Monday, December 5, 2011

Hopes, Aspirations and Challenges Ahead - Shakti Sinha Interacts with the Leaders of Tomorrow



Hopes, Aspirations 
and Challenges Ahead
Shakti Sinha Interacts with 
the Leaders of Tomorrow

In a unique TV show conceived and produced by Doordarshan Kendra Port Blair, the Chief Secretary Shakti Sinha interacted with the college students of these Islands. It was a welcome change that the young minds put across queries that affected them and the Chief Secretary without any inhibitions took questions on water, transportation, agriculture, education, disaster preparedness and of course Assembly for the Islands. He also discussed government's vision on infrastructure, tourism and human resources of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The show conceived by G Sajan, Asst Director, Programme, Doordarshan Kendra, Port Blair was one of its kind.

Shakti Sinha initiated the discussion with an opening remark about the Islands. He said that Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a very unique Island archipelago in our country. There is no other state or territory in our country like these Islands. It's very far from the mainland, surrounded by sea. Moreover, the culture of the Islands is also distinctive. It's an ideal India. Nature and human resources are its main resources. If both these resources are developed, the Islanders can see the Islands developing itself. Tourists come in large numbers to see the natural beauty of the Islands - mountains, forests, marine life and the ocean. Then poured questions from the young adults.

GYANESH: Sir, this is your second stint in these Islands. You had been here as a young officer three decades ago. What changes do you feel or what was your vision at that time and how do you see the changes today?

We always remember our olden days as golden era. In true sense, day to day life in our Islands three decades back was very different. Port Blair was a small town, there were cleanliness everywhere. But life was very tough. There was no cooking gas. People used to cook with firewood. No phones at all, forget mobile phones. If you had to talk to someone in Mayabunder, you had to write a letter, which will reach in a week time. Ships plied between mainland and Island twice a month. The next day, there was rush in Ratnam market for purchasing onion and potatoes, as it exhausted in no time. I still remember, the Islands had to go without onions and matchbox for a month. Today, the whole scenario has changed. Take any Island - Kamorta, Campbell Bay or Diglipur, there is a vast change. To communicate, use the phone, travel anywhere in a day. A few decades ago, there were no newspapers. If your family is in mainland, you could contact them once in a month. The difference is huge. In education sector itself, we have an engineering college. JNRM has become a major institution. Earlier, the Govt College was very small. Our main effort during that period was for day to day survival. Today, we are discussing our future, that's the difference.

AKASH: All of us know that our Islands highly depend on rain for water. Every year, we get about 3000 mm of rainfall, the pattern of which keeps changing. But, our population is increasing. We still face acute shortage of water. What plans do our Admn have to tackle the scarcity of water?

It's a very good question. For South Andaman, not only Port Blair, Dhanikhari Dam is a very important source of water. The height of Dhanikhari Dam is being raised by 5 metres. Five metres does not look very big. But the capacity of storage will go up from 17 million litres to 32 million litres. In other words, we will be doubling the storage capacity. Side by side we are also trying to lay down the submarine pipeline from Chain Nallah in Rutland Island to South Andaman, which will again feed Dhanikari. As far as South Andaman is concerned, water will not be an issue at all from next six months onwards. In other parts of the Islands also, we are planning major water supply schemes by harvesting as much water as possible, which includes major rainwater harvesting, creation of water bodies, and improvement of quality of drinking water, fit for human consumption. We are constructing water filtration plants everywhere. As far as I can see, water will not be an issue anymore in Andaman Islands.  Of course, you are right, rainfall pattern changes a lot. During last one year we have had more rainfall ever recorded in the history of Andaman Islands. But sometimes, we get little rainfall. So we do need to augment water supply sources everywhere and we do need to adopt rainwater harvesting technologies as far as possible.

 SUNITA:  We have a few colleges in our Islands with limited seats. Many poor students cannot afford to go to mainland for higher studies. Does the Administration have any plans to open more colleges? Or can we have our own university?

