Friday, September 28, 2007

LTC Tourism under fire

The Light of Andamans :: Issue 36 :: 24 Sept 2007
By Staff Reporter

In the aftermath of tsunami, tourism industry had hit the nadir. The hotel
occupancy had dropped to zero. The central government came to the rescue of the islands by extending the Leave Travel Concession to Andamans. The employees of Public Sector Undertakings could go to Andamans by air instead of their home towns. The employees lapped up the opportunity to travel by air – a rare chance in the lives of many of them.
The hotels offered discounts to the extent of 60% - just to survive. The LTC tourists were unable to pay more. But soon the things started to sour.Unscrupulous traders and travel agents on the mainland jumped into the fray.They found out short cuts to siphon off public money in connivance with the PSU employees. Airlines were willing partners in it. Deal Code came into existence. The employee could manage to earn about Rs 5000 per return ticket worth Rs 27300. He could make some more through fake bills for journey to Diglipur, Havelock and other places. This way, he could take home Rs 25000 after a trip to Port Blair.
Local taxi and autowallahs have hired flats at Lamba Line and Dollyganj. The tourists come, stay put in a jam-packed flat 20-25 in each, eat in roadside eateries, collect fake travel bills and return after two days. They come with names and phone numbers of the phoney agents to contact at Port Blair. They do not hire the services of any tour operator. 70-75% air travellers these days are LTC tourists. Local people don't get tickets even at the full fare. Neither the local ticketing agent nor the hotels/lodges nor travel agents get any business out of these tourists.
G. Dinakaran, President Andaman Nicobar Tourism Guild was fuming when LoA contacted him. He was positive that the industry would sustain and 'sustain very well' if the LTC tourism was stopped tomorrow. "LTC is driving away the upper-end tourists. Airfare is the largest component of a trip to Andamans. Once the 70% load is taken off the airlines, genuine, upper-end tourists would flock to the islands as tickets would be available for Rs 4000-6000. Now, one is not sure if he would get even the full fare ticket. The occupancy in hotels has gone down since the LTC people don't go to hotels.
They rarely travel. They don't buy air tickets. It was a boon that has turned into a bane for the industry in the islands. "In the short run there will be some problem for a few months. But the business will pick up. The prospects are very bright. But if we delay, the damage would be permanent. Prospective tourists would strike off Andaman Islands from their itinerary" said Dinakaran. He agreed that one can't stop
anybody from coming to the islands as a tourist. "Let them come. But come to visit the place like others do. Not to make money and dupe the exchequer" explained Dinakaran. He also said that they trade delegation had an audience with the Lt. Governor who expressed his inability in the matter. The Guild and the Chamber of Commerce had taken up the matter with the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. If nothing came out of it, they were prepared to file a PIL, said Dinakaran. "We are prepared to come out into the streets and launch an agitation to save the industry" "There is no dearth of genuine upper-end Indian and foreign tourists. The LTC people are pushing them out. They do not get the services they are prepared to pay for" said Ashraf Ali, an hotelier.
"LTC Tourism is killing the industry. Andaman is the only destination in the world where the tourists make money" said M. Vinod, President Association of Tour Operators of Andaman. The local people too have turned against the LTC tourists as the prices are going up, the quality of food in small restaurants have gone down and above all, they have pushed up the cost of air travel.
The tourism industry has launched a campaign and it is determined to go to any length to salvage the industry. It might take an ugly turn if nothing is done to stem the tide in time.

Contact: Zubair Ahmed. Email:

Images of LTC tourism from the islands
Pics by Pankaj Sekhsaria

To Viper Island

At North Bay
Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island
Corbyn's Cove, Port Blair
Redskin Island, Marine National Park, Wandoor

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Snow, dykes and Scottish pines

Vignettes from the diary of a climate change tourist.

The vast panorama of the higher Alps that lines the northern horizon has very little white on it. I had been on this ridge 10 years ago. I had camped overnight to wake up to a glorious view: stark white snow peaks in a crystal blue sky.

Drumbeat of panic?: Green activists condemn inaction on the climate crisis.
I am on the last leg of my journey, sitting in a cafĂ© on Bahnhoffstrasse in Zurich. After two months of travelling around Europe I realise I’ve been a climate-change tourist. A melee of images has been imprinted on my mind. I am at once be mused, alarmed and hugely fascinated by the drumbeat of panic that’s beginning to pound on the streets of Europe. But the subject is complex and the interpretation fraught. I’ll leave this to the experts. For now here are some snippets from a tramp abroad. Celebrating wilderness

I am in Scotland at the Outsider Festival, the first midsummer environmental festival of its kind. I was told Crowded House and KT Turnstall would be playing, and that in the midst of Scottish wilderness at the 36,000 acre Rothiemurchus Estate, I would meet fun people representing key British environmental issues.

