Tamil repatriates face uncertain future

They are settled on tribal lands in Katchal Islands in Andaman and Nicobar

Settled on tribal lands in Katchal Islands in Andaman and Nicobar and kept away from the outside world’s attention, 161 plantation workers of Tamil families face an uncertain future.

They were unable to undertake any economic activities on the land as the tribal community had sought reclamation of the land and resources after tsunami wreaked havoc on the island in 2004.

“Even though the Calcutta High Court had ordered the Andaman and Nicobar Island administration to evolve a scheme to resettle us in a non-tribal area in 2012, no effort has been taken to implement the order,” said G.D. Lawrence, joint-secretary of the Katchal Tamil Settles Youth Welfare Association here on Monday. He is one of a handful of graduates from the community.

Instead, the administration had formulated a scheme under which they were given a tsunami model house on a 200 square metres of land. Whereas in 2003, the administration had promised to allot 4.5 acres land, a two-bed room house and employment for two members of the family for five to six years in a rubber plantation, Mr. Lawrence said.

“Now our family has grown into 226. So we just want two acres of land, a house and employment for one family member. The administration is responsible for our present situation because it settled us despite the fact that there is no scope for permanent settlement for us there,” he said.

A total of 48 families of Indian origin were settled in the tribal areas of the island under a pact signed between then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Srimao Bandaranayke in 1964. At the time of settlement between 1974 and 1976, they were given half an acre of land, a single bedroom house and employment for two members of a family in the rubber plantation on daily wages.

Mr. Lawrence said Katchal Islands had one school and higher education was available only in Port Blair.

“We are 24 hours away from Port Blair and most of the families are so poor to afford hostel facilities for their wards,” he said.

“The Tamils also lack health facilities. All that you will get there is medicine for fever. If you have stomach ache, you have to take a helicopter to Port Blair for treatment. Helicopter fare costs Rs 4,000 per head. But constant rain affects helicopter service. A ship travels between Port Blair and Katcal Islands once a week,” said Mayakrishnan, one of the members of the association.

“My classmate died during child delivery as there was no medical facility. How long can we suffer? What prevents them from resettling us in non-tribal area as it settled around 50 families in Hutbay islands with five acres of land and other facilities,” Mr Lawrence asked.

Ill conceived policy

Sri Lankan expert V. Suryanarayan said when it came to settlement of plantation Tamils, the policy of the Indian government was ill conceived.

“When they arrived in Tamil Nadu, they were given business loan. But they were not capable of using the money and they ended up as bonded labourers in Kodaikanal and daily wage labourers to the Badaga landlords in Kothagiri in Nigiris,” he said.

Some of them were absorbed in the State-owned TANTEA.

“Now they are witnessing upward mobility, thanks to reservation policy well integrated with the local Tamils. A boy from the community has become an IAS officer,” he said.