I already mentioned that we had just one college a few decades back with very limited strength. But today there are about 3000 students in JNRM itself. We have a college at Mayabunder too. The intake capacity of engineering college is also being augmented. We can decide about opening new colleges or adding classes, but we need many permissions and bring faculties. The toughest part is getting faculties. Classes without faculties don't make sense. We are definitely trying to increase the number of student intake. But, it does not happen overnight. Schools can be opened without much fuss, but starting new college needs a lot of infrastructural requirement and faculties. As far as a university is concerned, it's too early to say anything. We have only three-four colleges. When student strength increases, we should have a plan in our scheme of things to have our own university, which should be Andaman focused and offer quality education. In future, we will have to think on that line too.

SCHALASTICA: Sir, we all know that on 26 Dec 2004, a huge earthquake occurred in our Islands followed by devastating tsunami. I too experienced it, but 99% of people in our Islands were not aware of it. Our Islands are vulnerable to such kind of disasters. We were told that there was some kind of mock drill exercise in Car Nicobar, but the public were totally unaware of it. Does the Administration have any plans to create awareness?

 You are right that we had a mock drill exercise in Teetop in Car Nicobar recently. But, it was a very small exercise just meant to test the system. We did not want to cause a panic by ordering evacuation. We could have done that, but first we wanted to check that our systems are working fine or not. If there is a disaster, we were just testing how the health department would respond, what Fire Force and Police Dept would do. We will conduct such exercises and in the future, we will involve the community in other actions creating awareness. Right now, the only disaster in our mind is tsunami or earthquake. We have to also think of other disasters. As you said 99% of people were not aware about tsunami. Now we know tsunami. We cannot rest on that. We have to prepare our communities, as they must understand what they have to do in the event of a disaster. Unless they are involved, it would be a failure. Our teams have visited various places including Indonesia to learn their ways of preparedness and we want to bring that kind of knowledge to the Islands. We have also formed community groups in various places. We never wanted our drills to cause panic and create situations like stampedes. Hence, we plan it very carefully.

SANTHAKUMAR: We have only Pondicherry University conducting Entrance Examinations here for higher studies like M Phil and PhD. Many students cannot afford to go to mainland to take such examinations. Why universities like JNU and DU are not conducting entrance examinations in our Islands?

You should know that these universities cannot have campuses here. And, many universities like DU do not conduct entrance examinations. And, for exams like CAT, lot of expenditure is involved. If there is large number of students, we can surely write to the authorities concerned. It's a very specific demand, and we will be very happy to write to such universities, if there is a demand to conduct entrance examinations in the Islands. The Administration will extend all support. Now, UPSC conducts its examinations here, for which we bear the complete expenditure.

The flight fare to the Islands is too high. And, student community too faces a lot of problems due to the steep hike in airfare.
You are absolutely right. We have taken up this issue with Government of India for a long time. However, fares are not always going up. As of now, the fares are extremely low. I myself bought a ticket to come back from Delhi at a cost of Rs 6000/-. So fares go up and down. But, the Administration has requested the Govt that at our cost, we are prepared to run a plane everyday by rotation to Chennai, Vizag and Kolkata at literally no loss no profit basis to force the other airlines to bring down their fares. It is a fact that the airfares in India are deregulated and nobody can fix fares. It's the airlines which fixes it like vegetables, where nobody can dictate the price. Moreover, if the supply is high and demand supply mismatch is not there, price will come down. Hence, we are trying to increase the supply so that no cartel can monopolise.

SACHIN: We have sufficient agriculture produce in our Islands, but we do not have agro-based industries here. Farmers do not benefit due to lack of value-addition. And farmers lose interest in agriculture itself. What steps the Administration is taking in introducing agro-based industries?

It's not the job of the Administration to setup industries. Private sector has to chip in. Our mandate is to facilitate and provide conducive atmosphere. There are many a scheme in agriculture in which subsidy is provided. For e.g. for setting up a cold storage facility, or purchase of machinery, we can provide subsidy. If any entrepreneur wishes to setup a unit, we will provide all facilities, as these Islands are very remote and the expenditure involved is huge. Unfortunately, the area under cultivation is very less and it won't be feasible with limited supply to run an industry. But, we are committed to take up the issue. With the help of NABARD, we have started a unit of Dhal in Diglipur just to encourage and send a message that there is scope for agro-industry. The Administration can only run pilots, but a full fledge food processing unit by the Admn is not at all viable. At the same time, we are fully committed to support any private entrepreneur who wishes to setup such industry.

