By Zubair Ahmed


The urge to write an open letter to Shri Kuldeep Rai Sharmaji dawned after my week-long wait for a reply from the aspirant MP candidate of Congress (I). For those who are not on the social networking site, Facebook, I had sent an SMS - the easiest thing to do - to three prominent leaders of two major political parties - Congress and BJP - about non-Islanders applying for various posts, especially the 400+ vacancies notified for teachers. Within 10 minutes, got a response from Mr Bishnu Pada Ray and Mr Vishal Jolly of BJP, willing to take up the issue with the Administration. They  took the bait unhesitatingly. Unfortunately, I am not a mind reader and don't really know what Kuldeepji thinks. Hence thought of writing to him about it and various other matters that have come to my notice.


Dear Kuldeep Rai Sharmaji,

As you know the beauty of SMS is its delivery confirmation system. As an humble and potential voter, anticipated a word or two through SMS as reply. Disappointed and dejected, planned to write a few words.

For your kind information, I am no Chetan Bhagat and you are no Rahul Gandhi. But, we feel proud that our territory is referred to as mini India, and hence request to kindly treat this as a mini letter from an Islander.

Kuldeepji, had a feeling that after 50 years you might be representing the Islands as a local candidate after Shri K R Ganesh. But, you seems to have other plans and strategies best known to you. 

In the last general elections, you lost for a thin margin, and the Islanders whined and whimpered, but with a solace that you might make a strong comeback. Maybe due to other pressing engagements, you took a two-year sweet hiatus mourning the loss. And, whenever someone approached for small favours, you directed them to Bishnu with a vengeance. And they did go to Bishnu, who got the space and time to recoup and consolidate.

Sadly, not much to write about the last Panchayat elections. Everyone aspired to be a Congress candidate, and approached you to get a seat. And, you realized the importance of being Congress head and distributed the seats equitably amongst your closest circle. What to say, it resulted in many defections. Many Congresswallahs turned rival and won elections with huge margin. Still, we were happy that you were not deterred by all these gimmicks. You knew very well that they will come back to the party once elections are over. You had the cake and you ate it too!

We were so happy to learn about your proximity to the former LG Bhopinder Singh, and expected that the chemistry between you two might change the face of the Islands. Every day dawned with a new press release, promptly acknowledged by Raj Niwas. People stormed into your office to get their work done. And, once again you became important.  You felt the need for a media adviser, like the incumbent LG does. Without much ado, you looked into BJP stable, lured and poachned Haridasji, and R Mohan was left in the lurch. For a price, he sold his soul and joined you. He never regretted the decision, as he rose to higher pedestals. We were excited by the partnership!

And, there was a series of 'Welcome Home' parties all over the place. You knew that you will be the uncrowned king of PRIs and focused on poaching elected PRIs one by one. But forgot that they had won against Congress candidates. Individually and in groups, elected PRIs started joining Congress and the trumpet beat resonated from Diglipur to Campbell Bay. Congresswallahs were rejoiced, as their leader could reclaim what they had lost. Sadly, you forgot that the voters didn't like this move. They felt cheated, and eagerly waited for an opportunity. And thus Ferrar Gunj happened, Mayabunder happened and Little Andaman too happened! With love, they took back what you snatched from them.

The poor Islanders ignorant about your strategies thought that your proximity to Bhopinder Singh did cause a little damage here and there. When Tsunami-affected farmers came out on the streets, you could not come out openly, they blame. But, you got the best opportunity to recover, when P Chidambaram, the Home Minister visited your office premises and promised something, I don't remember everything, not even Bhopinder Singh remembered it. In Viper Island Yacht Marina issue, your friend asked you to help him out and you helped him very well. Although people started hating your friend, you were very close in their kidneys and livers, waiting to be flushed out anytime.

And halfway, the heart-shattering news came that after a very short period of six and half years, your close friend Bhopinder Singh has been replaced. It was really disheartening. We were all shocked. But, you once again showed optimism, as it is UPA in the Centre. And, the new Lieutenant Governor, A K Singh took charge. You met him at the oath ceremony, but could not read his mind. And then he called you as well as Bishnu, the sitting MP. We were shocked to learn that he made it very clear that he was not a political appointee unlike his predecessor and would maintain equidistance from both of you, but he would respect Bishnuji as the MP. What if Bishnu is happy with that stand, we are still hopeful and feel that he has a soft corner for you, and he is very much worried about your prospects in the coming elections.

When in the PBMC election for the Chairperson, the cover that you had sent was opened, we were so excited, that Bhaiyya has spoken, but you know, they don't treat you like Sonia or Rahul. They had made up their mind against your choice. And, we are proud that you did not avenge and respected their view. That's the spirit. Or, how could you tolerate what happened in the election for Adhyaksh in North and Middle Andamans. Or, with all precautions taken, Muthu weeping on your shoulders, you consoled him and gave your consent to Mariyam Bibi to be the Adhyaksha. And, we were once again happy when things happened as you wished. What's wrong if things don't go the way you want them to go, you let it go!

Not dissuaded by all these, you continued the good work by focusing more on the institutions under your direct and indirect control. Your love for the widows, orphans, disabled, infirm and elders reflected in every step you took. You rightly used AN Coop Bank, Coop Union and ANCOFED for rendering yeomen service. People loved you for your concern and they want you to always head all these institutions. Defying all logic, you employed as many as 300 youth in Bank. You distributed hard-earned deposits of the poor Islanders as charity to the rich, and waived off the burden of loan from many poor rich guys. You will be always remembered for all these generous acts. You kept low-profile and never ever tried to send a direct or indirect message that you were doing all these to influence voters or become an MP, and they respect you for that and will never ever forget the message. They would rather love to see you as heads of the institutions than the Member of Parliament, as you always wished.

