Lawctopus Law School
Lawctopus Law School

Conservation and Sustainable development of Island Ecosystems: Challenges in Indian context

Palak Jain

                                                                                   NLIU, Bhopal

Editor’s Note: The paper is on the issue of conservation and sustainable development of Island Ecosystems, the author looks at domestic and international legislation working in this regard . The focus in on the example of the Andaman and Nicobar islands and the Lakshadweep Island where the governmental efforts are also commented upon.”


The economic and social development of man is nothing but a result of the use and exploitation of earth’s resources. If history is any indication, it can be said that pervasive human disturbance of ecosystems taking place for a long stretch of time, has often resulted in ecological extinction worldwide. Over the last several decades, degradation of ecosystems, habitat loss and species’ extinction has increased considerably. This has led to the realization that the current practice of using these resources is not at all sustainable and countries together should take measures for conservation and sustainable development.

Images of white sand, clear water and lush green trees & plants is the common perception in the minds of potential travelers for any island. But does it still hold true? Population growth coupled with reckless economic development has led to the degradation of such significant natural island ecosystems. Although, the extinction of island endemics has been taking place since prehistoric times, it has caught an accelerated pace after the colonization of it by humans. A review of data on species extinction shows that more plants and animals have become extinct from the islands than from continents[1]. More than 40% of current vertebrates that face extinction are island species. Further, the inherent vulnerability of island economies creates unplanned demands on these states which are already grappling with very limited resources. A single hurricane can inflict tremendous damage to a small island economy, destroying agricultural crops, infrastructure and dwellings.

Island ecosystems are characterized by[2]:

  • Richness in endemism: Although islands constitute only 3% of the total land of the world, one in sixth of the earth’s known plant species occur in oceanic islands;
  • More number of alien species than in mainland systems;
  • Increased vulnerability to natural disasters, such as, hurricanes and earthquakes.

International Milestones in the area of Conservation and Sustainable use of Island Ecosystems

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, “Earth Summit” as it is called, was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was after 20 years of Stockholm Conference. The Stockholm Conference for the first time placed environmental concerns firmly before the global community. The focus of the Earth Summit was on sustainable development, that is, “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”[3]. During the summit, five major instruments were signed by the participating state-leaders including Agenda 21 and UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Agenda 21 and the subsequent process

Agenda 21 can be considered as a blueprint for sustainable development. Section 1 of the preamble states “However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can – in a global partnership for sustainable development.”

In 1994 the United Nations General Assembly convened the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of small island developing states (SIDS) in Barbados to provide a comprehensive framework for the implementation of Agenda 21 in the specific context of these states. The Conference recognized that these states face special challenges and threats in working towards sustainable development. As was seen, many problems are directly related to small size and geographic isolation of the SIDS which meant that the environment and development were closely interrelated and interdependent. The Conference adopted the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS (BPoA), a 14-point programme that identified priority areas and specific actions necessary for addressing the special challenges faced by SIDS.

The priority areas are:

  • climate change and sea- level rise
  • natural and environmental disasters
  • management of wastes
  • coastal and marine resources
  • freshwater resources
  • land resources
  • energy resources
  • tourism resources
  • biodiversity resources
  • national institutions and administrative capacity
  • regional institutions and technical cooperation
  • transport and communication
  • science and technology
  • human resource development

 In addition, the BPoA underlined the excessive dependence of Island States on international trade; high population density, which increase the pressure on already limited resources; overuse of resources and premature depletion; relatively small watersheds and threatened supplies of fresh water; costly public administration and infrastructure; and limited institutional capacities and domestic markets.

In September 1999, a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the BPoA was undertaken by the 22nd Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly. “Resource mobilization” was identified by the general Assembly as one of the main challenges for Small Island Developing States.

In September 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the special case of SIDS was reaffirmed. The gains made by SIDS towards sustainable development was acknowledged, but also recognized was that “they are increasingly constrained by the interplay of adverse factors clearly underlined in Agenda 21, the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States and the decisions adopted at the twenty-second special session of the General Assembly.”