SHOBINI: I would like to know about the attractive way of education known as e-learning. Do we have any plans to introduce e-learning in our Islands?

Absolutely, e-learning is at the heart of our long term plans for Andaman Islands. I had mentioned separately in another question that we lack faculty and its very difficult to get trained faculties. E-learning is a solution to that. However, e-learning requires very good speed of internet, able to download and upload. Presently we rely on satellites, where the speed is very slow. I myself am very frustrated when I want to download any page on the internet. With great difficulty we have made Government of India to agree and we will be the only state govt or UT Admn in the entire country to be laying down our own submarine optical-fibre cable, connecting us to the world. Once it happens, the bandwidth available will enable us not only to have e-learning facility everywhere, especially in the outer and remote areas; we can have many other activities. We require E-learning badly in many places as there are many schools in remote areas with very less strength, where posting teachers for every subject is not feasible. Once we have the backbone ready, that we expect to have by mid-2013, just a year and half to go, a very short span of time by world standards, we would really be able to give our students all over the islands tremendous opportunity of learning, not just the course curriculum, but will be able to explore the web world. When I discuss about human resource development, e-learning is at its very heart.

ARUN KUMAR:  We are surrounded by water on all sides, but we don not have water sports facilities in our Islands. Have the Administration taken any steps to promote water sports in our Islands?

I think you are a student of commerce. You might be aware that income and expenditure statement is very important. The initial capital investment for water sports equipments is very high. The recurring costs are not much. Hence, ANI Admn has procured many water sports equipments - like paragliding and jet skiing. We are also operating a few. Our idea is to operate it in association with a professional agency. In fact, it is very difficult for a government agency to run a service-oriented or tourism oriented activity. As we are government servants and not students of commerce, it is very difficult for a govt servant to reorient his mindset to understand that customer is the king. Moreover, water sports equipments are highly technical in nature. For eg. We are setting up a decompressing chamber in GB Pant Hospital for divers, which will be ready very soon. The Administration is willing to do the capital investment. But the actual running of it has to be by private sector. The Admn is wiling to facilitate, partner and provide all required infrastructure. A couple of months back, the administration had invited Yachting Society of India to start yachting in our Islands and hundreds of students took interest in it, and now the idea is to promote it as a sport. You are right that the Islanders should get such facilities, at the same time; it will improve the employment prospects in the Islands. To run it as a tourism facility, we need to have skilled manpower, and the prospects are very high. It's a major component in our growth strategy.

PRIYA: We are told that 85% of the Islands is under forest cover. However, we see rampant illegal poaching and logging everywhere. What steps are being taken to conserve and protect our flora and fauna?

There is nothing much to worry. I think the forest cover includes mangroves, water bodies and it is about 93% and not 85%. There have been encroachments in the past, but if we look at the satellite imagery for the last many years, there is no increase in it. Moreover, the areas under encroachments have slightly come down also. There might be occasional illegal logging here and there, but it's not a cause of concern. On the other hand, trees are a renewable source and if you are able to harvest trees in sustainable manner, there is absolutely nothing wrong. In fact it is advisable to use renewable energy resources as against non-renewable resources like steel and cement, which requires mining, which requires heavy energy cost of conversion and heavy cost of transportation. So while we are completely against illegal logging with zero tolerance and against encroachments, we should also accept that nature and we have to live together and we can take from nature provided that what we take is sustainable. While you are right to be concerned, we need to spread the message that how important nature is to our lives and we have to utilize what nature has to offer in a sustainable manner.

MAMTA: There are many posts vacant in the educational institutions. But, the posts are not advertised, which brings frustration among the youth. On one side, we can see no scope in government sector and at the same time, the private sector is very limited. What measures can the administration take to reduce unemployment?

