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Little Andaman development plan, India


The ‘Vision Document’. In January 2021 news of plans for a tourism oriented mega development project on Little Andaman Island triggered alarm amongst conservationists. The island, at the southern end of the Andaman archipelago, is home to the Onge tribe and fragile, unique ecosystems with many rare wildlife species. The total project area is nearly 240 sq km, 35% of the island. Implementation would require de-notification of 32% of the Reserve Forest (a large part of this consisting of pristine, evergreen forest) and 138 sq km, 31%, of the land protected as Onge Tribal Reserve, an area described by Pankaj Sekhsaria, a leading expert on the environment, development and indigenous communities in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, as ‘a unique and rare socio-ecological-historical complex of high importance’. The plans are outlined in the ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman - Vision Document’, which Sekhsaria criticises as ‘Sloppy and inappropriate’ containing ‘no financial details, no budgeting, or inventorisation of forests and ecological wealth and no details of any impact assessment’. There was no environmental impact assessment or detailed site layout plans. He also criticises the document for including maps without legends and photographs plagiarised from the internet. The document, thought to have been finalised a few months previously, was not in the public domain [1].

The full 58-page ‘Vision Document’ is, however, included in ‘A MONUMENTAL FOLLY: NITI Aayog’s Development Plans for Great Nicobar Island (An evolving archive of reports, information and documents)’, compiled by Sekhsaria and published by Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group. The Little Andaman plan, similar to plans for ‘Holistic Development of the Great Nicobar Island focussed on a transhipment port, identifies development areas that would take up 107 kilometres of the island’s coastline. Comprising three zones linked by a greenfield road many elements of the plans are focussed on luxury tourism:

Zone 1, on the eastern coast – high-density development with a Financial District and MediCity, an Aerocity housing an international airport would be ‘the catalyst for development of the district’ also comprising tourist facilities such as hotels and resorts.

Zone 2, on the southern coast – Leisure Zone with Film City, Residential District and Tourism SEZ

Zone 3, on the western coast – low density development, a Nature Zone with super luxury resorts and beach hotels, with an airstrip for charter flights. Sekhsaria points out that a resort complex is proposed at West Bay, a key nesting site for globally endangered Giant Leatherback Turtles [2].

Writing in Firstpost, Saikeerthi raises concerns that the Vision Document does not explain the process that NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) would take to achieve the developments. The presence of indigenous tribes and measures to protect their welfare are not specified and no detail regarding schemes to relocate of protect them was disclosed. The island’s seismic vulnerability, evident from severe damage caused by the 2004 tsunami, had not been considered. Saikeerthi also points out lack of government supervision for safeguarding biodiversity on the island, ‘NITI Aayog’s development plan fails to acknowledge the ecosystem being crushed under expansive tourist resorts and scuba diving station. The indigenous people and the flora and fauna of Little Andaman receive little or no protection in the proposal put forward’ [3]. Sarpreet Kaur relays concerns of an environmentalist, serving the islands for at least half a decade, over threats to the island’s high biodiversity, with dense tropical rainforests supporting many endemic species, Coastal areas are critical habitats for the aforementioned Great Leatherback Turtles and the State Animal Dugong, both listed in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. She observed that “The population of Dugongs is already dwindling and Little Andaman supports their population” [4].

Relocation of Onge tribal people

The NITI Aayog Vision Document states that steps will be taken for relocation and protection of Onge people, but no detail was disclosed, even though the Onge Tribal Reserve would be reduced to 31% of the current 450 sq km area [3]. The number of Onge people is estimated at 125 and they are categorised as one of India’s Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG). Parts of Little Andaman were initially declared a Tribal Reserve in 1956-7. Some areas were denotified in the 1970s and Onge indigenous people were resettled at South Bay and Dugong Creek on the northeast coast. South Bay was damaged by the 2004 tsunami and Onge residing there were relocated to Dugong Creek. The Onge have nomadic origins and still navigate their canoes when hunting and fishing. An anthropologist pointed out that bringing areas where Onge do not live into the proposed development would still impact them, saying “the Onges have a close attachment with their territory be it inhabited or not”. An experienced researcher said “The proposed project is nothing but a disaster, an extremely hasty and money-driven vision, completely disregarding the sentiments of the indigenous people of the islands, the Onge”. In the vicinity of South Bay, within the area earmarked in the Vision Document illustrations, there is another tribal settlement in Harminder Bay where indigenous people (Nicobarese) maintain their culture and lifestyle on land allocated to them in the 1970s [4].

