Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PAUPER’S LOG Thirsty Paradise: Natural or Manmade?

Thirsty Paradise
Natural or Manmade?

By Abu Arsh

Availability of potable water is a major concern for the inhabitants of an island environment. There are some subtle and obvious issues which need to be given attention while addressing the challenges of providing potable water to inhabitants of islands. A&N islands have seen deliberations on this subject since ages and no tangible solution is at sight. Our Islands are dependent on rainwater harvesting to meet majority of its potable water requirement. Proper sanitation is not possible without adequate water and improper sanitation runs risk of contaminating water sources. Recent water shortages can squarely be attributed to man made factors. There has been consistent mismanagement and pilferage of this natural resource over the years. Growth in the Islands population, tourism and industrial /construction uses have contributed to water shortages.
National Water Policy 2002 recognises water 'a basic human need'. This basic human need at present is made available to us islanders at a premium. Curtailment of water supply to as much as only 2 times a week for 20 minutes a day does not surprise many in summer season. Presently water is supplied on alternate days for an hour with water trickling from taps at a rate where a drum can only become half full. Water supply in Port Blair is maintained by PBMC and in rural areas by APWD. Their lower category staffs have devised means to black market water. A period of acute water shortage surfaced after Tsunami of 2004 due to breakages in the main water pipelines. This gave ample scope for the supervisors and linemen to device ways in putting up a price for their services. This practice has become prevalent predominantly in Municipal areas. Staffs adjust valve settings of water distribution lines to suit their bribing clients and hang around their personal tanks, making sure each of them overflows. This maneuver greatly helps in watering lawns, mopping granite floors and washing grime off cars for our insatiable rich citizens. At the same time a law abiding subscriber of PBMC or APWD fret at erratic water supply in his tap unable to top up his water pot, cook his meal or maintain personal hygiene. Unattended leaking pipes and valves too are a common sight in Port Blair and rural areas.
The islands receive copious rainfall to the tune of about 3000 mm. per year. About 95 percent of annual rainfall is received during May-December (2250 mm in May- September during southwest monsoon and 685 mm in October-December during northeast monsoon). Present availability of water resource in the urban area of Port Blair is 17.79 million litres per day (MLD). This is mainly by storage in Dhanikhari dam. As per the status of water supply (Economic Survey of A&N Islands, 2007-08), the available water supply in A&N Islands is 49.62 MLD indicating an excess of 10.27 MLD whereas the projected demand for 2020 is 53.91 MLD showing a shortfall of 4.56 MLD. It is interesting to note that the present and projected (by 2020) shortfall in water supply in urban Port Blair alone are 9.38 MLD and 19.67 MLD, respectively. These statistics need pondering and judicious utilisation measures adopted. 
For development of water resources in the urban and rural Port Blair, raising of Dhanikhari dam by 5 m, sweet water lake at Sippighat, Rutland water supply project, desalinisation plant at Port Blair, dam on Kamsrat Nallah, have been taken up. Majority of these projects have hit road blocks and are yet to take off or alternatively are progressing at snails pace.
In a seminar post-Tsunami, a paper by Santha Sheela Nair, Secretary, Drinking Water Supply; New Delhi titled 'Possible Alternatives for Sustainable Sanitation and Safe drinking water supply in islands with specific reference to Andaman & Nicobar Islands'- specified government guidelines while planning water systems on the Andaman Islands. A few key points from the paper were- Sustainability should be evaluated from source, technology, financial and social aspects. The current water supply system needs to be decentralised for augmentation taking into consideration the seismic risks, scattered-increasing population and climate change. Individual and community roof-water harvesting is an ideal decentralised system of providing safe drinking water. Generate awareness and capacity of community towards creating healthy living conditions by promoting eco-sanitation. Not much of it has been given serious thought by our planners.

