Andaman administration to remove legal hurdles to allow small commercial activities
THE Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration is set to modify a notification to allow small tourism and commercial activities around a reserve inhabited by the Jarawas. At present, a 2007 notification prohibits such activities within five km of the reserve area. This is to protect the primitive tribe of the Andamans.
The decision to modify the notification follows a July order of the Supreme Court. The court had turned down the administration’s plea to allow tourist visits and government guest houses in the buffer zone, unless the notification is amended.
After the notification was issued in 2007, a hotel owner challenged it in the Calcutta High Court. The high court quashed the notification on the grounds that the principal regulation only permits notification for reserved area and has no provisions for declaring an area as buffer zone. The administration later challenged this order in the apex court which reinstated the notification in July this year.
While the case was being heard, the administration sought a few exemptions from the prohibitions contained in its 2007 notification. It pleaded that the government be allowed to run guest houses and small commercial units employing less than 20 people and having turnover of less than Rs 1 crore. It also asked the court to allow tourist visits to a few places in the buffer zone during the day. The court said there was no provision of providing such exemptions in the notification. “Therefore, till the notification is rescinded or amended, no commercial or tourism related activity can be allowed within the reserved area or the buffer zone,” the court said.
Taking its cue from this, on October 17 the Islands administration informed the standing committee of the Island Development Authority (IDA) under the Planning Commission that it has amended the Andaman and Nicobar (A & N) Island Protection of Aboriginal Tribe regulation that allows re-notification and modification of the buffer zone. The new notification is expected by March 2013, says the administration.
While the administration is planning to issue a new notification, the 2007 notification has not been implemented. Even when the apex court was hearing the case, tourism continued unabated in the inviolate area with many holiday resorts and shops operating. “Tourists continue to visit Lime Stone Cave and Mud Volcanoes. To avoid any legal tangle, the administration has removed forest check post that used to keep records of the tourists,” says Zubair Ahmed, editor of the weekly, The Light of Andamans, published from Port Blair. G Theva Nethi Dhas, secretary, tribal welfare (A & N), says: “We have sought time from the apex court to come up with a new notification as practically it is difficult to implement the old one. There are 22,000 people living in the buffer zone. It is not possible to prohibit ration shops, institutes and banks under the name of buffer zone notification.”
Ahmed thinks the 2007 notification was not meant to protect the Jarawas. “The administration issued the notification to target a few resorts and not to protect the tribe. It is impractical to have a five km buffer zone around a reserve in an island,” he says. According to Ahmed, the real issue is that of closing the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR), which the administration has not yet addressed. The ATR, which passes through the Jarawa reserve, continues to be open for traffic despite a 2002 order of the apex court prohibiting it. In the standing committee meeting of IDA, the administration said the ATR is the lifeline for 1,50,000 people in the Islands and its closure will cause tremendous hardship to the settlers. It said an alternate sea route might be prepared by 2015.
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