Indigenous Rights vs. Development: The Great Nicobar Conundrum

Aerial view of the Great Nicobar Island Development Project, symbolizing the delicate balance between indigenous rights and developmental initiatives
Indigenous Rights vs. Development: The Great Nicobar Conundrum

The Rs 72,000 crore 'Great Nicobar Island Development Project' has stirred controversy over its potential impact on the indigenous Shompen and Nicobarese communities, raising concerns about constitutional violations and inadequate tribal consultation.

Project Overview:

Initiated by NITI Aayog and executed by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO), the project entails constructing a transshipment port, international airport, township, and power plant. Over half of the project area overlaps with the Tribal Reserve Area, crucial for the Shompen tribe.

Expert Concerns:

  • Denotification of Tribal Reserve: Despite recommendations from the UT administration's Empowered Committee, denotification of the tribal reserve area raises constitutional concerns.
  • Justification Flaws: ANIIDCO's assessment of protected tribal areas has been criticized as inadequate and erroneous.
  • Lack of Consultation: Allegations suggest disregarding the views of Shompen and Nicobarese communities in decision-making processes.
  • Legal Ambiguity: Experts argue that project clearances lack legal rigor and may contravene constitutional directives.

Impact on Indigenous Communities:

  • Dependency on Natural Resources: Shompen and Nicobarese communities rely on the proposed project area for sustenance and habitation, making denotification detrimental.
  • Ancestral Villages Affected: Great Nicobarese ancestral villages, integral to their cultural identity, lie within the project's scope.

Procedural Concerns:

  • Lack of Transparency: Public disclosure of circulars and meeting minutes concerning tribal reserve changes is absent, violating transparency norms.
  • Constitutional Directive Violations: Denotification orders were issued without due consultation with affected tribal groups, flouting constitutional directives.

Context of Indigenous Tribes:

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands house six indigenous tribes, including the Shompen and Nicobarese. The Shompen, numbering 200-300, and the larger Nicobarese population of approximately 27,000 inhabit the Great Nicobar Island. The creation of Tribal Reserve Areas under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956, aims to safeguard their interests.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956:

This legislation safeguards indigenous tribes' interests and permits the establishment of Tribal Reserve Areas, with administrative powers vested in the islands' administrator. However, concerns arise over potential violations in the Great Nicobar Project, necessitating a more transparent and inclusive approach to development in ecologically sensitive areas inhabited by indigenous communities.

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