MAIL | BOX We Have an Alcoholic Friendly Administration



We Have an Alcoholic Friendly Administration

The article 'Lets make our islands Liquor free' by Yasmeen Shabnam under the column 'Your Space' was thought provoking. This is the voice of majority of the islanders.
Whenever organisations and individuals object to issuing of bar licences, the oft-repeated reply of the Registering authority is that Administration has set certain guidelines for issuing the bar licences and if anyone fulfills those guidelines, they cannot be denied the right to run a bar. The administration which is totally out of sync with the aspirations of the people have created norms which will flourish this trade, fill the pockets of few and ruin the lives of many.  While framing policies, the people at the helm of affairs turn a blind eye to the Article 47 of Directive principles to States, enshrined in the constitution.  The article states that the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
Also, the Registering authority has some advice for those objecting against the bars. Instead of objecting, he insists to create awareness among the masses about the bad effects of liquor consumption. On the one hand, we are encouraging and facilitating liquor hubs and on the other hand, we spend our resources for counseling and rehabilitation of the habitual drunkards. Seminars and symposiums conducted on 'Anti-alcoholism' day has become a charade, an eye-wash.  Educating an alcoholic is appropriately summed up by Oscar Wilde 'When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up.....reading.'     The ill-informed and lop-sided policy of making easy accessibility of  liquor and then trying to provide medical assistance to those affected by it need to be re-looked.
The Corporation set up under the premise of integrated and all-round development of the islands has become synonymous with boozing. The company set up on 28th June 1988, aims to improve supply of important raw materials, essential commodities, consumables with view to stabilize the market and provide these goods to people at reasonable prices. The essential commodity which is most pro-actively supplied by ANIIDCO is well-known. Among the eleven units (Source: of ANIIDCO, the visible arm seems to be the IMFL unit. In an effort to make its presence felt throughout the archipelago, the company plans to open new IMFL retail  outlets at Bambooflat and Havelock.
Despite all this, there is hope. The people of Ferrar Gunj Tehsil has been fighting tooth and nail to resist renewal of existing bars and proposals of new ones. A mass movement in 2008, initiated by Mahila mondals, supported by local NGOs, PRIs and commoners successfully weeded out the illicit locally produced brew. A similar approach can only put brakes to the sinister designs of an alcoholic-friendly administrative set-up.
K P Mohd Younus
Wimberly Gunj

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

EDITORIAL: ANIIDCO's Miscalculated Step


ANIIDCO's Miscalculated Step

The ANI Admn is referred to as an alcoholic-friendly administration. With bars at every nook and corner, the rising crimes pertaining to alcoholism does not trouble the administrator or the administration. Why the authorities turn a blind eye towards the root cause is a major concern.
ANI registers perhaps the highest per capita consumption of liquor. ANIIDCO sells liquor worth Rs 80 crores. Out of the defence quota, more than a lakh litre slips into the market. The consumption is on a steep rise. The effects are nakedly visible. The scourge of addiction is eating into the vitals of the entire Island society right from Campbell Bay to Aerial Bay.
At this juncture, it's shocking to learn that there is a proposal to open a wine shop in Bambooflat by ANIIDCO. When the general public is crushed under the weight of price rise, ignoring its own principle of stabilizing the market and providing essential commodities to people at reasonable prices, the board of ANIIDCO thought otherwise and closed its chain of green shops, which were supplying vegetables. And now, how the wine shop is going to help the rural populace is anybody's guess. ANIIDCO has already lost its human face by closing the green shops and opening up new wine shops.
The role of the elected PRI members of Bambooflat Panchayat, who wrote to the administration demanding a wine shop in their locality, is condemnable. The PRIs who have a pro-active role in the growth and development of the villages need to reset their priorities.
However, the logic that there is a demand for a wine shop from the PRIs is highly outrageous as on the other hand the Vice President of BJP has openly demanded the Administration to reopen the green shops. Why the demand is not met? Why the haste in opening wine shop? What happened to corporate social responsibility of the "only" commercial arm of the Administration?
There is open resentment among the general public residing in the surrounding villages against the move of the administration. It's a misconstrued step that ANIIDCO has taken. The decision needs to be revised or there will be serious backlash on the ground.

AE's Quarter Renovation: Whither Regulations?


AE's Quarter Renovation:
Whither Regulations?

