THE Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) connects Port Blair in South Andaman to Diglipur in North Andamans, covering nearly 340 kilometres. Across the world, road construction, particularly in rainforest areas, has been one of the biggest reasons for the destruction of forests and their indigenous residents. The story of the ATR is no different. Directly and indirectly, it has contributed to the destruction of vast areas of evergreen rainforests in the Andamans, which has severely affected the Jarawas.
Work on the road began in 1971, and it was violently opposed by the Jarawas. But the work continued and the entire stretch was completed recently. Huge amounts of money went into its construction which could have been avoided in the first place.
The ATR is a perfect example of short-sighted planning. First, it is not the best way to travel in the islands. Most of the settlements in the Andamans are situated on the coast, so the most logical and immensely cheaper mode of transport that should have been developed is marine transport.
Every year crores of rupees and large quantities of timber go into the maintenance of the road. SANE estimates that a minimum of 12,000 cubic metres of timber from the evergreen forests is burnt annually for this purpose. Compare this with the official figure of 70,000 cu m of timber that is logged in the entire islands today, and one gets a sense of the destruction caused by the ATR. There is not enough traffic on the ATR to justify such a huge expenditure.
But the question, as always, is the same: Who's listening?