By Debkumar Bhadra

Never before in the history of Independent India has anyone given such a resounding and mature message of Unity with Inclusion unlike Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi did when he said : The only code of conduct of the Government should be “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” [Collective efforts inclusive growth]. The paradigm reverberated in the Honble LG’s address delivered on June 18, 2014 during laying the foundation for a Multipurpose Indoor Stadium at Knappuram village in Wimberly Gunj. Reiterating his commitment of commencing a new college from the academic session (2014-15), the LG said demand to establish Andaman College (ANCOL) in Bambooflat/Wimberly Gunj area is genuine as it will benefit many rural students. He did keep his commitment. Two schools namely : Govt Secondary Senior School (GSSS) Haddo Hindi Medium and GSS Haddo English Medium has been elbowed out/merged with a third school and ANCOL installed in its place on July 26, 2014 by borrowing a school building, a few teachers and a Principal from various schools and institutions and set the ball rolling for ANCOL. But whet ever happened next is a clear departure from the paradigm for governance.

A press release carried in the state media said the permanent campus of ANCOL will come up at Chakkargaon. Another release said for identifying a suitable site for the permanent campus of the Andaman College, wide consultation with public representatives, Officers of concerned department, educationists and other stake holder was done.

Finding the decision in contrast, the lone Member of Parliament Shri Bishnu Pada Ray publicly objected and distanced himself from the decision. Similar views of dissent have been put forth by Chairperson Zilla Parishad (SA), Miss V K Mariam Bibi and the State President BJP Shri Vishal Jolly. Though rarely seen, elected representatives and their political affiliates, cutting across party lines unequivocally urged the Administration to review its decision and consider Ferrar Gunj tahsil as the site for permanent campus for the proposed ANCOL.

Sidelining the requests from public and their elected representatives, a decision is known to have been taken to set-up ANCOL near Port Blair which already has three degree level colleges (JNRM, TGCE & DBRAIT). We have been given to understand that at a brainstorming session, majority voiced in favour of Chakkargaon for ANCOL. How far the effort was transparent or for that matter, the outcome trust worthy, could be judged from the fact that the all important session has been conducted on the day cyclone Hudhud threw life out of gear for the islands. The day was declared a holiday for educational institutions since public transport including ferry services was suspended/cancelled due to safety concerns. Consequently those students hailing from rural areas who could have opined Bambooflat, Ferrar Gunj, Tusonabad or some rural area got selectively excluded from the whole exercise.

The bid to rope in students in decision making is welcome, but students are students. If someone from Mayabunder is given a choice, he would opine that the college be situated in the city, may be near Marina Park so that they could spend their spare time chirping with birds under the shade of Casuarina. A patient waiting in que for his turn at a hospital in Rangat, if given a choice will opt to be treated at GB Pant Port Blair. An officer waiting for allotment of residential accommodation would opt Goal Ghar over Chakkargaon. Someone in the social media said, if given an option he would like to see it (ANCOL) at Ghanta Ghar. Jokes apart, it is for sure after ANCOL, the next few generations will not see another college coming up. Therefore such important decision cannot and should not be left to what a particular group says or thinks.

If the authorities really feel student’s interest is paramount and uphold it, they need to look beyond the city limits. Let a session be conducted somewhere in the Ferrar Gunj tahsil involving students from Class XI-XII, who would seek admission to ANCOL in the coming years, their views should be taken. I am sure the authorities will get an answer different from what they got from the chosen ones at Haddo.

The decision to set up another college is going to have its impact on the entire Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Therefore it ought to be taken at an appropriate level with appropriate representation. Rural areas having land resources and target population also need to be included in development initiatives so that benefits which the city counterpart hitherto enjoy percolate to rural population as well. Least the authorities could do in this regard is to revert to the commitment made by Honble LG during laying the foundation for a Multipurpose Indoor Stadium at Knappuram village in Wimberly Gunj. Let the paradigm set by Govt of India be the guiding force. Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.

By Zubair Ahmed

Don't make democracy look so weird and ridiculous. Democracy is a good idea. Don't kill the idea. People, who have been denied a democratic setup and have no say in major policy decisions should not be derided by showing them a kid's version of the great system called democracy.

Moreover, the students who participated in this 'version' might mistake it as part of their political science class. In short, 'chosen' voters participated in this exercise, like it happens in banana republics.

Now, its of no use discussing 'threadbare' the process adopted to finalize the permanent location of the new college - ANCOL. And, this article doesn't wish to go into the merits and de-merits of both locations, as that is not the real issue.

The site at Chakkargaon is very 'beautiful' and enchanting. Its in the proximity of all 'stakeholders'. The set of 'students' and 'faculties' who voted for the location are also undoubtedly credulous. So everything is set.

There may be dissenting voices somewhere outside, far far away from those who matters. They are incredulous, naive and are sure to have personal axes to grind. So, in this format of democracy, their voices should not count. Or, they don't at all deserve such an institution. All logic fails when such an institution is placed in a rural milieu.