I am here on invitation by the British Council, to present a tropical approach to environmental action, more specifically, a way of life and work relating to plants, people and forests of the Western Ghats of India. I’ve brought a sari for the occasion but find myself instead padded in woollens and wellies. The point however is this, it’s pouring, flooding in fact, in various parts of Britain, but still, 10,000 people, have come to Rothiemurchus on a midsummer jaunt.

The two-day environment forum has brought some interesting personalities: Jeremy Leggett of Solar Century (formerly of Green Peace) whose columns in the Guardian I’ve read; Will Whitehorn of Virgin Galactic, space tourism expert (and spokesperson for Virgin’s CEO Richard Branson); Lord David Steel, founder of the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party and several others. During a panel discussion chaired by Kirsty Wark of BBC Scotland titled “Climate Change: can we walk our green talk?” I listen to Will Whitehorn make claims that space technology could be used to feed the world, and that the use of satellites has increased the world food supply by 15 per cent. The rest of the panel and the audience counterpoint this fiercely. I gag at the brazen idea of promoting space tourism to raise £250 million for a space technology project, at only $100,000 a trip.

End of the sessions, we tumble out to the muddy fields. Crowded House is playing. The music is good but my feet ache and I’m cold. The base beat builds in power. At 100 metres away from the music stage, my heart threatens to violently leap out. Forgotten what high decibel stuff does to the system. I wonder what the capercailies are feeling out there in the Caledonian wilderness.

Suddenly, I’m grabbed in the arm by Philippa Grant, wife of Johnnie Grant, the 10th Laird of Rothiemurchus, who says enthusiastically, but you must see the land. We pile into a Land Rover and I am whisked away through a mysterious land in the pouring rain. This is the stuff of Gaelic legend, of castles and lochs and desolate mountains and endless mist (with a rock festival thumping in its valley!).

The capercailie, a large reclusive ground nesting bird, has been reintroduced into the Rothiemurchus Forest, one of the largest remnants of pine woods that once covered most of Scotland. The Caledonian Pines we see are more than 100 years old, some as old as 300. There are osprey and red deer here. We drive on a trail through bog woodlands, rare habitats that formed over 5000 years on waterlogged peat. We see ancient and twisted juniper: relics of a bygone era. Compared to the 100 million year old tropical forests, these woodlands are mere infants; they arrived with the retreat of the ice under 10,000 years ago. Now less than one per cent of their original extent, the regeneration of the Caledonian woodland is a precious thing.

But like everywhere, the climate is changing. There is hardly any snow on the fells anymore. Maybe in the future, they will grow rice in Scotland. What are the implications for a cold climate when it warms? Surely not that bad, some people think. But imagine if tropical mosquitoes could breed year round in these bogs. Would we need to take anti-malarial pills before heading out here in the future? What if some new fungus attacked the Scots Pine? Or if broad-leaved trees moved north? Where will these magnificent woodlands go then? Into the North Sea?

Anyway, Britain has recorded an unprecedented number of emigrants this year. The Brits are leaving their precious island home in droves. Most likely, they all want to go to Spain. Maybe they’ll recolonise India, a favourite ex-colony of theirs. Is it the rain that’s driving them away? Can’t be the government surely!

Sun stroke in Switzerland

I am on a high ridge in southern Switzerland with some friends, way above those great looping lakes of Ticcino. The vista is spectacular but I am troubled on two fronts today. The first is the heat: 39°. I get a mild sunstroke after six hours of walking. My friends are incredulous. Secondly, the vast panorama of the higher Alps that lines the northern horizon has very little white on it. I have been on this ridge 10 years ago. In fact I had camped overnight to wake up to a full sweep of stark white snow peaks in a crystal blue sky. Today, it is searingly hot and there is no snow on the mountains.

I hear the Swiss are experimenting with wrapping some glaciers in white plastic foil to insulate them against the rising summer temperatures. They are also building fibreglass caves so that tourists can still enjoy the experience of being inside a glacier. They even have ski lifts to several glaciers because they have receded by many kilometres and it’s a pain to walk so far. I’ve also heard that they are spraying artificial snow on popular ski runs like Zermatt (and 65 per cent of Austrian ski runs), because they need to have at least 20 centimetres of snow to ski.

There is no longer a guarantee that snow will fall in winter for elevations up to 2,000 metres. So they make the snow instead, with huge machines that convert water into snow with the help of bacteria that form the condensation nuclei. This, with the help of giant fans, is then sprayed out onto the mountain sides (costing millions of euros and a huge amount of electricity). Apparently the snow is nice and dense, which is great for skiing. Apparently it is terrible for the soil. And apparently, it needs to be kept cool by spreading tons of fertilizer on it (which will get washed eventually into the rivers which incidentally, have been successfully cleaned up). I hear the ski runs with real snow advertise themselves with signs declaring “we still have natural snow”.