To provide appropriate services of technical manpower to PRIs, the Directorate of Panchayat took the wise and bold decision to free the technical wing from the clutches of Zilla Parishad, and the whole setup was rearranged to avoid inordinate delays in execution of developmental works. But, with it cropped its share of problems too. The technical wing was shifted to Directorate building. However, the AE, who had already seen the sheen and grandeur of the earlier head of the technical wing, could not lag behind and shifted to one of the Councillor's quarter (General Pool).
As usual, it required to be renovated and refurbished. But, who will foot the bill? The onus fell on four or five panchayats of Ferrar Gunj Tehsil. Flouting all regulations, which is imposed on the PRIs every now and then, an order was issued by the Executive Engineer to the Asst Engineer to approve technical clearance and a few panchayats in Ferrar Gunj Tehsil were asked to prepare work orders and fund  diverted to renovate the quarter, which however belong to the general pool and is located in Junglighat, far away from their jurisdiction.
Most of the Panchayats sensing foul-play did not heed to the order. It is learnt that an amount of Rs 8.2 lakhs were diverted from a couple of Panchayats.
When asked about the issue, A Neduncheziyan, Director, Rural Development said he is not aware of the incident and assured that he will look into the matter. However, Guruswamy, AE, Dir of Panchayat said that as per CPWD manual, there is provision upto 5% for contingency expenditure, which he said includes office stationery, vehicles and for watch and ward. Its astonishing to find that how can a residential quarter be charged under work.
As per the Panchayat Rules and Regulations, work orders from Panchayat can only be executed in their jurisdiction after due concurrence of Gram Sabha. The Pradhans, who won't mind bending the rules a bit to appease their bosses never thought that this act, which goes against the regulation might boomerang, if someone seeks information through RTI and files a complaint.
The Directorate officials however tried to convince saying that they were suddenly caught in a  precarious situation soon after the formation of a separate technical wing, they had to find residential quarter for the AE and it was an internal adjustment.
Neduncheziyan said that to run the department with additional staff also requires infrastructure as well as expenses to be covered. "We cannot keep going to the 69 Panchayats and ask for contingency fund to meet our stationery requirement, vehicles and other expenses. We have now approached the administration and the Lieutenant Governor has approved the provision of its own fund," he added.
Nonetheless, it does not exonerate the renovation of the Assistant Engineer's quarter located in Junglighat from funds diverted as work orders issued by Panchayats from Guptapara to Shoal Bay.

Interview: A Neduncheziyan, Director, Panchayats - Stemming the Rot


Interview: A Neduncheziyan, Director, Panchayats
Stemming the Rot

Nedunchezhiyan, Director, RD, PRIs and ULB is on a cleaning spree. Loads of changes are on the anvil to check the cancerous malaise called corruption involving Panchayati Raj Institutions. Making clear his stand, he said that he is not here to make the Panchayats work, but whatever they do, they need to do it diligently with utmost accountability. In a freewheeling interview, he spoke to The Light of Andamans on various issues related to the major changes he has initiated to bring accountability to the Panchayati Raj Institution.

By Zubair Ahmed

To begin with, sanitation and disposal of solid waste in villages is a major issue today. Earlier, the Deputy Commissioner, South Andaman had stated that the Gram Panchayat will make arrangements to collect garbage, Panchayat Samiti will shift the garbage to the dumping grounds managed by Zilla Parishad. The arrangement failed. There is confusion on the ground.
The Panchayat Regulation clearly says that sanitation and garbage disposal is the subject of Gram Panchayat. I am aware about the minutes of the meeting held by the Deputy Commissioner. But, Gram Panchayat has to keep their area clean. They have been provided fund for that. They should identify sites to dump the waste and make arrangements for transportation too. If the fund is insufficient they can come to us. Besides, we have approached Government of India to implement Total Sanitation Campaign. We have requested for Rs 35 crores to create dumping grounds and solid waste management system. This is apart from the regular fund. There should not be any issue on this subject. It's very clearly mentioned in the regulation.

