Whether they should live in isolation, or mingle with local population

The National Advisory Council (NAC) on Wednesday asked the Tribal Affairs Ministry to consult the Jarawas, a primitive tribal group in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands who are threatened with extinction, before drafting a policy on their future — whether they should continue to live in their pristine habitat, in splendid isolation, or be allowed to mingle with the local population, the Council sources told The Hindu.

This follows concern in the NAC following a recommendation made by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration that as the Jarawas have already begun mingling with the local population, the policy of isolation should end. Earlier in the year, the NAC itself had sent an official to the island to check whether the Jarawas were being adversely affected by the droves of tourists who arrive here — there have also been fears of exploitation, including sexual exploitation — of the Jarawas.

On Wednesday, Sonia Gandhi, who heads the NAC and has a special interest in the welfare of the Jarawas, wanted a full-fledged discussion on the issue. So, Lieutenant Governor of the Islands, Lt.Gen. (retd.) Bhopinder Singh, made a presentation on the Jarawa policy adopted by the government in 2004 and the current status of the threatened tribal group.

Arvind Chugh, Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, followed it up with another presentation, as the policy is currently being reviewed by a sub-group of an Expert Committee that he heads, and which is expected to submit its recommendations within three months.

The Ministry has now been told that it must consult the Jarawas on their future before finalising their recommendations. The Andaman and Nicobar Aadam Jaati Samaj, a government organisation that works among the primitive tribal groups, also should be involved.

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh and Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed, who as members of the NAC, had jointly prepared a report on the Jarawas a few years ago, were also invited to Wednesday's deliberations. Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Chief Secretary of Andaman and Nicobar Shakti Sinha were also present.