Indian experts say mega-project will lead to uncontacted island tribe's "extinction"

April 23, 2024

Shompen band traversing a river on Great Nicobar Island. © Anthropological Survey of India

A group of renowned Indian experts on the Indigenous peoples in the region have written an open letter to the Indian government, demanding that the controversial Great Nicobar Development Project be scrapped.

Their letter follows a similar recent warning from 39 international genocide scholars, who said that if the project goes ahead, Great Nicobar’s Shompen people, who are mostly uncontacted, would be wiped out.

The Indian experts include the former head of the Anthropological Survey of India, who, having taken part in early government missions to try to contact the Sentinelese tribe, now advocates that, "We should respect their wish to be left alone."

The damning letter states that “If this project is not scrapped, the Andaman and Nicobar Administration and the Government of India will be knowingly subjecting the indigenous communities of the Great Nicobar Island to irreversible damage, which will in due course lead to their extinction.”

A group of young Shompen men next to their house on Great Nicobar Island. © Survival

The signatories conclude: “We urge the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to intervene immediately and put a halt to this project before it’s too late.”

The Shompen are one of the most isolated tribes on Earth. They live on Great Nicobar Island in India and most of them are uncontacted, refusing all interactions with outsiders.

The Great Nicobar Development Project aims to transform the remote island into the “Hong Kong of India.” If it goes ahead, huge swathes of the Shompen’s unique rainforest will be destroyed – to be replaced by a mega-port; a new city; an international airport; a power station; a defence base; an industrial park; and 650,000 settlers – a population increase of nearly 8,000%.

Survival International’s Director Caroline Pearce said today: “This is the second time in a matter of months that a group of experts has demanded that the Great Nicobar Island Development Project is scrapped. Anyone with any knowledge of the Shompen and other uncontacted tribes knows that this project would completely destroy them - they simply won’t survive the catastrophic transformation of their island that the Indian government is planning. No national development project can justify a genocide. Will the Indian authorities finally listen to their own experts, and alter their plans before it is too late and they have the extinction of the Shompen on their hands?”