Why does the Directorate or the authorities wait for someone to make a complaint to take action against corrupt PRI members? If no one files a complaint, the elected member goes scot-free after his term. Is this justified? Why can't you have a monthly or quarterly monitoring system like MGNREGA to keep a tab on utilization of fund?
The Panchayati Raj Institutions with the three-tier system should function independently without any interference. Gram Sabha should conduct social audit to check any kind of deviation from the set rules and regulations. But, the mechanism in most cases has proved ineffective. Hence, we have suggested many changes in the rules. We have incorporated many preventive measures and stringent rules to check corruption. Regular monitoring and audits will be carried out and it's going to be a regular feature now onwards. Once elected as member, they cannot go scot-free even after five years. The issue is that self-autonomy is not compromised. Their power has been enhanced and they will be given a free-hand to rule. But, the vigilance monitoring aspect will be strengthened. There will be regular monitoring of their expenditure.

There is a wide complaint that you issue orders verbally and never give instructions in writing?
It's a misleading statement. If what I speak is there in regulation, why should I give it in writing? In case of emergency, if I give verbal instruction, they can send back the file with my instruction for my approval. Those who complain want to save their skin.

The rearrangement of Technical Wing was a major step taken after you took charge of the Directorate. Was that an easy decision?
Not an easy decision. I had to put a lot of effort to clean the stable. We were not even given proper space for office. The present Directorate building was under Zilla Parishad. We had to fight to get the space back.

You talk of devolution of power, whereas, still, the executive staff or those on diverted capacity from various line departments do not report to the elected Pradhan. They report to the Panchayat Secretary or the Executive Officer?
There are two aspects. The Pramukh of Panchayat Samiti is the Head of the Institution and the Executive Officer is the Head of the Office. Even if the Junior Engineer reports to the Panchayat Secretary, JE is responsible to the Gram Panchayat through him. The Assistant Engineer although reports to the Executive Officer, he is ultimately responsible to the Panchayat Samiti. This is done for smooth functioning of the office.

It is learnt that you have proposed changes in the Rules? What are the salient changes proposed?
Yes, we have incorporated many changes in the Rules. It is yet to be endorsed by the Admn and we hope that within two years, there will be drastic changes in the functioning of PRI. Our major focus was on accountability of the PRI members as the money given to them is meant for development. It should not be diverted to be siphoned off. Monitoring and preventive mechanism has been strengthened with regular watch on their activities and the penal action against violators is also suggested. We have also proposed that the beneficiary of developmental work should not be a single household or family. In many cases, the relatives of the PRI members become beneficiaries of many projects, which need to be checked.

If there is a dire need where the beneficiary is a single family and the Gram Sabha passes the work.
It depends upon Gram Sabha, if they have no problem, and in such cases they can carry out the work. The Rule is incorporated to prevent misuse and violations.

It has also come to light that you have proposed a cap of 30% for purchase including energy bills from GIA -General Fund. Do you think the amount is sufficient?
Before taking a decision on this aspect, we had carried out a wide study of all panchayats and fixed the cap on purchase. However, it's not yet final. But, we believe that the amount of 30% is sufficient and the energy bills are not more than Rs 4 Lakhs annually.

You have put a limit on usage of vehicles by the PRI heads, whereas, AEs and EEs can use the vehicles unlimited. Is it justified?
Yes, I don't think there should be a limit for the usage of vehicle for the technical staff as they have to make frequent visits to the work sites as well as panchayats from Diglipur to Beodnabad in South Andaman.

The quarter of AE located in Junglighat was renovated using funds diverted from Panchayats in Ferrar Gunj Tehsil. Is it not violation of Regulations?
I am not aware of this issue. I will look into it. However, the establishment needs fund for functioning. It can be met from the 5% contingency of Panchayats. But, I will look into the matter and see if there is any violation.

Panchayat Secretaries complain that they are overburdened with responsibilities of two panchayats? There is staff shortage at all levels. Why are you not filling posts?
The complaint is from regular Panchayat Secretaries. Those who have joined on deputation have no complaints and are coping up with their responsibilities. I don't think they are overburdened. Moreover, the Village Level Workers feels it inferior to work under Gram Panchayats as VLWs, but they are willing to work as Panchayat Secretaries. I have proposed that we should have one VLW attached with each panchayat.  Once we appoint regular Panchayat Secretaries, the shortage will reduce. I also understand that the Panchayat Secretaries does not have any promotion channel, which needs to be created. I am working on it too.

