. China is having having another “Naval Facility” in Trincomalee harbor of Sri Lanka. In case of full scale war or limited conflict, the fighter planes of South Nicobar Airbase can block shipping route of Indian Ocean and Malacca Strait. Certainly it can strangulate “petroleum crude” supply to China, as Malacca Strait is dominated by Philippines and USA is having large “Naval Base” in Manila.

To check the Chinese influence in the region, it is necessary to develop South Nicobar Defence & Commercial Airbase is absolutely justified. As critically analyzed, the ecological damage to the regional ecology shall be minimal.

The readers are requested to analyse, such articles carefully; before forming any opinion about such situations.

The author, Ravindra Nath Saxena, is former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Madhya Pradesh. He can be contacted on Email: ravindra.nath.saxena@gmail.com

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