In 2005, mandated by UN GA resolution, a meeting in Mauritius served as the culmination of a 10-year comprehensive review of BPoA. The outcome of this meeting was the adoption of Mauritius Strategy of Implementation of BPoA. The MSI sets forth actions and strategies in 19 priority areas, which build on the original 14 thematic areas of BPOA. New additional thematic areas in the MSI included graduation from least developed country status, trade, sustainable production and consumption, health, knowledge management, and culture

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20) took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 20-22 June 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. The objective of the Conference was to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges. The Conference focused on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. The relevant excerpts from the Rio+20 Outcome document are given below:

“178. We reaffirm that small island developing States remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities, including their small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges and external economic shocks, including to a large range of impacts from climate change and potentially more frequent and intense natural disasters. We note with concern that the outcome of the five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy concluded that small island developing States have made less progress than most other groupings, or even regressed, in economic terms, especially in terms of poverty reduction and debt sustainability. Sea-level rise and other adverse impacts of climate change continue to pose a significant risk to small island developing States and their efforts to achieve sustainable development, and for many represent the gravest of threats to their survival and viability, including for some through the loss of territory. We also remain concerned that, while small island developing States have progressed in the areas of gender, health, education and the environment, their overall progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals has been uneven.

  1. We call for continued and enhanced efforts to assist Small Island Developing States in implementing the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy. We also call for strengthening of United Nations System support to small island developing States in keeping with the multiple ongoing and emerging challenges faced by these States in achieving sustainable development.
  2. Building on the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy, we call for the convening in 2014 of a third international conference on small island developing States, recognizing the importance of coordinated, balanced and integrated actions to address the sustainable development challenges facing small island developing States,..”

In 2014, the third international conference was convened which resulted in SAMOA pathway, i.e., SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway. Acknowledging all the concerns raised previously and reaffirming all the commitments of the past, the draft outcome report[4] of this conference laid down action plans for addressing various challenges specific to these states. The few of the myriad challenges addressed are: 1) sustainable tourism – States were requested to develop policies promoting sustainable tourism; measures enhancing employment opportunities and establish an island, food and tourism support initiative based on community participation in collaboration with various UN agencies.

2) Climate change – States were determined to fully operate and initially capitalize the Green Climate Fund and implement the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, particularly in SIDS. States were called upon to improve the baseline monitoring of island ecosystems and the downscaling of climate model projections to enable better projections of future impacts on the SIDS.

3) Oceans and seas – States decided to promote and support national, subregional and regional efforts to assess, conserve, protect, manage and sustainably use the oceans, seas and their resources by supporting research and the implementation of strategies on coastal zone management and ecosystem-based management, including for fisheries management, and enhancing national legal and institutional frameworks for the exploration and sustainable use of living and non-living resources; To undertake urgent action to protect coral reefs and other vulnerable marine ecosystems through the development and implementation of comprehensive and integrated approaches for the management and the enhancement of their resilience to withstand pressures, including from ocean acidification and invasive species, and by drawing on measures such as those identified in the Framework for Action 2013 of the International Coral Reef Initiative) and to conserve by 2020 at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas in small island developing States, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and for ecosystem services, through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures in order to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss in the marine environment

4) Sustainable consumption and production – States called for efforts to develop and implement programmes under the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns to advance sustainable consumption and production, with an emphasis on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, sustainable tourism, waste management, food and nutrition, lifestyles, education for sustainable development and linkages in the supply chain to promote rural development.

5) Biodiversity – States to conserve biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity consider ratifying and implementing the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity,

This also leads us to the discussion of UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

UN Convention of Biological Diversity and subsequent process

This being one of the “Rio Conventions” was opened for signature in 1992 and entered into force on December, 1993. The objectives of the convention are: “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.”

It can therefore be considered as one of the legal frameworks under which BPoA is to be implemented.

The Conference of the Parties is the governing body of the Convention, and advances implementation of the Convention through the decisions it takes at its periodic meetings. The most recent eleventh meeting, COP 11, was held at Hyderabad, India in 2012 where the review of the programme of work on island biodiversity was done. COP 8 on Convention on Biological Diversity discussed about island biodiversity and focused extensively on Goals, Targets and Timeframes, and island-specific priority action for the parties. The decision report[5] on the same is a very important piece for the parties to match up their national and regional framework with the same. This decision was not just for the SIDS but also for the island economies of the developing and least-developed countries.

Indian Islands

Geographical Context

India has a vast coastline of 7517 km, of which 5423 km is in peninsular India and 2094 km in Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, consisting of 306 named islands and 206 rocks and rocky outcrops with outstanding natural beauty and ecological diversity.  The two island groups are separated by the 160 km-wide 10 Degree Channel, and are geologically and ecologically quite distinct. The Andamans have bio-geographic affinities with Myanmar while the Nicobars are more closely related to Indonesia.

The Union Territory of Lakshadweep comprises of a group of islands in the Arabian Sea. There are in all 27 islands out of which only 10 islands are inhabited.