But, a mere 20 cm of snow is quite dangerous for skiing, especially for the new breed of snow machines that operate on the slopes nowadays. Rocks and boulders and other “hindrances” could cripple a speeding skier. So the slopes have to be first bulldozed to get them smooth and even, before spreading the artificial snow. The ski resorts above Zermatt are now, I’m told, free of natural rock formations.

Photo: AP

Save the snow: An insulating cover to protect the ice from melting in the Alps.

Soon they will make snow at 4°plus. Now that winters will rarely go into the minus, why not just make snow at higher temperatures, so that ski buffs can continue their winter sports?

I don’t ski but I do enjoy mountains, especially their flora. Plants are good indicators of climate change. I observed that tropical palms had spread into the Ticcino woods naturally. Once planted in Lugano gardens for ornamental reasons (because they could withstand the relatively mild Ticcino winters), now they can germinate on their own outdoors. This is perfect Borassus country now. They are getting their toehold in the Lower Alps and soon will sway above the chestnut canopy. The glaciers will have gone and there will be palms here instead.

Raise high the dykes

The Dutch are busy with their dykes. They are fattening them at the base and also raising them. I saw some dyke building when my ferry nosed into the harbour at Hoek van Holland. Way off in the distance was a great long fresh mud pile. Like the sloping rim of a giant plate.

Not only are they protecting themselves from sea-level rise but they are doing some internal earthwork too. They are widening their floodplains along the rivers and making more internal dykes. This is to contain the floodwater from further upstream in Germany and Switzerland. My friends in Randwyk will lose their view of the river from their upstairs windows. They will be dyked in soon.

The Dutch are thinking about their housing as well. One solution is to encourage people to have houseboats. They already have a long tradition of houseboats so this would be quite easy, requiring little technological change. The other is to build houses with some kind of a sliding mechanism, on poles. These can then rise and fall with the water level, like a yo-yo.

I have a Flying Dutchwoman for a friend in Amsterdam. Her main occupation is to hang in the air from buildings, roofs, kites and cranes to create beautiful shapes in striking clothes. One day she’s a mermaid, another day a Carmen. Her second task is to toss seed balls into alleys, vacant plots, pavement cracks and industrial areas. These seed balls contain a variety of seeds of native species in some compost and manure. They land in a crack in a pavement, or under a graffiti filled brick wall, and germinate. She wants to diversify the urban landscape and bring back wildlife and natural beauty. Moreover, resurgent vegetation will help to sink excess water flow when it happens.

Decline of the West

I go to Germany on a whim, on the trail of Oswald Spengler, a man I’ve been intrigued by for some years now. He lived from 1880-1936 and it seems, didn’t move from his armchair. Yet he spun the most interesting ideas on the subject of history. His book, Der Untergang des Abendlandes or The Decline of the West, catapulted him to fame. To notoriety actually. Many controversies ensued. He dismissed the Weimar republic as a “mere business enterprise” and predicted a new Caesarism. He described Zivilization as a final declining phase of a culture, an age of empire and megalopolis signifying severance from the roots, a disproportionate development of artefact. He called his work “a philosophy of fate”. The Nazi regime declared him a magician and a sadist. I find a bust of his in a museum in Berlin. Spengler is in good company. Next to him is Alfred Wegener, who first proposed the theory of continental drift.

I travel from Berlin to Bayreuth (home of Wagner), then the Frankische Alps (with its extraordinary limestone formations) and finally to the idyllic Black Forest, to stay with friends who run a beautiful guesthouse called Haus Sonne. Everything here is organic, solar or wind powered. Christian and Eva travel only by public transport. They walk and cycle big distances.

Christian leads me on an amazing walk at breakneck speed through the Black Forest. I learn some crazy things on a steep ridge overlooking the Rhine graben. Christian planted an avocado seed recently. The European climatic zones are shifting northwards so he may be able to grow tropical fruit trees. The Black Forest is now in a “changing weather zone”. The steady high pressures of July and August are now replaced by extreme fluctuations. This week, we’ve seen both floods and heat waves. Fifteen years ago, the idea of February without snow, was absurd. Now February arrives without snow.

We walk to Schonau, Germany’s ecological capital, where most houses sport solar rooves and most heating is done with woodchips or sawdust pressed into bricks. But still more fuel is needed. Local farmers want to convert vast areas of the countryside to bio-fuel from wheat, rye and vegetable production (though they prefer to import palm oil cheaply from Indonesia where the rainforest is being cleared for this). The incentive for food production is currently low, whereas excitement builds over the possibilities for bio-fuel. Rapeseed, grasses, fast growing trees: all GM. The fertilizer and chemical companies are thrilled.

While 80 per cent of energy employees in Germany work in renewables now, there is scepticism among people like Christian who have been sounding the alarm bell since the 1980s. He says: here we are, a society with more knowledge at its fingertips than ever before, with still the same old consciousness. What is the difference between consumerism and ethical consumerism? None, none at all.

