Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Interview: Jalaj Srivastava, Principal Secretary | MF Samson is a Disaster: Jalaj

Interview: Jalaj Srivastava,
Principal Secretary, Shipping, Planning and Revenue

MF Samson is a Disaster: Jalaj

Capt Seshasai is learnt to have been repatriated after the corruption charges against him. Will the buck stop at him or are there more people involved?
We are fully aware of many issues during the period of Capt Seshasai, but his repatriation was purely an administrative decision, nothing to do with corruption charges. The Director was not technically competent to take major decisions on procurement. Most of the administrative decisions taken by the Director were also not very sound. The file on corruption charges is with Secretary Vigilance.
Anyway, there is no attempt to protect Capt Seshasai. As far as I know, he is fully trapped. I have learnt that there are more than 4 people whose name features in the charge sheet. We have already shunted some of them out of DSS.
There are many decisions, where Seshasai has taken us for a ride. MF Samsun is a disaster. We were fooled by Capt Seshasai. The contract was given to Shipping Corporation of India. Capt Seshasai co-opted and went and made a very bad selection. The whole selection process was flawed. It was purely a "swayamvar."  The L1 ship was rejected on whimsical reasons. There was no comparative statement. Moreover, we were time and again told by Capt Seshasai that it's a 600-pax ship, whereas, I had personally asked Secretary to count and found out that it can only accommodate 344 and odd passengers. We are paying about Rs 9 lakh for a 40-year old ship, which cannot run on its optimum speed. The air-conditioning shuts down if it's run on designed speed more than 11 knots. We are planning to immediately send the ship back.

DSS is the second largest fleet after SCI. But we don't possess Document of Compliance. There are so many issues with the Regulatory bodies. Why is DSS not upgraded into Shipping Corporation? Why Shipping is missing from the IDA agenda?
During the recent visit of Minister of Shipping, all these issues came up for discussion.  He has assured that for the liaison issues with SCI, DG Shipping, MMD and IRS, there will be a high-powered committee. It will be headed with Jt Secretary Shipping and from our side; person incharge of Shipping will attend the meetings. The first meeting of the Committee was held on 16 Oct, in which Secretary, Shipping too attended in which three issues were broadly decided - strengthening of port management and infrastructure, the Ministry of Shipping will ensure that all Govt institutions like IRS, MMD, DG Shipping and SCI will upgrade their facilities here. Two Chief Engineer-level persons from SCI will be posted here. We don't have to send all papers to Kolkata to IRS as they will have full-fledged office here itself.
As majority of issues have been already sorted, it does not feature in the agenda of Standing Committee of IDA. On the morning of 17 Oct, Secretary, Planning Commission also took a meeting in which many other issues related with Shipping came up for discussion. We hope that the high-powered committee is the answer to many of our problems.
Moreover, the Standing Committee Meeting of IDA is held only once a year, and the IDA meeting in two years. What we should do is most of the issues we are fighting should be taken up in the monitoring committee under Planning Commission, which meets more frequently.

Why the Admn does not consult anybody before the agenda for IDA is finalized?
You are right. There should have been an all party meeting, PRIs and other civil society organizations before the IDA agenda is taken to Planning Commission.  Even public spirited citizens can give their viewpoint. But we have seen that the last IDA meeting began and ended with a fiasco. In the agenda we had listed outstanding issues, tourism policy, Jarawa policy and suggestions of the MP. But, time did not permit to address all issues.

Why issues like waiving off of Rapid EIA for bathrooms, changing rooms and wayside amenities feature in IDA meetings? Is it not frivolous? Why can't such issues be sorted out at local level?
It's not a frivolous matter. The Dept of Environment and Forest has been creating hurdles at every stage.  The Ministry of Environment and Forests have taken a stand that even such minor issues should go to their standing committee. Since we have formed ANCZMA, all such issues should be sorted out at Chief Secretary Level. For instance, the Lieutenant Governor had sent a communication regarding a clearance to MoEF almost a year ago. But, MoEF denies saying that they have not received the letter. Even Shashi Kumar, PCCF said that he had sent it eleven months ago. Now, when such discussions come up at IDA meeting, it shows the apathy of MoEF.

What is the status of quarry auctioning? Do you think auction can rationalize the price of end-products?
In the last week a lot has happened. The auction notice for quarry sites is already out. The royalty has been revised from Rs 1.77 per cbm to Rs 5 per cbm. If we had increased it further, it would have become a reason to hike the price of end-product. It is the prerogative of the quarry owners; however, he cannot hike the price which is beyond the reach of common people. We need to look into this.

COVER STORY | Crew Ration: Rs 58 Lakh Swindled

Crew Ration: Rs 58 Lakh Swindled

How low can a department plummet is manifested in one of the massive fraud in which officials of Directorate of Shipping Services gobbled Rupees Fifty Eight Lakhs meant for the ration of crew on two mainland going ships.

