Government in a hurry to ease norms for Andaman tourism project


The environment ministry is preparing to relax Island Coastal Regulation Zone (ICRZ) norms by month-end to beat the election code of conduct, paving the way for ecotourism projects in the Andaman & Nicobar islands, said people with knowledge of the matter. Key to this is ensuring green clearances for the ambitious Niti Aayog project to develop a tent city on Aves island.

The move comes weeks after the Centre renamed three main islands and announced seaplane operations at seven of them.

The plan for a 50-beachtent resort on Aves island can’t move forward as it’s under the no-development zone as per ICRZ 2011, under which no permanent construction is allowed 50 metres beyond the High Tide Line (HTL). The HTL is just 20-40m away for the proposed Aves island project, which is why the ICRZ norms will need to be relaxed to allow construction. The Aves island development plan is part of an ambitious holistic development for which environmental and coastal clearances are being obtained on priority.

Earlier this month, the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) approved plans to develop resorts, tent houses and tree houses in the island cluster—at Lalaji Bay on Long Island and at Smith Island-—but with riders.

The ICRZ covers 10 ecologically sensitive islands—Middle Andaman, North Andaman, South Andaman, Great Nicobar, Baratang, Swaraj Dweep (formerly Havelock), Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Shaheed Dweep (Neil) and Long islands.

Draft ICRZ norms were circulated for public comments last year. It’s learnt that the ministry has sought the recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak committee on the proposed regulations. The National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) will meet next week to take a call on the draft ICRZ and the recommendations of the Nayak committee. The environment ministry, it is learnt, will attempt to issue the notification later next week if the NCZMA approves.

The government had put under review both CRZ norms and ICRZ norms soon after coming to power in 2014. The CRZ norms were changed and notified last month, paving the way for increased construction and tourism off the coast, an issue that has sparked protests among activists and civil society.

Some residents of the Andaman & Nicobar islands, parts of which were devastated by the 2004 tsunami, are said to be disconcerted at the prospect of uncontrolled development and an influx of outsiders in a region of heightened geopolitical and ecological sensitivity. The islands are also home to protected indigenous populations.