24June2019

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

Opinion

One Year of Lieutenant Governor AK Singh

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.

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Follow the Message, not the Messengers!

Zubair Ahmed

We at Andaman Chronicle were first labeled communal. Next came the tag of anti-nationals supported by external forces. Then we were called ISI agents. In Andamans, we are not on holiday like the bunch of bureaucrats and the Administrator, and we don't treat this place as a stepping stone or milestone. Both of us belong to Pre-42 community and I am proud to be a descendant of a freedom fighter. Its unfortunate that these disgruntled bunch even doesn't know how to take criticism! They have turned vindictive now.

The issue started with questions raised on SP, ACU Aslam Khan's transfer. This irked many. Followed by that we exposed the DO letter written by the Administrator to the Ministry of Home Affairs on the issue of employment for local candidates, which in contrary to what they claimed was not a very strong representation. The Administration after facing a series of agitations and representations by various organizations have decided to revisit the case and make a fresh representation based on suggestions received from all stakeholders. Kudos to Admn for taking the step!

In fact we were very soft in our article. But, as the issue is getting murkier, we need to reveal another facet of the issue, we had not mentioned in the article. The so-called DO letter which the LG had sent was just a copy of a draft letter prepared by the Secretariat babus for Former LG Bhopinder Singh in Nov 2012 with some minor changes here and there.

Instead of taking the message, they are now behind the messengers. And they tried their best to find how the letter leaked from Secretariat. And they failed.

Next, the Administrator handed over the case to Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate how the letter leaked. (Its like APWD JE performing surgery in GB Pant Hospital). The officials in ACU started contacting Andaman Chronicle to find out the whereabouts. They are also checking the call details of both of us to find out the source of the leak. Instead of wasting their energy on something insignificant, they should be busy laying traps to check corruption in resonance with the Administrator's vision of zero-tolerance towards corruption. Whatever pressure tactics they apply, we are not going to reveal our sources. To hell with their tantrums.

 

As 'responsible' media, we need to move on. There is a line-up of stories planned for next week. Till then, enjoy your weekend and a Happy Republic Day to all readers!

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Exploitation of Jarawa Girls

Is the Law Helpless?

Are the poachers exploiting the vulnerable Jarawas taking cover of the law and roaming free after blatant violation of the PAT Regulations in force?

By Zubair Ahmed

The latest incident of exploitation of Jarawa girls by two groups of local poachers from Tirur did not come as a shock, as such repulsive acts by poachers have become a regular occurrence making mockery of the system.

The guts shown by the poachers to lure unmarried Jarawa girls to accompany them on hunting expeditions further exposes the intricate relationship the poachers have forged with the vulnerable tribe, leaving no scope for any kind of 'stringent' action as desired by the activists or the Administrator.

In this instant case, on the basis of complaint by Dr Pronob Kr. Sircar, Tribal Welfare Officer, AAJVS Tirur two cases have been registered, under section 365 IPC,  r.w.s 7/8 (2) (5) (6) of A&N Island (PAT) Regulation 1956 and r.w.s 3(1) (XII) of SC/ST (POA) Act 1989.

Although, the poachers have been charged under section 365 IPC for kidnapping or abducting Jarawa girls, it would be a Herculean task for the prosecution to defend the charges. At least, its heartening that police acted quickly without budging to any external pressure and registered cases.

But, the harmful influence that the poachers have on the Jarawas would become an impediment in taking the case to a logical conclusion. The Jarawas in most cases pertaining to Tirur sector are hands in glove with the poachers and are unlikely to testify against them. Even though, blaming the past is not going to undo the damage, the situation has worsened to such an extent that its high time there is a paradigmatic change in the approach towards Jarawas especially in Tirur. In fact, everyone accepts the vulnerability of the Jarawa tribe and their susceptibility to the negative affects of such interactions. But, its a blind alley for the police and prosecution to nail the criminals.

The Jarawa girls, who accompanied the poachers, are exploited in every sense. Similarly, sexual exploitation under the influence of liquor cannot be ruled out. However, its an improbability that the girls will testify against them. And, even if its consensual, the legal constraints needs re-examination. Whether the Jarawa girls were minor or adult should not be the subject of debate. If truth be told, their naivety is exploited to the hilt. Whether they testify or not, the issue needs to be dealt in a way that poachers do not use the protection of loopholes in the legal system to come out.

Last month one Ashush Samaddar was arrested by Police on a tip off about a group of Jarawas being sheltered by him and for serving them liquor in exchange of 20 kg of venison.  Jarawa youth Kunu along with two members were found at the poacher's residence. He was later released on bail as it was the Jarawas who visited the poacher's house and not vice versa. A senior police officer had expressed their helplessness as how to book someone in such cases.

In fact, in the last one decade, a strong illicit relationship had already been forged between the Jarawas and the poachers while the concerned authorities looked the other way, and now, when there is a realization with a major reshuffle in the AAJVS, they are finding it difficult to arrest the tide.

But, there are cases like the one in which a local poacher Nitai Mondal, resident of Guptapara had reached Chotagoja Jarawa Camp, a Jarawa Reserve on the West Coast on 3rd November with ration articles - rice, vegetable oil, sugar and tea and camped along with a group of Jarawas and the next day took two Jarawas - Dawa and Lekhte to Bambu Nallah, where other Jarawas were camping. He stayed with them for a day and later took 5 Jarawas - Anijamu (43), Illy (25), Anjale (27), Achehane(25), and Tahe (22) to Tarmugli Island. With such blatant violation of the regulations in force, how did Nitai Mondal manage a bail is very much intriguing.

If such instances keep occurring, where under political influence, cases are weakened by the authorities, conscientious ground staff who wants a meaningful change, will be demoralized and disheartened.

According to an expert, "these local poachers and sexual offenders are the worst influence that have been happening to the Jarawa for the past decade and more- often silently, with a lot of blame being conveniently directed to 'foreign poachers' while these fellows get away with the most dirty, exploitative acts - to the Jarawa, their wildlife and forests (timber)."

 

The only silver lining in the otherwise dark horizon is the change in the attitude of a section of Jarawas, who have become conscious about the exploitation meted to them by the poachers. It was a group of young Jarawas, who had sounded caution about the missing girls. The way the poachers were manhandled by Jarawas sends a clear signal what is in store if the situation worsens further. Nobody can rule out the possibility of a section of Jarawas getting back to their old ways, if the settlers especially the poachers living on the fringes of the Reserve doesn't take the cue.

  • Written by Denis Giles
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