Apart from the tribals, the mutineers and prisoners who started occupying the islands since 1858, led to the growth of the populace in these islands. The total population of these islands in 1901 was 24,649, of which 18,138 were living in the Andaman group of islands and 6,511 in the Nicobar group of islands. The population of both the groups increased to 33,768 during 1941 and then decreased to 30,971 in 1951 due to the repatriation of convicts to the mainland in 1946. Since the island was under-populated, the Govt. of India resettled the refugees from East Bengal here between 1949 and 1952. The population of the island almost doubled by 1961 (refer to Table 1). Since 1961, the population steadily increased and the present population is 4,34,192. The geometric growth of population is because of the influx of population for the last three decades from Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar.


Table 1 – Population data (1901-2011) of the Andaman and Nicobar Island

Most of these people encroached on the revenue land and forestland for their sustenance. Unfortunately, the step taken by the A&N administration to regularize these illegal and unauthorized encroachments up to 1978 has encouraged further encroachment on the government lands. Studies indicate that these encroachments made on government lands after 1978 are much more than pre 1978. All these unchecked encroachments and other activities of the settlers degraded the pristine environment of these islands. Out of 836 islands, islets, and rocks, humans inhabit 38 islands. Presently only 349 islands are clearly seen with an area of 8,249 sq. km., of which 86.9% is under forest area. The forest cover of the islands as per the Forest Survey of India is 92.2%. The main occupations of the settlers include agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, forestry, plantations, construction, trade and commerce. No clear information on the earlier population of the native tribes of these islands is available. However the tribal population dwindled and the same constitutes only 9.54% of the total population.

The steady influx of settlers has led to the startling decrease in numbers of the tribal populace. Today, the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, Sentinalese, Shompens and Nicobarese number 44, 104, 380, 100, 300, and 26,000 numbers respectively.


These settlers also introduced many plants and animals into these islands. For example, the Giant African snail introduced by the Japanese as a supplement to their diet is considered a pest today. There is an enormous list of such introductions. The introduction of many species to these islands has, on one hand, contributed to the richness of diversity.

On the other, however, the adverse impact of the same is not completely documented. While we have been edging out the natives of these islands in a direct contest for land and other resources, we have in fact been indirectly creating a scenario that may never again be synonymous with the once pristine magnificence of these islands.

Dr. T. Sundaramoorthy

Source: Eco News, Vol.9, No.1 (April – June), 2003.

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    Thanks for bringing out this important issue.

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