By Zubair Ahmed

The Directorate of Shipping Services had entered into agreement with two catering contractors - Fareed Traders and YAR Shipping & Catering Pvt Ltd for running canteens onboard MV Nancowry and MV Swarajdweep. As per the agreement, the contractors were required to supply ration to the crew members onboard the vessels as per the scale prescribed at Rs 200 per head per day and submit bills for every month, duly certified by the masters of the vessels after verification by the Catering Officer onboard and the Accounts Officer to the DSS for payment.
Meanwhile, the crew members peeved with the quality of the food supplied to them by the Contractors had brought it to the notice of the concerned officials time and again. The crew members had mustered and explained the masters of the vessels regarding the sub-standard of provisions and poor quality of the food. The Masters after verifying the complaints inspected the stores and found that provisions in the stores were unfit for human consumption. Log entries were made and the information was conveyed to the Directorate of Shipping Services. The crew members stopped accepting ration from the contractors and implemented self-messing with immediate effect from 1 March 2008 and continued till 04 Sept 2008.
In the meantime, series of meetings between the Unions representing the crewmembers and the officials of DSS were held on this particular issue and finally self-messing was implemented by DSS from 1 March 2009 exactly after one year the crew had requested for it. Meanwhile, the crewmembers had started self-messing and were meting the expenses from their pocket for a period of one year.
Records reveal that crew members of both vessels did not receive any ration from the contractors, and accordingly contractors did not submit bills in respect of crews and submitted bills only in respect of officers for the period of one year.
When the crewmembers approached the Directorate seeking reimbursement of the money spent by them on ration, it was out rightly rejected by the DSS stating that the reimbursement in lieu of the provisions is not admissible.
Aggrieved by the stand of the DSS, the crewmembers represented by National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), approached the Tribunal, which awarded in favour of the crewmembers on 29 Feb 2012. In fact, the Tribunal had asked the parties to reach an amicable solution. DSS represented by its Director, Capt K S Seshasai informed that the department shall reimburse the crew the amount due to them. The crewmembers after a long struggle won the battle. However, the story does not end there.
When NUSI had earlier approached the DSS seeking the documents related with victualling for the specific period, it came to light that the Contractors had submitted the bills without the signature of Catering Officers onboard and certificate from the Master for each month when the crewmembers had been self messing. A total amount of Rs 58.43 Lakhs was paid to the Contractors.
These bills were not certified by the master of the concerned ships and instead they had furnished only the list of crews of each month. It was also observed that the fact of self-messing was not mentioned in the notes either by the Accounts Officer and DSS while passing the claims which tantamount to undue favour to the contractors knowingly.
The modus operandi of the DSS officers was very simple.  The Bills prepared by the Contractors should clearly mention that Catering/Victualling contractor has supplied/catered to the crewmembers and the list of the crewmembers with number of days and should be duly certified by the Master and Catering Officer of the vessel. In this specific case, a list of crewmembers were attached without mentioning any purpose and was only signed by the Master, who was unaware of the purpose of the list. 
The Accounts Section and the Crew Section of the DSS should have verified the facts and found out whether ration/food was catered to the crew before passing the bill. It is very clear that with the connivance of the corrupt officers in the Directorate, the amount was bungled by them.
When the crew approached the Masters to find out the fact, they also informed that they have no record for supply of provisions to the crew during the period when they were on self-messing. But, ignoring all the precautions, the officers went ahead and paid the amount to the contractors.
When the issue was brought to the notice of the Dept by the Unions and other organizations, the Contractors were asked to refund the amount , but nothing has happened yet.
The Asst Secretary Shipping on receipt of written complaint from General Secretary, Andaman and Nicobar Peoples Anti Corruption Forum against C J Antony, the acting Accounts Officer and K S Seshasai, Director had asked to submit a detailed report on the matter. However, no reports were submitted by DSS on this issue.
The Admn is yet to fix responsibility for such excess overpayment on any individual. The records clearly indicate that the Accounts Officer who had verified the bills were fully aware of the facts and with due support from the higher officials of the Dept, had over-stepped with the confidence that the support of Secretary and Director will shield him.
Although the matter is in public domain for almost two years now, any kind of punitive action is not seen anywhere in the Department.

COVER STORY | Marine Dockyard: A Big Yawn!

Marine Dockyard: A Big Yawn!

The Marine Dockyard has very good fitting, machine and moulding shops, but remains under-utilized as majority of the 320 and odd workforce doesn't possess the mandatory IRS certification in their trade. Nothing possible has been done yet to make the staff go through the process and get the necessary certification to be competent to repair the vessels. Why should the staff take the initiative? It will only burden them with more work. But if some incentives are provided and the pay weigh made skill-oriented, the dockyard can be put to optimal use.
The same dry dock is used by Coast Guard and they get their work done on time, while most of the vessels managed by DSS or ABS do not keep any time schedule, which has affected the service at all levels.  The contractors who work for Coast Guard make the rental payment for the dry dock. And if they overshoot the schedule, they have to bear the brunt. Moreover, Coast Guard always stocks critical spares.
Although there cannot be any comparison of DSS with Coast Guard, but they could have used the basic template followed by Coast Guard. Even private vessels have no such downtime as DSS owned vessels. There is no routine maintenance of the ships due to laid-back planning process.

