MEGACITY PLAN FOR LITTLE ANDAMAN
NITI Aayog’s megacity plan for Little Andaman alarms conservationists
A plan for the sustainable and holistic development of the 680 sq km, fragile Little Andaman Island in the Andaman and Nicobar group has raised the alarm among conservationists.
The proposed construction of a mega financial-tourist complex on Little Andaman Island will place at risk a fragile ecosystem and result in habitat loss of the vulnerable Onge tribe and rare wildlife
The ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’, is the NITI Aayog’s proposal to leverage the strategic location and natural features of the island.
This, the vision says, will be done by building a new greenfield coastal city there, that will be developed as a free trade zone and will compete with Singapore and Hong Kong.
The proposal is pivoted along three development anchors and zones.
- ZONE 1 –Spread over 102 sq km along the east coast of Little Andaman will be the financial district and medi city and will include an aerocity, and a tourism and hospital district. Spread over 85 sq km of pristine forest,
- ZONE 2-The leisure zone, will have a film city, a residential district and a tourism SEZ.
- ZONE 3 –52 sq km of pristine forest will be a nature zone.
FURTHER CATEGORISATION INTO THREE DISTRICTS:
- An exclusive forest resort,
- A nature healing district and
- A nature retreat, all on the western coast.
There will be ‘underwater’ resorts, casinos, golf courses, convention centres, plug-and-play office complexes, a drone port with fully automated drone delivery system, nature cure institutes and more.
An international airport capable of handling all types of aircraft will be central to this development vision because “all successful case studies and references” studied by the visioning team indicate that an international airport is key for development.
The only jetty on the island will be expanded and a marina will be developed next to the tourist entertainment district.
A 100 km greenfield ring road will be constructed parallel to the coastline from east to west and will be supplemented with a mass rapid transit network with stations at regular intervals.
The vision plan is not in the public domain, even though it is said to have been finalised months ago.
The comparison with Singapore, for instance, is one key.
BLOCKS TO DEVELOPMENT
There are certain factors, the vision document notes, that could prevent Little Andaman from becoming the new Singapore factors that are “stopping us from developing these into veritable jewels for the country”.
These include lack of good connectivity with Indian mainland and global cities, a fragile biodiversity and natural ecosystems and certain Supreme Court notifications that pose an impediment to development.
Another key factor is the “presence of indigenous tribes and concerns for their welfare”.
95% of Little Andaman is covered in forest, a large part of it the pristine evergreen type.
Some 640 sq km of the island is Reserve Forest under the Indian Forest Act, and nearly 450 sq km is protected as the Onge Tribal Reserve, creating a unique and rare socio-ecological-historical complex of high importance.
And if the tribals become an impediment, the vision suggests that they “can be relocated to other parts of the island”.
FOREST DEPARTMENT’S CONCERNS
It raised serious concerns about this vision on grounds of ecological fragility, indigenous rights and vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis.
The note said such large diversion of forest land would cause obvious environmental loss leading to irreversible damage (more than 2 million trees stand in the forest land sought for these projects), that habitats of various wild animals including endangered sea turtles would be affected, and that the impact could not even be assessed because there was no environment impact assessment report and neither were there any detailed site layout plans for the proposed diversion.
This note of dissent was a minor irritant and was ignored in the plan and vision that seeks to alter the nature of an ancient island bigger than Chennai and Mumbai in area.
The vision document, described by conservationists as a first bullet through the heart of the island, is to be followed by a second one soon.
A meeting is to be held under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary on February 4 to initiate the denotification of the Onge tribal reserve on Little Andaman.)