Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gethin Scare and Jarawa Musings

Gethin Scare and Jarawa Musings

By Zubair Ahmed

Gethin Aaya… Gethin Aaya…. Bhago….!!!
The Jarawas waiting under the shade of a Gurjan tree next to Andaman Trunk Road jumped and started running deep into the forests shouting … Bhago Bhago…. Gethin Aaya! Gethin Aaya!!

The Jarawas it seems had prior information, like the ANI Admn and especially the Tribal Welfare Dept that Gethin Chamberlain, Journalist, The Guardian/Observer is coming back to take stock of things, after his visit eight-months ago. They had made all arrangements to make this visit a memorable one with sufficient staff posted everywhere to "take care" of him. The ANI Admn was on an all-time "High Alert" expecting another explosion.

However, the timing seemed perfect this time. Gethin's visit coincided with the ending of the 8-week moratorium requested by the ANI Admn to modify the BZ Notification, that too without implementing it as ordered by the Supreme Court.

Was this a coincidence? On August 13, there was a meeting on PTGs at Planning Commission, which was attended by various agencies including a delegation from the Islands led by Secretary Tribal Welfare, ANI Admn. It is learnt that a representative of Survival International was also present in the meeting.

It cannot be ruled out that Gethin on behest of Survival International visited the Islands on a fact-finding mission. And, to his luck, he could get a ticket on ANIIDCO-run air-conditioned tourist coach to Baratang which had "Incredible India" painted in large blue letters on it. Besides Gethin, there were about 20 odd tourists and a couple of mufti-clan "Observers" especially observing every movement of Gethin,  The Observer/Guardian Journalist.

The vehicles of Director, Tribal Welfare and Executive Secretary AAJVS were also found parked near Jirkatang Check Post.

The Secretary, Tribal Welfare made a presentation on the status of PTGs of the Islands in the Planning Commission meeting. Replying to queries from various quarters, he convincingly told them that the Supreme Court Order on Buffer Zone is implemented in letter and spirit and on ATR, he assured that the alternative sea route is going to be operational in a matter of one and half years. With all confidence, he also declared that no tourism activity is happening in the Buffer Zone. Moreover, the amended ANPATR with stringent punishments has been a good justification to show how serious the ANI Admn is about protection of the "vulnerable" Jarawa tribe.

In fact, after the interlocutory petition filed by the ANI Admn in the Supreme Court for an 8-week relief, the steps taken are very funny. Instead of stopping tourism to Limestone Cave at Baratang, the forest personnel issuing permits have been withdrawn. Now, officially and as per records, no tourism is happening. However, now tourists can visit the caves without permit without any monitoring. Therefore, officially no tourism is happening at Limestone Cave.  About 20 invisible boats ply between Baratang and Limestone Caves ferrying invisible tourists. Close your eyes and its darkness everywhere!

The Buffer Zone Notification 2007 and the stricter ANPATR 2012 remains a scarecrow without much action on the ground like the SC Order of 2002. The Admn is good in making laws, but very poor in its implementation. Tourism activities are going on in Buffer Zone non-stop or how can a Bus full of tourists visit Limestone Caves through ATR? How Baratang Jetty is excluded from the 5-km Buffer Zone and the far-flung Dew Dale Resort included?

On the amended ANPATR 2012, there has been enough scare among the settlers that the Director General of Police had to issue a press note. The Director General of Police, SBS Deol clarified that all police personnel had been directed that before registering any case under the PAT Regulations, all the facts are to be placed before the Police Headquarters and the approval and consent of the DG Police made mandatory before proceeding further.
Regarding commercial activities, the ANI Admn had clarified, “Only those commercial activities which employ twenty employees or having an annual turnover of rupees one crore or more have been prohibited under the new PAT Regulation.  All plan schemes and projects as approved by the PRIs and Gram Panchayats will continue for overall development without any interruption in the villages”.

The people living in the adjoining areas were also advised not to get swayed away by mischief mongers (Bishnu Pada Ray, Member of Parliament) who is trying to spread rumours and create fear in the minds of the community living in these areas.

On 23 July 2012, there was a communiqué from the SP (SA) that Baratang Police Recovered Huge Haul of IMFL inside Buffer Zone. Did the Police register a case as per the sections under amended ANPATR 2012? If not, why such a misleading news that the haul was inside the Buffer Zone? Such news will be appreciated at national level, but who cares about any follow up?

What happened to the Jarawa video episode which was shot by army personnel? Why no action against the culprits? Someone needs to explain.

For any clarification or dispute regarding Buffer Zone, the Administrator's decision has been deemed final and in the case of ANPATR 2012, DGP's ruling will be final!

How democratic is the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals? Not a single Islander has any idea what modifications the Admn is making in the Buffer Zone Notification of 2007. There is no consultation process at any level. The amended notification will also be arbitrarily forced on the Islanders. Why can't the Admn have an all-party meeting regarding the modification of BZ Notification? It is learnt that while writing this piece, a meeting with regard to BZ is being convened.

On the other hand, there is enough to rejoice about the growth rate among Jarawas. There have been about 20 births this year up to August 2012 with the population figure going up to 407.

Moreover, in the last six months, there have been a few incidents where Jarawas retaliated against invasion into their areas by Sarkari poachers as well as Settler poachers.

A group of eight forest labourers who ventured into the Jarawa Reserve at Wright Myo to procure Cane and Bamboo were rounded up by a group of alert Jarawas, and all their implements including their personal belongings snatched and warned never to come to their Reserve. In another incident, a group of poachers was attacked near Pottatang Nallah by Jarawas.

If ANPATR and Buffer Zone remains scarecrow, Jarawas are becoming more scary and assertive about their land and their resources. A couple of months back, a Jarawa had specifically named a timber poacher of South Andaman, who has a temporary shed inside the forest for sawing and sizing timber, which the forest officials are quite aware about.

A couple of months ago, a Dinghie was seized by the Forest personnel at Wright Myo with 2-3 deers and other forest produce which had come from Jarawa Reserve, and it was reported that the culprits escaped. However, the seized Dinghie at Wright Myo has a registration number, which could have easily helped in tracing the culprits. Why no action under ANPATR 2012 was registered by either Forest officials or Police?

All the hullaballoo by the media and the dubious steps of the Admn to protect the Jarawas and their territory will always attract curious attention from national and international forums, and the business will continue as usual in the Islands without much fanfare. Tourists will use ATR, Limestone Cave will remain open, Alternative sea route will remain a mirage, the count of Jarawas will also increase and the poaching will also continue and the politicians will have enough issues to fight next elections.