When everything was decided, this preposterous show was just the last nail. Anyway, I still think there is a small space left to express one's opinion. If that too can be sabotaged by staging another futile exercise, its most welcome.

The new college was a good idea. Everybody hailed the decision. There was a demand to place the college in South Andaman, so that the notion that Port Blair is Andaman and Nicobar Islands is changed. The idea was also welcomed. No stakeholders expressed any objection to the idea, when the Administrator mentioned it at various platforms. Indeed, it was a welcome idea!

A committee with eminent persons chaired by the Chief Secretary was constituted. Consensus was reached on the location of the college. The majority report was shunted and a fresh two-member committee was constituted and a single member minority report has been finally accepted.

The site at Chakkargaon is no doubt, a very beautiful and apt location for anything - a mall, housing complex, entertainment hub or any other commercial activity. And, it is indeed suitable for an educational institution too. Nobody objects to that. Like, the same 'stakeholders' if given an option to select between Haddo and Chakkargaon will undoubtedly vote for Haddo.

Why the new college should be placed in a rural milieu is not to make it a second-grade college, as the students who could not make it into JNRM were accommodated in the new college for obvious reasons. So, the question of upper-hand or competition can be over-ruled.

There are hundreds of students studying in Class X to XII in various schools in South Andaman, who are also the real stakeholders, who might need to decide to join a college in the coming years. Why they are not part of the 'democratic process' is quite incomprehensible.

When there was sufficient time to decide, we kept procrastinating, and when there is no time to decide, major decisions are taken, and 'stakeholders' are left with no choice!

Since many years, we have been missing opportunities one after another. Post tsunami, the Islands got an opportunity to plan and utilize the available resources including land.

All the permanent tsunami shelters were placed inside Port Blair and in a very beautiful location in Bambooflat. The beneficiaries were actually from Nicobar and Katchal. They would not have resisted any move, if they had been rehabilitated in N&M Andaman District. Prime land, that too in the commercial hub of Port Blair and surrounding areas were used for the shelters. And, we kept lamenting when we missed NIT due to lack of land that too inside Port Blair.

Most of the prime commercial space in the capital city is occupied by Government buildings. On both sides of the road, archaic govt offices greet the tourists, and we harp about a beautiful city. And, residential quarters are being built in Goal Ghar! And we again rue about lack of revenue land for commercial activities.

When we could not pan our vision beyond the radius of 25 kms, how can we expect to have holistic development from Campbell Bay to Diglipur?

The decision has been taken and let it be. Lack of vision or shortsightedness of policy makers are a bane of the Islands. Nobody thinks beyond a two or three year frame. Not a single development was result of long term planning. Quick-fix band-aid solutions to searing  problems add to the woes.

Post Script: In the 70s, approximately 300 Nicobari tribal families were uprooted from Car Nicobar and settled in an hamlet in Little Andaman called Harminder Bay. The raison detre was quite interesting. The Admn set on the mission after it felt that the population of Car Nicobar Island had grown to 10000 living in an area of 49 sq miles, which might pose serious space problem for plantations.

Its forty years now. Population in Car Nicobar might have increased manifold, but it hasn't reached an alarming proportion demanding decongestion. Is it true about Port Blair?

Expectations and Accomplishments

By Zubair Ahmed

Lt Gen A K Singh completed one year as the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands on 8th July 2014. After resuming charge from Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh, who had stayed a little too much, the change was refreshing. The Islanders had all their expectations pinned on the new Lieutenant Governor. And he too sensed the pulse of the Islands and made a few changes in the rules of engagement with the elected Member of Parliament, PRIs and obviously with his own bureaucrats.

He interacted with everyone quite often and could easily connect with people at grass root level. He won their hearts and the acceptance level went up. But, they yearned for more and started expecting the long pending projects and schemes getting fructified through him, which were otherwise lying entangled for quite a long time in the intricate bureaucratic mesh. And, they were not asking for the moon as they could see a gleam of hope at the end of the tunnel.

However, it never looked or looks to be an easy task ahead. In the last eight months, if the callous and lethargic Administration was the biggest impediment and the push required was enormous, of late, a new challenge has cropped up.

After the whopping victory of NDA at Centre and comeback of Bishnu Pada Ray as the Member of Parliament, the Administration is literally facing the heat. There are visible differences in the priorities of the MP and the Administration. Or the MP is quite vocal about his right of way. If the prerogative of the Administration is inclusive growth, the Member of Parliament has got his axes to grind in the political arena. Lately, he has been very critical about utilization of funds especially in areas where he could not garner votes. And, he has also started to see misuse of fund in all such projects.

If the cliché during last five years was ‘there is no shortage of funds’, now even the MP is asking “where is the fund?” For the first time, the financial health of the Administration is discussed at street level, courtesy, the MP, which may be a good sign as far as transparency is concerned. But, it would be sad if it becomes an excuse for stalling projects.

If the Islands have to progress, the Administration as well as the Member of Parliament will have to work in tandem. There cannot be two lists of priorities for one territory. And, the Administrator has time and again shown the generosity to accommodate the demands of the Member of Parliament, but there seems no reciprocation from the other side, which is going to be a formidable challenge in the coming days.

