Govt looks to develop Great Nicobar island using PPP model

The Niti Aayog’s island tourism plans have had few takers since it sought investment from private bidders three years ago.

A view of Great Nicobar island in January 2019. 

The government’s apex planning body, Niti Aayog, is in the process of hiring consultants to prepare a master plan for the “holistic development” of Great Nicobar Island in the Union territory of Andaman & Nicobar, through the public-private partnership model.

Great Nicobar, with an area of around 1,000 square kilometres, is one of the largest islands of the archipelago.

The Niti Aayog’s island tourism plans have had few takers since it sought investment from private bidders three years ago. It floated a request for proposal (RfP) on September 7 to conduct a study on the technical feasibility and financial viability of the project, and has sought proposals by October 6.

“India has a total of nearly 1,382 off-shore identified islands consisting of 1,093 shapes (islands) and 289 points (rocks/rocky islets). They are an integral part of our rich unexplored resources with a rich biodiversity. The potential of these islands is still largely unexplored and untapped. The Government of India intends to set a model in place for holistic development of a few identified islands while preserving and maintaining the natural ecosystem and rich biodiversity that each of them possess,” stated the RfP, which was reviewed by HT.

Potential bidders had, due to the ongoing pandemic, sought a two-week extension of the deadline to submit the proposal and exemption from visiting the site. The RfP states applicants will have to make site visits for “due-diligence” before submitting their proposals.

The Niti Aayog, in response to the two requests, said, “No change is contemplated.”

Home minister Amit Shah had chaired the sixth meeting of the Island Development Agency (IDA), an apex body constituted in June 2017, in January to review the progress in the programme. Development plans, with focus on the creation of jobs for the islanders through tourism promotion, as well as export of seafood and coconut-based products made in the islands, have been prepared, according to the home ministry.

“The terms of reference with the RfP gives out a clear message that the NITI Ayog is is looking to convert the islands into a shipping, transport infrastructure and tourism hub. There is little foresight based on ecological assessments, climate change uncertainties or social sensitivity, which are particularly important for A&N group of Islands. There is still an opportunity to review the feasibility of such large scale proposals for intervention based on lessons of recent cyclones, floods and other unfortunate events. Without foreclosing any outcomes, master plans should ask basic questions around feasibility, impacts and vulnerabilities that are beyond structural and financial outlays,” said Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.