Wednesday, November 14, 2012

COVER STORY: Harminder Bay Nicobarese Settlement FLASHBACK INTO HISTORY


Harminder Bay Nicobarese Settlement

In the year 1972-73, the process of settling about 300 families of Car Nicobarese in Little Andaman was initiated by Andaman and Nicobar Admn. The Admn set on the mission after it felt that the population of Car Nicobar Island had grown to 10000 living in an area of 49 sq miles, which might pose serious space problem for plantations. The tribals were resettled in an Island far away from their natural habitat and in an Island that already had another tribe - Onges. The proposal hit many roadblocks then. After 40 years today, due to lack of proper policy framework, the Settlement faces new challenges. A flashback into the history of the Settlement.

By Zubair Ahmed

The Census of 1961 showed the population of Car Nicobar as 10000 living in an area of 49 sq miles. There grew a thinking that the Island of Car Nicobar could no longer provide plantation land needed for the growing Nicobarese population and some "Lebensraum" was needed for these people in other Islands. With this in view, a scheme for resettlement of Car Nicobarese in other Islands was included in both the second and third Five Year Plans of the territory. The scheme, however, could not be implemented because, firstly, the Car Nicobarese showed reluctance to move out of Car Nicobar, and subsequently, insisted on exclusive resettlement in Katchal. The permanent residents of Katchal Island was not favourable to this idea. Moreover, as per policy decision at the highest level in Delhi, no Island should be populated exclusively by one community or tribe. Thus, the scheme of resettlement of Nicobarese in other Islands, although included in the second and third Plans remained paper schemes only. There was stalemate and nobody give thought to the details of the Plan.
Then in January 1970, there was a thaw. Bishop Richardson indicated to Shri B K Halve, CDRC that the Car Nicobarese would also welcome resettlement in Little Andaman. This wish of Bishop Richardson was welcomed by all. As Little Andaman has already been earmarked for development for resettlement of migrants from East Pakistan and repatriates from Sri Lanka etc., concurrence of Dept of Rehabilitation was sought for about the resettlement of Car Nicobarese in that Island. Shri Butalia, Chief Commissioner wrote to Secretary, Ministry of Rehabilitation on this matter in March 1970. Meanwhile the scheme of settlement of Nicobarese in other Islands was again included in the fourth Plan of the territory.
Then began a chain of correspondence between Chief Development cum Rehabilitation Commissioner (CDRC) and Chief Commissioner on the one hand and Ministries of Rehabilitation and Home on the other. It would appear, although the scheme of settlement of Car Nicobarese in other Islands had been included in both second and third Plans, no serious thought was given to it in Delhi. However, when the question was taken up in all earnestness in 1970, both Ministries of Rehabilitation and Home expressed reservations about it. The Ministry of Home enquired whether there has been any promise to Car Nicobarese that their surplus population would be resettled in other Islands. To this the Administration replied that the very inclusion of a scheme in the Plan of the territory for settlement of Nicobarese on other Islands showed that the idea had been accepted by all and this had raised hopes among the Nicobarese and to the extent it was surely a promise which required to be honoured.
An interesting point in this connection is Shri Butalia Chief Commissioner believed that an assurance of resettlement in Little Andaman or Katchal was given to the Nicobarese by Shri D R Chavan, Deputy Minister, Rehabilitation during his visit to the Islands from 25 Dec 1968 to 2 January 1969. But, this belief could not be authenticated by official records.
The Ministry of Rehabilitation raised many questions, two of which are important. Whether Rehabilitation Department's programme of resettlement of migrants and repatriates will be affected and whether there would not be any clash between Nicobarese and Onges.
In reply to the first, it was stated that 'bulk' of the paddy land suitable for resettlement of the refugee families would lie to the North of the imaginary line joining Hut Bay to Jackson Creek. The lands proposed to be allotted to the Car Nicobarese families will be plantation lands and not paddy lands and consequently the Rehabilitation programme in Little Andaman will not be adversely affected.' In reply to the second issue, it was stated that 'the apprehension that the interest of the Onges tribe may be adversely affected and that there may be clash and trouble by settlement of Car Nicobarese families in Little Andaman is without foundation. Bulk of the Onges population is on the northern side of the Island and on the West Coast while the proposed settlement of Car Nicobarese families is on the Southern Side. Both Nicobarese and onges are friendly tribes an there is no reason whatsoever to fear any clash between them.
While all these correspondence were in 1971-72, the idea of settlement of Car Nicobarese families in Little Andaman gained tempo. Because, Chief Commissioner and the CDRC evinced keen interest to it and pressed Govt of India for acceptance. It was also decided to earmark 500 acre plantation land in Little Andaman. The land was located south stream Toilwe. Bishop Richardson was informed and he suggested that some representatives of Nicobarese should first see the land and verify whether it was suitable for them.
By now, Delhi was also seized with the problem. It was discussed in the Central Action Committee meeting held on 4 March wherein the proposal was accepted and that the Administration would work out the time schedule and report to the Chief Commissioner. The Dept of Rehabilitation also indicated to the Ministry that it had no objection for earmarking 500 acres of plantation land in Little Andaman for the Car Nicobarese families. With this green signal further preliminary steps were taken. A team of captains from Car Nicobar visited Little Andaman on 28 April 1972 and the Nicobarese leaders found the land suitable for them.
 It was decided that the area shown to the Nicobarese representatives may be kept reserved for their settlement and the entire area may be demarcated. The Nicobarese had expressed that they would clear the area by themselves. They also expressed they would fell all the trees including commercial timber and the Govt. either by agency or by contractors, could take out the commercial timber from the reclaimed site. They did not want any Govt. offer in the shape of grant or loan for the reclamation of the forests areas. The Nicobarese expressed strongly that each family should be allotted 10 acres of plantation. In addition each family should be allotted one-third acre of homestead. It was decided that each family would get 5 acres for plantation, 3 acres for fruit plants and 2 acres for paddy cultivation. It was also decided that 300 families would be settled in three years.