Social and Political Context

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are a Union Territory (UT) of India under the direct jurisdiction of the Central Government. Some tribal groups such as the Jarawa and Sentinelese live largely separate from mainstream society. Other tribal communities such as the Great Andamanese and Onge have greater interaction with the mainstream. All remaining tribal communities now live within designated Tribal Reserves. The land area of 6408 km² in the Andamans constitutes 90% as reserves and protected areas of which 36% is tribal reserves. The entire Nicobar Islands are a Tribal Reserve with significant areas under protection in the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (885km2) and two National Parks. Access to the Nicobar Islands is restricted, and therefore the level of economic activity is relatively low compared with the more densely-populated Andaman Islands. Due to the highly vulnerable nature of these small, isolated tribal communities, the Government of India has maintained a policy of strict separation between tribal groups (and their lands) and the mainstream island communities.  The tribal communities are provided with extensive welfare services and developmental assistance.

Ecological Context

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to highly-diverse terrestrial and marine ecosystems, with a variety of habitats ranging from densely-forested mountain areas to sandy beaches and some of the most intact coral reefs in the Indian Ocean.  The mangroves fringing these islands are the largest and most intact in India, and the Andaman Island Forests are included in the WWF Global 200 List of global priority biodiversity hotspots[6]. The mangroves of the Islands are one of the richest mangrove areas in the world in terms of quality of vegetation and biodiversity. The WWF eco-region profile[7]  lists a total of thirty-seven endemic or near-endemic terrestrial fauna species in the Islands. The Andaman and Nicobars are fringed by one of the most spectacular reefs in the world and, currently they are not only significant for the Indian Ocean region, but are also globally significant.

Lakshadweep Islands are rich in marine wealth and an abode of plethora of coastal and marine bio-diversity with pristine Coral Reef Ecosystem which support variety of ornamental and food fishes.

Threats to the ecosystem of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

In a project report “Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Ecologically-Sustainable Island Development”, prepared by Andaman & Nicobar Administration with support from UNDP India in 2006, various threats to these island ecosystems were delineated.

Agricultural encroachment

The encroachment problem is generally attributed to:

  • in-migration from mainland India beyond the carrying capacity of the Islands;
  • sub-optimal agricultural practices; fragmented landholding due to increasing family-size and low productivity from existing agricultural lands resulting in demand for new lands to raise incomes.
    • Certain marine species have been heavily harvested over the years e.g., reef fish, ornamental shells, sharks (for their fins) and sea cucumbers.
    • Over-harvesting occurs for a number of reasons, including:
  • Species stocks and carrying capacities have not been adequately assessed. Due to this the need to undertake sustainable fishing is not sufficiently recognised.
  • Existing policies and development plans for fisheries are defined on total catch levels rather than targets for specific species.
  • Monitoring of remote coastal and reef areas is insufficient.
    • Tourism is a valuable source of income and livelihoods, and helps to enhance appreciation for the natural beauty of the Andamans. However, some tourist activities may cause some damages including:
  • Physical damage by tourists such as stepping on corals, taking corals or other species as souvenirs and dumping of garbage such as plastics and food debris.
  • Damage by backpackers including camping on turtle-nesting beaches.
  • Tourism development has seen small-scale entrepreneurs and local residents constructing basic accommodation facilities without adequate attention to ecological consideration.
    • The identified causes of these problems include:
  • Lack of appreciation among tourists about the fragility of reef ecosystems and the impact of seemingly-minor damage such as souvenir-collection.
  • Inadequate training of tourist operators and park staff in minimising ecological impact of tourist activities.
  • Lack of adequate awareness or capacity to address the potential environmental impact of infrastructure plans.

Over-harvesting of selected marine species

Damage by Tourists

Over-harvesting of mangrove woods

Andaman mangroves are highly diverse and home to a vast range of important flora and fauna.

Uncontrolled harvesting of mangrove wood in the past for use in local construction and agricultural activities has caused significant damage in certain areas.  It was only in 1989 that the mangroves in A&N Islands have been afforded protection by imposing a ban on mangrove extraction and by adopting eco-restoration and conservation strategies.  Nevertheless, creating awareness and keeping vigil on possible destruction of mangroves throughout the vast coast line is a continuous challenge.

Mining of beach sand

As the Andaman Islands have very limited riverine systems, with the bulk of beach sand is created by wave erosion along the coast, the beaches are very slow to regenerate.   Therefore use of sand for construction activities can cause significant damage.

Destruction of Coral Reefs

Apart from its recreational and aesthetic value, Coral reefs form the most dynamic ecosystem providing shelter and nourishment to thousands of marine flora and fauna. However, activities like tourism, disposal of waste in the ocean, oil spills are having a devastating impact on the existence of reefs.

