A group of 87 former civil servants on Sunday urged President Droupadi Murmu to advise the Central government to immediately stop the Rs 72,000-crore mega project on Great Nicobar Island.

The former bureaucrats said that the project raises serious concerns about the future of indigenous communities and the ecosystem of the island.

The Great Nicobar project, directed by the government think tank Niti Aayog, involves the construction of a Rs 35,000-crore trans-shipment port, an international airport, a power plant, a township and tourism infrastructure spread over more than 160 square km of land, including 130 square km of primary forest. It was granted final Environmental Clearance on November 4.

“The Government of India is all set to destroy one of the most pristine habitats in the country, one which is home to various rare and endemic species, as well as to an extremely vulnerable tribe, the Shompens of Great Nicobar,” the letter said.

The Shompen are listed by the government as a “particularly vulnerable tribal group”, characterised by a pre-agricultural level of technology, low levels of literacy and a declining or stagnant population.

In Sunday’s letter, the former civil servants said that the Shompens have repeated incursions by outsiders into their area.

“The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is aware of this matter and has instructed the government to prevent such intrusions,” the former civil servants said in the letter issued under the banner of the Constitutional Conduct Group. “Instead of taking heed of this, the government itself is now all set to make a major intrusion.”

Around 853 square km of Great Nicobar is designated as a tribal reserve under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956. The land is meant for the exclusive use of the community and others cannot access the area without express permission from the administration.

The former bureaucrts also expressed concerns regarding the environmental and coastal regulation zone clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change with certain conditions, including compensatory afforestation in Haryana.

Also read: How the loss of a tropical forest in Nicobar could end up funding a jungle safari in Haryana

Under India’s forest conservation law, whenever forests are cleared for developmental or industrial projects, trees must be planted over an equal area of non-forest land to compensate for the ecological loss.

“The idea of replacing the virgin forests of Great Nicobar with planted forests in Haryana would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic,” the former civil servants said in the letter to the president. “[Around] 13,075 acres of rich, evergreen, rain forests teeming with extraordinary flora and fauna species to be compensated with newly planted trees in the dry Aravalli hills of Haryana!”

The statement was signed by retired civil servants including former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Indian Administrative Services officers Harsh Mander, Julio Ribeiro and Aruna Roy, and others.

The signatories added that prior incidents show that what starts out as a small ‘development project’ in a vulnerable locality keeps expanding inexorably, leading to a total destruction of the environment in which it is situated.

“The ecology and tribal people of Great Nicobar are far too precious to India and the world at large to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘development’,” they said.

Also read: ‘Planned destruction of Adivasi culture and lives’: Experts raise alarm over Great Nicobar project