New Delhi, July 3: Tourists cannot step within 5km of the Jarawa reserve in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Nor can anybody — government or private — set up shop within this buffer zone.
The Supreme Court has banned all commercial and tourist activities either inside the reserve or within this 5km-radius, squashing the island administration’s attempt to dilute a notification the Union territory’s government had itself passed nearly five years ago.
In its judgment yesterday, the court interpreted the October 2007 notification that disallowed any such activity in and around the habitat of this endangered tribe.
A two-judge bench said the prohibition “contained in the notification” was “unconditional” and no commercial or tourism-related activity could be allowed within the reserved area or the buffer zone till the 2007 order was “rescinded or amended”.
The order comes around six months after the Centre directed the Andaman and Nicobar administration to probe allegations that Jarawa women were made to dance before tourists by tour operators.
According to the 2007 notification, issued by the Andaman and Nicobar principal secretary (tribal welfare), no one other than a member of the aboriginal tribe can enter the buffer zone.
The notification, issued under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956, was quashed by Calcutta High Court, following a challenge by Barefoot Inns and Leisure, which had set up a resort within 3km of the reserve.
The Union territory’s lieutenant governor then appealed to the top court, which stayed the high court’s order and asked all sides to place their views by March 8, 2010.
The top court later directed the Union territory’s administration to consider steps to stop commercial and tourism-related activities within the reserved area and the buffer zone. The government, however, submitted a proposal, which left the scope open for the administration and small establishments to carry out such activities.
It suggested that no tourist establishment except government-run ones should be permitted, and proposed that no commercial establishment that employed more than 20 persons or had an annual turnover of Rs 1 crore or more should be allowed within the buffer zone.
It also suggested that visits of tourists during day to Lime Stone Cave and mud volcanoes in the Baratang Island in the buffer zone might be continued.
Yesterday, however, the top court said the 2007 notification did not permit any relaxation. “In our view, the prohibition contained in the notification and order dated 6.11.2007 passed by (the) tehsildar, Ferrargunj, is unconditional. Therefore, till the notification is rescinded or amended, no commercial or tourism related activity can be allowed within the reserved area or the buffer zone…” Justices G.S. Singhvi and Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya said.
The reserve’s boundary line starts from Constance Bay in south Andaman to Lewis Inlet Bay in middle Andaman.