First, concerning posts of teachers, we do recruit teachers soon after summer holidays. We have done the exercise this year and large number of posts have been filled up. Some we could not fill up as we could not get adequate no. of trained and qualified teachers. Vacancies in the college have been filled up by the UPSC. About prospects of employment, the scope of recruitment and employment in the government sector is extremely limited. We won't be able to employ many more people in government sector except for those posts where people retire. What we can rely upon is the bandwidth we are going to have with the laying of the submarine optical fibre cable. Once we have the backbone with large bandwidth, e-learning, e-medicine and all government work on the internet like govt to citizen transactions, govt to business kind of activities, once we are able to conduct such activities, IT and IT-enabled activities will have scope in Andaman Islands. Of course, our population is limited, but we will be able to create large number of jobs. The future is employment in those sectors where you can provide service to the public and make money out of it. Even tourism and other activities will benefit a lot from IT and ITES. I am sorry to disappoint you and say not to look into government sector, as it will be only able to employ limited no. of people in the future, not only in Andamans, but all over India.

PARVEZ:  There is huge brain drain happening in our Islands as those well qualified and experts leave the Islands due to lack of exposure and opportunity. How can we prevent such exodus?

First of all, we should not be much concerned about brain drain. People tend to work at places where they are comfortable and get the right environment. But you are right, many students who proceed to mainland for professional courses on seats allotted from the Island's quota do not come back and our people does not benefit from their services, which is not a good thing. It's a complex issue where the demands of the society and individuals are poles apart. Hence, we need to create a balance by augmenting the standard of life, which might force them to think of working in Andamans. To achieve this, we need to have better air connectivity, better connectivity like phone and internet and good educational institutions, wherein not only our children, even experts and qualified persons from outside come and work here. We need to concentrate on these aspects. The administration has started taking steps like reduction of airfare, setting up of medical college, augment bandwidth and improve all other facilities. People should sense that without sacrificing any comfort, they can work here. Theoretically, everybody sacrifices, but when it comes to one's own life, we start thinking about our family and other responsibilities. When there is overall improvement in the living standards, we will not talk about brain drain, but brain gain.

MOYNA:  Sir, our Islands face lack of quality medical facilities especially in the remote Islands. Many patients are either shifted to GB Pant Hospital or referred to Mainland. Poor people cannot afford treatment in mainland hospitals. Even lives are lost due to lack of better healthcare.

It's a good question that you have asked about outside Port Blair. Many people think that our Islands begin and end in Port Blair. We definitely need to improve our medical facilities outside. Compared to many parts of mainland India, our medical facilities are far better. At the same time, our challenges are far difficult. Patient evacuation is a issue of major concern. Our main issue is non-availability of specialized doctors easily. Hence, we have come to two agreements with Government of India to depute specialists to the Islands for three months. And when they come, we make a rotational tour of our Islands from Campbell Bay to Diglipur. In advance, we inform the doctors and the patients about visit of specialists so that they can mobilize the patients. We have also tied up Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi. But, it's not sufficient. We have also drawn up a plan which we will be implementing from next April onwards, where poor patients will be given financial assistance and airfare for treatment in mainland. So, it's the combination of all these activities, through which we hope to improve the quality of healthcare.

NAZNEEN:  We nowadays face the problem of load shedding. With more demand for electricity, is there any plan to augment power generation using solar and wind energy?

Absolutely, we have already signed agreement with National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) which is setting up a pilot solar plant. We are setting up a pilot of mixed fuel plant. We have also setup windmills in Car Nicobar for testing and that test itself takes five to six years before we can setup a windmill energy plant. In our Islands, we will have to look how to improve the quality of electricity we get. Right now we have local power stations serving in local areas. The advantage is that we can manage it easily. The disadvantage is that small plants consume more fuel. Bigger plants are fuel-efficient plants. Instead of running small stations everywhere like Diglipur, Mayabunder, Rangat etc., we can think about setting up bigger plants in one grid for the Islands, so that it can get power from hydro, say Kalpong Dam,  from Diesel and also get supplemental power from wind energy, solar energy or mixed fuel. We are definitely working on it and have implemented some of them.

RADHIKA:  There is a trend of parents sending their children to public schools for education. How can we attract children to government run schools?