A 4th February 2021 meeting of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Union Territory (UT) directorate of tribal welfare finalised the extent of denotification of the Onge Tribal Reserve. In attendance were the deputy commissioner of South Andaman, the secretary of shipping and revenue departments of the UT, the managing director of Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Limited (ANIIDCO), the superintendent anthropologist of the Anthropological Society of India and the joint secretary of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Sanjay Balan, a former bureaucrat, said “The entire island belonged to the Onge community. In the 1970s revenue land was carved out of the Tribal Reserve and the reserve forest.

De-notification will be difficult as the population and demands have increased in the region” [5]. Along with other Andamese tribes the Onge are thought to have been part of migration out of Africa about 50,000 years ago. After repeated waves of settlements under British colonial and later rule under the Indian mainland the Onge are struggling to survive as a visible group. Since 1900 their numbers have dwindled [6].

While not dismissing the development plan the  Anthropological Society of India suggested measures before it moves forward, including an anthropological impact assessment. Professor Anvita Abbi, credited with identifying the distinct characteristics of two Great Andamese languages, Onge and Karawa, said “This project of the government is totally going to be disastrous to the whole culture, society, and the antiquity of the place. Because these are not tribes who settled down there 1,000 or 5,000 years ago – they have been living there for the last over 50,000 years. In fact, it is the civilization of that old nature. This is an absolutely mindless act India today can do to dislocate them somewhere else.” Sophie Grig, senior research and advocacy officer of London-based indigenous rights group Survival International, said “We are very alarmed about this proposal and the appalling way it talks of stealing Onge land, and even relocating them, without any mention in the proposal the Onge’s free, prior, and informed consent must be obtained before their land is taken from them for the project” [7].

On 29th April 2022 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a United Nations body consisting of independent experts, sent a letter to the Government of India seeking answers to questions arising from mega development projects in Little Andaman and Great Nicobar. The letter stated categorically that both projects would have harmful impacts on five tribal groups notified as PVTGs, namely the Great Andamanese, Jarawas, Onges, Shompens and Sentinalese. The letter reminded the government that these projects violate existing laws and policies of the government such as the Shompen Policy of 2015, which establishes the prioritisation of tribal rights over large-scale developmental projects, the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation of 1956 and the Indian Forest Act of 1927. CERD asked the government about measures to prevent adverse impacts on the projects on PVTGs livelihoods and existence, as well as on ecosystems and biodiversity [8].

Diversion of forest land

In a note dated 20th September 2020 the Divisional Forest Officer of Little Andaman raised concerns that the project would cause irreversible damage to the island’s forest, stating that the major diversion of forest land entailed the loss of more than 2 million trees.[1] An official source, communicating with Mongabay-India, said there are over 2.4 million trees in the “vast tract of forests” where development is proposed and that the island, being geologically recent, is vulnerable to soil erosion. Forest cover binds the sub-surface with soil and its removal would lead to severe topsoil erosion. The source also cited a 2002 Supreme Court judgement ordering closure of sawmills on Little Andaman that called for immediate suspension of tree felling.[9] An anthropologist raised another concern regarding degradation of forests: rainfall would be reduced, impacting on the small area of the island with cultivable soil [4].

Trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere and deforestation releases carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. Uprooting more than 2 million trees for the Little Andaman development plan would result in carbon stock losses and carbon emissions. Carbon stock losses were estimated in a paper by Sujit Raha, Avijit Chakraborty, Purbita Chatterjee, Tanmoy Chakraborty and Sayan Mondal, published in the International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer and Communication Engineering (IJARCCE). Their study aimed to estimate carbon stock losses using national carbon stock inventory. Calculations were based on datasets of area land use and land cover (LU/LC) created from Bhuvan thematic satellite data and a dataset of carbon stock from India State Forest Carbon Stock for different forest types. Carbon pools were calculated for the four forest types in the 210 sq km study area. Evergreen/Semi Evergreen accounts for the largest area at nearly 136 sq km and there are smaller areas of Deciduous, Swamp/Mangrove and Plantation forests. The study estimated that implementation of the ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman - Vision Document’ would result in carbon stock loss of 2,996.286 tonnes from five categories of carbon pools. Most of the carbon stock loss, 55%, would be from woody debris and soil organic matter, with 32% from above ground living biomass, 9% from below ground biomass, 3% from dead mass of litter and 1% from dead wood [10].