Homeward Bound

My feelings about Europe remain ambivalent. I feel lost here, even when I enjoy myself. This time I can’t help feeling I’m in a wild burlesque. I’ve lost sight of the real and entered a dream. Clearly I’m fully implicated, involved.

Like yesterday, when I walked the Zurich streets with 800,000 others at the Techno-festival, I was enormously entertained. What a laugh! What a glorious (but deafening) spectacle. Illusion piled upon illusion. I was sure saturation point was reached, a planetary dead end, begging for collapse. It would be nice if collapse, while it happens, could be a festive occasion with transvestites and dread-heads leading the way. But I think rather, it’s going to be a long haul, a slow one. We’ll be stretched to our human and earthly limits. There’s bound to be pain. How much and to whom remain to be seen.

Something Einstein said nags me: a problem cannot be solved by the mind that created it.

Can this climate crisis be solved by the modern industrial mind and its following? Somehow, I doubt it.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Threatened Languages

Languages Threatened
Associated Press
September 18, 2007 posted 2:54 pm EDT

WASHINGTON - When every known speaker of the language Amurdag gets together, there's still no one to talk to. Native Australian Charlie Mangulda is the only person alive known to speak that language, one of thousands around the world on the brink of extinction. From rural Australia to Siberia to Oklahoma, languages that embody the history and traditions of people are dying, researchers said today.

While there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts struggling to save at least some of them. Five hotspots where languages are most endangered were listed today in a briefing by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society.

In addition to northern Australia, eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and the American Southwest, many native languages are endangered in South America — Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia — as well as the area including British Columbia, and the states of Washington and Oregon.

Losing languages means losing knowledge, says an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, K. David Harrison. "When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday."

As many as half of the current languages have never been written down, he estimated.

That means, if the last speaker of many of these vanished tomorrow, the language would be lost because there is no dictionary, no literature, no text of any kind, he said.

Mr. Harrison is associate director of the Living Tongues Institute based in Salem, Ore. He and institute director Gregory D.S. Anderson analyzed the top regions for disappearing languages. Mr. Anderson said languages become endangered when a community decides that its language is an impediment. The children may be first to do this, he explained, realizing that other more widely spoken languages are more useful.

The key to getting a language revitalized, he said, is getting a new generation of speakers. He said the institute worked with local communities and tries to help by developing teaching materials and by recording the endangered language.

Mr. Harrison said that the 83 most widely spoken languages account for about 80 percent of the world's population while the 3,500 smallest languages account for just 0.2 percent of the world's people. Languages are more endangered than plant and animal species, he said.

The hot spots listed at today's briefing:

— Northern Australia, 153 languages. The researchers said aboriginal Australia holds some of the world's most endangered languages, in part because aboriginal groups splintered during conflicts with white settlers. Researchers have documented such small language communities as the three known speakers of Magati Ke, the three Yawuru speakers and the lone speaker of Amurdag.

— Central South America including Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia — 113 languages. The area has extremely high diversity, very little documentation and several immediate threats. Small and socially less-valued indigenous languages are being knocked out by Spanish or more dominant indigenous languages in most of the region, and by Portuguese in Brazil.

— Northwest Pacific Plateau, including British Columbia in Canada and the states of Washington and Oregon in America, 54 languages. Every language in the American part of this hotspot is endangered or moribund, meaning the youngest speaker is over age 60. An extremely endangered language, with just one speaker, is Siletz Dee-ni, the last of 27 languages once spoken on the Siletz reservation in Oregon.

— Eastern Siberian Russia, China, Japan — 23 languages. Government policies in the region have forced speakers of minority languages to use the national and regional languages and, as a result, some have only a few elderly speakers.

— Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico — 40 languages. Oklahoma has one of the highest densities of indigenous languages in America. A moribund language of the area is Yuchi, which may be unrelated to any other language in the world. As of 2005, only five elderly members of the Yuchi tribe were fluent.

The research is funded by the Australian government, U.S. National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society and grants from foundations.
On the Net:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Satyagraha For The Teesta

Protestors from across Sikkim are on hunger strike against projects on the river. NEERAJ VAGHOLIKAR reports

(Tehelka, 29 September 2007)

The Sikkim government's plans to expedite a major plumbing exercise — involving 26 large hydroelectric projects in the ecologically and culturally sensitive Teesta river basin — is meeting with resistance. Protestors have joined together in an organisation called the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT); they have been on satyagraha against these plans since June 20. The ongoing protests are focused on projects proposed in North Sikkim, particularly in Dzongu, the holy land and exclusive reserve of the Lepcha tribe. The satyagraha has been characterised by a prominent youth presence; another important feature was the support lent by the state's Buddhist monks, who have been offering prayers to protect the satyagrahis and the sacred landscape threatened with desecration.

