Wednesday, December 21, 2011

COVER STORY: The Administration: A Collective Portrait

The Light of Andamans - VOL 35 | ISSUE 22 | 16 DEC 2011


The Administration
A Collective Portrait

The chaotic state of affairs in the ANI family is a fact that everybody understands but nobody admits in the corridors of power.  ANI Admn is a close family, well guarded and protected. Exposes of corruption does not attract punitive action here. A collective portrait of the family.

By Zubair Ahmed

ANI Administration is a family, a close family and a well protected family with a Sicilian way of life. You may make any number of complaints against the family members. Media can expose any number of corruption cases with evidence. Punitive actions will not be taken. Just things will be set right internally. Even every corrective action is guarded as a family secret. Here heads never roll. The fact is that the Admn does not believe in threats and theatrics; they're calm, cool, collected and calculating. They know what they're capable of; why broadcast every action to the heavens when silent guerilla tactics work even better and in favour of the family.
Whether it's the supply of sub-standard medicine, wide-scale corruption in procurement of expensive spares in Directorate of Shipping, Manipulated quarry licenses issued by the District Administration, Mass squandering of forest resources at Havelock, Contradictory statements and stand on ATR and Buffer Zone, Lease of Govt owned guest houses to private parties, Lease of Islands for peanuts, Common Service Centres operated by private owners or any other decision taken within the family, which the gullible Islanders are not aware of. The family knows everything that happens under its nose. But, it will only side with the family.
It's not very true that everything is fine in the family. Family feuds have started to crop up. There are visible rifts everywhere - between the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Secretary and between Member of Parliament and the LG.
Lieutenant Governor Bhopinder Singh will be completing his 5 years as the Tenth Administrator of ANI after he took charge on 29 December 2006. A collective portrait of the incumbent Lieutenant Governor and his administration in the last five years is like a pot-boiler and edge of the seat thriller. With four Chief Secretaries, the experience has been varying. Shumsher K Sheriff had rather an unpleasant exit from the Islands. Cherring Targey was side-lined by a coterie. Vivek Rae did not get into the fist fight and had his own way. And now, with Shakti Sinha, contradictory decisions on various issues are coming out. Three out of four Consigliores were not in tune with the wishes and style of functioning of the LG. 
It all started the day the LG addressed the crowd at ITF grounds soon after he assumed charges. LG Bhopinder Singh took a dig on the Member of Parliament and even the Chief Secretary. He tried to outshine the Member of Parliament by saying that when the hearts of the Islanders glow, the gloom of Island Tourism Festival doesn't matter.
On the evening of 29 December 2006, LG Bhopinder, addressing the media, had said that nothing will be imposed from above. "I don't believe in operating from the office alone. I would be touring extensively" Bhopinder Singh had said. He would like to keep his ears to the earth so that he would feel the rumblings inside. That way, he believed, he would be able to serve the people better and meet their hopes and aspirations in a more positive and effective way. He assured that he would work in close cooperation with the stakeholders and nothing would be imposed from above.
On media he had said, "Media are the eyes and ears of the people. Media persons have a tremendous role to reflect the concerns of the people" he had said. He would maintain a healthy relation with the media and would have frequent interaction with it to disseminate information and get the feedback as well, he had said.
In the last five years, many things have happened on the ground. Much water has flown down the Kalpong since. The islands have taken giant strides in almost all the areas of development. It might have been laconic, lopsided, but strides nevertheless. But post tsunami period offered a golden opportunity to turn the islands into a modern, progressive and prosperous territory. Much of the advantage is lost in the last five years.
Growing unemployment, shrinking job market, increasing influx and associated problems are formidable ones. The sunrise areas like fisheries, tourism and high-value agriculture are yet to take off in its literal sense. Moreover, there has been wide disgruntlement inside the family and outside.


Shumsher K Sheriff was the Chief Secretary when the incumbent LG took charge. He had earlier worked with Bhopinder Singh in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The relationship between them was not very cordial, it is learnt. It had a direct impact on the Administration. Sheriff left the Islands in the most unpleasant way.
Soon after three months of his departure, Cherring Targey also felt the inner rumblings of the Administration and had planned to leave. However, he remained here till his superannuation. Sincerity, dedication and commitment do not visit an administration where chief secretaries are humiliated, where the senior secretaries are ignored, the bureaucracy as whole demoralized and the subordinate officers and employees dissatisfied. 
Vivek Rae did not get into a direct conflict with the Administrator. However, he had his own way. The case of lease of tourism property in Neil Island was a bone of contention between the two. He made his stand clear by noting that the benchmark was far below. However, the Administrator had his way. A Deputy Commissioner was planted and the file was through. Now, the rift is showing. It is learnt that the Deputy Commissioner is also being replaced.


The Member of Parliament is the bridge that connects the Admn with the people. The MP got the least recognition and regard from the Admn. Member of Parliament is not a competitor to Lieutenant Governor.  A quick look into the questions raised by the MP in the Parliament reveals a lot about the divide. The LG has always tried to bypass all channels and get connected with the common public, a strategy which has failed utterly. In a recent press conference MP blamed the Administrator for keeping the Islanders in darkness about Andaman Trunk Road. He has been raising many issues, which the family does not care.