Threat to Giant Leatherback Turtle nesting sites

The Little Andaman development plan poses a threat to nesting sites of Giant Leatherback Turtles, the only turtle species with a leather-like flexible carapace rather than a bony shell. Growing over six feet in length and weighing up to 1 tonne these are the world’s largest turtles. Many populations, including Malaysia, Costa Rica and the east Pacific, are in precipitous decline. In a letter dated 19th January 2021 Prakash Javadekar, Union minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, in an introduction to the National Marine Turtle Action Plan, a document released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) identifying threats to these marine species and activities for mitigation, noted that five species of marine turtles are found in Indian marine waters and are accorded very high protection status [9]. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are prominent in the plan. All of India’s important sea turtle nesting habitats are classified as ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’; South Bay and West Bay on Little Andaman, along with other nesting beaches on the islands are specifically mentioned as ‘Important Marine Turtles Habitats in India’ [11].

The Marine Turtle Action Plan offers a roadmap for five years. In a Mongabay-India article Rosamma Thomas argues that, as sea turtles are slow-maturing and long-lived, longer-term studies are needed. There are fears that, if NITI Aayog’s vision is implemented, the leatherbacks will be pushed to the brink of extinction. A January 2021 meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), chaired by Javadekar, directed preparation of a comprehensive management plan to be prepared and followed by the Andaman and Nicobar Administration for conservation and protection of leatherback turtles in Great Nicobar Islands. A meeting note that the Administration shall bring more areas under provisions for conservation of leatherback turtles is relevant to nesting sites in Little Andaman that are among the most important in the entire island chain. South Bay and West Bay are both high-intensity nesting sites that would be impacted by the Little Andaman development plan [9]. A 7km stretch of West Bay had been the site of ongoing marine turtles research since the 2004 tsunami, by the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team ANET), Dakshin Foundation, Indian Institute of Science and the Andaman and Nicobar Forest Department [11].

Under the leadership of the Chennai-based Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) a number of turtle researchers banded together to launch a signature campaign against NITI Aayog’s plans for Little Andaman and Great Nicobar. Leader of the campaign, Arun Venkataraman of SSTCN, said “We have written to a number of Union government officials in the environment ministry, the Lieutenant Governor of the UT as well as forest officials.” Secretary of Rushikulya Sea Turtles Protection Committee, Odisha, said “We are shocked to know about the proposed projects in the islands which are the nesting site of leatherback turtles. We have signed this petition” [12].

In 2019, a report submitted to the government on a long-term monitoring programme at Little Andaman island – at South Bay and West Bay – indicated that Great Leatherback Turtle nesting recovered substantially after the 2004 tsunami. One component of this project identified previously unknown migratory routes of turtles nesting in the region, highlighting their dependence upon foraging and nesting sites that are thousands of kilometres apart. Between 2011 and 2014 ten adult female turtles were tagged with satellite transmitters and monitored regularly using the Satellite Tracking Analysis Tool (STAT). Data from one turtle was not transmitted but the nine tracked turtles traversed much of the Indian Ocean, as far southeast as Western Australia and in a southwest direction towards the eastern coast of Africa. One tagged turtle travelled 6,713km to the coast of Western Australia, one turtle travelled 12,328km to the northeastern coast of Madagascar and another travelled close to the western coast of Mozambique. This turtle travelled the furthest, covering a distance of 13,237km in 266 days; it was also the fastest, travelling an average of 49.8km per day [13].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Little Andaman development plan, India
State or province:Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Location of conflict:Little Andaman Island
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Ports and airport projects
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Proposals for development of Little Andaman have been discussed in recent years and a series of de-notifications and amendments to rules has removed protections and prepared the island for megaprojects. NITI Aayog has been planning development of the Andaman and Nicobar islands since publication of a 2016 paper titled ‘An Approach Paper on Prospects of Island Development – Options for India’. This placed Little Andaman at the centre, proposing an international tourism complex, international airport and a new harbour at Dugong creek. In June 2017 the government formed an Island Development Agency to oversee progress. In 2018 NITI Aayog prepared a preliminary report on ‘holistic development’ of the islands for potential investors stating that clearances, including environmental and coastal protections, would be obtained before bidding [5]. NITI Aayog made a detailed presentation of plans for ‘eco-tourism resorts’, island villas and infrastructure such as jetties, marinas, regional airports, heliports and sea-plane facilities to potential corporate investors [6]. In March 2019 new Island Coastal Zone Regulation Notification paved the way for allowing tourism development closer to the sea and land reclamation for ports, harbours and jetties was also permitted. In May 2019 NITI Aayog published a report ‘Transforming the Islands Through Creativity & Innovation’ mentioning Little Andaman and Great Nicobar for their size and strategic location and commissioning studies on land use, land reclamation and use of water resources in the two islands [5].