And, why bother about the rumours about other contenders for the MP seat from the Islands, when your focus is more on social service rather than any post. Let TSG Bhaskar or Paritosh Haldar try for the seat, who cares! We are very happy that you have remained away from all controversies unlike BJP. You know, there are serious differences between Vishal and Bishnu and the confusion about their seat continues.

Personally, you have changed a lot, and change is that every one wants. You have stopped wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses to funerals and maintain a very healthy regimen nowadays. But, I am always intrigued by the photo that appears on all materials including banners, billboards, invitations and even posters. In that photo you look very young and a bit juvenile as it was taken soon after your ANC era. But, you have changed a lot, as growing older is mandatory and growing up optional. Kindly give a thought about it, if you find time and space.

Should I once again remind you the purpose of writing this letter? I had send you a SMS and came to know that you already knew the issue and even met CS and discussed it. I respect that, as you keep everything very discreet as the interior chamber in your office, far far away from the maddening crowd. 

We appreciate your concern and hope that you believe in Karma - what you give is what you get in return. 


With best wishes...

The workers of M/S Andaman Timber Industries (now called M/S ATI Ltd) have been reeling under abject poverty ever since the company closed its operation rendering thousands of workers jobless. To add insult to the injury, workers retirement dues had been linked to liquidation of company’s immovable property, which is the subject matter of court’s proceedings.

M/S Andaman Timber Industries having its plywood manufacturing company at Shore Point, Bambooflat in South Andaman closed permanently on 9th October 2000. Following wide spread protest, the then Hon’ble Lt Governor intervened and convened a meeting at Raj Nivas involving ATI management, the then MP, ATI workers representatives, and Senior officers of A&N Administration on 08/09/2001. Subsequent to the deliberations at Raj Nivas and with the MP later in the day, ATI management issued a notice under Ref No 231/118/2001-02 dated 17/09/2001 promising its workers enhanced retirement dues. Para 2 of the said notice is reproduced here in verbatim:

The revised benefits admissible under the VRS [Voluntary Retirement Scheme] and towards statutory dues will be payable in 3 (three) instalments as under :

a)            Payment of Rs 4000/- on or before 30.09.2001 against admissible legal dues, on receipt of Transport Subsidy from Andaman Administration.

b)            Balance amount of admissible legal dues on or before 31.10.2001 on receipt of Compensation from the concerned authority towards acquisition of company’s immovable properties (sic) situated at Haddo, Port Blair.

c)             Amount of VRS compensation and amount in full settlement towards wages for suspension period as stipulated herein before on or before 31.03.2002 on receipt of compensation from the concerned authority towards proposed acquisition of company’s immovable property situated at Shore Point, Bambooflat, Andaman.

From the above, it is aptly clear ATI management used the opportunity and held workers retirement dues at ransom to press for early release of transport subsidy and compensation towards acquiring of company’s immovable property by A&N Administration. Workers unaware of the covert designs and the consequences thereof, nodded their head in acceptance since it had the assurance of the island’s highest office.

Incidentally the first and second instalments were paid. Also the A&N Administration on its part kept its promise. It not only found a public purpose to justify acquisition of company’s land holdings, it ‘s various arms (read departments, subordinate offices and directorates) worked overtime to complete the daunting task of surveying, inventorisation, reckoning market value of the property etc. In a record time of 12 months, the Administration acquired 3.64 hectares of company’s landholdings and released compensations to the tune of Rs 3,03,03,567/- (Rupees Three Crore Three Lakhs Three Thousand Five Hundred Sixty Seven Only) in favour of ATI during Sept 2002.

This amount, according to company’s notice dated 17/09/2001, should have been disbursed to settle VRS [Voluntary Retirement Scheme] and other statutory retirement dues to about 800+ workers. But somebody had very rightly said promises are made to be broken, and this instance is not an exception. The ATI management not only pocketed workers share of retirement dues, it even slapped a legal dispute on the face of the workers before vanished in thin air.

Surprisingly the ATI management, after spending more than a decade in legal procedures, in its own volition deemed it fit to knock the Administrations door one more time. It thus sought leave to withdraw the application which the Hon’ble Supreme Court granted vide its order dated 20/04/2012. Consequently the ATI management made a fresh representation dated 14/05/2012 running 8 pages to the Administration and followed it up with reminder dated 25/06/2012. Unfortunately the application, and along with it the plight of 800+ workers could not evoke a response at the hands of the concerned authorities yet.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its [latest] Order (dated 01/04/2013) rapped the authorities for their inaction and went on record saying “we find no justification on the part of appellant No 3 [Collector of Land Acquisition, A&N Administration] in not considering the said representation although more than nine months have passed since it was made” and directed the appellant to consider the representation dated 14/05/2012 [made by ATI] objectively, fairly and in accordance with law as expeditiously as may be possible and in no case later than April 20, 2013. The onus has thus fallen on A&N Administration which till this time has been maintaining a tacit silence on the issue.

The Administration which earlier failed to protect the interest of ATI workers while releasing the compensation could make good use of this opportunity to bring the otherwise evasive ATI management on the discussion table and eventually settle the workers long pending retirement dues.

By Debkumar Bhadra

Shore Point, Bambooflat, S Andaman

The gutkha ban is finally here and, predictably too, being challenged in court. For years, the state on the face of it, has been trying to ban tobacco sale but has only failed. 

The first time the state tried banning gutkha in Maharashtra was around a decade ago and then again in 2008. Both the time, the ban was lifted due to legal hurdles. This time around, the state seems set to implement the ban,at least on the face of things.