Thursday, December 19, 2013

Aslam Khan IPS Transfer Imbroglio: Sentimental, Not Sensitive

Aslam Khan IPS Transfer Imbroglio:
Sentimental, Not Sensitive
By Denis Giles

This is no loose talk, neither a negative remark ... It is the truth which cannot be suppressed. And, there is nothing sensitive about it. The issue of transfer of an active and honest officer like Mrs. Aslam Khan IPS, Superintendent of Police, Anti-Corruption Unit was initially brought to the notice of the Administrator by Andaman Chronicle through twitter on 11th Dec 2013.  Instead of taking the cue, the Administrator lambasted the paper using phrases like ‘loose talk’, and warned not to comment on such sensitive issues on social media.

In fact, the technological advances and convergences happening in the world of media, has redefined the presentation of news and views. Social media, today plays a major role in breaking stories.

Furthermore, in the absence of an active opposition in the Islands; circumstances compel the media to highlight such issues. The reply by the Administrator on the twitter was in bad taste, which forced AC to bring out the facts before the readers. Instead of going public with the issue, it thought it prudent to meet the Administrator and appraise him about the issue. But, the meeting once again reiterated the fact that the Administration was in no mood to listen to the sentiments of the Islanders.

Chronicle had no option, but to bring out a full-fledged report on the issue highlighting its various facets.

The issue, which could have been resolved in a 20 minute rendezvous with the Administrator fizzled out only because of the ‘negative’ attitude of the Administration towards media and the present Administrator falling prey to misconceptions created by his officers.

Media being the fourth estate is a pillar without which democracy cannot prevail. It has a significant role to play when it comes to development of the society at large, as the views expressed are nothing but the voice of the common man; which gets suppressed or are sidelined, intentionally. 

The issue is not of Mrs. Aslam Khan as a person. The issue is the sentiments of the Islanders, which are being fiddled with. Had it been any other competent and honest officer in place of Mrs. Khan, AC would have taken the same stand.

The report carried in Andaman Chronicle on 16th Dec. 2013 has raised many eyebrows. While few took it as an attempt to degrade, there were many who could not grasp the catch. 

It is high time the Administration seriously engage the media in the process of policies and decisions, if at all it really means for the Islanders. Although, the media woke up to the situation and highlighted the mistake, there were no takers.

The issue is a huge blow to the Islanders who had sighed relief after the frustrating six and a half year tenure of the former Lt. Governor Bhopinder Singh, when corruption was at its best and the Anti-Corruption Unit in deep slumber. There was a sigh of relief for the Islanders, when Lt. Gen. (Retd) AK Singh took over as the new Lt. Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

A promising, energetic, focussed, people friendly, open hearted and by following what he preached, Lt. Governor AK Singh became the messiah of the Islanders. He is the most happening person in the Islands who promises to rewrite the history of the islands. In fact his promises seem better than what was published in a multi colour glossy book of achievement, a special supplementary issue on the then Lt. Governor Vakkom Purushottaman titled ‘Golden Era of Andaman & Nicobar Islands’, published by the first private daily of the islands, ‘Andaman Herald’ in 1995.

AK Singh announced that his prime focus would be on Health, Education, Connectivity and zero tolerance for corruption. The announcement came as soothing relief for the islanders who never expected the pace at which their new LG could grasp their pulse. Orders were issued, directions given and time frame set, and the best part was the LG himself interacting with the islanders through social media. His major achievement in a short span came with his initiative for ‘Mock Disaster Management Exercise’, which was proved during the recent Cyclone ‘Lehar’. 

Even the Anti Corruption Unit in deep slumber suddenly woke up, realizing they were sailing in a different boat altogether. Connecting with the ideology of the Lt. Governor AK Singh, the Superintendent of Police ACU, Mrs. Aslam Khan IPS came heavy on the corrupt. She sent shivers down the spine of corrupt and disseminated the clear message of Lt. Governor. To add, for the first time, the CID under her leadership cracked the impossible, interstate crime ‘ATM Fraud’, the victims being from across the country including the islanders. It was something which was never imagined and even the police in the mainland India wondered.

