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Road curb on Andaman tourists

New Delhi, Jan. 21: The Supreme Court today restrained tourists from using the Trunk Road in Andaman and Nicobar to reach a limestone cave in an island adjoining the protected habitat of the endangered Jarawa tribals.

The court asked the administration to arrange for a helicopter service.

The road curb came six months after the court banned all commercial activities inside the Jarawa reserve or within a 5km radius of the “buffer zone” and a year since purported footage of Jarawa women being made to dance for tourists had triggered a controversy.

The Centre had later directed the Andaman and Nicobar administration to probe the allegation.

“You provide helicopter service to the tourists to reach the cave. There is a total ban in the area,” a bench headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi said, fixing February 26 for the next hearing.

The court also said only government officials, people staying in the reserved area and vehicles carrying essential commodities for the Jarawas would be allowed on the road, a part of which runs through the Jarawa habitat. No tourists or private individuals would be permitted to take the road to the cave.

The bench directed the Andaman and Nicobar administration to file an affidavit along with a detailed map indicating the area where the Jarawas live and other settlements.

The administration had earlier moved the apex court against a Calcutta High Court order that set aside a 2007 notification declaring the 5km area as a buffer zone around Jarawa habitations.

The high court had quashed the notification following a challenge by a company that had set up a resort within 3km of the reserve, whose boundary line starts from Constance Bay in south Andaman to Lewis Inlet Bay in middle Andaman.

The Union territory’s lieutenant governor had then appealed to the top court, which stayed the high court's order.

The apex court’s directives today came in the backdrop of repeated requests to the Centre by the UN Committee on the Human Rights of Indigenous People to comply with the court’s 2002 order to close the road.

The first request came in February last year in the wake of the release of the purported footage that showed tour operators directing Jarawa women to dance before tourists.

One of the recommendations of the UN committee was the Union government should “protect” tribes such as the Jarawas against “encroachment” on their land and resources by “settlers, poachers, private companies or third parties” and “implement” the 2002 order of the Supreme Court to “close” sections of the Trunk Road.

On January 17, the administration had come out with a fresh notification declaring certain areas inhabited by the Jarawas as “buffer zones”.

The apex court will now examine the notification.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TAPAS CHAKRABORTY