And, what about Group C staff for Panchayats?
Yes, it's long pending decision. The posts were created 15 years back. I don't know why it was not filled. The matter is also under my consideration. There is staff shortage in Panchayat. We need to fill the post of Group C staff to overcome it.

Do you think, the PRIs need to be sensitized about the Rules and Regulations as well as their role and functions?
Yes, we have initiated awareness and training programme on a massive scale. We are touching every nook and corner. From February onwards, programmes on various aspects of PRIs are also conducted.

After 15 years of PRI system, how do you rate them in the Islands?
Although, the Islands have its own drawbacks, we are not lagging behind in any aspect from other states. We have made Article 243 (G) mandatory whereas many states are yet to do it. Our focus should be on strengthening of infrastructure and systematic functioning methodology.



PRIs or Pariahs

You cannot do away with them as they are an integral part of our democratic setup. Everyone seeks to empower them, as they are the only face of political autonomy in our Islands. But, even after 15 years of 73rd Constitutional Amendment, late Rajiv Gandhi's vision of empowering the villagers of rural India remains a distant dream.

By Zubair Ahmed

You cannot do away with them. They are an integral part of our democracy. Everyone seeks to empower them, as they are the face of political autonomy in our Islands. Even after 15 years of 73rd Constitutional Amendment, late Rajiv Gandhi's dream of empowering the villagers of rural India remains a vain hope. First 10 years, it was purely experimental, where both the administration and the PRIs messed up, at many occasions. When Administration tried to rein them, they were powerful enough to fly two cabinet ministers from Delhi and get their way out from the trap.
The relationship between PRIs and the Administration was not always a courteous one. Two reports on the functioning of the PRIs in the Union Territory - one by Third Finance Commission and the second by NABCONs sponsored by NABARD brings forth two different versions of the last fifteen years of PRI system.
The Administration has woken up from a deep slumber after a long 15-year leash given to the PRIs to function according to their whims and fancies. It realized that all is not well in the system and it requires immediate plugging of the existing loopholes. The Grant-in-Aid Rules are being amended. Many strict and stern actions are recommended as preventive measures to check embezzlement of funds. Regulations too are amended to check favoritism. A cap of 30% for purchases out of GIA -General Fund is also recommended by the Directorate to control unrestrained purchases.
The attitude of the PRIs towards the proposed changes is very cautious one. They are a frightened lot now. Nobody dares to raise their voice for just or unjust causes. They are intimidated by everyone, technically and bureaucratically. The reason is obvious- they have put themselves in such a quandary by their own irresponsible actions. Within a year of assuming charge, a good number out of them have embezzled funds as much as possible. Purchases of streetlights, dustbins and stationery worth lakhs show their insatiable greed. The whole PRI system works in a coterie. From top to bottom, the link is visible with set percentages and cuts nicely engraved in each work order and purchase order.
It's a fact that they have been elected for a term of 5 years by the electorate. And they should be given the freedom to rule the complete term. Proper check and balance mechanism should be at place to keep them under the ambit of rules and regulations. Everyone knows that Gram Sabhas have utterly failed to control corruption. When the GPs submit monthly expenditure report, why can't they be held accountable if excess purchases reflect in the report? A query is sufficient to put a stop to the unbridled greed.
It is a proven fact that the PRIs can be easily tamed. "We are like donkeys. He, who twists our ear, leads us" said a very senior Panchayat Member about the working of the Gram Panchayat; and that about sums up the way the village Panchayats generally work; with slight variations here and there. The level of ignorance, indifference and general apathy among the villagers, the ward members and even some Pradhans of the Panchayats was appalling, to say the least.
The advent of RTI and the large quantity of ammunition from the last fifteen years have empowered them enough to go for Hara-kiri against each other. The court cases, disqualifications and arrests of PRIs including the technical and administrative staff are not because someone wants the system to be clean. It's the by-product of their hara-kiri. If the intentions were right, one would have seen the same persons who filed the RTI application and filed cases against the corrupt PRIs performing honestly. But, the case is different.