COVER STORY: The Invisible Faces


The Invisible Faces

As mentioned, there are a few faces hidden from the public eye, wielding supreme power to maneuver and have the rudder in their control. From Shakti Sinha, then Secretary Shipping, who have been keen protecting his Captain and flock from all harms had a proper hand in one of the cases - swindling of ration money of the crew of two ships. It's a clear case of fraud and DG Audit has also raised queries which still remains unanswered.
The Deputy Director of Shipping Services purposefully kept silent and played to the tunes of the Director to achieve his goal of a clean ACR for UPSC for the post of Deputy Director. The post was intentionally kept vacant for numbers of years and was filled by promoting the Manager (ISM), who managed to get back door entry to the Directorate as Manager (ISM) on deputation and subsequently got absorbed in that post with the connivance of A&N Admn. He has now been promoted on the basis of amended RR for the post of Deputy Director of Shipping Services which proposes composite method for selection.
It is imperative to note that the post of Assistant Labour Welfare Officer in the Directorate of Shipping Services, over which such hue and cry was made by the Director to retain C J Antony, is not the post of A&N Admn but a post of Central Labour Commissioner, Ministry of Labour, New Delhi created under the statutory provisions of Factory Act.
The initial decision of the A&N Admn to transfer Antony, Assistant Labour Commissioner as Labour Welfare Officer in the Directorate of Shipping Services vides Order No.3472 dated 06th October 2004 against this ex-cadre (central ministry) post was a total violation of recruitment procedure. Later, when on the appeal of C J Antony, Central Administrative Tribunal in respect of O.A.No.475 of 1993 had passed order to regularize the adhoc service against the existing vacancy of Assistant Labour Commissioner in the Office of Labour Commissioner & DET, Port Blair, it was not proper to retain him in the Directorate of Shipping Services. Instead the DSS should have requested the Central Labour Commissioner, New Delhi to expeditiously fill the post of Assistant Labour Welfare Officer. Why the Director was keen to have him on the seat needs a proper reply. However, after much hue and cry, he was shunted out. But he played a key role in the procurement process as Procurement Officer without any technical competence.
Six years in a seat should have raised enough heat for the Planning guy, who has been stand-relieved last week. The genius who looked after the whole DSS from planning, selection, inspection, operations and even procurement was the kingpin of the complete operations. It has to be seen whether he evades the net.

COVER STORY: Saving Capt Seshasai?


Saving Capt Seshasai?

The Directorate of Shipping Services is in news once again for wrong reasons. Capt Seshasai has been repatriated to his parent organization. However, it is learnt from highly placed sources that former Chief Secretary Shakti Sinha, who was the Secretary, Shipping during the Capt Seshasai misdemeanors had met the incumbent Chief Secretary at Capital and what conspired between them is anybody’s guess. But, a very orchestrated game is being played to derail the investigation procedure by trying to send the case to CVC. When the Director and his cronies can be easily prosecuted based on the charges framed against him, why there is a move to send the case to CVC?
The investigation is over and charges proved beyond doubt, charge sheet prepared, and just prosecution approval pending, a major ploy is set to save oneself in the pretext of saving Capt Seshasai. There is more to what is visible to the naked eye. It won't be surprising if the case gets transferred to CVC as players are big and powerful.

COVER STORY | DSS: System-Driven Corruption

DSS: System-Driven Corruption

By Zubair Ahmed

Is it a coincidence that Directors who come on deputation from Navy carry the virus of corruption or is it a systemic plague that inflicts the department? Three directors in succession have faced corruption charges and had to be abruptly repatriated.
In fact, experts in the field opine that those on deputation from Navy are neither acquainted with the commercial aspects nor the mandatory documentation part. Without merchant shipping background, they are prone to falter at every administrative decision they take.
Those on the helm of affairs need to know the nitty-gritty of repair and maintenance of vessels, commercial aspects and meeting the statutory requirements regarding safety of life at sea. Those with Naval background need not worry about any surveys or MMD or DG Shipping requirements.
Without professional experience, they are prone to all kind of manipulations by those who know how the system can be bent for their advantage and keep themselves safe. This is what has happened in the department since long time. Although, Capt Seshasai has become an easy whipping boy, the whole blame cannot be offloaded on to him as corruption is system driven with more people involved.
The Deputy Director's role or those in the planning remain hidden in the whole episode, whereas they play a major role in all decision making process. Nevertheless, their imprint will remain undetectable in the files.
On the one hand, DSS, the second largest fleet after Shipping Corporation of India does not possess the Document of Compliance to operate vessels. Hence, they rely on SCI or ABS by offloading manning and technical management.
"Since 1989, the Department does not have a Marine Engineer and the present crop of AMEs lack professional competency," said a retired master. Just wishing for a Marine Engineer is not going to solve the issue, as concrete steps towards making the whole Directorate compliant for running its own vessels without offloading needs serious attention.
Its easy to blame SCI for fleecing the Directorate, and to bring ABS into the picture, where Capt Seshasai played a major role. ABS is equally incompetent without professionals and failing on the maintenance part. First they entered into manning and later technical management was also given to them.
ABS has very low base strength without competence and about 70% of vessels are non-operational. SCI, owned by the government follows certain procedures like they have an assessment system for workshops and also maintain annual tariff. SCI inspects the workshop and make sure about their financial and technical capability. Whereas, ABS has continuously failed on this aspect. Still, it ABS was always favoured by the Director.
SCI has been maligned so much by the coterie who controls the Director as well as the Secretariat; today it is looked down by everyone. The crux of the issue is that no kickbacks can be secured from a government agency.
Although SCI doesn't have a single workshop, it maintains a huge fleet. They keep a set of approved and registered suppliers and workshops on annual contract, whereas ABS goes for instant quotation, as and when the problem arises. It however does not exnorate SCI from all blames. The case of MV Nancowry which had gone to drydock at Colombo in 2010 is not running continuously since a year. After every month of sailing,  the Surveyor puts it on hold and only gives extension for three months and the ship idles in Chennai.
It's a curse that the Shipping sector in an Island territory remains an issue unsolved since decades. Without a comprehensive overhaul of the system, many more Seshasais and cronies are going to con the Islanders, and the ultimate casualty is the connectivity.