The 58-page ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’, finalised in 2021 but not in the public domain, is NITI Aayog’s proposal to open up 239.4 sq km of the 675.16 sq km island for development on the same principles as planned for Great Nicobar Island. The document states that ‘it would not be far-fetched to visualise a second Singapore-like entity in the Bay of Bengal which would be a pivot for catering to the economic development of the littoral states/countries on the eastern seaboard’. The stated objectives for development of the two islands are building Greenfield Coastal Cities to be developed as Free Trade Zones competing with global cities (like Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai) and presenting a unique experience to visitors ‘potential as tourism hotspot’. Little Andaman is described as ‘THE PERFECT PARADISE’ and the document sets out plans for “Jobs creation and economic upliftment by developing the island as Global Destination with focus also on Hospitality, Entertainment, IT-based industrial production promotion and healthcare”.

Development areas have been identified along 107 kilometres of the eastern, southern and western coastline. Referred to as a ‘greenfield coastal city’ the proposal comprises three zones:

Zone 1 – 102 sq km higher density development on the eastern coast, a Financial District and Medi City. An Aerocity housing an international airport will be ‘the catalyst for development of the district, also with tourist friendly activities such as airport hotels. The district will also contain residences and supporting facilities plus a nature reserve. Medi City – global brand hospitals, Financial District – offices, international finance centre, retail food and beverages. Tourism and Hospitality District – beach hotels, excusive resorts, residences, retail and an adjoining marina and cruise terminal,

Zone 2 – 85 sq km lower intensity development on the southern coast, a Leisure Zone with a Film City, Residential District and Tourism SEZ including casinos, theme park and beach hotels.

Zone 3 – 52 sq km very low density development on the western coast, a Nature Zone with super luxury forest resorts, nature healing district and retreat, beach hotels, floating and underwater resorts. An airstrip will serve dedicated charter flights for private and direct access.

A 100km greenfield ring road parallel to the coastline is proposed, linking the three zones and supplemented with a mass rapid transit network with stations at regular intervals [2].

Project area:23,940
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:26/09/2020
Company names or state enterprises:Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Limited ( ANIIDCO) from India
Relevant government actors:NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India)
Administration of South Andaman
Andaman and Nicobar Administration
Government of India
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC)
Ministry of Tribal Affairs
Island Development Agency (IDA)
National Board for Wildlife (NBWL)
Anthropological Survey of India
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group -
Andaman Nicobar Environment Team -
Dakshin Foundation -
Survival International -
Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) -
Rushikulya Sea Turtles Protection Committee -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Onge Indigenous Peoples
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsLoss of Great Leatherback Turtle nesting sites
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsDenotification of part of Tribal Reserve would impact on Onge indigenous people


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The development process lacks transparency as the ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman - Vision Document’ was not made public and lacked an environmental impact assessment. A series of de-notifications and amendments to rules removed protections and prepared Little Andaman island for megaprojects. For example, new coastal zone regulation enabled development closer to the coastline. Implementation of the proposals would entail denotification of large areas of Forest Reserve and Onge Tribal Reserve. Felling more than 2 million trees to make way for the various components of the three zones would result in carbon emissions, along with secondary impacts of soil erosion and reduced rainfall on cultivated land. A vulnerable population of approximately 125 Onge indigenous people could face displacement, loss of access to livelihoods and socio-cultural shock. No details of how they would be relocated have been provided. Marginalized indigenous people living precarious lives would be disadvantaged by tourism projects - such as luxury resorts, beach hotels and a private airstrip - benefitting wealthy visitors.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Andaman and Nicobar Administration, Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation), 1956 and Rules framed thereunder, National Informatics Centre, Andaman State Unit

