“Insights take advantage of the fertile land,

“Insights into environment, indigenous communities and development inthe Andaman and Nicobar Islands.” By Pankaj SekhsariaChange and flux are major things in any system, it might bepolitical or ecological or geological or cultural system, sometimes we thinkchange should happen and at the same time change shouldn’t happen.

Sociocultural, ecological and geological are the three major factors thatcontribute to Andaman and Nicobar islands. Andaman and Nicobar islands are wellknown for tourism, cellular jails, and 2004 tsunami and Jarawas. Jarawas is anancient tribe which is in existence for more than 40,000 years in Andaman andNicobar islands.Since India’s independence, the government was keen to takeadvantage of the fertile land, mineral resources, timber and other naturalwealth that the Andaman Islands had to offer. As early as November 1948, agroup, designated as the Andaman Exploratory Delegation, was sent to theseIslands to examine ‘the prospect of colonization and settlement there and theyfound the islands favourable for “colonization”.

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It was observed that ‘thereare large possibilities for settlement by those who take to cultivation orfishery as their principal occupation. But to exploit the resources of Andaman,there was an ‘urgent need for labourers of all types as well as skilledlabourers of artisan class’.  Initiallythe government attempted to identify individuals from the settled populationwho would be “willing” to relocate in these Islands.  But the unwillingness of the settledpopulation to go to these far off islands made the government shift itsattention to the refugees.

Seemingly, the rational was that the refugees, whohad already migrated once, would pose fewer problems if asked to move again.Thus, the policy of dispersal presupposed that the refugees had no sense ofbelonging and no choice for destination. Or, rather they should not have a senseof belonging and a choice of destination. The fallacy of this logic was evidentthough. That places like Calcutta attracted more refugees than other parts ofthe region proved the refugees had clear sense and their own reasons aboutwhere to go and where not go. Pankaj in his debut novel, The Last Wave statesthat, for these people, the Jarawas were as much myth as the ghosts or the godsinhabiting the unknown forests of their own imagination.

Refugees from EastBengal, who began settling down on the outskirts of the Andaman Islands’ JarawaReserve in the ’60s and ’70s. Despite living in close proximity to the Jarawasfor several decades, the Bengali settlers have had little interaction with oneof the world’s most isolated tribes. “There are huge legacies and histories ofmistrust between the two communities, which is fuelled by the lack ofinteraction. Until 1998, the Jarawa tribe, who have inhabited the island forthousands of years, were under voluntary isolation and survived reasonably wellwithin the thick forests. Any interaction between the tribe and settlers wouldlead to a conflict from both sides,” explains Sekhsaria, who has based much ofhis story on the cataclysmic event that took place in 1998, when a group ofJarawas stepped out of the forest unarmed.The Royal Greenwich Observatory in around 1998 announcedthat the first sunrise of the new millennium would be visible from the islandof Katchal, of the Nicobar group.

Efforts were on to get more than 20,000tourists (largely foreigners) to the tiny and remote island of Katchal, whichwas advertised as the only place in the world where the first sunrise of themillennium will be visible.It appeared to be the perfect situation for a huge tourismevent of an exotic, remote island, an occasion that will never come again, anda government was very eager and willing to make this event a grand one whichintern generates revenue to the government in huge amounts. However, the entireevent was seriously questioned and opposed by many environmental groups acrossthe country as there were serious flaws in the event and also the seriousconsequences of the event.

The opposition was strong enough to sustain and makeadministration to respond to the consequences. In early August 1999 asecretary-level meeting held at Port Blair, a decision was taken to scale downthe plan drastically.The campaign that was coordinated by SANE was based ondetailed research and solid facts. The very fact that Katchal was beingpromoted as the only place where the first sunrise of the new millennium willbe visible was never correct. A clarification was issued by experts ofPune-based Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics categoricallyasserted that these claims were preposterous and also stated that there were atleast two fake news that were being perpetrated, one is that the new millenniumbegins on January 1, 2000, and the other is that Katchal is the only placewhere the sunrise will be visible. Experts all over the world fromorganizations like the United States Naval Observatories, the National Bureauof Standards and Technology of the US and the Royal Greenwich Observatory, England,before its demise in 1998 have accepted and adopted January 1, 2001 as thebeginning of the new millennium and January 1, 2000 as the first day of lastyear of the millennium.

The arguments over the timing of the new millennium, thetime of the sunrise and the exact location could well have been discarded asacademic. The logic of raising these points can also be questioned if thisunique opportunity had been beneficial to all. But that was precisely thepoint. There are far greater and serious issues involved in allowing thisincorrectly nomenclature event on the tiny island of Katchal, says experts fromSANE, who was the first to realise the problems with an event of this nature.Therer are only 12 thousand local resident population of Katchal, and amongthem nearly 4 thousand of these are form Nicobar Islands. The impact of suddenappearance of an additional 20 thousand outsiders on this island for a day ortwo which if very small in size can well be imagined.

Anyone can imagine howmuch of the geological life would be disturbed, more than 500 acres of forestsmight be mangroves or anything else should be cut down for the sake of just oneor two days.  Acharya points out thatthis could create a huge health hazard. The presence of 20,000 people meansthat a minimum of 20 to 30 thousand kg of human excreta and thousands of litresof liquid waste will be added to the local environment and this will be inaddition to unknown quantities of other solid waste like paper and plastic, toname the common ones.From Pankaj’s lecture we can deduce some more insights likethere is a very huge risk for the vegetation, animal life and also human lifewho make their living on Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the best example is the2004 earthquake, we are aware of the loss it caused in indian coastal areaslike Vishakhapatnam, Chennai whereas one can imagine the effect of thisearthquake on a small areas like Andaman and Nicobar who’s epicentre is anIsland called Sumathra which is very few kilometres from Andaman and NicobarIslands. One more interesting insight is about the wild life which is onlyvisible or existed in only Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands, few examplesare Andaman pep wiper, Nicobari fowl, Jaint Ledopath (locally called tractorkatchuva), jaint coconut crab(one the biggest crabs in the world), mud skipperand Andaman embroid geco. And the other interesting point is its mangrove forestsand breathing roots of these trees which is major part of a coastline and alsoa most neglected one in our country and under water life of corral leaf.

Healso raised some interesting points like if we consume the way we do now andmost importantly the way we dispose them in oceans and seas, by 2050 the oceansmight have more plastic than that of living fish. So, I think it’s time we needto be cautious about what we are doing either it might be for our enjoyment orentertainment or it might be for the cause of development and how our works areeffecting our surrounding and also socio-political and ecological behaviours ofour environment and start contributing also to environment’s and ecologicallife around us.


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