Interview: KG Das, State Secretary, CPIM | Trying to Keep the Flock Together

Interview: KG Das, State Secretary, CPIM
Trying to Keep the Flock Together

By Zubair Ahmed

The All-party combine, which had all ingredients for a perfect blast however could not make a mark, as it was purely a marriage of inconvenience from agendas varying from party to party. CPIM, which had successfully inserted the agenda of Assembly from day one, when Chamber of Commerce had called an All Party meeting to take the Admn head-on on major contentious issues, however could not keep the flock together focused on its common minimum agenda. The Light of Andamans confronted K G Das, State Secretary, CPIM on issues, which were discussed on the sidelines of the public meeting and token dharna held last fortnight. Excerpts from a free-wheeling talk:

Why such a move at this point?
We are tired of this Administration and the arbitrary actions of the Administrator. After Tsunami, soon after LG Bhopinder Singh took charge, he had announced a freshwater lake at Sippighat, heightening of Dhanikhari Dam, Pipeline from Rutland. Nothing is happening on the ground and its clear manifestation of inefficiency. We had sent a memorandum to Home Ministry on various issues.
When MM Lakhera was the Administrator, in an all party meeting he had openly said that popular and elected leaders should not work under the bureaucrats and should be always above them. Whatever work or development takes place without a democratic setup will remain aimless and directionless. Lakhera had even approached the PMO and raised this issue for a democratic setup for the Islands.
There is a limitation for the bureaucrats to take up the issues. For eg. Do the Deputy Resident Commissioner (DRC), a junior level officer posted at Delhi have the guts to go and meet the Ministers or Secretaries in the Capital?

Is it not surprising to note that CPIM is with the Chamber of Commerce to pursue their agenda?
You are right. Sometime back, Chamber of Commerce used to exert same kind of power which the leader of a particular party wields today. There was a time when like the corporate sector used to act in Mainland, camouflaged Chamber used to do it in the Islands.

Assembly has been your agenda for a long time. But, Bhakta was on the helm of affairs when Pradesh Parishad was abolished. How can you justify his demand now?
When Left and Democratic Front was in power at Pradesh Parishad, and people started approaching the Councillors for redressal of their problems, the Member of Parliament's popularity and need started to dwindle and became marginal, which forced him to support the damaging step. Entry of Vakkom Purushottaman as Lieutenant Governor was to wipe out all opposition and prepare a clear ground for Congress. And it succeeded to an extent.  The first step was abolishing of Pradesh Parishad, the fore-runner to Assembly and introduction of 3-tier Panchayati Raj Institution an unjustified democratic institution functioning under the shadows of bureaucracy. But, he realized the folly soon after Vakkom started to sideline him. Vakkom-Bhakta duo also took another decision on modifying the RR for direct recruitment of HGC, which was however, dropped after resistance from various quarters. He has faltered at different points. But, he was very vocal about Assembly which was his foremost demand, when he sat on an indefinite hunger strike as an MP.

Do you think this unholy alliance of parties with varied interests can remain focused on this issue?
First of all, this is not a political front, but a platform with a common minimum programme. We are not averse to the idea of other civil society organizations and eminent people joining this platform and demanding Assembly for the Islands.
As far as varied interests are concerned, its natural that all parties have different shades and have diverse agenda. If you take the freedom struggle, it was a huge alliance of various parties and ideologies with a common minimum agenda of achieving freedom from foreign yoke.  But, most of the groups had their own agendas too, which they started to pursue soon after Independence.
We met the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, who was also the Head of the Ministerial Group on Assembly for the Islands. All the leaders, we met have shown very positive attitude. But we strongly feel that until and unless, people of Island raise their voice for an Assembly, it's not going to materialize.

But, except CPM, all other major parties were harping on a single agenda of release of those jailed in the Explosive Seizure Case, citing it as the cause for the stagnated developmental activities in the Islands?
Our stand is very clear in this issue. We know that most of them are highlighting the Explosive case. We have already demanded a full-fledged CBI enquiry into this matter. We have some apprehensions like Admn is shying away from an explicit enquiry as import of huge quantity of explosives have been going on for last fifteen years. It will also implicate many powerful persons in the Administration, who were in connivance running the whole show.
I have gone through the charge sheet and the statement of Arumugam. When asked they informed us that it was a politically vindictive action against the quarry lobby, who were on the wrong side of Congress during the last General Elections. Moreover, they also mentioned that the switching of wholesale trader at Chennai too went against them.
However, our party is not going to interfere at any point on this issue. It's a matter under sub-judice but, we feel that concentration of power at any level is very dangerous.

What is the response you are getting after the All-Party Meeting at Tiranga Park?
The response is quite encouraging. However, many parties could not stick to the determined path and faltered here and there. Many of them were focusing on individuals and got down to slandering and smear, which is unwarranted. However, it is learnt that Lieutenant Governor has started to collect profiles and bio-data of the leaders, as if it's going to intimidate us.

COVER STORY: All Party Fiasco: Too Many Cooks...

All Party Fiasco: Too Many Cooks...