When thing were gaining momentum, with halted projects being reviewed and revived by the Lt. Governor; it came as a major blow for the hope with the announcement of transfer of Mrs. Aslam Khan from ACU. It shocked the Islanders, especially the youth and sent negative vibes. Blushing faces turned pale, hopes for a bright future dimmed and the question ‘why?’ loomed large.

Aslam Khan IPS Transfer Imbroglio: How Did They Goof Up?

Aslam Khan IPS Transfer Imbroglio:
How Did They Goof Up?

The only sensible thing that the Administration should do at this juncture is to come out with the non-existent allegations against the Officer or render an apology for the goof-ups and re-instate her back as the SP, Anti-Corruption Unit.

By Zubair Ahmed

The Administration, it appears to be in no mood to accept the fact that they goofed up in this issue big time. To make things worse and murkier, the goof up continues. It would be sensible and advisable that instead of finding a motive behind the articles, they should be undoing the wrong committed to the officer, and put an end to the 'loose talk' emanating from high places.

Undoubtedly, the recent transfer of Mrs Aslam Khan SP, Anti-Corruption Unit as Principal of Police Training School was a miscalculated step by the Administration, which appears to have backfired. It was projected as a routine Administrative step. However, when the news of her transfer and the tads of allegations leveled against her appeared in the social media, the Lieutenant Governor tried to play it down saying that it was sensitive issue and the media should not indulge in 'loose talk' and comment without verifying full facts. Unfortunately, there are no facts either.

The first goof-up was the transfer of an honest officer, with a motive to keep her away and protect a few corrupt elements. When media tried to bring it to the notice of the Administrator, he tried to set in the media in harsh words, and then started a series of lies.

When the Administrator was contacted, he reiterated that there are many allegations against her, which cannot be revealed or shared. A sense of mild guilt too was pervading, or why he had to stress and say that the officer was commended for her good work. An officer, against whom, many allegations are pending does not deserve any commendation. This was the first instance of cover-up. However, the media did not buy that and went ahead and published the story revealing all the facets.

For the next 48 hours, there has been a deafening lull from the side of Administration. However, its not all silent. Vibes from the Police Headquarters confirm that there are no allegations as of now against the said officer. But, a senior police officer is learnt to have been engaged in a series of Goebbelsian propaganda against the officer as well as the media.

Rather than addressing the issue, or coming out with a clarification, they found it convenient to float rumours of gargantuan proportions. As widely quoted, when all arguments fail, religion is the only argument left. Playing favourite mind games, the senior police officer is learnt to bring a communal angle to the issue. They seriously believe that the communal angle might divert the attention from the issue.

Moreover, another rhetoric that is gradually cropping up is that some vested interests are instigating the media, which is another allegation, which they won't be able to substantiate ever.

Initially it was unfound allegations against Mrs Aslam Khan, and now one upon another they are trying to build as many lies as possible. Only regret is that they will utterly fail in establishing any one of them.

Some elements close to the Chief Secretary Anand Prakash did send feelers that the Chief Secretary is interested to meet, but it would be prudent on the side of media to communicate through the paper instead of a personal meeting. The only sensible thing that the Administration should do at this juncture is to come out with the non-existent allegations against the Officer or render an apology for the goof-ups and re-instate her back as the SP, Anti-Corruption Unit.

Its high time, the Administration refrains from venturing into rumuor mongering and initiate an enquiry. Or all the bluff they are interested in propagating might not help them in diverting the media or the Islanders from the core issue.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

King and His Lieutenant

King and His Lieutenant

By Zubair Ahmed

Core values like Imandari, Wafadari and Izzat should be the guiding forces, reiterated our Lieutenant Governor in two very important gatherings last week.

Its almost six months, the new Administrator, A K Singh took charge of the Island territory. A refreshing change for the Islands after prolonged six and half years, the territory gets a new Administrator with clear vision and intentions.