First of all, government schools must improve the quality of education. We have already implemented compulsory training of teachers every year. The system of Continuous Evaluation has also begun. Right to Education is also being implemented. To improve the quality of education, we will have tie up with other agencies to assure minimum quality everywhere. We should not be bothered about parents sending their children to public schools, but our focus should be to improve the quality of education in government run schools, where the doors are open for one and all. Quality cannot be achieved by any magic wand. However, it is our responsibility to see that overall quality of education is improved.

NAGESHWARI: We have very few beaches open for tourists, which is getting crowded due to increase in tourists. Are there any plans to open new Islands with good beaches for tourism?

Absolutely, we see tourism as the single biggest source of employment generation in the Islands. The Administration has already entered into agreements to setup hotels and resorts at Havelock, Neil and Long Island. We tried for Little Andaman, but we could not get a good bid for it. We have introduced seaplane services from Port Blair not just to Havelock, but to Diglipur where tourists are interested to see Ross and Smith Islands and Hut Bay too. We are trying to have bigger planes which can fly upto Campbell Bay, where we have the best locations for wave surfing in India due to the height of waves. We have to pursue different places. Side by side, we have developed a project report with Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a Karnataka government company. We are setting up three nature circuits - Mount Harriet-Madhuban, Cutbert Bay-Long Island and Ross and Smith-Saddle Peak, Diglipur. The idea is every Island should be able to develop with minimum tourism facilities. People can there and partake in various activities and these ventures will create a lot of employment everywhere. At the same time, we have to be mindful about the impact of tourism on nature and our environment. We cannot destroy or over exploit our environment, which is our single best resource for tourism. Definitely we are opening up new Islands for tourism development.

PREETI: Indian Railways is one of the leading railways in the world. It has constructed many railway links in many difficult terrains in our country even in Srinagar and Arunachal Pradesh. When will be Andaman on the railway map of India? Is there steps being taken in that direction?

It's a good question. A study has also been done in this regard. Before answering the question, we need to ask many other questions. Is it required or not? What is possible in our Islands? A decade ago, a survey was carried out for a railway line between Port Blair and Diglipur. If we analyse the internal rate of return or even the economic rate of return and the social rate of return, the negative rate of return is very high. Despite all these, Railway Ministry has decided to resurvey and assess the need for railway line and its feasibility. Whether a railway line materializes or not, the means of communication from Campbell Bay to Aerial Bay will be improved with focus on quality, speed and comfort.

SUNITA:  What steps have been taken by the authorities to protect the two indigenous tribes - Jarawas and Sentinelese?

Earlier there was a fear that the population of the tribes are drastically coming down. In fact the population growth of all indigenous tribes was on a decline after the advent of British. However, 2011 census paints a bright picture, where the population of Jarawa has increased from 256 to 380 and the numbers of Shompens have also gone up. We have no idea about Sentinalese, as we do not go there and disturb them. We are more conscious about the cultural change happening among the Jarawas due to their interaction with the settlers. Now there is no hostility. To find out the changes in their community, Government of India has formed a committee and Administration is part of it. Many experts - sociologists and anthropologists are being involved who have already worked here and among the Jarawas. They will submit their findings and based on that a policy will be formulated. Jarawas will be dealt as per their will. If they want to come and join, we won't stop, but we have to know what changes are happening in their society and what are their aspirations? We cannot decide for them. We have to empower them so that they can expound their viewpoint. We cannot impose any vision on them. However, there cannot be any fear that their numbers are coming down.

SANDHYA:  It is said that we have abundant variety of marine wealth in our ocean. How can we exploit the vast marine resources?

One-third of India's Exclusive Economic Zone falls under the jurisdiction of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We should have been one of the biggest centres of export for fisheries. But, our traditional fishermen only fish in the coastal waters, where the catch is very limited. Moreover we do not have continental shelf. Keeping these limitations in mind, in 2010, we launched Tuna Mission because there is huge reserve of Blue-fin Tuna in the deep sea. Those interested in building big trawlers, we are providing subsidy upto 25 per cent. Moreover, we are going to put fish aggregating devices (FAD) which will also increase fish catch. If Tuna Mission turns successful, we will be able to export fish from the Islands and it will bring more revenue as well as employment. Right now, its in early implementation stage and we cannot forecast the success rate, but it remains our priority.

