Respect Jarawa buffer zone: SC to Andamans administration

Two tourist companies boycott Jarawa tourism

The Supreme Court has directed the Andaman & Nicobar administration to implement the Jarawa buffer zone notification in letter and spirit. The court’s August 1 directive refers to the administration’s 2007 notification creating a 5 km buffer around the Jarawa Reserve where no commercial activities would be allowed. But there is no let up. Tourism is going on and holiday resorts and shops continue to operate in this inviolate area.

The population of this ancient indigenous community is just 273. Increasing contact with people outside their community puts them at risk of diseases that are new to them as they are believed to have little immunity to outside illnesses. The buffer zone, opposed by residents and some politicians, thus aims to protect the Jarawas from interaction with outsiders, both tourists and settlers (see ‘Buffer for Jarawas’, Down To Earth, September 1-15, 2010).

The court case began when the administration used the notification to shut a private resort at Colinpur village that falls in the buffer zone (see ‘Too close’, Down To Earth, Aug 1-15, 2009). “The administration was targeting just Barefoot,” says Samit Sawhney, managing director of the resort. “We showed the court that several other commercial activities are also going on within the buffer.” In March last year, the apex court, however, asked Barefoot to suspend its operations until the case was resolved.

In the latest hearing, Barefoot argued that for proper implementation of the notification the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) which runs through the Jarawa Reserve would have to be closed. The administration had denotified the road from the Jarawa Reserve. But we proved that the stretch still falls within the buffer zone and tourism should not be allowed on it, says Sawhney. More than 500 tourists use the road every day ostensibly to visit tourist sites north of the Reserve. The road remains open in contravention of a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that the road must be closed.

The administration says the matter is under consideration with a committee appointed by the tribal affairs ministry. “The ATR will continue to be open for tourists. As for the buffer zone, small commercial activities like tea shops will not be affected. Only hotels and resorts will have to vacate the area,” says Som Naidu, director, tribal welfare directorate of the union territory.

Recently, on July 29, Survival International, an international non-profit that works for on indigenous community rights, announced that two tour operators in the Andamans have joined its campaign against Jarawa tourism. The two companies, Andaman Holidays and Andaman Escapades, have said they would not take clients on the ATR for Jarawa tours. The campaign also calls for tourists to boycott the ATR.

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