It was triggered by a petition filed before the Circuit Bench in May 1999 by Shyamali Ganguli, a lawyer in Port Blair. The petitioner sought directions to the Andaman and Nicobar administration to improve the lives of the Jarawas and bring them to the mainstream, similar to what had been done with the Great Andamanese and the Onge, the other indigenous communities on the islands. It was clearly the wrong solution sought, because both these communities are today on the verge of being wiped out, primarily because of attempts to `civilise' and `mainstream' them. The trajectory of the case changed dramatically following an intervention by the Port Blair-based Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE), which argued that if the petitioner's demands were accepted, it would mean the end of the road for the Jarawas (Frontline, August 31, 2001).
The court established an expert committee to go into the details of the matter as a first step in the formulation of a policy for the Jarawas. The expert committee submitted its report in July 2003 (Frontline, December 5, 2003). As directed by the High Court, two seminars were organised in Kolkata on April 7 and 8, 2004, and Port Blair on May 27 and 28 where experts, non-governmental organisations and individuals deliberated on issues relating to the Jarawas and their well-being.
The end product of the process was the formulation and finalisation of the policy that has been acknowledged as a significantly progressive document, except on the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road, where the policy actually stands in violation of the Supreme Court's orders.
The objectives of the policy have been articulated as follows:
* to protect the Jarawas from the harmful effects of exposure and contact with the outside world while they are not physically, socially and culturally prepared for such interface;
* to preserve the social organisation, mode of subsistence and cultural identity of the Jarawa community;
* to provide medical help to the Jarawas to reduce mortality and morbidity in case of their sudden affliction with diseases which their systems are unaccustomed to;
* to conserve the ecology and environment of the Jarawa Reserve Territory and strengthen support systems in order to enable the Jarawas to pursue their traditional modes of subsistence and way of life;
* to sensitise settler communities around the Jarawas habitat and personnel working for the protection and preservation of the Jarawas about the need to preserve this ancient community and to value their unique culture and life style.
The policy further elaborates six strategies/guidelines to meet the above objectives under the broad categories of Protection of Cultural Identity; Protection of Natural Habitat; Protection of Health Status; Regulation of Traffic on Andaman Trunk Road; Codification of Jarawa language and Institutional Arrangements.
The policy advocates `maximum autonomy to the Jarawas with minimum and regulated intervention' by the government when needed. It says that the Jarawas will be allowed `to develop according to their own genius' and that no attempts will be made either to mainstream them or rehabilitate them on other islands. Under the strategies for the protection of the natural habitat, the policy is clear that no encroachments will be tolerated in the Jarawa territory, that no natural resources will be extracted from the Jarawa reserve even by government agencies and that no attempt will be made `to curtail, reduce or to acquire land' from the notified Jarawa territory.
While there can be no denying that the policy is a significant and positive step forward, its real value can be gauged only when it is implemented. Reports and feedback from the ground, however, indicate that the policy is still only a piece of paper that reads and means well.