Barriers to sustainability

  • The problems and environmental threats described above stem from a range of underlying causes which represent barriers to sustainable development in the Islands.
  • The Government provides significant subsidies in key areas such as transportation, fuel, agricultural inputs and utilities that increase the pressure on the natural resource base, in two important ways:

Governance and capacity barriers:

  • Economic incentives encourage in-migration from mainland India, by offering migrants from poorer regions of the mainland the prospect of easier livelihoods.
  • These subsidies often inhibit sustainability. For instance, subsidies on agricultural inputs such as agrochemicals encourage overuse in some areas.
    • Policy-setting is not always adequately accompanied by effective implementation and adoption by stakeholders in the field.

Awareness and attitude barriers:

  1. For migrants improving their livelihoods is the primary goal and there is insufficient awareness of the environmental impact of their activities.
  2. Tourists and tour operators are not adequately aware about ways to ensure minimal environmental impact of tourism activities.
  3. There is a prevailing perception that fish stocks are unlimited and therefore fishing communities are not aware of the long-term availability of stock.
  4. Livelihoods and income generation barriers:
  5. There is a high level of unemployment in the Islands, particularly amongst educated youth. The total number of unemployed youth is estimated to be between 20,000 and 40,000, comprising five to ten percent of the total island population.  In the absence of alternative livelihood options, the pressure on the Islands’ natural resources continues to increase.
  6. There is limited scope to increase the production from existing lands due to inadequate irrigation potential. This limitation creates pressure to ‘open up’ new agriculture land by clearing forests.
  7. Existing tourism-sector activities are largely limited to small hotels or beach resorts and backpacker accommodation, which provide limited income generation potential per visitor arrival. The Administration now plans for rapid development of the tourism sector through the creation of multiple high-end resorts.  However, the local labour force lacks the skills necessary to fill skilled, professional or managerial positions.

Threats to the ecosystem of Lakshadweep Islands

Coastal erosion is one of the serious problems being faced by the Lakshadweep group of islands. Studies on baseline data on erosion and the accretion cycle were carried out by the Center for Earth Science Studies (CESS), Thiruvananthapuram, in 4 islands viz. Kavaratti, Agatti, Amini and Bangaram during 1990-1993 and for other 4 islands viz. Kadmat, Chetlet, Kiltan and Bitra during 1997-2001. Major part of the Kiltan island has been undergoing erosion on the east coast. It is observed that South West and South East positions experience critical erosion whereas the North East position of the islands shows seasonal erosion/accretional behaviour.

Lakshadweep Islands are one of the low-lying small group of islands and accordingly face the risks of inundation of sea water due to anticipated sea level rise, inundation of seawater due to storm surges as well as inundation of seawater due to Tsunami waves. These threats are associated with several uncertainties like the global warming.

The Lakshadweep islands are directly on the trade route between Africa, Arabia and Malabar. This has resulted into a dramatic increase in passenger and cargo traffic of sailing vessels which dump untreated waste into the sea around the islands as well as discharge waste oil leading to severe pollution and damage to the coral reef ecosystem.

Tourism is an important source of income for the islands population, and Lakshadweep is becoming increasing popular with both domestic and foreign tourist their numbers and activities need to be carefully monitored and controlled as they cause a threat to the ecology of the island.

In addition, there are other destructive practices such as coral mining, dredging of navigational channels and unsustainable fishing practices.

Legal and Policy Framework for the Conservation of Coastal and Marine Resources and Island Ecosystems

India is a party to Rio Conventions including Agenda 21 and UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which although are by itself not meant to deal with conservation and protection of island ecosystems, but do lay down the groundwork for the same as can be seen from the previous section. However, India has in place a still developing policy framework for the very purpose.

  1. Constitution of India

Art 48-A: The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Art-51 A (g): Imposes a similar responsibility on every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

  1. Wildlife Protection Act 1972

Section 35(1) Declaration of national parks (this includes the coastal and marine protected areas)

  1. Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

Section 3(1) subject to the provisions of this Act, the Central Government shall have the power to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing controlling and abating environmental pollution.

3A. The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 1991 (Notification No.S.0.114(E) of 19 February 1991)

Notification under section 3(1) and section 3(2)(v) of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and rule 5(3) (d) of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, declaring coastal stretches as Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) and regulating activities in the CRZ.  CRZ were classified under four categories, namely, CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV. By the same notification several restrictions were imposed for setting up and expansion of industries, their operations, processes, etc. in the said Coastal Regulation Zone.