He is trying his best to be a contrast to his predecessor and has been successful to an extent. AK Singh wants to stand against everything, in word and deed, that Bhopinder Singh was. He tried to connect with people and employed all tactics for that. His whirlwind tours were well attended and appreciated. Indeed, he changed the way people look towards an Administrator.

However, he is yet to understand the mechanics of civil administration, where mutual trust and faith are two important factors rather than regimentation and commands.

In Defence forces, everything is sensitive and discreet. However, in a civil governance setup, transparency and openness are paramount. No decision is sensitive to be kept a secret as far as public office is concerned.

After six months, although he has good grasp of the Islands, its challenges and opportunities, it seems he miserably failed in gauging the dynamics of civil administration. He should have approached the Administration without a myopic vision. But, his vision was blurred by his immediate advisor, the Chief Secretary. Today, he looks the Administration through CS’s eyes, who engineers and manipulates his views according to his whims and fancies. There are officials in the good book as well as bad book of the LG and unfortunately, the books are photocopies of the Chief Secretary. He failed to have an impartial and neutral assessment of the officers. The Islands that the Chief Secretary has created within the Administration remains disconnected without a bridge.

The lieutenant in question here enjoys blind trust of the Administrator. On the one hand, the Administrator harps on zero-tolerance against corruption, but his lieutenant openly supports and protects corrupt elements. The Administrator wants encroachment to be eliminated, whereas his lieutenant gives instructions to the DC to go slow on it. The Administrator talks positive and development, whereas his lieutenant thinks only negative and anti-development.

Either the Chief Secretary's memory power is very high, or he don't give a damn to all the announcements the Administrator makes at the functions. The announcements and decisions made by the Administrator at different functions are never followed up.

The Lieutenant Governor who like to mingle with common man on the ground, and have cup of tea on the streets and mutton delicacies on far away beaches with local tourists, also needs to meet people in Chief Secretary’s absence, to get proper feedback, in an unrehearsed atmosphere. He will get to know the true meaning of the core values – Imaandari, Wafaadari and Izzat!

Chief Secretary and His Myopic World

Chief Secretary and His Myopic World

Anand Prakash, IAS Chief Secretary of the Islands is a personified package of sarcasm, negativity, inaction, loose talk and flippant attitude, enjoying his clout with the Administrator. High time that the Administrator realizes that his Lieutenant's misdemeanors have serious repercussions on everything he envisions.

By Zubair Ahmed

"Angrezi mein bhi koi jhoot bolta hai kya?" is a dialogue from a Vishal Bharadwaj movie. This line aptly fits for our Chief Secretary Anand Prakash. The coterie around him chants same sort of lines - "CS bhi kabhi loose talk kar sakta hai kya?"

Don't be deceived by his age or position. He is a man known in all circles as one person, albeit second in command, who indulges in all types of loose talk and character assassination. Ask any responsible officer in the Administration, who has not faced the axe. Sarcasm and negativity are his two traits. In a recent meeting of Andaman and Nicobar Innovation Council, he started with the remark "What Innovation?" and that sets the agenda. Perhaps he needs a basic reorientation from Sam Pitroda, who heads the National Council.

This article was long overdue, but the compulsion of time and space required by the new Administrator to assess his family and take appropriate corrective measures had prolonged the wait for six months. This article can be conjured as a negative piece in LG's parlance. But this is a positive feedback, which is literally behind schedule. The language and tone of the article may be repulsive, but the transgressions of the Chief Secretary cannot be put in any dignified way.

The context being the recent bungle in the transfer of Mrs Aslam Khan, SP Anti-Corruption Unit, which cannot be misconstrued as a routine administrative step. The Chief Secretary played a very ruthless role in the episode. Moreover, to cover up his fault, he indulged in a vilification campaign against the woman officer. (See Story: Aslam Khan IPS: Victim of Honesty)

The chemistry between the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Secretary is a matter of public discussion. Literally, the Chief Secretary is piggy-riding the Lieutenant Governor. In fact, all the photos of the Administrator riding the bike, and CS as a pillion rider sum up the approach and attitude. The role reversal is not anymore a secret.