SNEHA:  My question is about cleanliness in the city. Even though we are known as green paradise, most of the places are very unclean, which sends a wrong message. What steps have been initiated by the administration to keep the Islands sanitized and clean?

We have elected bodies at village as well as town level. We have PBMC in Port Blair town and Panchayats in village level. Sanitation is the job given to the elected bodies. They are supposed to collect house tax. They also get a lot of grant in aid from the Administration. So, on one hand, I can just say, sorry I cannot do anything about it. It's the responsibility of the elected bodies. But no, we are very concerned about it. We are working with them very pro-actively how to improve. We are trying to locate better spots for disposal of waste in Port Blair town and surroundings, which includes segregation of waste into degradable and non-degradable. We are also working with Panchayats at different parts if they are willing to do so to give them extra financial help as well as to enable them to do the processing in a better way. Garbage disposal is a major problem in the Islands. Today, it might not appear to be a problem, but as our lifestyles are changing, we are adopting more consumer habits, consuming more tetra packs, more plastic bottles and this is becoming a problem. And throughout we are working with the elected bodies, how to improve the quality of sanitation services.

MAMTA:  What will be the Administrative setup of this Islands. Shall we have an Assembly or we will continue with the present system?

You are asking this question to a wrong person. I am a government servant. My job is to implement government policies. What the Government of India wants here as system of governance is beyond my purview. As a private citizen, I can have some views, but as Chief Secretary, I cannot have such views. Even if I have my views, I cannot express it in public. It would be violation of conduct rules. Sure, there is democracy everywhere. We have elected bodies here. What final shape it would attain will be decided by the government of India and its leadership. I won't be able to comment on it.

SNEHA:  There are many remote areas in our Islands, where there is no road connectivity even after 50 years of Independence. For eg. Nischintpur, Jagannath Dera, Ganesh Nagar which comes under Diglipur Tehsil. What is your strategy to overcome this in the next nine years?

Mainly, our aim is to connect every place. But, some of the villages that you have mentioned were not settlement villages. They were forest encroachments, which were later recognized as revenue villages. To make roads to these villages require lot of legal procedures due to reserve forest and the creeks. But wherever possible roads are being constructed and I think there is hardly any habitation left out which will not have access to communications. If there is no way to lay road, definitely ferry service has been initiated. As you mentioned, Jagannath Dera, wherever possible roads are being made. The process of identifying the alignment and environment impact assessments are being done which needs approval and dereservation of reserve forests under Forest Act. All these are very long process, which as the Admn, we are committed to follow. We will definitely follow these policies and see that all these places get connected as soon as possible.
In fact it was a great pleasure to listen to the youth of Andamans and to know their aspirations, the challenges ahead them and their concerns. If we don't get such feedback, our plans will have weaknesses. As I said, we cannot decide for the Jarawas, no government can plan without the inputs, suggestions and ideas of its citizens.


Dr. Vincent Barla said...

It is really excellent and wonderful that the Chief Secretary himself interacted with the students. I can imagine from the nature of question posed by students that now students of Andamans are fully exposed to the day to day problems of the world. I liked the comments of CS wherein he has described as to how Port Blair was, three decades back. Regarding the brain-drain question, what the CS said is correct. I was perhaps the first boy to qualify any of the UPSC's competitive examination in 1983 and join Central Secretariat Service. We have now an IAS officer from Andamans too. There are still few more in senior position in Delhi. A&N Administration can always requisition services of those officers who are willing. On our part wherever we get a chance to deal any case of Adnamans, we always do it in a positive manner because we are from there.
Dr.Vincent Barla

Nishit Sahay said...

What an initiative! Mr. Sinha you have really opened up a conducive medium for these young minds to interact. Things have really improved over the years and with officers like you coming to Andamans people are rest assured to have a bright future.
Hats off to you.
Nishit Sahay
Washington DC.

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