The CRZ notification has specifically classified the Andaman and Nicobar Islands besides Lakshadweep under category IV except those designated as CRZ-I, CRZ-II or CRZ-III. It has categorically mentioned that corals and sand from the beaches and coastal waters shall not be used for construction and other purposes; and dredging and underwater blasting in and around coral formations shall not be permitted.

3B. Island Protection Zone Notification, 2011

Central Government issued a separate notification in 2011 for the environmental management of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Island under the abovementioned provisions of Environment Protection Act. The Central Government, with a view of providing livelihood security to the local communities, promoting conservation and protection of Islands’ unique environment and its marine area and to promote development through sustainable integrated management declared the coastal stretches of Middle Andaman, North Andaman, South Andaman and Greater Nicobar and entire area of the other islands of Andaman and Nicobar and the Lakshadweep and their water area upto territorial water limit as the Islands Protection Zone. It restricted the areas from the setting up and expansion of any industry, operations or processes and manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances as specified in the Hazardous Substances (Handling, Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2009, except in the manner provided in the Island Coastal Regulation Zone and Integrated Islands Management Plans.

The notification provided for preparation of IIMPs within a period of one year by the administration,  interalia, specifying therein the areas indicating all the existing and the proposed developments, conservation and preservation schemes, dwelling units including infrastructure projects such as, schools, markets, hospitals, public facilities, and the like. It also provided for the preparation IRCZ plans. The coastal areas of the islands were classified into four categories: ICRZ I, IRCZ II, IRCZ III and IRCZ IV. The operation of industries and other activities including construction are extensively delineated for the four categories.

Certain activities were also prohibited like Destruction of corals, Disposal of untreated sewage and solid waste and mining of sand from in and around coral areas. Annexed to this notification were the guidelined to prepare IIMPs and ICRZs.

  1. The Fisheries Act of A&N Islands

License is given for fishing by the fisheries department.

Judicial and Government Efforts for Sustainable Development

Judicial efforts

  • In the case of Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India and Ors.[8], this Court had the occasion to deal with the question of protection of 6000 kms long coast line of India and the Court emphasized that it would be the duty and responsibility of the coastal states and Union Territories in which the stretches exist, to see that the notifications issued under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Rules as well as the notifications issued declaring the coastal stretches should be properly and duly implemented and the various restrictions on the setting up and expansion of industries, operation or process etc. in the Regulation Zone should be strictly enforced. The Court had indicated that with a view to protect the ecological balance in the coastal areas, notifications having been issued by the Central Government, there ought not to be any violation and the prohibited activities should not be allowed to come up within the area declared as CRZ. The Court also emphasized that no activities which would ultimately lead to unscientific and unsustainable development and ecological destruction should at all be allowed and the Courts must scrupulously try to protect the ecology and environment and should shoulder greater responsibility of which the Court can have closer awareness and easy monitoring.
  • On 26.11.2001, SC issued an order for the appointing of a commissioner to give a report on the state of the forest and other allied matters of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Shri Shekhar Singh was made the commissioner by the Ministry of Environment & Forests[9]. After the report was submitted, court gave an interim judgment in W.P. (C) No. 202 of 1995[10], keeping this report as the basis. The Court while issuing the order observed as under:

Andaman & Nicobar Islands is one of the hot spots and is in the eco-fragile area and has, therefore, the eco-diversity thereby has to be preserved.  For this, it is essential that the natural forest is protected and re-generation is allowed to take place”.

After taking all facts and circumstances into consideration, Court issued the following directions:

  1. All felling of trees from the forest of little Andaman Islands, the national park and sanctuaries, the tribal reserves and all other areas were suspended.
  2. The working plan of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands should be re-worked on the basis as was applied to the State of M.P. and others, namely that before any felling of trees, there should first be compulsory afforestation/re-generation, the felling permissions would be based upon the extent of re-generation of forest undertaken and not the other way round.
  3. No felling of tree (under the working plan or otherwise) shall be permitted for meeting any raw material requirements of the plywood, veneer, black board, match stick or any other wood-based industry.
  4. The trees felled under the working plan in the manner indicated aforesaid should be utilised for the requirements of the local inhabitants.
  5. The licenses of all the saw-mills and wood-based industries shall not be renewed after 31st March, 2003.
  6. The Union of India if it so adopts and thinks appropriate may take steps for re-locating the dislocated wood-based industries in the main land area anywhere in India as long as it is not within the vicinity of forest area. Henceforth for meeting the local requirements it is only the Government saw-mills which shall operate. No fresh wood   or logs shall be given to any of the saw-mills or the wood-based industries till fresh working plans are prepared and submitted to this Court and the approval obtained.
  7. With immediate effect, there will be no movement of logs or timber in any form including sawn timber from Andaman & Nicobar Islands to any part of India or anywhere else.
  8. Regularization of encroachments on forest land in any form, including allotment/use of forest land for agricultural or horticultural purposes, shall be strictly prohibited.
  9. For the eviction of encroachers, an effective action plan shall be prepared and implemented under direct supervision, monitoring and control of a Committee under the Chairmanship of the Lt. Governor with Chief Secretary, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and reputed NGO representatives, its members.  The Chief Secretary, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, shall file every month an affidavit about progress of eviction of encroachments.
  10. The extraction of sand shall be phased out @ minimum 20% per year on reducing balance basis to bring the sand mining to the level of 33% of the present level of mining within a maximum period of 5 years.
  11. Felling of trees shall commence only after the process of compensatory afforestation has actually been undertaken on the ground. In future, the proposals shall be considered for approval only after detailed Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out through an independent agency identified by Ministry of Environment & Forests.
    • This Supreme Court order now forms the broad policy framework within which sustainable development is being planned in the Islands. The abrupt cessation of commercial logging activity and closure of wood-based industries has led the Administration to identify new sources of jobs and economic development. The Island Development Authority (IDA), which is the Central Government body responsible for developmental planning for the Islands, has identified specific economic sectors as drivers of future development: 1) Eco-tourism; 2) High-value agriculture 3) Sustainable fisheries and 4) Deep sea oil and gas exploration.
    • In Union Territory of Lakshadweep & Ors. v. Seashells Beach Resorts & Ors.[11], the issue was regarding finalization of CRZ norms and that whether the construction of a commercial establishment like a resort was in violation of CRZ norms in the present case. Court observed: “High Court High Court has not even referred to the Notification dated 6th January, 2011 issued by the Government under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 or the effect thereof on the establishment of the project that does not so far have a final clearance and completion certificate from the competent authority and is being accused of serious violations. The High Court’s order proceeds entirely on humanitarian and equitable considerations, in the process neglecting equally, if not more, important questions that have an impact on the future development and management of the Lakshadweep Islands. We are not, therefore, satisfied with the manner in which the High Court has proceeded in the matter. The High Court obviously failed to appreciate that equitable considerations were wholly misplaced in a situation where the very erection of the building to be used as a resort violated the CRZ requirements or the conditions of land use diversion.
    • The impugned order was thus set aside. Also, the Court set up an expert committee under the Chairmanship of Justice R.V. Raveendran for evaluation of draft Island Integrated Management Plans for Lakshadweep and to examine allegations regarding violation of the CRZ and other irregularities committed by the respondent or by other individuals/entities in relation to establishment and/or running resorts in the islands. Allegations regarding irregularities in the matter of grant of permits to the tourists visiting the islands as also in regard to permissions granted to the resort owners/home stays to operate on the islands were also to be examined by the Committee.

Thus, it can be seen that the Apex Court has tried to proactively protect coastal and island ecosystems with a conscious realization of the impact of its detriment. However, sometimes the attitude of judiciary has also been pro-development, putting aside all environmental concerns and showing their helplessness in such situations.

In Kottayam Nature Society v. Union of India[12], the bone of contention was a joint venture between Kerala State Tourism Development Corporation and Oberoi Hotels in Pathiramanal Island, Vembanad Lake. The petitioner asserted it to be a fragile ecosystem and alleged that the Government was giving it on lease without any EIA and further in contravention of Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963. The petitioner was a society interested in preservation of island as a bird sanctuary. Respondent contended that the since the land was taken over by Government, it is its property. Court accepted this contention and held – “In view of this fact, we find that it would not be fair to order, at this late stage, that the respondents cannot utilize it for the purpose of developing a tourist resort. Thus, even though the petitioners may be right in this contention that the land cannot be utilised for a purpose other than the one covered under Section 96, we do not find that it would be fair to interfere in the matter at this belated stage on the ground that the land is not being utilized for a purpose which may be described as an agrarian reform”……

……“We appreciate the concern of the petitioners. It is undoubtedly true that environment needs to be protected. It is also correct that any construction activity should not result in affecting the ecology. Yet, the authority, competent to assess and decide, is the Government. Not the Court. The Court has to merely consider and decide the matter on the basis of the evidence adduced by the parties.”…

… “The petitioners have no cause to invoke the provisions of the Land Reforms Act, 1963. They are not the persons aggrieved so as to be entitled to challenge the decision of the Government to set up a tourist resort.”