Indian Forest Act, 1927

Executive Summary - Preparation of Island Coastal Regulation Zone (ICRZ) Plan, As per ICRZ Notification 2019 - Little Andaman Island, Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Island, National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Pankaj Sekhsaria, A MONUMENTAL FOLLY: NITI Aayog’s Development Plans for Great Nicobar Island (An evolving archive of reports, information and documents), Kalvpavriksh Environmental Action Group, 12/2021

[10] Sujit Raha, Avijit Chakraborty, Purbita Chatterjee, Tanmoy Chakraborty, Sayan Mondal, Carbon loss estimation: a case study of Little Andaman development plan, International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer and Communication Engineering (IJARCCE), Vol.11, Issue 3, March 2022

[1] NITI Aayog's megacity plan for Little Andaman alarms conservationists, The Hindu, 31/01/2021

[3] NITI Aayog’s Development Plan for Little Andaman generates concern, THE LEAFLET, 06/02/2021

[4] NITI Ayog’s Proposed ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island’: How ‘Sustainable’ can be this ‘Development’, Andaman Chronicle, 08/03/2021

[5] Indian government wants to strip even the Andaman Islands of their environmental protection, Meenakshi Kapoor,, 09/04/2021

[6] Why Govt’s Plan to ‘Develop’ Andaman Island is Shocking, News Click, 11/03/2021

[7] New Mega-City Could Be a Death Blow for India’s Ancient Tribes, The Diplomat, 18/03/2021

[8] UN body asks India to respond on concerns around mega projects in the Andamans, The Hindu, 22/07/2022

[9] Leatherback turtles under threat as government considers ‘development’ in Little Andaman, Mongabay, 12/04/2021

[11] Leatherback nesting sites could be overrun by Andamans project, The Hindu, 15/02/2021

[12] India’s turtle researchers oppose development plans for Little Andaman, Great Nicobar islands, DownToEarth, 10/06/2021

[13] TRACKING LEATHERBACK TURTLES FROM LITTLE ANDAMAN ISLAND, Adhith Swaminathan, Naveen Namboothri and Kartik Shanker, Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter, Issue 29, 04/2019

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded mapping, email: [email protected]
Last update22/08/2022
Conflict ID:6091



Little Andaman plan indicating development on 107km of coastline

Graphic: Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island, Vision Document, NITI Aayog. Source: A MONUMENTAL FOLLY: NITI Aayog’s Development Plans for Great Nicobar Island, Kalvpavriksh Environmental Action Group, 12/2021, page 69

Proposed plan for Little Andaman island, showing 3 zones

Graphic: Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island, Vision Document, NITI Aayog. Source: A MONUMENTAL FOLLY: NITI Aayog’s Development Plans for Great Nicobar Island, Kalvpavriksh Environmental Action Group, 12/2021, page 75

Zone 1: Financial District and Medi City including Aerocity

Plans for Zone 1 include an Aerocity housing an International Airport. Graphic: Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island, Vision Document, NITI Aayog. Source: A MONUMENTAL FOLLY: NITI Aayog’s Development Plans for Great Nicobar Island, Kalvpavriksh Environmental Action Group, 12/2021, page 85

Forest and tribal areas to be denotified

Infographic showing areas for development, forest and tribal areas to be denotified and forest areas proposed for diversion. Graphic: Deccan Herald, 21/03/2021

Forest at risk

Infographic showing the area of forest that is at risk of being diverted for the Little Andaman Plan. Graphic: Deccan Herald, 21/03/2021

Leatherback turtle

Giant Leatherback Turtle nesting at West Bay, Little Andaman Island. Photo: Adith, The Hindu, 15/02/2021

Migration routes of turtles tagged on West Bay, Little Andaman

Giant Leatherback Turtle migration routes. Graphic: TRACKING LEATHERBACK TURTLES FROM LITTLE ANDAMAN ISLAND, Adhith Swaminathan, Naveen Namboothri and Kartik Shanker, Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter, Issue 29, 04/2019