By Staff Reporter

Opposition Parties are pillars of a democracy. If not for them, the ruling party would have all its own way. We would be living in a dictatorship or a monarchy. Our Islands too have opposition parties of all hues and colour.  Though, these Islands boast of a lone member of parliament amongst the opposition's ranks, it's seldom that his voice is taken seriously -majority of which is his very own undoing. The Congress and its allies rule the Centre but the equation is different as few of its' central allies like the DMK here are with the opposition. This has come about because of local equations largely due to the local bodies of self governance.
Equations change for all these power hungry parties as and when its suits them. PBMC or the Zilla Parishads are governed by different dynamics and hence no opposition is offered there for its composition. You take care of my needs and I'll take care of yours is the magic mantra. Damned be the electorates whom they are to face after five long years. If these parties can fill up its coffers, the Janta can be managed next elections with ease is a popular rule.
Recently, lot of hope was kindled with the announcement that the major opposition parties have formed a common platform for the Islands economic development. Parties like the BJP, TMC, DMK, AIADMK, TDP and the CPI (M) came together to chalk out an agenda about taking on the local Admn and the Govt. of India; pressing for a demand of self governance in the form of a Legislative Assembly. The cause looked noble, as in a democracy people should be masters of their own destiny which unfortunately here is in the hands of a few bureaucrats considered insensitive or lacking any foresight led by the longest serving Administrator- an ex- Army man. 
Our principle opposition parties put on a grandiose plan of taking on a trip to national capital New Delhi where the seat of ultimate power lies in the country. Armed with two memorandums and the experience of the veteran stalwart ex- MP Manoranjan Bhakta as their leading light, with over two decades of experience in representing this Island territory proceeded to meet President of our country and the council of ministers. Some of these party chiefs were meeting local traders and citizens with a request to fund their arduous journey for a noble cause. People obliged with great hope that something good would come out of it and these trips don't come cheap. Thirty more red light vehicles for our future ministers and legislators were on the anvil or so we believed.
A joint press conference was organized and copies of the memorandums handed over to the local media followed by high tea. The memorandums made a good read lacking any great focus on pressing home people's perspective on state of affairs. President (who knows more about these Islands by virtue of being in Govt. for decades than an average politician) was given a lesson on geography of the Islands, revisiting the Tsunami of 2004 and other demographic details followed by a plethora of issues plaguing the Islanders, chief being - enough of the Lt. General's (Retd.) governance, need for a Legislative Assembly and release of twenty four reputed quarry operators denied bail unjustly pre-trial on an illegal explosives haul case.
Other issues were inserted in between citing stagnation of development due to pot holes and slush on the roads for the last decade, strangulation of democratic institutions like the PRI's, ignoring of the lone Member of Parliament by the Admn and drafting of draconian notifications like the Buffer Zone. It was startling to note that one of the architects or onlooker of this premature exit of the Pradesh Parishad is the leading light of this association of opposition parties now and was an MP in the majority of the last decade when development didn't take place with his government at the centre then. Bhakta could have shed some light on it as well, being a senior statesman and an ex-parliamentarian not known for expressing his views vociferously in the Parliament.
As the first memorandum with the subject on Legislative Assembly and other issues has signatures of all the opposition political parties representatives, the second memorandum on the subject- non-availability of quarry products do not have the CPI(M) representative’s signature. Does this imply that the unity among these parties still needs some ironing out?  When the issue of shortage of quarry products was incorporated in the first memorandum, what was the need or the urgency of driving home this point along with bail of twenty four respectable businessmen on the illegal explosive haul case?
The matter is sub-judice and sooner or later justice will prevail. The accused respectable businessmen have the resources and the connections to avail the best of legal services available in the country and if they are innocent, nothing is preventing them from proving themselves innocent or being granted bail. They are all suffering from several ailments as are we- the common Islanders due to lack of proper medical facilities. This does not qualify us to get involved in illegal activities and face prosecution from the comfort of our living rooms.   There was a time not long ago when the same opposition and even the present MP and the BJP would levy charges on these very respectable businessmen of being unjustly granted quarry licenses overlooking deserving educated unemployed youths and others and indiscriminately exploiting the fragile Island's ecology.
Trying to create pressure on the law enforcing agencies like the police does not go well with the common masses who want to see light at the end of the tunnel. Strictures or decisions could be harsh but the accused have avenues to plead their case. Bringing it before the President of the country when the Islanders are reeling under several other genuine day to day basic issues has dealt a severe blow to the credibility of this motley group of politicians. Majority of these reputed businessmen are high ranking Congress politicians having rubbed shoulders with the high and the mighty during their better days and hence these avenues would not have gone unexplored is anyone's guess.
There were great expectations from the opposition dharna at Tiranga Park on the 16 Oct but it turned out to be more of a political jamboree of contradictions. Everyone was singing his or her own tune and some of the speeches were nonsensical lacking any vision or ideas.
The amount spent on publicity, biryani, lavish arrangements and the hype it created could have been better utilized for driving home a point- loud and clear to the admn that the masses have had enough of this gross mismanagement and onemanship. What it achieved sadly is disconnect with the needs of people of these islands and more of a platform for furthering sectarian agenda. The Admn instead of getting concerned about growing discontent among the Islanders about its ways is having a field day by the way the opposition has put up its views.
Changes are not to be seen in the near future if issues are taken up the way it is now by the opposition parties. They have flunked a great opportunity and let's see if something more concrete comes up in days ahead. These parties have to first set up their own houses in order before taking on an unresponsive Admn.
Mass mobilization is tough and when such opportunities beckon us, it should send shivers up the spines of the wrongdoers. Every wing of the Administration is head deep into corruption; nepotism and gross mismanagement but all of them go scot free. The end result is compromise on the quality of basic services, irreversible degradation of the environment and snatching of opportunities of our youth and common man. The opposition cannot be mute spectators and try to score personal points blaming it on development or the lack of it. It should take another shot next time better prepared and with a common man oriented agenda involving all the stakeholders for their views and suggestions.   

Quarry Auction: Will it Rationalize Price?

Quarry Auction: Will it Rationalize Price?