While Sikkim has seen dam-related protests before, there have never been any on this scale. The 1990s saw the construction of the 60MW Rangit project, clearances for the 510MW Teesta V project (currently under construction) and the scrapping of the Rathong Chu project following protests about its impact on a sacred landscape. But in the last three years, the state government has signed MOUs for no less than 26 large hydroelectric projects in the state.

On December 12, 2006, ACT met Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. They demanded the scrapping of the projects in Dzongu, and sought a review of the other projects in Sikkim. Based on an assurance from the CM that these issues would be looked into, they called off a proposed rally in Gangtok. But ACT's concerns were not addressed and in the months preceding the satyagraha, the state government started land acquisition procedures for the 1200MW Teesta III and the 280MW Panan projects, both of which involve construction work inside Dzongu. This was the last straw and ACT started its satyagraha on June 20, with 34-year-old Dawa Lepcha and 20- year-old Tenzing Lepcha on an indefinite fast, while others supported them with a relay hunger strike.

The arguments used to justify these large projects in Sikkim are: exploitation of the state's perennial water system to produce power for the nation; economic benefits to the state through power export; employment generation and low displacement of local communities. However, several unique features of the state — its ecological and geological fragility, its indigenous communities, their cultural and spiritual association with the river system and the landscape — pose a challenge to these ambitious plans.

The erstwhile kings of Sikkim had accorded special legal protection to Dzongu and North Sikkim, further reinforced after the merger with India through constitutional protection of old laws and traditions. "The spurt of large hydel projects in Sikkim is in direct contradiction of the constitutional and legal protection given to us. The simultaneous construction of so many projects is going to involve an influx of a huge number of outside labour for a long period of time. These demographic changes are going to have a serious socio cultural impact, particularly in North Sikkim. We want the seven proposed projects in Dzongu scrapped and others in Sikkim reviewed," says Dawa Lepcha of ACT.

The ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF), while granting environmental clearance to the 510MW Teesta V project in 1999 asked for a detailed 'carrying capacity' study of the entire Teesta river basin. The clearance letter states: "No other project in Sikkim will be considered for environmental clearance till the carrying capacity study is completed."

Pemzang Tenzing, a civil engineer and ACT member, says: "We were hopeful that this process would enable a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact of the many proposed hydel projects and a serious options assessment for ecologically and culturally sensitive development in Sikkim. But even as the study is being finalised, the MOEF has already granted environmental clearance to at least six hydel projects in Sikkim since 2004 in violation of its own condition." At least two of these — the 1,200 MW Teesta III and the 280 MW Panan — are on the border of the Khangchendzonga National Park. A large part of the first is, in fact, inside the biosphere reserve and the second involves carrying out ancillary works inside the national park in violation of Supreme Court orders.

Tenzing adds, "Even as per official figures, the projects involve diverting up to 85-90 percent of the river flow in the lean season through long tunnels before the water is dropped downstream. Not only will this destroy the riverine ecology but a cascade of projects will mean the Teesta is in full flow only in brief stretches between the two hydel projects. That is why we are saying that the Teesta is being converted into an underground river."

There have been repeated appeals from the state government to withdraw the satyagraha and at least six rounds of talks were held between the government and ACT, but none led to a conclusive breakthrough. After a personal appeal from the CM, Dawa and Tenzing withdrew their indefinite fast on August 21 after 63 days, but the satyagraha continues with the relay hunger strike by other members.

On September 6, the government informed ACT that a seven-member review committee is being set up to "examine various issues related to implementation of hydel projects in Dzongu area of North Sikkim" and that until the submission of a report by the committee within 100 days all activities related to five projects in Dzongu would be stopped with immediate effect. The government has conveniently left out two major projects directly impacting Dzongu — TeestaIII & Teesta IV. While it has chosen to leave out Teesta III where land acquisition procedures have been on, four of the five projects it claims to stop work on are yet to get necessary clearances to start work. On September 10, ACT rejected this proposition and renewed the demand for scrapping all hydel projects in Dzongu.

During this entire period there has been tremendous support to the satyagrahis from around the country and the world. The Lepchas in the Darjeeling hills have also lent their support to the cause, with a road blockade of NH31A as well as ongoing relay hunger strikes in Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Opposition parties have also taken up the issue, but this has been conveniently used by the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front government to dismiss the entire protest as being "politically motivated". In a speech on Independence Day, the CM made personal attacks on several individuals associated with the protests, including respected Buddhist monk Sonam Paljor Denjongpa. The attack was condemned even by those who support the hydel projects.

Sikkim's Information and Public Relations secretary MG Kiran says: "We do not yet know what their (ACT's) problem is. These are benign projects and we can handle them well." It is ironic that just a few months ago, the state Chief Secretary admitted to an environmental governance crisis in the 510MW Teesta V project in an affidavit to the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee. The affidavit says the power company has "grossly violated the terms, conditions and guidelines" of the MOEF and dumped excavated material "into the river Teesta obstructing its free flow causing thereby huge damage to the forest and environment."

