A group of 70 former civil servants on Tuesday urged the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to prevent the displacement of two Adivasi groups due to a Rs 72,000-crore infrastructure project on the Great Nicobar Island.

The Great Nicobar project 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 kilometers of land. It was granted final environmental clearance on November 4.

The ex-bureaucrats, who are part of the Constitutional Conduct Group, said that the infrastructure project will harm the Shompen, a particularly vulnerable tribal group that could lose much of its traditional forest foraging grounds, and the southern Great Nicobarese, a Scheduled Tribe, who were already displaced after the 2004 tsunami.

The former civil servants said that they had also written to President Droupadi Murmu on January 27 to express their concerns that the project would “virtually destroy the unique ecology of this island and the habitat of vulnerable tribal groups”. However, they said that their letter appeared to have had no effect in making the Centre rethink its proposal.

“It is only very recently that the National Green Tribunal has ordered a closer look at some of the environmental issues raised,” they said. On April 7, the tribunal constituted a high-powered committee to re-examine the environmental clearance granted to the project, the Hindustan Times reported.

The former civil servants said that several others have also written to the government objecting to the use of tribal reserve land for the project, including anthropologists of the Indian Anthropological Association.

“They emphasised the damage that would occur if the project came too close to the dwellings or foraging grounds of the Shompen,” the letter read. “They too mentioned that the Nicobarese were anxious to return to their pre-tsunami settlements. Yet all these calls for caution have gone unheeded and the project has been cleared despite the damage it will cause to these defenceless tribal people.”

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