BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, August 28:
Nine cases of Covid-19 have been recorded among the Great Andamanese tribe, setting off alarm bells in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration. A Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), the Great Andamanese now number only 59. While five of the coronavirus patients have recovered, the others are doing well, officials said.
What is worrying the authorities is that the four new cases have been discovered in the remote Strait Island, where the tribe is based. On Friday, a special community health officer will be reaching the island to keep a close watch on the tribe, as well as other PVTGs like the Jarawa, Shompen and Onge.
While the Union territory has seen 2,985 Covid cases (676 of which are active) and 41 deaths so far, the Great Andamanese is the first among its vulnerable tribes to be hit by the coronavirus.
Dr Avijit Roy, Joint Secretary, Health, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the nodal officer for the Union territory’s Covid-19 response, said they had tested all the 59 Great Andamanese members — “34 in Strait Island and 24 in Port Blair” — after five of them living in Port Blair had tested positive.
He said the samples of the four on Strait Island who have tested positive were taken on August 22. “We got the report the next day. They were moved to isolation wards of G B Pant Hospital in Port Blair. They are cooperating well and recovering fast.”
Roy pointed out that unlike the other PVTGs, the Great Andamanese frequent Port Blair and the administration has built a special home for them to stay in the capital.
“The Great Andamanese are a small population but they are in touch with the general population. While no one is allowed to visit Strait Island, they are allowed to come and stay in Port Blair. So, the risk of them getting Covid was high,” Vishvajit Pandya, a renowned anthropologist and director of the Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research and Training Institute, said.
Pandya, who has been working in the Union territory since 1983, was present when the Jarawas made first contact with the outside world in 1997. He stressed on the need to keep the tribes isolated.
“The administration should implement what it says. The Great Andaman Trunk Road has still not been shut. If the administration thinks that since the tribal groups are deep in the jungles they will not come in touch with settlers, they are wrong. Even the Jarawas, Shompens are vulnerable to Covid-19 because they engage with settlers in barter to get rice and other items. Even recently settlers were arrested inside the Jarawa reserve,” he said.
Amit Kumar Ghosh, the Superintending Anthropologist at the Anthropological Survey of India, pointed out that in the 1850s, the Great Andamanese numbered between 5,000 and 8,000. “Then a penal colony was set up and diseases like syphilis, gonorrhoea, flu and others spread. By 1901, their population had dropped to 625, and by the 1931 Census, only 90 Great Andamanese were left. By the 1960s, they were down to a mere 19, and were settled on Strait Island,” he said, highlighting the vulnerability of the PVTGs to illnesses.
Ghosh added that the danger is even higher for other tribes. “The Great Andamanese have been in contact with outsiders for the last 50 years. But a disease like this could wipe out the entire population of the Jarawas and Sentinelese.”
Roy said they were aware of the threat, and had taken appropriate measures. “No one is allowed into the areas where the tribal groups are located. All government and health officials who go there are tested for Covid prior to their visits. Only vehicles with essential commodities are moving on the Andaman Trunk Road which cuts through the Jarawa Reserve, and the drivers and others in vehicles are also tested before allowed in,” he said.
An official of the Tribal Welfare Department in-charge specifically of the Jarawas said: “A small team of ANM and department officials is posted near the forest where the tribe lives, keeping a watch while maintaining distance. All of them are housed in an isolation facility and regularly tested.”
The Andamans is home to five PVTGs, the Sentinelese, Jarawa, Great Andamanese, Onge and Shompen. This is besides the Nicobarese, who are Scheduled Tribes. The Sentinelese are the most reclusive of them all, resisting outside contact.
In November 2018, an American national, 27-year-old John Allen Chau, had been killed by the Sentinelese when he tried to illegally approach them. Officials have not managed to recover his body till date.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.