Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda on Saturday said his ministry was in regular touch with the administration in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where 10 members of the dwindling Great Andamanese tribe tested positive for the coronavirus recently.
“The Andaman & Nicobar administration is alert to the safety of its tribe, especially the Vulnerable Tribal Groups, (PVTGS) through Integrated Tribal Development Authority,” he tweeted.
The minister said precautionary measures are being taken to protect these vulnerable tribal groups from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Officials from the ministry are regularly in touch with the local administration in Port Blair, working for the welfare of the indigenous tribal group in the islands,” he said in another tweet.
There are only 59 surviving members of the Great Andamanese tribe, all of them on Strait Island in the archipelago. After six members of the tribe, who had travelled to Port Blair, the capital, for work, tested positive for the virus, a health team travelled to Strait Island last week to carry out tests of the remaining members.
Out of 37 samples tested, four more from the tribe were found to be positive, Health Department Deputy Director and Nodal Officer Avijit Roy had said. Andaman and Nicobar Islands' COVID-19 tally stood at 3050, while 2,444 people have recovered from the disease. The remote archipelago has so far recorded 42 coronavirus deaths. There are six notified Scheduled Tribes in the archipelago — Nicobarese, Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Sentinelese, Onge and Shompen.
Barring the Nicobarese, all the others are recognised as particularly vulnerable tribal groups, characterized by declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and economic backwardness.
The archipelago's administration in a report informed the ministry that three tribals have recovered and the rest are undergoing treatment at the GB Pant Hospital or are in home isolation. “Most of the tribals, except family members of those who tested positive, have been shifted back to Strait Island. All active cases are in good health and under close observation,” it said.
The administration also said that all samples of members of the Onge tribe from Dugong Creek have tested negative. It has now decided to conduct random testing of the Jarawas. “The A&N administration reiterates its commitment to protecting PVTGs and their safety is of paramount importance. It will leave no stone unturned to protect this heritage of humanity,” it said. Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), a registered society, is monitoring the welfare of PVTGs.
The Deputy Commissioner, Nicobar District, through Integrated Tribal Development Authority (ITDA) is taking care of the welfare and well being of the Nicobarese tribe. “The number of convoys has been restricted for the safety of the Jarawa tribe.
Field functionaries have been regularly advised to interact with tribals with face mask, gloves from a distance,” the administration said in the report. The tribals have been sensitised by field staff about COVID -19 and precautions with pictures and videos in their own language, it said.
The movement of AAJVS and other line departments' personnel to the tribal settlements is being allowed only after COVID testing. The officials posted at tribal settlements have been advised not to move outside and interact with the outsiders.
The fisheries department has also sensitized fishermen not to interact with the Jarawas. The Jarawas have been advised to stay in smaller groups to avoid any possible spread. AAJVS staff has been monitoring their movement.