Friday, September 21, 2007




Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 103 (2-3), May-Dec 2006 390-392



The Andamans has four tribal reserves, one each in the name of its negrito communities; the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese. They were created under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR) - 1956, and cover an area of nearly 1,500 sq. km, 25% of the Andaman islands. The largest chunk here is the 700 sq. km Jarawa Reserve followed by the 520 sq. km Ian Onge Reserve on Little Andaman Island. Additionally, 3-5 km of the sea adjoining these land areas, too have been protected as tribal reserves: marine protected areas that are yet to be measured, but could easily be a couple of 1,000 sq. km. Significantly and unlike PAs such as Interview Island the forests of the tribal reserves have never ever been subjected to any kind of extractive, exploitative, or destructive activity. The sole inhabitants of these reserves are the hunter-gatherer, forest dwelling communities that have lived in complete harmony and equilibrium with these forests for thousands of years. If undisturbed, these pristine areas are crucial for long term conservation and the maintenance of viable gene pools, the importance of these Tribal Reserves cannot be emphasised enough. This paper is about the Andaman Islands alone, though by extension it is very easily applicable in the Nicobars too. In fact 100 % of the 1800 odd sq. km of the Nicobar Islands have been designated as tribal reserves.

Key words: Andaman Islands, Tribal Reserves, biodiversity

Some of the best mangroves in the Andaman islands are found in the Jarawa Tribal Reserve

THE ANDAMAN ISLANDS are a land where some of the best forests are those that are protected for and in the name of human communities. These are the hotspots within the hotspot; substantial chunks of tropical rainforests that have never been subjected to development or commercial threats; repositories of biological wealth that have never been surveyed, let alone documented. Here are the beaches on which endangered sea turtles have been nesting for aeons and also the creeks and the mangroves where the endangered Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) still survive in significant numbers. The forests here are home to innumerable species of plants and animals, including endemics like the Andaman Day Gecko (Phelsuma andamanense), the Andaman Serpent-Eagle (Spilornis elgini), the Andaman Teal (Anas gibberifrons) and the Andaman Wild Pig.

The endemic Andaman Day Gecko

The latter two are extremely threatened and the Andaman Teal, in fact, is considered amongst the rarest of ducks in the world. These forests, importantly, are also home to a set of remarkable, but very vulnerable and threatened human communities. Put together, one is talking of a landscape that is a repository of a priceless natural and human heritage rolled into one. The areas in question are the four tribal reserves, one each in the name of the four negrito communities of the Andamans: the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese; all created in the late 1950s under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR)- 1956. The Jarawa Reserve covers more than 700 sq. km on South and Middle Andaman Islands; the Onge Reserve is spread over 520 sq. km on the island of Little Andaman; and the entire island of North Sentinel of about 50 sq. km is reserved exclusively for the Sentinelese. Put together they constitute nearly 20% of the 6500 odd sq. km of the total land in the Andamans and protect within them the finest forests and biodiversity that the islands support. At least 3-5 km of the sea adjoining these forests too have been protected as tribal reserves: marine protected areas that are nearly 1000 sq. km in their spread. This is, in fact, the only legal protection accorded to the coral reefs found off the western coast of the Jarawa Reserve. These are considered to be among the finest reefs in the Andamans and till date no one has surveyed or studied them in great detail.

It is also significant to note that large areas of forests in the islands, including those that are wildlife sanctuaries and national parks today, have been exploited for timber at some point in the last 100 years of continued extraction operations here. Not the forests of the tribal reserves though, primarily, because the indigenous communities never allowed any such extractive and extremely destructive uses of their forest homes. In the conflict ridden conservation landscape of the country, here is an example where the needs of biological and environmental conservation and those of human communities overlap neatly. The negrito communities in the Andamans have lived in harmony with their forests and natural resources for a few thousand years. However, if one looks at the history of these islands over the last four decades or so, one gets a completely different picture. When first created in the 1950s, the tribal reserves were, in fact, much larger than what they are today. In the 1970s substantial chunks of the tribal reserves were denotified to facilitate the process of the colonisation of these lands by populations from mainland India and for the exploitation of valuable resources, primarily timber.

This was the ideal recipe for the destruction of the forests and history is witness to this fact. Two denotifications in the 1970s took away about 200 sq. km of pristine forests from the Onge Reserve and turned it over for clear felling, settling of people from mainland India, timber extraction and the creation of plantations and agricultural fields. Similarly, the pristine Jarawa Reserve too was reduced to allow timber operations and the construction of the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR).

