The Andaman Trunk Road
by George Weber
For a separate article with additional information on the Andaman Trunk Road, see SANE NEWS (issue of April-May 2003)
The project of an Andaman Trunk Road had been controversial from the earliest project stage in the 1960s. Although the archipelago is eminently and obviously suited for shipping, in the 1960s and 70s motor transport was the height of fashion and every self-respecting government had to have one major "trunk road". The logging industry had no trouble persuading the ancient generals sent out to rule over the quiet Andaman islands prior to retirement that shipping was old-fashioned and motorways were the coming thing. The governors were after their last chance of glory and the loggers after the huge untapped timber ressources within the Jarawa reserve. Moreover, the borders of the Jarawa reserve had never been clearly demarkated and so could be adjusted with a minimum of fuss.
Resistance from local individuals and from the scientists of the Anthropological Survey of India was brushed aside while the Jarawas were not and could not be asked. Construction started in 1973, legally yet in breach of India's own laws. The traditions of the British penal colony are still going strong in Port Blair 50 years after independence and the Lieutenant-Governor can legally over-ride the law of the land if he feels so inclined (see the article Befriending the Jarawa in "Original Puiblications" on this Web-site).
Map of the Andaman Trunk Road
As forecast by its opponents, the road has turned out to be extremely destructive. In additional, it has also become anb enormously expensive white elephant. Nor is it really a "trunk road" but in most places merely a better class of dirt track.
A group of Jarawa women with a child walking on the Andaman Trunk Road in 2001.
Samir Acharya of SANE (Society of Andaman and Nicobar Ecology) has
made the following points (originally published in "The New Indian
Express", 18th October 1999):
(1) by applying the norms and calculation of volume of traffic, it has been found that the road is used by substantially less than 1000 persons per day. The costs of repairs alone, per day, per passenger is therefore Rs547.90. It is here that one is forced to ask: must the Jarawa be sacrificed so that a select few can enjoy the luxury of using the ATR (Andaman Trunk Road). The present (1999) passenger fare from Port Blair to Baratang is Rs45 (normal) and Rs110 (deluxe). On th eother hand, the present ferry charges are Rs18 (normal) and Rs35(deluxe).
(2) The entire road need not be closed. Only 120 kms, from Jirkatung to Kadamtala, could be cordoned off.
(3) Travellers could stay on the road up to Jirkatung and take the ferry/ship up to Rangat or Kadamtala.
A direct boat to Rangat or Mayabunder from Port Blair takes less time than the bus. It consumes less fuel per pessenger/per tonne of cargo and is cheaper tomaintain.
(4) The ships and boats available with the Administration (Directorate of Shipping) are sifficient to carry twice the number of passengers a single bus carries per day.
The road was also a mjor and perhaps the single most important element in bringing the Jarawa out of their reserve (see Chapter 1). It has drawn most unfavourable international attention to the way the local administration in cahoots with the local logging industry is ruining ruining the environment for both Indian settlers and Jarawa aborigines. Indian Courts decisions have also tried to stop the devastation but have not so far far had not had much of an impact (see Appendix N).
Today, not much has happened on the Nidnian and the Andaman Trunk Road is still offers unique opportunities for running over Jarawas while endulging in "de luxe" travel.
On the Jarawa side, quote a bit has happened. At first, Jarawa children were begging for pieces of cloth (red being the one irresistible colour), biscuits and other items of civilisation. Today these gifts are collected with menaces by adults. Less sinister, the Jara have also started to use the roofs of buses for their loccal travels. In 25 years of "friendship visits" with much gift giving, the Indian authorities have caused the Jarawa to become so used to regard all they see as theirs to take, that they now have no idea how to deal with the self-inflicted problem.
For the latest news on the Jarawa, see our section News.
A group of Andamanese males with a few females heading for a bus to collect what is theirs on the Andaman Trunk Road, 2001.
Last changed 10 September 2005