25September2018

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

Is A&N Islands only about Environment, Forests, Wildlife, Endemic Flora, Fauna and Tribes?

Andaman and Nicobar Islands used to be a place appreciated for peaceful coexistence, untill a cat named Buffer Zone (BZ) was let out of the bag on 08/12/2010, ie the day Buffer Zone was implemented in select areas of Andaman Islands. Since then islanders, especially settlers from North and Middle Andamans are having sleepless nights for the reason - the controversial Buffer Zone Notification ex post facto brought 31 historically settled revenue villages into its ambit, that too without public discussion. 

 

A look into the background reveals the issue could be traced to Sept 2004 notification (No 159/2004/F No 1-752/2002-TW (PF) dated 15/09/2004) wherein a bunch of GPS points (Latitude and Longitude) relating to some parts of South and Middle Andaman were released and the areas bounded by those GPS points were declared as Reserve [for Jarawa tribes]. Thereafter a gap of 3 years another notification (No 234/2007 F No 1-752/2007-TW dated 30/10/2007) was issued which reads …The Lt Governor, A&N Islands is pleased to declare the area upto 5KM radius around the Jarawa Tribal Reserve notified vide 159/2004/F No 1-752/2002-TW (PF) dated 15/09/2004 from the [imaginary] boundary line starting from Constance Bay in South Andaman to Lewis Inlet Bay in Middle Andaman as Buffer Zone. Any person other than a member of an aboriginal tribe is prohibited from entering the Buffer Zone for any commercial and / or tourism purpose.

Surprisingly, the 2007 Buffer Zone Notification was neither discussed with public, elected representatives, stake holders etc nor the BZ Notification implemented except upon [one] privately owned resort. Hence the general public including the settler population from those 31 villages [brought into Buffer Zone retrospectively] remained oblivious of the impact the notification is going to have on their life and livelihood.

Those from North and Middle Andaman had a glimpse of the Buffer Zone notification for the first time on December 8th 2010 [ie more than 3 years after BZ was notified] when a misinterpretation resulted in serving GO stating … since their shop falls within the Buffer Zone, they need to close their shops in compliance with Hon’ble Supreme Court Order dated 03/12/2010. Following which shops including Tea stalls, Provision Stores, FPS etc in select areas of N&M Andaman were ordered closed, without hearing the affected parties.

Earlier the order resulted in closure of a resort (owned by M/S Barefoot Group) situated at Collinpur. Aggrieved, the resort owner contested the order and Calcutta High Court struck down the notification twice. Administration later took the matter to the Apex Court, which on June 2nd 2012 ordered for implementation of 2007 Buffer Zone Notification. Environmentalists, tribal right experts, select NGO’s, academicians and their likes hailed the order but the applicant (A&N Administration) found itself landed in a state of quandary.

Since implementation of 2007 BZ notification would mean closure of all business establishments falling in the Buffer Zone which includes 31 already settled revenue villages within its ambit. This will result in closure of FPS selling ration items, provision stores, grocery / vegetable / fish / meat shops, tea stalls, food kiosks, banks, post offices, barber shop and all such establishments which provide service in exchange of cash. More damaging is the fact that 31 villages brought under BZ could no longer be inhabited since non-tribes are prohibited from entering Buffer Zone.

Whereas these villages and many more areas retrospectively brought under Buffer Zone were settled by Govt of India under various Colonisation and Rehabilitation Schemes from the year 1949 onwards, ie well before enactment of Andaman & Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation (ANPATR) in 1956. It is therefore only obvious that any amendment in the ANPATR should have been effected considering presence of lakhs of Govt settled non-tribes, their needs and aspirations as well.

But what has happened is a stark contrast. Buffer Zone has been drafted in a covert manner without consultation with public, elected representatives; PRI, MP or those villagers who are going to get affected. Also after lapse of decades, Jawara Tribal Reserve is yet to be properly demarcated. Moreover the proponents of Buffer Zone did not bother to draw a proper Map which could have prevented inclusion of already settled revenue villages in Buffer Zone. Hence physical extent of Buffer Zone [5KM around tribal reserve] can be noting more than a subjective guess. Such casual and inhibitory approach to an important piece of legal framework had put life of settlers in jeopardy besides severely denting the reputation of A&N Administration.

Incidentally Baratang tourism which has largely been blamed for violation of rules by engaging in unfriendly contact with Jarawas remains unaffected by BZ Notification. In fact tourism stands benefitted since revised Convoy now makes same day return possible for tourists visiting Baratang [earlier prohibited]. Also charges hitherto levied by A&N Police for travelling in ATR [Tribal Pass] have lately been waived. Post July 2012 SC Order on Buffer Zone, the permit fee collected by Department of Environment and Forests for visiting Lime Stone Caves too stands withdrawn.

Contrary to all these sops, encouragements and freebies extended to tourists, settlers travelling in ATR for genuine reasons feel distressed commuting between Port Blair and their home in N&M Andaman. Same day return by public transport hitherto possible has become virtually impossible due to [50%] reduction in the convoys. Previous 8 convoys across ATR now stand reduced to 4 inconveniencing settler population with journey time extended by several hours. This is over and above the unforeseen fear of loosing ones land and livelihood to Buffer Zone.

It is therefore only obvious for the A&N Administration to file yet another petition in the Apex Court with yet another Amendment to the ANPATR which provides for stringent punishment for contravention of the notification apart from more clearly defining tourism and commercial establishment.

A close look at the extant BZ Notification reveal tourism establishments employing less than 20 persons with annual turnover of Rs 1 Crore and below will continue to operate [in the Buffer Zone]. Thus it will be “Business as usual” for tourists, tourism ventures. Also the remainder of those unfriendly gaze and unsolicited contact with Jarawas across ATR by visiting tourists [which kicked up an anti-island rhetoric] will continue to take place.

The BZ Notification therefore largely turns out to be nothing more an object of subjectivity apart from empowering the Administrator to declare/specify/alter any area adjacent and contiguous to reserved area as Buffer Zone and to decide whether any area falls in a Buffer Zone or otherwise. The notification however is still silent on the fate of those revenue villages brought under Buffer Zone ex post facto. Such provisions make the extant BZ Notification highly ambiguous, inhibitory and prone to subjective interpretation, therefore bad in law.

Its high time to wake up to the fact that A&N Islands is not only about Environment, Forests, Wildlife, Endemic Flora, Fauna, Primitive Tribes etc, but there lives 3.7 lakh non-tribe Citizens of India; a large chunk of which are settlers [settled by Govt of India] and their descendants. The 2004 December Great Sumatra Andaman Earthquake triggered Tsunami submerged large tracts of lands. If we leave the tsunami affected landholdings and all those areas falling in IPZ/CRZ/Reserved/Protected areas, probably very little would be left behind for civilian use.

Now since A&N Administration has sought time to further amend the ANPATR 1956 to more clearly define commercial and tourist establishment such that Buffer Zone Notification could be implemented protecting small scale commercial activity that is necessary for sustaining life in those revenue villages. It is hoped the Island Administration will take a pragmatic view commensurate to the welfare of both, the tribal and settler population, their day-to-day needs, long term developmental goals and aspirations as well.

 

By

Debkumar Bhadra

Shore Pint, Bambooflat, S Andaman-744107