Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PAUPER’S LOG: Invisible Islands


Invisible Islands

By Abu Arsh

Recent utterances by the Administrator and the top bureaucrat of the Islands have left us rather perplexed especially with 'Delhi and Delhiwallahs'. Though both of them were pretty forthright; one wonders whether they were egged on by seeing an ensemble of academicians and intellectuals to indulge in grandstanding and playing to the galleries. Lieutenant Governor, Bhopinder Singh, inaugurating the two-day UGC sponsored seminar on Strategic Importance, Political Autonomy and Sustainable Development of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, had candidly admitted Andaman and Nicobar Islands still does not ring a bell at New Delhi. The Islands is still confused with Lakshadweep and Delhiwallas are unfamiliar with the Islands. Shakti Sinha, Chief Secretary in his keynote address also admitted that in Delhi, nobody understands the Islands though there is no dearth of funds as Centre is an open cheque for ANI.
Nearly 65 years after India's independence the A&N Islands fail to find space in the nation's common conscious. It's an Invisible Island. It is an irony of politics that the Andaman and Nicobar islands have ended up with India. If not for the penal settlers and their patriotism, our claim over these Islands would not have been there. Our forefathers would be squirming in the darkness of their graves at the state of affairs of a territory; which first hoisted the national flag in 1945 by Subhas Chandra Bose, way before mainland India did. These lovely islands sitting on the Burma plate in the Bay of Bengal are governed from Delhi about 3000 kms away, through the local administration - that too is run by Delhiwallahs, who are so disconnected to the grass roots and local problems even a tsunami couldn't stir them to action.
Chinese adventurism, in our neighbourhood especially in an Island which formed part of a Delhiwallah's generosity; gifting Coco Islands to the erstwhile Burma by Nehru then; is virtually like creating another Pakistan- a permanent sore on a all new front for us now. The recent talk on economic development and defence preparedness has left many of us thinking- Did the Chinese rediscover us for India after so many years?  Delhiwallahs say that our country does not harbor aggressive designs against others and with the Islands playing a major role; India can become a major global player with economic development and defence preparedness going hand in hand. The only question here is- when?
Common wisdom over centuries has pointed out - though the Islands are located strategically, its developmental activities are negatively affected due to its location. Delhiwallahs say- Agriculture and manufacturing industries cannot be the mainstay of the Island economy; we need to think out of the box. For 65 years they've been thinking and are still unable to get out of the box.  They further say nature and people of these Islands are the two tremendous resource bases of the Islands for which our 69 panchayats has been given as Grant-in- Aid of about Rs 105 crores last year, each Panchayat getting more than a crore rupees, which no panchayat gets elsewhere in India. But panchayat elsewhere have control over land rights and if it happens to be in a Delhiwallah's backyard, they should know how much it's worth. Out of the 1000 or so odd crores our Islands are allocated each year this is pittance being spent on the most importance resource base.
Despite limited availability of revenue land, it's been said by Administration that developmental activities in different sectors are taking place, which will bring prosperity and generate employment opportunities. A roadmap for development needs to be prepared with meticulous planning and time bound implementation to achieve the aspirations of the Islanders. Roadmaps for development of a territory where population hardly increased in a decade after all the influx and illegal migration, encroachers and poachers paradise, home of the prehistoric indigenous tribes on the verge of annihilation of their existence and culture, great biodiversity, great forest cover percentage, large EEZ, world's best beaches, and lone sentinel of our country guarding the bay cannot be brought about by ignorant Delhi and Delhiwallahs. We need a system where the Kalapaaniwallahs are also part of the planning process concerning the islands. Self centered politicians have sadly let us down. The MP and PRI's have themselves to blame for letting the Islanders voices getting stifled in the planning process by their conduct.

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