By Staff Reporter

The Andaman and Nicobar Admn have announced the auction notice for quarry operations in South Andaman District. Five blocks with 40 sites of 0.250 hectares each in Brookshabad village has been identified with two blocks where use of explosives have been permitted and three blocks, where usage of explosives not permitted. The auction will be held on 29 Nov 2012 and the quarry leases will be granted for the period upto 30 June 2015.
Following the meeting of the Standing Committee of IDA held on 17 Oct in New Delhi, the A&N Admn has also decided to invite applications for allotment of sand from identified non eco-sensitive areas.
It's a fact that the Islands are reeling under severe scarcity of construction and quarry materials. One truckload of 20-mm quarry metal costs about Rs 9000/- and a truckload of sand costs about Rs 17000/- unparalleled anywhere in the country. The whole territory is blaming the Admn for the scarcity as well as the rising costs.
It's alleged that non-availability of construction material has severely affected the developmental activities. The Andaman of Chamber of Commerce has been taking up this issue at every possible forum.
The quarry licenses were not renewed this year after the Admn was forced to notify The Andaman and Nicobar Minor Minerals Rules 2012. 
Now, after the notification, the Admn abiding by the Supreme Court dictum has preferred to auction the minor minerals. "In fact, the Home Ministry has not given us any other option, but auction," said Jalaj Srivastav, Principal Secretary Revenue.
A minimum reserve price (MRP) of Rs 4 lakhs per site has been fixed and the lease holder has been permitted to extract a maximum of 12000 cbm per annum from the quarry site, roughly, 2400 truckloads.
Although, the auction has been finalized by the Admn, there is no clarity about fixation of the price for the end product. With auction as the option to lease the quarry sites, it would become the prerogative of the quarry owners to fix the price. "The royalty is increased to Rs 5 from Rs 1.75 per cbm, but we have not fixed any tariff for the end-product," said Jalaj Srivastav.
With different sites going for auction at different rates, it would be a tough task to fix the tariff for the products in the market. It has to be seen that how the Admn acts and regulates the price. Even if the material becomes available, and no checks are put on the price, the Islanders will once again feel the heat.
In the same vein, the Forest Dept has invited application from the Islanders who require sea sand, but the procedures followed will only help the contractors to grab as much as possible with no proper system of scrutiny put at place.

A Lonely School

A Lonely School

By Sajan Gopalan

From Shoal Bay 15, where we stopped the car, it is a long walk to Shoal Bay 19. We could have hired a jeep if the rains have not made big dents on the way. But it turned out to be good because as we have learned later it helped us live the life of the villagers at least for a day. We will also find later that it was good that we forgot to carry the packed lunch of toast and omlette.
The sky was overcast and inside the forest path grew darker. It was slippery all throughout and all of us had a fair share of fall and bruises. There is no sound other than that of the footsteps. But eventually the silence gave way to the cacophony of bird songs. An orchestra in the jungle. Tall, white, straight garjan trees stood upright giving the forest an elegant geometrical pattern. In the darkness created by shadows we just missed stepping on a snake.
"It is the Andha Samp, the blind snake" said one of the bastiwallahs who were coming back after work and speeding ahead to beat the rain. It is not exactly blind, we learned later, just nocturnal. That is, it cannot see in daytime. A careless step would not have been fatal. But if bitten, the victim will have to be rushed to the hospital immediately. A tough task given the road, the rains and our energy levels.
Four hours of walk and we reached the Bengali Basti called Shoalbay 19. A colony that was formed fifty years back. They got electricity two months back. We were greeted by Dilip Dutta a resident of the basti for the last forty years. He asked us to come inside his house and arranged plastic chairs for all. Good hot milk tea gave us some extra optimism to complete the journey. Dilip has just bought a fridge and VCR after the arrival of electricity. They were watching some Hindi films when we reached.
In spite of being denied basic modern amenities, Dilip looked happy.
"Bahuth shanthi hai idar.." he said without any provoking from our side. It is a place of peace. And when he offered us lunch we didn't know what to say? Is it fair to ask this poor farm family to share their modest  meals with a group of five urban holiday makers? Or will they be happy to get some unusual guests in the midst of all this solitude? Our modern mind could not come to a conclusion and we hastily declined and continued walking.
But the small basti had a wonder waiting for us. There is a small primary school for students upto class five. One student in class 1, two in class 2, one each in class 3 and 4 and no student in class five. For five students two teachers, one with a double post graduation, MPhil and PhD walk all this way every day to teach them the basics of language, arithmetic and civics.
This really made us proud of our country. This is the absolute manifestation of what is defined in the country's constitution as the Right to Education.  But then it looked a little surreal too. Erratic rains may not allow the teachers to visit the school every day. And can there be more local solutions to these problems?
What made the whole scene more surreal was the four quotations above the assembly ground intended for these five primarywallahs. It reads thus:
"Learning is process of progressing behavior adoption" C.E. Skinner.
"Personality is clothed in habits, habits are garmet of soul" Klapper
"Environment is an external force which influences us" J.S.Ross
But the most favourite was from one T.P.Nunn( whoever he is):
"Suggestion is the adoption of another person's ideas unwilled by oneself"
This made us really wonder. Who could have been the most thoughtful administrator who found these arcane thoughts and decided to put in front of some impressionable young minds living detached from the scheming modern world, deep inside the forests? Whoever he is, he knows the mind of the child, to be sure.
We walked along and another two hours in the open hot sun made us really worn-out. Memories of the forgotten hot omelettes came back.  In front of the weary eyes we saw a jack fruit cut in half as if it was just waiting for us? Who said God appears in front of the hungry as food? Here it is ripe fragrant jack fruit. But it is not our jack fruit and we cannot eat it.
"Let us walk upto Shoalbay 19 and on the way back if it is still there, we will eat it" Zubair said.
Another one hour of walk. Along muddy waters and dark forests ending in an aloof beach where we splashed water and lay in the cool sand.
By the time we came back to the spot where we located the jack fruit it was two thirty. And look, the jack fruit is mostly waiting for us to be devoured though a loitering goat has consumed part of it.
The next scene is the crude manifestation of the behavior of any tired and hungry modern man when he sees food. No decorum nor hierarchy will stand before it. We tore it apart with bare hands and ate it all. Like a stone age gatherer. It is all in the blood and habits die hard.
On return journey Dilip Dutta's daughter met us. I have completed Plus Two, said Rupali Dutta, a smart looking beautiful girl. She wants some job in Port Blair. Educated, she doesn't share the enthusiasm of her father in staying at a forlorn basti, how so ever peaceful it may be. Higher education brings higher levels of aspiration. And for her growth is moving to the nearest city.
I have no moral right to criticize her. Nor to convince her about the futility of project modernity! I have at her age left my little village and went to the capital town to make a living. Looking back I don't regret it. But I am not sure what this girl is going to confront and what job which I can condescendingly suggest to her. She may most probably end up as what we euphemistically call the group D service, that too in a temporary fashion. Life in a rented shed with no good water or air. Life is never going to be any better. But she can at least hope for some change. A hope that things will change forever.
If I tell her that this is all a mirage, I will be blamed for glorifying poverty. But can someone think of a local alternative? For example why can't she be given some basic training and put in charge of the five little students in the primary school which is just around the corner? Of course you don't need a double post graduate to teach them alphabets and numbers. This will give her better social status and a sense of accomplishment. The children will also like it that way. Their own Rupali didi coming as a teacher. Meanwhile she can continue her studies and complete her graduation. She can get the proper job as a teacher.
But to whom can I suggest this? After all, suggestion is the adoption of another person's idea unwilled by oneself, or whatever crap that means!
Rupali also seems to be in a hurry. She was not excited about our advice to continue studies and to get graduated. Life doesn't stand still in Shoalbay 19 either. Television has already come along with bright pictures of the large world outside. Rupali just wants to get out and engulf in the flamboyance outside.

