Hype by Modi govt on India assuming rotational G20 presidency jarring, say observers

Controversy surrounding venue of briefing

Prior to assuming leadership, PM Modi held a pre-summit briefing at Swaraj Dweep, which is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, on November 26, which was attended by the envoys from across the world.

However, the Andaman and Nicobar islands are undergoing “grave climate concern” even as the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change gave full and final clearance to the ₹72,000-crore ‘Great Nicobar’ project to be conducted in the Shompen tribe-inhabited areas of the island in early November. 

The project, helmed by the government think tank Niti Aayog, involves the construction of a ₹35,000-crore trans-shipment port, an international airport, a power plant, a township and tourism infrastructure spread over 160 square km of land, which includes 130 square km of primary forest, forming 10 per cent of the tribal reserve area.

The project aims to increase the population of Nicobar by 4000 per cent in the next three decades – from the current 8000 to more than 3.5 lakh – marginally less than the entire population of Andaman and Nicobar which stands at around 4 lakhs as per the 2021 census. 

The Shompen are listed by the government as a “particularly vulnerable tribal group” and the land on which the project is to be constructed is exclusively designated to the tribe under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation Act (1956).

Calling it a “planned destruction of the tribal culture and lives,” Sharad Lele, former member of the Environment Ministry and Tribal Ministry Committee, highlighted that this raise severe concern as it “not only displaces the entire Shompen tribal community but also calls for mass deforestation.”

According to experts and environmental researchers, the carbon cost of this project is staggering – the Great Nicobar Island has pristine rainforests, which are huge carbon repositories.

Ignoring these climate concerns surrounding the islands, the G20 briefing revolved around climate action. “Climate change, climate finance and technology collaborations; clean, sustainable, just, affordable and inclusive energy transition; accelerated progress on sustainable development goals,” were among the main points highlighted by India.

G20 Sherpa (representative) Amitabh Kant justified this choice of location by saying: “We have started our journey from Andaman and Nicobar Islands because there are unsung freedom fighters who were imprisoned in the cellular jail of India. And therefore, we thought it fit that many of our freedom fighters, including Veer Savarkar, who was imprisoned here, should tell the stories to all the foreigners and ambassadors, as well as leading international organisations and all the invitees.”

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