Jarawa tribes face danger from Andaman trunk road: London-based NGO

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Port Blair, Jan 28 (UNI) Andaman Trunk Road(ATR), connecting South Andaman to Middle and North Andaman, has become a bone of contention between the Andaman administration and Jarawa activists of this union territory.

Recently, Survival International, a London-based NGO, brought out a report on the threat to Jarawa from ATR. The issue of closing down the ATR has now come to the international levels.

ATR, which the Indian Supreme Court had ordered to be closed six years ago due to threats to the Jarawa tribe, has seen a three-fold increase in traffic since 2001, the NGO claimed.

Survival International, working on tribal rights, in its recently published report, alleged that the ATR runs through the land of the 300-strong Jarawa, who came in contact with the outside world only since 1998.

The Supreme Court ordered the local authorities on the Andaman Islands to close the road in 2002, but they have kept it open in violation of the order and tried to get the order revoked, Mariam Ross, spokesperson of Survival International today said.

Local Jarawa activists are also against the ATR, who are also demanding to close down the same.

''No one is thinking about Jarawa People. It is as if we are driving or passing through someone's bedroom,'' a local Jarawa activist said.

According to local authorities here, the figure for vehicular traffic on the road was 17,315 in 2001, and rose to 37,505 in 2006.

There were 27,674 vehicles travelling the road in only the first seven months of 2007.

Survival and local organisations have campaigned for many years for the closure of the road, warning that it brings settlers and poachers who steal the tribe's game, introduce alcohol, and expose them to disease. Last year, the UN urged the Indian government to implement the Supreme Court order and close the road.

As more and more people travel through the heart of this land, the threat to their survival becomes ever more severe. If the Indian government is serious about preventing the extinction of yet another tribe, it must close the road, Survival's director Stephen Corry said in a Survival release.

Work on the ATR started in the 1960s to link South Andaman, where the territory's capital, Port Blair, is located, with Middle and North Andaman. Until its completion, people were forced to get about using boats, as most people in the archipelago of islands located in the Andaman Sea continue to do. The road has enabled economic development and easier access to the area's natural resources.

But campaigners have long argued that the road has imperiled the Jarawa, an indigenous people about which relatively little is known, by bringing in settlers, poachers and alcohol.

Concern over the impact on the Jarawa increased in the late 1990s, when in an unexplained shift in their behaviour, the tribe members began seeking contact with outsiders. In the aftermath, the tribe suffered two outbreaks of measles.

Campaigners believed that they secured a victory in 2002 when India's Supreme Court ruled that the road should be closed. As recently as last year, the United Nations urged India to follow the court's instructions. But despite such pressure, the authorities have refused to close the ATR and have appealed against the ruling.

UNI SKR LL RN1735

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