BOOK REVIEW: Magic Islands: Don’t Miss It

Magic Islands: Don’t Miss It

By Zubair Ahmed

Lack of knowledge about their own territory has been a bane for the Islanders since Independence. The school curriculum has vastly ignored the life and biodiversity of this Island territory. Our children are forced to study everything from general knowledge, geography, history and social sciences of the whole world except the Islands. Despite our Islands gifted with mountains, sea, beaches, forests, plains and even tribes not found anywhere else, it's a paradox that all these are not taught in our schools.
Reading RC Mazumdar or MV Portman to know about the Islands is not everyone's cup of tea. Those interested in the colonial history or the tribes might have heard the names, which does not excite anyone otherwise.
As a fillip, here is a journey to explore some interesting facts and ideas about our Magic Islands - Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago with Zai Whitaker, grand niece of Salim Ali, who has authored some great gems like the Andamans Boy, Kali and The Rat Snake and The Rumbling Island.
Magic Island, authored by Zai Whitaker and published by National Book Trust covers everything from the history, geography and the wonderful life in our archipelago, a must read for every Islander and mainlander, irrespective of age, interested to know everything about the archipelago.
Zai Whitaker's relationship with the Islands started almost 30 years ago. The book is the result of her encounter with the Islanders who knew very little about the history of their home. There were very few books about the Islands except the old reports written by British officers before India became independent. Those were rather depressing all about the naked savages in the jungles and the punishment of thousands of prisoners. She found little about the unique cultures and ecosystems, and absolutely nothing for children.
The book tells us how blessed we Islanders are with the unlimited natural wealth in our backyard with lovely views and landscapes of forest, open sky, ocean, Islands and in fact all the things that a millionaire craves to have.
Zai opens our minds towards the world of insects, birds, plants, reptiles, amphibians and mammals and the precious undisturbed rainforests with the abundant biodiversity. It illustrates the four-layer ecosystem that we have in the Islands   - rainforest, mangrove, beach and reef.
From the term "junglees" used by the so-called "civilized" people, she redefines the indigenous tribes as geniuses. The story of Jarawas and other tribes including the Nicobarese are told in a very fascinating manner. How an Andamanese woman Topsy had helped the British to tame the tribes is one exciting tale.
The history of the Islands with focus on the pirates and pioneers, who reached the shores for different reasons and the Kalapani days are vividly portrayed in the book, beautifully illustrated by Amitava Sengupta.
The chapter on endemic and exotic species in the Islands explains why Cheetal and Mynah are bad for the Islands and the need to protect the Nicobari Megapode and Narcondum Hornbills.
The book also draws our attention towards the increasing population and decreasing resources, and the importance of sustainable and environment-friendly approach in all developmental activities.
In fact this simple and lucid book is the answer to the long-felt need for a comprehensive textbook for our children, who have nothing to rely upon to know about their Islands. This is an apt book, which can be introduced as a textbook in our schools, which surely will generate curiosity and interest among the children to know more about the magic Islands.

