Skip to main content

Ethnocide? Great Nicobar project to destroy lifeworld of unique tribes: Book

Counterview Desk 
A new book,  curated by Pankaj Sekhsaria, peeling the multiple layers of what is called unfolding tragedy because of the Great Nicobar Development Plan seeks to argue that the mega-project constituting a port, airport, city and power plant poses grave ecological, geological, economic and legal concerns. 
"Its impact on the indigenous people need careful review", its authors say.
The book is concerned significant as the project has sparked significant concerns among environmentalists, indigenous communities, and social activists. "One of the primary fears is the potential environmental impact. The large-scale deforestation required for the infrastructure could lead to a substantial loss of biodiversity", a note based on discussion of the book states.


The Great Nicobar Development Plan, also known as the “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island” plan, is a major infrastructure initiative planned in the Great Nicobar Island, located in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago of India. Its key components are an International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT), a Greenfield International Airport, an Integrated Township, Power Plant and Ecotourism Projects. It poses existential threats to the indigenous communities of the Nicobar Islands and also gravely endangers the ecology.
The authors in the book "The Great Nicobar Betrayal", curated by Pankaj Sekhsaria, peel the multiple layers of this unfolding tragedy. In the book discussion organized by the Centre for Financial Accountability, Leftword and Frontline, Pankaj Sekhsaria made a detailed presentation of each of these layers.
Be it the omissions and commissions of the Forest Advisory Committee, the Wildlife Institute of India, the absurdities of the clearance process, the threat to the flora and fauna and the imminent harm caused to one of the most vulnerable tribes, the project is marred with grave concerns that one gets a sense as one goes through the chapters written by multiple authors from varied background. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion attended by:
  • Pankaj Sekhsaria (Author and academic working on environment & development, wildlife conservation and issues of the islands for last three decades)
  • Prof. Nandini Sundar (Professor, Delhi University)
  • Jacob Koshy (Deputy Science Editor, The Hindu)
  • Amitanshu Verma (Researcher, Centre for Financial Accountability)
Introducing the session, Nancy Pathak of Centre for Financial Accountability drew attention to the fact that works such as ‘The Great Nicobar Betrayal’ have helped generate a wider circle of concern around what the project threatens to destroy in its wake.
Moderating the session, Anirban Bhattacharya, Team Lead National Finance, at the Centre for Financial Accountability, said the brazenness with which the ‘Great Nicobar Project’ envisaged influx of lakhs of new-comers on lands that have belonged to most vulnerable tribal communities, has painful parallels with settler colonial project. He pointed out that using terminology like ‘green’, ‘holistic’, ‘sustainable’ etc. ‘The Great Nicobar Project’ is perhaps the biggest instance of greenwashing in our times.
"The Nicobar mega-project constituting a port, airport, city and power plant poses grave ecological, geological, economic and legal concerns. Its impact on the indigenous people need careful review", said Pankaj Sekhsaria.
Sociologist from Delhi School of Economics, Prof Nandini Sundar pointed out that the monumental harm posed by the proposed project should not simply be compared with any other instance. The proposed project activities will completely destroy the lifeworld of the most vulnerable and unique tribes – the Shompen and the Nicobarese – amounting to an ethnocide. These cultures are singular and irreplaceable, she pointed out.
Jacob Koshy said, “Environmental clearance procedures are predictably routine: Few consultancies handle reports for 80% of projects approved. The Environment Ministry, meant to safeguard environments, now feels it impedes development.”
Great Nicobar Project envisages influx of lakhs of new-comers on lands that have belonged to most vulnerable tribal communities
Amitanshu Verma from CFA said, "The Great Nicobar Project needs to be seen in the context of the Sagarmala initiative of the government which comprises major port expansion, building, port modernization and connectivity infrastructure along India’s coasts. The Sagarmala initiative in many instances has given rise to concern of environmental harm, loss of livelihoods of the fisherfolk, cost and time overruns, and formation of monopolies, with port management being awarded to one corporate entity.”

More about the book

The Great Nicobar Development Plan has sparked significant concerns among environmentalists, indigenous communities, and social activists. One of the primary fears is the potential environmental impact. The large-scale deforestation required for the infrastructure could lead to a substantial loss of biodiversity. The habitats of many endemic and endangered species, such as the Nicobar megapode and leatherback turtles, are at risk of being destroyed. Furthermore, the construction activities and increased maritime traffic could disrupt the delicate marine ecosystems, harming coral reefs and other marine life.
Another major concern is the impacts on indigenous communities, particularly the Shompen and Nicobarese tribes. These communities, who have lived on the island for centuries, may face forced disruption of their traditional way of life. There is a real threat of losing cultural heritage and the erosion of indigenous knowledge systems.
Moreover, the region’s vulnerability to climate change and earthquakes poses a significant challenge. The coastal infrastructure development on an island prone to sea-level rise, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis raises questions about the long-term sustainability of these projects.
Members of the Constitution Conduct Group, senior bureaucrats, and environmentalists have voiced their concerns about this project, noting that it threatens to exterminate entire communities and species. The gravity of the situation was underscored when the chief of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes resigned after expressing his grave concerns. Even the opposition has raised objections to the project’s brazen clearances.



'Wedding of the century': What does Mukesh Ambani want to prove by such extravaganza?

By NS Venkataraman*  Mukesh  Ambani,   a renowned Indian industrialist who is said to be the richest person in India and  one of the richest persons in the world,   has just now conducted the wedding celebration of  his son in Mumbai,   with unheard level of lavishness in India.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'28% rise in sedition cases': Top global NGO alliance rates India's civil space 'repressed'

By Rajiv Shah Rating India's civic space as repressed , Civicus, a global civil society alliance, in its new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the state of civic space in the country has said that the use of sedition law against the Modi government’s critics continues. "Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition cases have increased by 28 per cent with over 500 cases against more than 7,000 people", it says.

How US is using Tibetans to provoke conflict with China 'ignoring' India

By Lobsang Tenzin*  On July 12, US President Joe Biden signed the Resolve Tibet Act, and Tibetans cheered for it, believing that the law promotes a resolution of the dispute between Tibet and China. Is this true? First, let's look at the issue of the ownership of Tibet. 

Tribals from 60 villages observe seed festival to 'protect' diversity of indigenous seeds

By Bharat Dogra*  Nearly sixty villagers are sitting on an open floor covered by a roof for shade but otherwise open on all sides. Women and men are present in equal numbers but the visibility of women is higher because of their colorful dresses.

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Maharashtra govt's proposed bill may be used against 'dissenting' journalists, writers, filmmakers, artists

Counterview Desk  The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra, strongly objecting to what it calls “repressive and unconstitutional” Maharashtra Special Public Security Bill 2024, has demanded the proposed law be scrapped in its entirety. In its Statement of Objects and Reasons for the Bill, PUCL noted,  the broad and non-descript label of ‘urban naxal’ has been used, which is actually a “common slur used for any citizen who expresses their opposition to state policy or is not aligned with right-wing majoritarian views."