It's an unwritten code of conduct in the Andaman and Nicobar Admn.  Even if things are going wrong, and a coterie is working against the written policies of the department, it will not be tolerated if you speak against it or try to reset it. You will be bullied, transferred, stripped off the portfolios you hold. The family is sometimes extended, for convenience - with new members enlisted. And, they are very important part of the family. Tourism department has a written policy now. The Chief Secretary wants the guest houses owned by the Admn to be leased out - of course, to the extended members, as he believes that helping fellow brothers is profitable in every sense, personally and bottom line. The Lieutenant Governor on the other hand takes very emotional decisions - The guest houses shall remain with the Administration. The employees are happy. Another brownie point earned by the Administrator. Is there a small conflict of interest? Is it a dispute over the policy? The policy is a printed document, which was well appreciated in the capital and also won accolades.  It says that the role of the department will be of a facilitator rather than a tourism operator.
Abraham Varickamakal, Secretary of Tourism one fine morning was stripped off tourism portfolio. It went to Satish Mathur, who is the PS to LG. The boss or the second-in-command knows that when the situation reaches an impasse, it's time for the unexpected move that shows you can hurt your opponents in personal ways that they cannot expect, let alone imagine: a calculated overreaction that shows your opponents in the family that their actions have consequences.
Binay Bhushan, who left the Islands, has joined Delhi Tourism as General Manager and any guesses who the Managing Director is? G G Saxena, who was here as Tourism Secretary, when most of the consultancies for the tourism projects were initiated. God save Delhi Tourism! The family has diversified and expanded.
Now M N Murali, Director of Industries have been entrusted the huge responsibility of Tourism too. Of course, you might ask what the status of Industries department is. It can't go downhill anymore. The tourism department is also not going uphill either.


The extension of Buffer Zone to 5 kms was the contribution of present Administrator. It is widely known that a resort in Collinpur was the target. However, it boomeranged. Now, the same Administration wants the Buffer Zone to be a toned and filtered one, which does not affect the Settler community residing in the fringes of Jarawa Reserve. Jarawa issue is a very sensitive issue at Centre. Sonia Gandhi, National Advisory Council, Ministry of Tribal Affairs and even the MHA have strongly advocated a soft corner for the Jarawas, which has become an impediment for the Administration to take an unambiguous stand. The Administration seems to be caught between the deep sea and the devil.
The ANI Admn too does not want to close the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR). An alternate route has been advised by many. The Administration does not have the willpower to execute it. There is no dearth of surveys and studies by committees and sub-committees, groups and sub-groups on this issue. The route via Bambooflat and Shoal Bay was also a matter of study. It never took any concrete shape.


About 24.791 cubic metre of Sawn timber including Padauk, Superior Hardwood, Teak, Minor Forest Produces (Bamboo and Cane) worth Rs 13 Lakhs was seized at Havelock. Such huge quantity of seizure by the Police department has exposed the nexus between forest officials and the poachers. Four accused were arrested. But, the bigger question still remains unanswered. What were the forest officials doing when such a large quantity of timber was poached from the forests? Why is the Administration not initiating any action against the Divisional Forest Officer or the Ranger? Was there no negligence of duty? Simply, the family members need to be protected, whatever they do or don’t do.


From reliable sources, we have gathered information that the Directorate of Shipping Services has got all the Crankshafts replaced by the Vendor, who had supplied used and defective ones. The huge difference in the price of the Digital Microwave Frequency Counter, which was procured without any market survey is also being realized by the Directorate. All these happened after the misappropriation and corruption was reported in the media. But, once again those involved in this issue has been let off. Here too, the family members are protected. That's the way the family functions!


The work of refit repairs, survey and certification of MV Panighat was awarded to a firm Dweep Engg Works by the Directorate of Shipping Services on 27 April 2010. The work was required to be completed within a period of 120 days. The firm failed to maintain the schedule after the first stage. After taking the vessel on slipway, the progress of the firm became very slow. The first stage payment of Rs 480777/- was released to the firm and a show cause notice was issued on 24 Nov 2010 to which the firm did not respond. Once again, a show cause notice was issued seeking explanation on 29 Jan 2011. The firm once again did not respond.  On 4 March 2011, a letter was once again issued informing that the Directorate proposed to terminate the contract agreement and debar the firm from future participation in any tenders and blacklist it. Even after two months of issuing the letter, the directorate did not receive any response.
Due to delay in the work and overstay on the slipway, financial loss to the tune of Rs 822800/- was to be recovered and it was proposed to cancel the contract agreement.
The Blacklist Order was signed by the Director vide Order No. 01 dated 20 June 2011. It is learnt from reliable sources in the Directorate that the Order was given to the firm without any mention in the records. What conspired afterwards is still a mystery. The copy of the order that LOA has in possession was signed by the Director. When contacted, Capt Seshasai told LOA that the letter was never issued to the firm. He also said that there are people inside the department who are sabotaging DSS.
When asked about the Order, he said that it was a ploy to intimidate the firm to accelerate the pace of work. Another Sicilian message from the family.


A major goof-up committed by the Lieutenant Governor, when he communed a meeting of the farmers and their representatives and told them that the amount of Rs 130 crores sanctioned by the MHA was not compensation in lieu of submerged agricultural land, but relief package. However, in the IDA meeting, ministers objected to it and said that the amount was released as per the demand of ANI Admn for compensation as CEC had rejected the claim for release of forest land.

This collective portrait does not mean that the administration has nothing to its credit. But it's a fact that there are no visible and achievable targets in any sector. Moreover nepotism and favouritism rules the roost. If you are in the good books of the family, you will remain the blue-eyed boy, with the choicest postings and portfolios. However, the impact of the disconnect does hurt the sentiments of the Islanders, who have no say in matters of governance.

1 comment:

anil said...

i grew up with reading light of andaman, i remember my father use to bring it to home and we use to await eagerly each edition. when we lost all hope it is touching that our fourth pillar especially LOA has brought such a good edition and my kudoos to zubair ahmed,we islanders are proud of you have the guts to continue the long tradition of LOA. KEEP IT UP. let the members contribute for success of LOA