The Chief Secretary who shirks from taking decisions, and had stalled projects citing one after another reason, was happy that the new Lieutenant Governor would do the decision making process, keeping him safe. In fact LG took the role of the CS and started visiting various ministries pursuing the issues. All the work of Chief Secretary is being done by the LG and CS is just enjoying the show.

In fact, what the Chief Secretary found in the Lieutenant Governor is a shoulder he can bank upon without any risk or accountability. Why all the major project, the Administrator is now pursuing with various ministries were delayed at the first place is not a mystery.

This Chief Secretary, who is negativity and anti-development personified, was instrumental in all those projects being delayed or shelved off. More than his negativity, shrouded in administrative procedures, his pessimism reflects in every decision he takes.

His cynical approach was the one reason why the Submarine Fibre Optic Project got delayed. It’s almost a scam. After opening financial bids, he calls Airtel, the ineligible party to negotiate. In a way, it’s a readymade case fit for CVC. Although the bid was opened in February 2013, work was not awarded, whereas the normal implementation period was 18 months and would have been commissioned by January 2015. The project which costs near about a thousand crores had put him in a dilemma, and the safest way out was blame his immediate subordinates about procedural lapses and over-stepping and delay it, and he did it in a bureaucratic finesse. The whole process is being repeated now without any remorse.

A High Powered Committee on Shipping was formed, which could have expedited the process of acquisition and wet lease of ships of various categories. When the Home Secretary had made it very clear that ANI Admn could itself acquire small ships, he as usual shirked responsibility, and wanted Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) on board, which delayed the project to his satisfaction. He handed over to SCI the job of 155-800 pax ships, which was fine, however, 27 small tugboats and small ships were to be purchased by ANI Admn. It was a windfall for SCI, when the whole procurement was handed over to them, as the money involved was huge. He also blocked payment of new ships being made by Bharti Shipyard, and the work was halted due to non-payment since February 2013. They were scheduled to give two 1500-pax ship in December 2014 and March 2015.

The Andaman and Nicobar Solar Power Policy was announced in April 2012. Chief Secretary Anand Prakash joined in May 2012. And he wishfully killed the project by October 2012. Same policy was announced by Govt of India in January 2013 for all India and in fact Delhi Govt has already started implementing it. The roof-top solar project, which was much needed to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel for power generation was cancelled at the last minute just before the tender was to be opened. He blamed his Principal Secretary of procedural lapses and got the project shelved.

The long pending issue between IPP Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd and Andaman Administration was aggravated by the Chief Secretary, who off the record even blamed that JERC is corrupt, and hence a decision against the Administration. He was reluctant to release the long pending due of completion cost to SPCL, and JERC had ordered the payment immediately. The Chief Secretary took the order casually, and was finally fined Rs 1 Lakh or three months in prison.

The wet lease of 18-seater twin engine seaplane for long-haul inter-Island connectivity were also on the verge of finalisation, which he deferred citing umpteen excuses. The Islands could have two brand new aircrafts, the first one by April and the second September 2013. He chaired pre-bid meeting in November 2012 and unilaterally imposed change of supply schedule conditions from 8 months to 5 months. The suppliers backed out citing that no new twin engine carrier is available till February 2013. What was available was the refurbished ones. It is certainly felt that it was a deliberate attempt to ensure extensions to Mehair, which runs the existing seaplane. The bids were made thrice and all kept failing due to the wish-washy attitude. It’s a fact that the ANI Admn pays Rs one crore monthly to Mehair, in which only Rs 37 lakhs is the outgo. What happens to the balance money is anybody’s guess.

Many more projects which could have changed the face of the Islands also met same fate.