At Jirkatang, where the ATR enters the Jarawa Tribal Reserve, A 1998 photo

Traffic continues on the ATR inside the Jarawa Tribal Reserve inspite of Supreme Court orders to close down the road

The eastern side of the road was then handed over for large scale timber extraction operations. The consequences are visible for all to see. The canopy and the evergreen character in this denotified part is gone, the Andaman Wild Pig, the largest mammal in the islands is found here no more, aggressive aliens that thrive in deciduous and dry conditions are taking over, sea turtles can no longer nest on beaches as sand has been mined away, coral reefs in the adjoining oceans have been physically affected and also choked by erosion, groundwater acquifiers have been depleted and the hydrological cycle has been adversely impacted.

Towards the west, separated by the ATR, lie the forests that are still protected as the Jarawa Reserve. One has to only stand on this ATR and look either way. On one hand, we see how the Jarawa use and protect their forests. On the other side, is evidence of the destruction that we have wrought upon this fragile and priceless forest ecosystem. If left undisturbed, these large pristine areas are crucial for long term conservation and the maintenance of viable gene pools, the importance of these Tribal Reserves cannot be emphasised enough (See Appendix 1). It does not take much to realise that the indigenous communities have little, if any impact at all, on these forests. They are the ones who have protected these forests from being destroyed by the outside world. What is critical to understand in this context then, is that the survival of these communities is as critically dependant on the forests, as the forests themselves are dependant on the indigenous communities. These tribal cultures and societies are intricately linked with the forests and it is they who have ensured their complete protection and conservation. Lands that are being protected in the name of and for the indigenous peoples in these islands are as important, probably more important, than the officially designated system for the protection of the biological wealth here. Only, ‘protection’ will have to be defined and understood differently from how we do it presently. This protection is not being accorded from the outside, as it happens in all PAs. Here it is these people who are protecting themselves and their forests from extremely destructive external forces. The concept of ‘threat’, then, just like that of protection, too needs to be redefined. Here it is the tribal people and their forests that are threatened by the outside world. The populations of forest dwelling hunter-gatherer communities are never very large, but they need a basic minimum area for subsistence. The same has always been true of the Andaman negritos. A massive colonisation scheme in which thousands of mainland families were settled in the islands has over the years completely skewed the balance against the interests of the tribals. While the population of all the negrito communities in the islands is only about 500 individuals, that of the outsiders has climbed to nearly 4,00,000. The pressure that these people exert on the forests resources like fresh water and the indigenous people themselves can well be imagined.

In the timber yard at Hut Bay, Little Andaman Island, the home of the Onge. A 1998 picture

Timber extraction from forests adjoining the Jarawa Tribal Reserve, Baratang, A 1998 picture

It is also not just the physical destruction of the forests and the take over of tribal lands that is threatening these communities. The dominant civilisation does not even try to understand, let alone respect the culture, the way of life and the system of knowledge of these people. Communities like the Jarawa take just as much as they need, achieving a system that is probably as close to one of balance and equilibrium as one can think of. Their needs are limited and therefore the exploitation of the forests and the resources by them is limited.

A recent, preliminary study has revealed that the Jarawa have knowledge of about 150 species of plants and trees and over 350 species of fauna. Many of these are directly used by them in their material culture, as food or as medicine. This is an excellent indicator of the knowledge that the Jarawas have, as well as that of the diversity of the forest itself. For the Jarawa, this knowledge is important if they are to ensure survival. The wider the base from which they can extract their survival needs, the better their chances. And that is where the conservation of the systems and the diversity become important as well. The same is also true of the Sentinelese and the Onge. The Jarawas, the Onge and the Sentinelese can certainly protect and save themselves and their forests, but they need some help from the outside. Not drastic intervention, not surgical incisions, but something far simpler. The tribal reserves in the islands are, without doubt, the most significant repositories of the islands biodiversity. The system for their management and protection, however, needs to be diametrically opposite to the principles and philosophies that are the basis of the protected area network of the country today. The protection of these forests and diversity cannot be divorced from the indigenous communities that live there. Their ownership and primary right over the forests has to be accepted first. That is far easier said than done, but it has to be done. Their lands and forests have to be protected at all costs, even restored to them from whom they were taken away. Cultural interaction has to be regulated, it has to be extremely sensitive and in situations, even reduced to a bare minimum. There has to be an explicit recognition of their way of life, a respect for their traditions and knowledge, and an acknowledgement that they are our most important partners in the conservation of a unique natural heritage: the forests of the Andaman Islands.


A statistical overview of biological diversity of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands The Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal are an internationally recognised hot spot for biological diversity, with over 3552 species of flowering plants (223 species endemic), 5,100 species of animals (100 freshwater, 2847 terrestrial, 503 endemic) and 4508 marine species (220 endemic), 52 species of mammals (33 endemic), 244 species and subspecies of birds (96 endemic) and 111 species of amphibians and reptiles (66 endemic).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Images of Tourism - Andamans

Just returned from the Andamans after a four week trip.
Here are a few images of tourists and tourism from places around Port Blair

At North Bay

Visiting Viper Island

The ruins on Ross Island

Redskin Island, Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park

Redskin Island, Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Andaman Tourism plan backfiring?