Later on in an EIA carried out by Kerala State Biodiversity Board on the island, the presence of 176 species of plants was recorded. The fauna comprised 24 species of dragonflies and damselflies, 23 of spiders, 34 of butterflies, 88 of birds, 58 of fishes and seven of reptiles. The Board even welcomed the proposal of declaring the island a bird sanctuary.[13]

Government Efforts

In 1997, the International Year of the Reefs, WWF-India had launched a project[14] in collaboration with SANE (Society for Andaman Nicobar Ecology), a local NGO. The report recommended further investigations and monitoring to save the coral reefs. It was, during the surveys of reef dwelling fish that SANE- the first agency to do so -reported extensive bleaching in the islands. Subsequent investigations by WWF-India and SANE indicated that bleaching had struck reefs along the entire length and breadth of the islands, which was promptly brought to the notice of the local administration and the management authorities. Following this, WWF-India urged the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to take the necessary steps to have it investigated and monitored further. In December 1998, SANE organised a meeting for developing a coral reef monitoring action plan for the islands with the help of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN-South Asia).

Through its Centre for Environmental Law and the BHCP, WWF-India has taken up another project for developing a handbook on environmental law and policies for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The project is attempting to address the gaps and loopholes in laws and policies on coral reefs. This project will hopefully be able to make recommendations on improving existing laws, as also facilitate the necessary amendments in laws and policies, for the effective conservation and management of the coral reef ecosystem in the islands.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is currently undertaking a UNDP supported pilot project, “Management of Coral Reef Ecosystem of the A&N Islands” for developing a full project to ensure the conservation and management of A&N Islands’ reefs. An Indian Coral Reef Monitoring Network has also been established for the purpose.

The Coral Bleaching Alert System[15] developed by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), MoES, helps monitor and predict coral bleaching events in the Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands, the Gulf of Kachchh, the Gulf of Mannar, and Malvan. Bi-weekly alerts are being generated using remote sensing data for each of these sites to watch effectively over any concurrent coral bleaching event.

Besides, the Wildlife Institute of India is engaged in a project to develop a management plan for the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park at Wandoor, which is one of the few marine national parks in India.

A task force was constituted by the Planning Commission for the XI Five-year plan (2007-2012) on Islands, Corals Reefs, Mangroves & Wetlands in Environment & Forests. One of the relevant tasks of the Task Force was to review the in-place laws and policies for conservation and sustainable use of Islands and related marine resources and features and also assess the impact of climate change on these. The task force suggested a lot of recommendations which are provided later.

The Marine Protected Area network in India has been used as a tool to manage natural marine resources for biodiversity conservation. India has designated four legal categories of Protected Areas, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves. Scientific monitoring and traditional observations confirm that depleted natural marine resources are getting restored and/or pristine ecological conditions have been sustained in well managed MPAs. There are more than 100 MPAs in the country’s islands. The total area of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is 4947 km , of which 1510 km is protected under the provisions of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park and Rani Jhansi Marine National Park are important MPAs here. In the Lakshadweep group of islands, Pitti Island (0.012 km ) is the only island having the status of an MPA.

As per the State of Forest Report 2011, published by FSI, the mangrove cover in the country stands at 4662.56 km which is 0.14% of the country’s total geographical area. Compared with 2009 assessment, there has been a net increase of 23.56 km in the mangrove cover of the country. This can be attributed to increased plantations and regeneration of natural mangrove areas. The Government has issued the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification (2011) and the Island Protection Zone (IPZ) Notification 2011. These Notifications recognize the mangrove areas as ecologically sensitive and categorize them as CRZ-I which implies that these areas are accorded protection of the highest order. To enforce and implement the CRZ and IPZ Notifications, the MoEF has constituted the National and State/UT level Coastal Zone Management Authorities. The Ministry also provides financial assistance to Coastal States/Union Territories, who so request, under its Centrally Sponsored Scheme for conservation and management of mangroves.


The development of effective conservation strategies depends upon a sound understanding of the diversity, distribution, abundance and ecology of the islands’ flora and fauna. The feelings of the islanders need to be studied, to help develop practical and culturally acceptable means of sustainably utilizing the islands’ natural resources. Conservation work in the islands is unlikely to succeed in the long term without the support of the local people. Recent studies have revealed a worrying lack of understanding or appreciation for the islands’ natural ecosystems among the settlers, many of whom were raised in mainland cities. Some even consider that the presence of wilderness indicates a lack of progressive development. In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[16], a PIL was filed under A. 32 of the Constitution asking the Court to take necessary steps for promoting environment education and awareness as an important mean of environment protection. Court accepted the position that protection of environment and keeping it free of pollution is a necessity for life to survive and this can only achieved by environment education and awareness to masses. Court gave certain directions for promoting environment education and awareness like asking MoIB to start producing short information films on environment and its hazards and making environmental studies as a compulsory subject.