By Zai Whitaker
Pages: 107, Price: Rs 110
National Book Trust, India 2012

CHALTE | CHALTE: Police Polite: Yes, Believe it


Police Polite: Yes, Believe it

A barricade near Mazar on Corbyn's Road and a few police personnel stood there at around 9 PM of Saturday 20th October. One of them waived me to stop. Irritatingly I took my car to the side. A person in Khaki, quite young approached and pleadingly asked me to show my driving license with a suffix of 'Sir'. My ears could not believe the tone of the official. He noted my license number, returned the same and left me dumb with his softer 'Thank you sir'. Another day on 21st October I was stopped at the entry of Chouldari village. The police official literary 'requested' me to make an entry with the police official waiting at a make-shift counter at the road side. The young lady police official in Hindi wanted to know again with a prefix of 'Sir', whether I was carrying my driving license. The tone was as if it was not a crime to drive without license. I produced the same and she smilingly returned it back after an endorsement. She did not forget to throw a 'Thanks'.
The same day I was stopped at IP&T-Air India Office junction and was denied to go straight from Secretariat to Rajniwas side as I had to go to Shadipur by a police personnel. It was a declared one-way for smooth movement of traffic but I had to cross hardly 100 meter to take a right turn on a common road. And this time the tall built Dy. SP (Traffic) himself came to my car, bowed his head to my car-window and said, 'sir, this is one way and please take a bit longer route. This is for the cause of smoother ways for many others too. Please bear with us'.
Unbelievable? But believe it. Not a shocking but a pleasant experience. In a place where within a radius of 5-6 KM, 12-14 Puja-pandals existed with minimal possible road diversions, the Police could truly manage the situation splendidly more with their politeness than their skill, I trust. In our country, a personnel in Khaki will behave polite is a common man's dream but during these Puja days, the Andaman and Nicobar Police did it. Kudos!

PAUPER’S LOG: Durbar and Durbaries

Durbar and Durbaries
By Abu Arsh

In a recent press release the Administration has posted a picture of the Administrator conducting his weekly Durbar with five Anganwadi workers all clad in pink sarees. A mix of elderly and young ladies was all shown as standing in the picture with the Lt. Governor and his Secretary seated. The Lt. Governor, A & N Islands had accorded sanction for revision of Supplementary Nutrition Programme from Rs. 5 per day to Rs. 8.50 per day for normal children and adolescent girls and from Rs. 6 per day to Rs. 10 Per day for pregnant and lactating mothers. Similarly, for severely malnourished children from Rs. 8 per day to Rs. 13.50 per day under Integrated Child Development Services programme with immediate effect for providing supplementary nutrition. The Anganwadi workers are paid a monthly honorarium of Rs 4000/- and upon hearing the above news went ahead with the request for increase of Rs 1000/- in their honorariums too as subjects in the durbar of the Raj Niwas. On this day and age a payment of Rs 5000/- for meeting one's basic requirement is asking for too much. The Lt. Governor had given them a patient hearing about considering a hike in their honorariums but his secretariat failed to offer them a seat to sit in the durbar as is suggested in the released photograph.
The Anganwadi System under ICDS is a Government of India sponsored programme, which is India's primary social welfare scheme to tackle malnutrition and health problems in children below 6 years of age and their mothers. The main beneficiaries of the programme are aimed to be the girl child up to her adolescence, all children below 6 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers. The gender promotion of the girl child by trying to bring her at par with the male child is a key component of the scheme. With the advent of Development agencies making a beeline for the Islands post tsunami of 2004, it was these very services which attracted a majority of the NGO's to pour in their interventions. Over the years it has grown into one of the largest integrated family and community welfare schemes in the world.
Our islands have over 604 Anganwadi Centres spread across the length and breadth of it with equal no of Anganwadi workers and helpers. These ladies serve as a key link between the community and the Social Welfare and Health Departments. These ladies also embark upon various surveys for the National Rural Health Mission from time to time. For the Social Welfare department for children upto six years the programme offers six packages including Supplementary nutrition, Immunization, Referral services, Non-formal pre education, Health checkups and Health and Nutrition Education for Children. Under Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for empowerment of Girl Child as SABLA supplementary nutrition is provided to adolescent girl child of 14-18 years and for 11- 14 years drop out girls are also enrolled. Pregnant and Nursing mothers are also cared for under Indira Gandhi Maitrik Sanjog Yojana where in Rs 4000 assistance is given to mothers in three installments in their bank accounts. Anganwadi workers deliver services to these mothers by maintaining their pregnancy cards, immunization schedules and nutritional requirements. Delivery of services under ICDS scheme is managed in an integrated manner through Anganwadi centre by these Anganwadi workers.
Going through the services these Anganwadi workers offer to the community it would have been minimum courtesy on the part of the Lt. Governor's secretariat to atleast release a photograph (irrespective of what happened at the Durbar; whether these ladies were offered seats or not ) depicting them in a more respectable vein for the place they deserve in the society. This would have given these ladies the encouragement and the desire to offer selfless service to the society in strengthening our National Policy for Children. Our Administration boosts of innumerable babus glued to their chairs by virtue of their incompetence and great degree of yesmanship towards their bosses. On and off meetings of the common Islanders with the Lt. Governor would have been coined by one of these Babu's as weekly Durbar. Durbar in this day and age sounds medieval, feudal and smells of our colonial mindset hangover. These Durbars here takes place as per the convenience of the bosses and its frequency is anybody's guess. Calling on the Administrator is no easy task as the famous reply to audience seekers or the subjects is to meet the concerned Babu than meeting the Raj Niwas' most important occupant. The ambience around the majestic Durbar is intimidating to the common man with high security, innumerable hassles, busy for nothing staff jostling each other, polished padauk furniture (would lose its sheen if touched) and the uncertain wait till the Raj Niwas' most important occupant surfaces. Nobody would ask the common subjects to have a seat and if the Durbaries don't offer you one be content to quickly put across your plea and vanish. So much so, for power to the people.