PORT BLAIR, India, Sept 9 (Reuters) - A flood of low-budget tourists since the 2004 tsunami is hurting India's ecologically fragile Andaman and Nicobar islands and ruining plans to make it a top global destination, industry officials said.

It has drained scarce resources such as water, sparked excessive demand for airline tickets, hit hotel revenues and created a service culture which is insensitive to the needs of wealthier travellers, they said.

The problem, officials said, is a decision to allow all levels of government and state-run firms' workers to use their paid family and home leave travel allowances, awarded every two years, to fly if they want to visit the Andamans.

That means low wage state workers were visiting -- taking up the chance to fly for the first time and visit the far-off islands -- with trips previously restricted to senior level state employees.

The islands, known for their sparkling beaches, tropical forests, coral reefs, tribal cultures and emerald Indian Ocean waters, are 1,200 km (750 miles) from the mainland, and are closer to southeast Asia than India.

However, a move to exploit this to attract more visitors and boost the economy, badly hit by the tsunami has backfired as it has overburdened the isles without raising earnings correspondingly, tourism officials said.

"For these tourists, the destination does not matter. They come because they get to fly for the first time in their lives," said Mohamed H. Jadwet, head of the Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"We also pushed for this after the tsunami but we never thought it would come to this."
A dreaded penal territory during British colonial rule, the islands have for long been a destination cloaked in mystery.

Tourism, farming and fishing are the main sources of income for the islands, which can be reached only by air or a three-day ship journey from the mainland.

The tsunami hit the isles badly, killing about 3,500 people, and displacing 40,000.
It also hurt tourism, with the number of visitors in 2005 plummeting to 32,000 from an annual average of 100,000. But the government move saw it surge to over 125,000 in 2006 and it is expected to cross 150,000 this year, officials said.


The influx, however, has not seen an increase in revenues as an estimated 80 percent are low-wage state workers.
They are drawn by travel firms on the mainland known to corner cheap airline tickets and offer them to state employees who get full fare leave travel allowance, allowing them to pocket the difference, tourism industry officials said.

"These people will not spend more than 500 rupees ($12) per day on rooms, food and sight-seeing, " said G. Bhasker, who owns a middle-level hotel and runs a travel firm in Port Blair, the quaint capital of the archipelago.

"We are not against any strata of society coming here but we also have to see what it is doing to the island's resources and the industry," he said.

Foreign visitors, often the most high-paying of visitors to India, are few and far between.
The Andamans have faced a severe water shortage this year and the rising number of tourists meant that Port Blair got 30 minutes of tap water supply once every five days this summer, residents and activists said.

Garbage disposal has become a huge problem as the sprawling town has no modern waste management system. While an airline boom has seen fares fall, they remain artificially
high for Port Blair, preventing island residents from flying and putting off regular tourists.

"We have limited tourism carrying capacity due to limited resources and that has been overstretched, " said Samir Acharya, of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology.

"Now the Andamans are badmouthed so much that genuine tourists don't want to come," he said.

(Additional reporting by Sanjib Kumar Roy)

Saturday, September 8, 2007


In a severe setback to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Supreme Court extended the term of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) till further orders. The Ministry of Environment and Forests in its affidavit stated that it was not in favour of retired as well as serving officers continuing in the CEC. The Solicitor General representing the Ministry of Environment and Forests, stated that the powers given to the CEC were such wide that it would give rise to misuse of powers to which Justice Arijit Pasayat asked the Solicitor General to state instances where the CEC has misused its powers, to which the SG had no explanation. The Supreme Court stated that the CEC is needed in order to assist it in deciding forest matters and therefore the Court is free to continue with the CEC and if the MoEF does not extend the tenure by issuing a notification under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Supreme Court can surely do it.

Harish Salve, Amicus Curiae stated that the short point of the submission of the MoEF is that the CEC has become a nuisance for the Government. According to the MoEF, the Ministry has sufficient trained scientific and trained officials who are there to render expert advise and that it is capable of ensuring implementation of the orders of the Court. It therefore submitted that ‘further continuation of the CEC under Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is no longer required.

Finally, the Court while extending the term of the CEC indefinitely directed that if there are any issues with respect to the some terms and condition, the same may be sorted out through a meeting of the Amicus Curiae and the Solicitor General.
Forest Case Update
Ritwick Dutta and Kanchi Kohli
Coordinating addresses: E-180, Greater Kailash 2, New Delhi-110048 and C-106, Sector 40, Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"...need to think beyond tiger vs tribal

Dear Friends,
The latest issue of 'Biotropica' - The Journal of The Association of
Tropical Biology and Conservation' has a paper
titled 'Conservation in India and the need to think beyond tiger vs tribal'.

If you would like to have a copy of the paper please do write me at