Govt exploring alternate route connectivity with Nicobar

Amid a raging controversy over exploitation of Jarawa tribes, the government is exploring the possibility of having alternate connectivity with the Great Nicobar island through sea and aerial route, if the Andaman Truck Route (ATR) -- which connects the island to Port Blair -- is closed down.

ATR, which is also known as the National Highway 223, covers a distance of 300 kms and passes through the protected forest zone inhabited by Jarawa tribals.

"The problem inside is the ATR which joins Port Blair with the Greater Nicobar, passes through that area. If ATR is closed, then the alternate routes will be the sea and aerial route," Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo said.

"Helicopter service is not very practical for a large number of people who reside over there...Of course the sea route is there, but how feasible it is, whether it is an all weather route is something which needs to be looked into," he said.

"We still can have helicopter services as a kind of communication facility. But I don't think it can totally be managed with the helicopter services only. Movement of food supplies, sick people who need help and medical attention cannot be done through the aerial route only," he said.

Considered as the life-line of the Great Nicobar island, the ATR is used to run convoys of food and other essential supplies to Nicobar.

"Initially eight convoys used to be allowed in one day, now those convoys have been reduced to four. These convoys are supposed to go with security and photography is strictly prohibited," Deo said.

Asked whether government is planning to initiate some kind of trial run on these available alternate routes, the Union minister said, "We have still not taken any decision on the matter but the basic aim is to first stop exploitation of these innocent tribals by unscrupulous tour operators or those people who want to make a quick buck through this."

The Andaman and Nicobar administration has submitted a report on feasibility of using the alternate routes if the government decides to close the ATR down.

"There has been a demand for closing this ATR but a large section of people wanted to open this for practical reasons and purposes," he said.

The Jarawas recently were in the news after their reported exploitation by foreign tourists who were taken into the protected zone by tour operators in the name of human safaris.

An area over 1,000 square kilometer in Great Nicobar island has been declared as the 'protected zone' for Jarawas and tourists and tour operators are banned from that area.

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