Gram Sabhas have also failed to address the problem of corruption in the right sense. The NABARD report suggests that Social Audits of PRIs are mandatory as per the 73rd constitutional Amendment 1993, through which the village communities are empowered to conduct - social audit of all development works in their respective villages and the concerned authorities are duty bound to facilitate them. The social audits are expected to contribute to the process of empowerment of beneficiaries and generate demand for the effective delivery of programmes. The instruction requires that special Gram Sabhas be arranged to conduct social audit in every ward and that Social Audits of all ongoing development works be included as an item of discussion in every Gram Sabha meeting.
Moreover, the PRIs are a confused lot, with many fathers. Sometimes the Deputy Commissioner summons them and hands over a list of things to be done, not even bothered what the Rules and Regulations say. The issue of sanitation, which is never attended by the Gram Panchayat is such a case. The DC, SA told them that Panchayat will collect and segregate the garbage; Samiti will shift it to the dumping ground prepared by the Zilla Parishad. The whole setup failed as there was no coordination between the three tiers. How did DC issue such an order when the Regulation says something else? The Chief Secretary in a meeting said that sanitation is a subject of Gram Panchayat, and most of the GPs are still waiting for an order clarifying it.
PRIs complain that there is acute shortage of staff in each tier. The Third Finance Commission had recommended that Admn to immediately transfer all implementation, regulatory, advisory and other functions to the local bodies as envisaged in the Constitutional provisions for the functions to be devolved to the local bodies. The Admn should also ensure availability of minimum staff strength for which they will either bear the expenditure or transfer adequate funds. Control of staff should have been vested in local bodies. However, it still remains a pipedream.
It can be seen that only some headway has been made in devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to the institutions. The progress is rather slow and often tardy. This process on paper gathered momentum in 2006 when administrative orders were issued to transfer constitutionally mandated twenty nine functions to these institutions. However, even today this administrative fiat has not been translated into action at the ground level in letter and spirit. In many cases the devolved functions are still being done by the administrative departments. The funds for all these functions have not been fully devolved. All officials have also not been sent to the local bodies and those that are transferred, in most cases are controlled by their respective administrative departments.
A case in point is the agriculture department, which has taken a positive step and transferred its functionaries to the PRIs. However, its not clear why the purchase of fertilizer still vests with the department, when the depots come under Gram Panchayat? An official said that fertilizer is a "dirty business" which nobody is interested in. But, a PRI representative told LOA that its one of the lucrative trade and they don't want to lose it.
Another issue is related with  Electricity department, which recently issued notices to around 15 Panchayats for settlement of outstanding dues of power bill for streetlights. Ferrargunj Panchayat had accumulated dues of Rs 42 lakhs. These are issues which are always pushed under carpet when PRIs raise it in meetings.
There is widespread complaint about the release of grant-in-aid. The cost index is outdated and it needs to be updated, said a PRI member. The NABARD report too observed that the grant-in-aid released to the three-tier system was arbitrary without any basis. The report says, "A cursory view of the statements showing total grants released to different Gram Panchayats since the year 2002-03 reveal that the distribution of funds amongst the different Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samities have never been arrived at on the basis of any of the objective criteria set in the Panchayat Regulations as laid down. It was found that instead the allocations for the general grants-in-aid, roads and water schemes have more or less been equally divided amongst the 67 Gram Panchayats irrespective of the size, population, remoteness etc of the respective Gram Panchayats."
A Neduncheziyan, after taking charge of the department has taken drastic steps to reform the whole system. With the rearrangement of technical staff and freeing the engineering wing from the clutches of Zilla Parishad has to an extent solved the issue of under utilization of funds which were earlier ascribed to the delays in according technical sanction to the individual schemes by the Engineering Staff which were placed at the command of the Zilla Parishad.
However, the technical wing still enjoys same kind of patronage, which the earlier Engineering Wing of Zilla Parishad enjoyed in connivance with the concerned officials. Usage of vehicles by the technical wing has been given a free hand, where the bills are footed from the contingency fund of panchayats and samitis. The renovation of a quarter with funds diverted from Panchayats also happened under the nose of the Directorate.
A Neduncheziyan was optimistic when he told LOA that they are on the right track and the drastic changes will be visible in a couple of years. Someone is in charge now and let's hope that PRIs does not become Pariahs in literal sense and they too take in control the system for the welfare of rural areas.