Too close

By Sumana Narayanan
Published: Saturday 15 August 2009

Port Blair bench allows resort that may endanger Jarawas

THE Calcutta High Court has cleared the construction of a holiday resort near the forest area reserved for the threatened Jarawa tribe in South Andamans.

The Andaman administration had appealed against building the resort saying it was within the five-kilometre buffer zone of the reserve and would endanger the tribe--only 300-odd members survive. But the Port Blair bench of the high court upheld the claim of the Chennai-based hospitality group, Barefoot Resorts. The company claimed the buffer zone was never notified by the administration and that it was being targeted unnecessarily.

Administration officials said the court decision would pave the way for other tourism ventures near the 700 sq km reserve."How are we to protect the indigenous community if hotels are allowed right next to the reserve?" asked S K P Sodhi, secretary tribal affairs in the Andaman administration.

The company spokesperson countered Sodhi. "The aerial distance between the resort and the tribal habitat is 3.2 km; by road it is longer," he said while adding there are other establishments near tribal reserves in the islands.

Barefoot Resorts had acquired the land for the hotel in Collinpur from villagers. The administration stayed the construction of the resort in October 2007. A single judge bench of the high court had ruled in favour of the company against which the administration filed an appeal before the division bench.

Pramod Kumar, PhD student working on Jarawa grammar at jnu said the Jarawas have been interacting with the settlers near the reserve for about a decade. "But tourists close to the reserve could pose a problem. Right now alcohol is not an issue but that may change with tourists," Kumar said.

A UK-based non-profit, Survival International, meanwhile, issued a press release condemning Barefoot Resorts for endangering the Jarawas. The hospitality group retaliated by questioning the non-profit's ethics in using photographs of Jarawas to encourage donations and asked if prior informed consent of the Jarawas was taken before publishing the photographs.

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