Thursday, September 27, 2012




By Zubair Ahmed

As it happened with Buffer Zone and Tsunami Compensation issue, the Viper Island conundrum too seems to be the fall out of another thoughtless move of the Admn, already lying low with dented image locally and nationally. Lack of transparency at every level and an absurd consultation mechanism excluding the genuine stakeholders, the Admn keeps hitting rock bottom with its plans and designs and face criticism from various quarters. And, when damage control exercises fail, it shows it's obstinate and haughty face. However, course-correction is an unheard phrase in this Island territory.
When the ANI Admn came out with a Tourism Policy Document in 2009, it boasted of many ambitious projects and somewhere it was mentioned about a novel venture in its short term action plan - 50-berth Yacht Marina and Development of Viper Island as an Entertainment Hub, retaining its historical ambience.
However, in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Tourism in October 2009, Vivek Rae, Chief Secretary informed that the proposal of 50-unit Yacht Marina at Viper Island has been decided after Feedback Ventures, the consultant conducted surveys in all the probable sites in and around Port Blair. Nowhere in the letter, there is a mention about the remnants of the historical structures and the gallows, which could have become a point of discussion in the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC), where Planning Commission vehemently opposed the project citing various reasons.
The controversy over Viper Island as the suitable site for the Yacht Marina and three-star accommodation is multi-dimensional. A large section of the Island society opposes the proposal citing the historical importance of the Island. Planning Commission felt that the proposal would lead to sub-optimal use of prime public property and the concessionaire may use its foothold to exploit this "valuable" island in an unintended manner. Some political parties allege corruption by the higher ups in the whole deal. Industry experts sense that the tender document and the agreement have enough flaws which would give the Concessionaire sufficient leverage to manipulate the revenue growth. Another section fears that the project will jeopardize the security of the Islands.
And the objections raised by the different agencies don't seem to be baseless.
Nobody opposes a Yacht Marina in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It's the choice of Viper Island, which is the bone of contention for the local inhabitants, who have emotional attachment towards the Island and they expect a sensitive and sensible approach from the Admn.
"The selection of Viper Island by Feedback Ventures, the consultants cannot be a justification to go ahead with the project which will spoil the sanctity of the Island," said Shyam Singh Yadav, General Secretary, Subhash Chandra Press Club, who is leading the protest against the Viper Island Project.
"The Admn has kept everyone in darkness about the historical importance of the Island, and when we started our protest, came out with the State Heritage gimmick," he said.
When the actual proposal took off, the Admn forgot or left out the word "historical ambience" which forced Shyam Singh Yadav to remind both the Administration and Govt of India in June 2010 about the importance and sanctity of Viper Island.
Even after the initiative by the protestors, in the consequent meetings of State Finance Committee (EFC), there was no mention about the historical aspect of Viper Island. It cannot be discounted that the ministries and Planning Commission were kept in total darkness deliberately or inadvertently by the ANI Admn.
Moreover, it went one step ahead and also prepared a proposed zoning, site plan and activity zoning of the Entertainment Hub for the Island, wherein, the historical or heritage perspective was completely missing.
In a pre-bid meeting for appointment of Project Development Adviser (PDA) held on 1st June 2010 at Andaman Bhawan, New Delhi, the presentation given by the Director Tourism unveiled an ambitious plan in front of the prospective bidders. The plan was preposterous with all kinds of wrong elements which could have raised a storm anytime if revealed to the public.
The issue of selling an Island for Re 1/- went viral as soon as Member of Parliament, Bishnu Pada Ray and Rajnath Singh, BJP Leader raised the issue nationally.
Clarifying their stand, ANI Admn said nothing about the Concession Fee, but defended it with the 15% Revenue Share quoted by the Indo-Malaysian Consortium, Reacon- PMM Marina Pvt Ltd.
Half-baked allegations on one hand and an incomprehensible administration on the other hand have already turned the issue into utter chaos. Allegations of financial irregularity, flawed tendering process and kickbacks remain a mystery.

Next Move, Mass Mobilisation: Shyam Singh

Shyam Singh Yadav, General Secretary, Subhash Chandra Press Club is leading the protest against the ambitious project of Yacht Marina and 3-star hotel at historic Viper Island.
As soon as he came to know about the project, he started sending letters to Prime Minister, Home Minister and other dignatories seeking their intervention in stalling the project.
Different political parties like DMK, RJD, TDP, BJP and JDU came out extending their support. Apart from that, members from the civil society and social organizations like John Lobo, Pooran Chand, Gowri Shankar Pandey, Mukeshwar Lall, M A Salim, Jai Narayan Singh, J P Mishra and members from Nicobari community, Henry Samuel and Ahmed Ali too supported the movement.
Member of Parliament Bishnu Pada Ray took the issue at national level and engaged senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh and pitched in Subramanian Swamy, President, Janata Party to take up the issue.
The Dharna which started in front of Secretariat on 5 March 2012 continued till 24 Sept 2012. However, ANI Admn even without informing and issuing a notice removed the entire tent and supporting materials from the site. "I have registered a complaint against this undemocratic move," said Shyam Singh. "Now, we are planning to take the movement to the grassroot level and will turn it into a mass movement," he said.

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