Island biota which has evolved in isolation can be susceptible to even minor ecological interference, such as the introduction of exotic flora and fauna. Unfortunately, many potentially destructive species have intentionally or unwittingly been introduced to a large number of the A&N Islands, including spotted deer, rats, giant snails, elephants, goats, common mynas and invasive weeds such as Lantana. Thus, there arises a need to assess the feasibility of selectively removing detrimental introduced species without further endangering native flora and fauna.

Appropriate avenues of ecotourism development for the island should be investigated, keeping in mind the impact of tourism on the islands’ resources. Effort should be made to employ resident people in preference to outsiders which further helps in keeping locally generated wealth within the community.

In Lakshadweep, where coast erosion is a daunting threat, a holistic study has to be taken up for assessment of the storm surge heights and the areas that are likely to be inundated based on historical and recent data on various parameters. It is therefore proposed that studies on Storm surge modeling, Tsunami wave propagation modeling, inundation mapping and areas of inundation at different scenarios may be taken up through the institutions actively involved in these activities.

  • Specific environmentally-sustainable strategies and interventions for the key productive sectors identified for the Islands i.e., agriculture, tourism and fisheries should be designed and demonstrated.
  • Sustainable coastal and reef fisheries should be advanced by the following initiatives:
  • Work with the existing master plans of the Department of Fisheries to identify specific interventions where environmentally-sustainable fishing can be demonstrated.
  • Identify constraints to utilize the untapped fishery potential and assist local fishing communities in upgrading their equipment, technical skills and resources to meet sustainability requirements while maintaining or increasing incomes and job-creation in the sector. Also explore mariculture options for a variety of species such as lobsters, crabs, prawns, pearl oyster, Turbo, Trochus and Tridacna after a comprehensive examination of potential environmental impacts of such activities.

Mangroves form one of the most extraordinary ecological formations in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands. The mangrove ecosystem also protects coastal areas from sea erosion and from the violent effects of cyclones and tropical storms. Well documented examples for sustainably managing mangrove resources can be found in Malaysia and other neighbouring countries. Lessons should be learnt from these cases

Listed below are some of the recommendations proposed by the task force as was mentioned before:

  • Detailed scientific research needed to document and understand the changes in the coastal systems in the islands in the aftermath of the tsunami.
  • Impact assessment study of invasive species on Island biodiversity
  • Creation of effective / strong awareness modules for tourists in the form of films, booklets, pamphlets.
  • Augment timber, cane and bamboo treatment facilities as per SC directions to ensure longer life during use and a reduction in dependance on freshly cut timber / forests for local use
  • Need to incorporate traditional knowledge in management practices and impart scientific training to augment traditional knowledge of especially the Nicobari for biodiversity research, management and conservation initiatives.
  • Issues of the local environment (tropical rainforests, coral reefs, mangroves etc) be made an integral part of school curriculum.
  • To enhance the scope of Shelter Belt plantation through Community Participation using suitable species of plants which can bind and stabilize the sand at identified locations using shore protection measures for erosion prone
  • Studies on Storm Surge modelling, Tsunami Wave Propagation Modelling, Inundation Mapping and Areas of Inundation at different scenarios to be taken up through the institutions actively involved in these activities in collaboration with India Meteorological Society.

Edited by Amoolya Khurana

[1] WHITTAKER, Oxford University Press. Robert J. 1998. Island Biogeography: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation.


[3]  Definition of Sustainable Development as per World Commission on Environment and Development Report (Popularly known as Brundtland Commission Report) published in 1987.


[5]  COP 8 Decision VIII/1



[8]  1996(5) SCC 281

[9]  Vide an order on 6.12.2002 (No. 13-19/2001-SU)

[10]  T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India & Ors. (date of judgment 10/04/06)

[11] Arising out of SLP (Civil) No.5967-5968 of 2012

[12]  2003(3) KLT 1105




[16]  AIR 1992 SC 382

2 thoughts on “Conservation and Sustainable development of Island Ecosystems: Challenges in Indian context”

  1. It is one of the every best article i read. Compilation of information on both scientific and law/rules made very nicely. I already gone through 3 times this article, but still i want to read it again.
    Thank you authors, Please update this article with current scenario (CRZ 2018, aichi target etc.)


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