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Public hearing on International Airport Project at Great Nicobar Island on 10 June

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By Vipul Dhasmana

Nicobar, 7 Jun: The Social Welfare Department, Andaman & Nicobar Administration, will conduct a public hearing for the Green Field International Airport project in Great Nicobar on 10 June at 11 a.m. at the Office of the Gram Panchayat, Gandhi Nagar, Campbell Bay, Nicobar District. Prior to it, all stakeholders have been directed to submit their comments or objections in writing to the Social Welfare Department, Andaman & Nicobar Administration, by 9 June. Comments can also be emailed to directorsw4@gmail.com.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd (ANIIDCO) proposes “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island (GNI) in Andaman and Nicobar Islands”. As a part of integrated development, a Green Field International Airport is envisaged. The other interlinked projects are International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), Township Development and a Power Plant in Great Nicobar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. M/s Probe Social Development & Research Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, has submitted the Draft Social Impact Assessment (SIA) Report for the Green Field International Airport project in Great Nicobar, covering an area of 404.8194 hectares.

According to the Draft Social Impact Assessment Report, NITI Aayog is engaged in the holistic development of identified islands of India. As a part of this endeavour, it has decided to undertake “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island (GNI)”. GNI, with an area of 910 sq. km. (pre-Tsunami notified area of 1045 sq.km.) is one of the largest islands of the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago.

At present, there is very limited connectivity of the GNI with the Indian mainland and other global cities. The only modes for travelling to GNI are by Air and Sea. However, there is very limited infrastructure which is further dependent on weather conditions. To strengthen the presence at GNI, it is important to improve the transport infrastructure of GNI. The proposed Greenfield Airport will provide the required infrastructure not only to improve the connectivity but also provide the economic benefits.

The airport is expected to boost tourism in the region and have a positive impact on the local economy through tourism. The airport is also expected to provide easier access to the international tourist community across the world. Furthermore, the project will create employment opportunities for the people residing nearby locations.

The government has identified land in Shastri Nagar and Gandhi Nagar villages of Campbell Bay taluk of Nicobar district in Great Nicobar Island for the proposed airport. The GNI is located on the southernmost tip of the Nicobar group of islands. It is 520 km from Port Blair. The Indira Point, earlier known as Pygmalion Point, lies at the tip of the GNI and is the southernmost point of the country. The GNI is situated between 6°45’ and 7°15’N latitudes and 93°37’ and 93°56’E longitudes. The headquarters of the GNI is Campbell Bay.

The proposed project requires 834.6437 Ha (404.8194 Ha private land and 429.8243 Ha Govt. Land) of land belonging to around 234 families from Gandhi Nagar and Shastri Nagar villages. The government proposes to acquire 506.7547 Ha of land from Gandhi Nagar Village and 327.889Ha of land from Shastri Nagar Village. The land to be acquired is being used for plantation, residential and commercial purposes.

The proposed acquisition of 404.8194 Ha of land for the purpose of construction of  the Greenfield International Airport is beneficial to the overall economy of Great Nicobar Island, but will result in loss of land holding by the present land owners and will have an adverse bearing on their possession of land assets by them. As per the present landowners, all the around 234 families are ready to give their land for the proposed construction of the Greenfield International Airport.

No other alternatives were considered because the proposed land is suitable for the project construction of GNI International Airport. The land also falls outside the living area of peoples with very little inhabitation. Hence, it will reduce the impact on land and livelihood and also reduce the stress on land for dependency for housing facilities, the draft report stated.

The acquisition of land for the airport could result in the displacement of local communities, including farmers and other landowners. The land acquisition from both the villages will displace workers who are working in BRO, coconut industry and agriculture for generations and also affect the staff working in various portfolios. This could lead to loss of livelihoods and social disruption. The acquisition of land for the airport could lead to loss of property rights for people living in the project area. This could have significant social and economic impacts, particularly for marginalised or vulnerable groups who may be less able to assert their rights.

It is important for the authorities responsible for the airport project to work closely with the local communities to minimise the negative social impacts of land acquisition, and to ensure that affected communities are adequately compensated and supported throughout the process. This could involve measures such as providing alternative land or livelihood options, ensuring transparency and fairness in the compensation process, and engaging in meaningful consultation with affected communities.

Addressing the issue of the social costs comparing positive and negative benefits of the proposed project, the project has less negative social impacts as loss of land, structures & trees and the positive social impacts of the project are very wide since the benefits will be enjoyed by the entire community of GNI. The self-sustainability of GNI is one of the main positive social impacts of the proposed project. Hence, the project perfectly serves the public purpose.

The project will also result in livelihood opportunities for the people in the construction sector. There are approx. 40 PAFs who will lose employment due to this proposed land acquisition. Implementation of the project can cause displacement of people. It will affect the land being used for plantation, commercial and residential purposes partially and completely. People who are working in commercial establishments will lose their livelihood.

The proposed project serves public purpose and the positive social impacts outweigh the negative impacts. But, high resentment was found among landowners and the public during various stages of the study. As an advance planning for future requirements, the government could go ahead with acquisition of bare minimum land of 404.8194 Ha for the project. The government should adopt all possible ways to acquire bare minimum land for the project by including Panchayat and public representatives in decision making for the sustainable development of the island.

(The photographs are representative)