As far as the achievements of Lt Gen A K Singh are concerned, foremost the Islands got an accessible and interactive Administrator open to suggestions from all quarters. A few major accomplishments in terms of infrastructure was raising of the height of Dhanikhari Dam which eventually happened and was commissioned in December 2013, improvement of 38 kms of rural roads, focused development in Havelock as a tourism destination, construction of fish landing jetties. Establishment of Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research and Training Institute was another major step. In education, setting up of a new degree college and massive recruitment drive of teachers were well appreciated.

Special focus was given to disaster management preparedness and initiatives for safety audit in the wake of the boat tragedy. In the health sector, setting up of MRI, Dialysis and radiology units were accomplished. Two resorts owned by the Admn were renovated and refurbished and eco-friendly facilities on beaches were put up. Apart from that, Air India flight between Port Blair and Car Nicobar will commence this month onwards, an additional helicopter was inducted into service and 37 new buses were acquired.

Though there was much hype and hoopla about tourism sector, a lot could not be achieved, and it reflects even in the tasks ahead for the next 100 days. There is no mention of any progress in the three major projects - CG Earth project at Long Island, Taj project at Havelock and Soma project at Neil Island. Has the Administration given up on all the three projects or is it going to drag eternally? And, its not exciting that nobody is talking about seaplane anymore. It's one area where the Islands was losing money, and in a way its a welcome step, whether those in the helm of affairs agree or not.

In the last one year, more than what the new Lieutenant Governor could achieve in terms of developmental projects, he set the ball rolling for many ambitious projects, which on completion would surely change the face of the Islands.

In shipping sector, acquisition of smaller ships and vessels are yet to get the deserved priority. It doesn’t even feature in the next 100 days target. More than the 2 x 1200 pax mainland-Island sector vessels, there is urgent need for improving connectivity in the foreshore and harbour sector. North and Middle Andaman District is still lacking sea connectivity due to shortage of vessels. If tourism and other sectors in Diglipur and Mayabunder have to develop, it’s vital that more vessels ply on a regular basis. Moreover, the harbour ferry service between Bambooflat and Chatham has hit roadblock due to lack of jetties and sufficient vehicle ferry vessels. It doesn’t seem to be in the scheme of things as of now.

What is forthcoming is more attractive and exciting than what has been achieved, only if all the forces concur on achieving it in a time bound manner.

Setting up of Medical College would be the most anticipated one. There are challenges as well as hurdles in setting up the medical college. The dispute over temporary location of the college may be just a minor setback, which can be resolved through consultation and dialogue. However, there are cynics who still think it as wishful thinking that the Islands could attract good and qualified faculties, thus solving the long pending problem of specialists and super specialists. The engineering college is still struggling to get good faculties and managed by guest lecturers and a few of them on contract. Even the Shipping Dept couldn’t find a Marine Engineer and the only corporate entity; ANIIDCO could not get a CFO. How lucrative and sustainable can be the package that would attract experts and specialists to these far-flung Islands?

The Undersea Optical Fibre Cable Project is now a long term project which could take more than three years. But, it’s once again on track after it was derailed and took a complete u-turn. It is learnt that the DPR will be prepared by DOT and placed before Telecom Commission.  The capital expenditure of the project which might cost Rs 1500 crores will be met by Universal Social Obligation fund and operating expenditure will be met by the UT Administration. Instead of a branch from the existing cable between Chennai and Singapore, the newly proposed project will be a cable directly laid from Chennai to Port Blair with a lifespan of 25 years. If this project sees the light of the day, it would be another feather on the cap of the incumbent Administrator, who despite knowing all the impediments went ahead and salvaged it. A delay of three years is no big deal as the Islanders are habituated to such way of life.

Housing project with special focus on EWS and LIG Housing would be another major step which is on agenda and could be a path-breaking achievement if it takes shape during the tenure of Lt Gen A K Singh.

The past one year was eventful. The Lieutenant Governor is now familiar with the land, people and the way of life here. He is also quite obviously familiar with the bureaucracy. Time and again, he has been issuing diktats for them to follow. The enthusiasm and vigour that the LG manifests is somewhere missing in the Administration. It was quite visible when issues were raised by the media and the theoretical replies were emanating from the secretaries. 

It is also palpable that there is lack of institutional memory in the Administration. Frequent reshuffle in the bureaucracy is taking toll on various projects and continuity is lost in the bargain. The Shipping and Tribal Secretary was caught unaware about a few proposals in Shipping sector as well as the alternate sea route to Baratang, for which the Supreme Court has already set a deadline of March 2015. Lack of coordination between departments is another area which decelerate projects, as in the case of  APWD and PBMC regarding water supply and distribution in municipal area, Revenue Dept and APWD in the matter of Commissariat Nallah Dam project.

There is optimism everywhere and it has to be seen how the Lieutenant Governor and team with the support of the Member of Parliament, PRIs and the Islanders in general takes the territory ahead in the coming days.