The decisions were conveyed to Chief Commissioner, who was attending the Central Coordination Meeting at Delhi on 29 April 1972. In that meeting the allotment of 10 acres of hilly land to these families was accepted and CC was asked to frame detailed proposals.
On 19 May 1972, the Chief Commissioner discussed the matter with CDRC and other heads of the Dept. The Chief Commissioner was of the view that the Dept of Rehabilitation (DOR) should bear the expenses for the implementation of the scheme. The CDC prepared a scheme for Settlement at an estimated cost of Rs 10245400/-.
The scheme was forwarded to DOR on 19 June 1972, who instructed CDC on 26 June 1972 that the Ministry of Rehabilitation had nothing to do with the scheme and it would be for A&N Admn to implement it and no expenditure should be incurred without specific sanction of DOR. With such categorical instructions from DOR, the expectation of the Dept of Rehabilitation in implementing the scheme came to an end.
At this critical juncture the position was that while the Car Nicobarese have been aroused by high hopes of immediate resettlement of 50 families, the Dept of Rehabilitation refused to have nothing to do with it. There was only a token provision of Rs 10000/- in the Admns' Annual Plan for 1972-73 for permanent settlement of Nicobarese families under the Sector "Welfare of Backward Classes."
The matter was again discussed in the Central Coordination Committee meeting at Delhi on 29 June 1972 where CC stated that a scheme had been submitted to DOR. However nothing came out of it.
On 11 July 1972, CC called a meeting of all HODs at Port Blair. By that time, he was heavily committed to do something positive for implementing the scheme. He explored possibility of getting funds from various sectors of Administration.
The next few months saw a crucial period of review, discussions and correspondence about finding the resources. Meanwhile on 7 March 1973, the Ministry of Agriculture issued the approval for de-reservation of 500 acres of forest land at Little Andaman to be handed over to the Dept of Rehabilitation. But, as Dept of Rehab had already backed out. And while sanctioning the de-reservation, the Forest Dept had stipulated two conditions that royalty for commercial timbers should be paid for and soil conservation measures should be involved in the cleared area.
On 29 March 1973, after receiving the sanction for de-reservation, 50 Nicobarese families comprising of 150 members were brought to Little Andaman. Two thatched sheds had already been constructed for them. On 6 April 1973, the position was reviewed by the Chief Commissioner. He still desired that the Ministry of Rehabilitation should be involved in this scheme and also wanted opening of dispensary, primary school and other facilities in the Settlement area.
On 28 July 1973, Chief Commissioner Har Mander Singh alongwith Shailaja Chandra, Finance Secretary, Ramesh Chandra, Deputy Commissioner and other officials visited Little Andaman. He travelled with the group on foot for 5 kms to reach the Settlement. He observed that Nicobarese had improved the two transit barracks built for them. They had also constructed a guest house in tribal style and had cleared about 25 acres of jungle land. When he visited, they were busy in the process of making a racing canoe.
The Nicobarese demanded that a road to the Settlement need to be improved. They wanted the supply of equipments and home building hardware available at Hut Bay. They also demanded for a cattle pound to impound cattle of settlers destroying their farms. They complained about labourers killing wild boars in the jungle. The Chief Commissioner instructed the police and forest authorities to take steps to prevent labourers from encroaching on the privileges of the Nicobarese and Onges.
The Principal Engineer, Marine submitted an estimate of Rs 12.95 lakhs for construction of 4 kms road from the Jetty to the Nicobarese Settlement. It was difficult to find funds, so nothing could be done in 1973-74 and the prospects of having funds for the road was also bleak in 1974-75. Therefore, it was decided that instead of having a metalled road, the bad patches on the existing footpath will be repaired and the culverts constructed. For this purpose, PE (Marine) wanted Rs 4.95 lakhs which was also difficult to come. APWD could only spare Re. One lakh out of its funds in 1974-75. PE (Marine) was asked to go ahead with the work restricting the expenditure to Re. One lakh during 1974-75.
Although the Nicobarese were brought to Little Andaman with huge fanfare, they had been left in the lurch with so many administrative intricacies and financial sanctions. For more than 5 years, there was no road, dispensary or schools. Moreover, their lands were not regularized.
On 14 May 1976, when SM Krishnatry, Chief Commissioner met the Captains in Car Nicobar, they sought his intervention in many problems faced by the Nicobarese in Little Andaman. They complained that the land of the families was not regularized. However, they made some commitments which are very interesting. They acceded that they would abide by the Govt. instructions and orders as may be issued to them regarding their territorial limits to which they could go and that they will have to confine themselves to the area allotted to them and should not trespass into the remaining Onge Reserve, not even for contacting Onges or for hunting and they will have to carry out the provisions of the Protection of the Tribal Regulations. They agreed that they will comply with such order.
On 26 Oct 1976, in the Home Minister Advisory Committee meeting, the Home Minister made it clear that further felling of forests without thorough examination of environmental and ecological aspects and formulation of a well considered policy was out of question.
The proximity of the Onge tribal too came into question, when the Nicobarese demanded additional land and the Chief Commissioner did not press the Home Ministry as his predecessors had been doing.
"For a while there were considerable tension and a great deal of bad blood. The development of facilities and roads promised to them did not materialize for a long time. And, moreover, the land remained unrecognized and as unauthorized possession," wrote Kiran Dhingra in A & N Island in Twentieth Century - A Gazetteer.
The looming issues still remain to be sorted out. The Nicobarese in Little Andaman continue to be second-class tribals without proper land and forest rights.

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