Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Caught in a Quagmire. Fate of ATR Sealed: Bishnu Pada Ray

The Light of Andamans - VOL 35 | ISSUE 22 | 16 DEC 2011

Caught in a Quagmire
Fate of ATR Sealed: Bishnu Pada Ray

The Andaman Trunk Road (ATR), one of the most controversial issues of ANI evokes much interest nationally and internationally. The stretch of a road which traverses through Jarawa territory is an enigma, the fate of which truly and effectively hangs in balance.

By Zubair Ahmed

In a recent press conference called by Bishnu Pada Ray, the lone Member of Parliament, quoting from a heap of documents procured from various sources, which included correspondence between the Central government ministries and the ANI Admn as well as the letters that originated from Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) to concerned Ministries, and a recent correspondence from Director Tribal Welfare, Bishnu concluded that the fate of ATR is sealed and might face closure anytime.
Citing a correspondence sent by Som Naidu, Director, Tribal Welfare to the Chief Port Administrator on 14 December 2011, Bishnu informed the media that the Administration has seriously taken up the matter of an Alternate Sea Route to Baratang Island. The letter referring the WAPCOS report said that "a proposal for the alternate sea-route to Baratang was sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs for approval. The MHA has directed to take up the matter with Ministry of Shipping as the proposal involves dredging, procurement of vessels and development of jetties." The letter further says that "the cost of the project of the alternate sea-route to Baratang Islands comes to Rs 130-135 crores, if the vessel is excluded, dredging and creation of jetty including navigational marks would cost around Rs 32-35 crores."
The letter by Director Tribal Welfare with the approval of Chief Secretary has asked the Port Management Board to project a provision for the dredging and creation of jetty including navigational marks for the alternate sea route to Baratang Island in the 12th Five Year Plan.
Quoting from various documents Bishnu said that in July 2010, Dr Syeda Hameed, Member Planning Commission wrote to Sonia Gandhi, reminding her that NAC had formed a Sub-group of Experts to suggest an action plan for the "protection" and "preservation" of the Jarawa. Dr Hameed was the Co-chairman of the Committee along with Jairam Ramesh and both of them had extensively traveled through the Jarawa Territory and interacted with all stakeholders and even traveled on an alternate sea route. The report was never examined as NAC was dissolved. She also mentioned about the Babu Committee report which had similar recommendations and also wrote further that "with every passing day, the situation on the Islands is worsening. As the Administration continues to await "a new policy" and a decision on the Andaman Trunk Road, the Jarawa are being put on voyeurtistic display and subjected to foreign foods and germs." She requested NAC "to advice on this sensitive issue of small voiceless people, which will be useful input for IDA."
In response to the letter, Rita Sharma, Secretary, NAC wrote to the Lieutenant Governor in August 2010, and sought to take up the matter in the Standing Committee of the Island Development Authority (IDA) and the main meeting of the IDA in September 2010.
Dhiraj Srivastava, Private Secretary to the Chairperson, NAC had paid a visit to the Islands in November 2010 and met the officials in the Administration and toured the Jarawa Reserve areas.
Soon after the visit of Srivastava, in January 2011, Sonia Gandhi wrote to Kantilal Bhuria, Minister of Tribal Affairs that "despite the follow up several issues such as the opening of an alternate sea route by-passing the Jarawa Reserve area, an effective institutional mechanism to implement the Jarawa policy in the ANI, hazards of local tourism operations etc are yet to be fully resolved." She also wrote to P Chidambaram, Home Minister directing MHA to come out with a time bound action plan on decisions already taken and review further measures at regular intervals.
Speaking to the media, Bishnu lambasted the UPA government and the ANI Administration for its neglect of the convenience of the settlers. He quoted widely from the Sub-group report and said that VIPs are taken for Jarawa voyeurism by the Administration.. He criticized the Administration saying that it does not keep its word. He said that ATR is the lifeline of the Islanders and they have not given thought about the 80-90 trucks that transport essential goods on a daily basis. He also showed concern about future military movement in the event of any kind of adventurism by China, which has a listening post in Coco Island.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Administration as well as the Member of Parliament are on the same boat as far as the issue of Jarawa policy is concerned. The Administration does not want to shoulder the burden of a decision and has shirked the responsibility and sought the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to suggest and advice a suitable policy. However, in a letter sent to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, ANI Admn says "It cannot be the mandate of the A&N Admn to confine Jarawas within the Tribal Reserve Areas and prevent them from reaching out to the modern world for all time to come… The challenge is to ensure that the Jarawa are empowered to deal with the outside world without losing their virality…"  The Member of Parliament in a letter had mentioned that Jarawas cannot be kept in extreme isolation anymore and needs to be mainstreamed.
If the documents quoted by the MP have to be believed, like any other decision imposed from above, this too will remain in paper without implementation. When the Administration has shown the nerve to keep the road open even after the historic Supreme Court Judgement, what a correspondence from the Tribal Ministry or the Chairperson of National Advisory Council will achieve?
The fact is that both the Administration as well as the Member of Parliament very well knows that the road will remain open. Both of them are trying their best to keep the road open on one pretext or other.

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