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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.

Text:

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.

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