Chief Secretary Anand Prakash is a master of inaction, but found very active in loose talk. There is not a single officer including women on whom he has not traded his tirades. He spreads rumors about the fidelity of officers. He doesn't even care barging into their privacy and spread rumours about secretaries and directors. It’s a fact any person sitting in CS’s chamber can corroborate that if any female leaves his office, whether visitor or officer, he passes lewd comments the moment she steps out, even if other people are sitting in office. In meetings, all his remarks are sarcastic, which demoralizes the workforce.

Divide and rule is the policy he has honed and applied perfectly, and which he follows religiously. He has been quite successful in creating wide divides inside Secretariat. There has been no time, when the Officers were not divided into camps. The Secretariat has many Islands inside an Island. Since his posting, he has been meticulously working on creating a divide. There are officers, in his good book and there are others, who are thrown out at will.

Without a bete noire, his existence seems meaningless. As soon as Jalaj Shrivastav, Principal Secretary left the Islands, he turned his tirade against Ms Rina Ray, Principal Secretary. All those who were close to Jalaj Shrivastav was dumped and thrown into inconsequential posts. The divisions are quite obvious. He also pits junior officers against their seniors. The tactic Chief Secretary employs to reign in his Secretaries is by pitting Directors against them. It happened with SE Electricity, Chief Engineer APWD, Director, Education during last year. In a recent development, following the dictum of the Lieutenant Governor, Commissioner cum Secretary, Revenue asked the Deputy Commissioner to initiate eviction of encroachment. Soon, the DC was called by the CS and asked to go slow on this issue. And the Chief Secretary enjoys the heartburn between the Secretary and DC.

Unfortunately, the clout the Chief Secretary enjoys with the new Administrator is blurring LG’s vision towards many issues, which will take time for him to grasp. It was CS’s luck that he got an Administrator, who is pro-active and takes initiatives. Otherwise, he was such a character, who was just whiling away his time in the Islands. Albeit, he cannot guide, he enjoys the clout to misguide the Administrator, which will have serious repercussions.

Aslam Khan IPS: Victim of Honesty

Aslam Khan IPS:  
Victim of Honesty

By Zubair Ahmed

In the past six years, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) was misused and abused to mint money and settle scores by a set of officials, and its a fact every Islander acknowledges. However, the picture changed with the Lieutenant Governor setting a goal of zero-tolerance towards corrupt practises. The change in guard in the ACU and structural changes were monumental in setting a new standard in dealing with corruption.

Mrs Aslam Khan, SP, ACU in a short span proved her mettle by trapping many corrupt government servants. Series of successful operations had started to create a sense of fear, when she was moved out and made Principal, Police Training School.

From the outset, the transfer of SP Aslam Khan might look like any other administrative decision, but it is a failure of collective morality of the Administration.

She has become the victim of calumny and many unsubstantiated charges are being floated by a section, and unfortunately, the rumours emanating from the Chief Secretary's chamber is what is now discussed on the streets.

In fact, she was shunted out of the department, as she had ruffled many feathers, and the interests of many had been compromised.

It all started with the arrest of four officials of Port Blair Municipal Council by the Anti Corruption Department, of A&N Police based on a complaint of corruption received. The arrest was made on 9th Oct. 2013 at evening hours under section 13(1)d/13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 read with Sec. 420/120B of IPC. All of them were later released on bail.

Prior to the arrest, when the Anti-corruption Unit moved the file, what conspired between the Secretary, Vigilance, Municipal Secretary and the Chief Secretary is a mystery. However, when SP Aslam Khan met the Chief Secretary, there was clear instruction not to proceed in the case. She was asked to drop the charges. According to reliable sources present in the CS's chamber, when she demanded a written note from the CS, he turned wild and instructed Public Prosecutor, S K Mondal not to contest the bail. The Public Prosecutor did not appear, and sent his Assistant. All four of them were released on bail.

What were the circumstances, where a Chief Secretary had to intervene to block the arrest of junior level employees of PBMC, indulged in corrupt practices? Does the buck stop at the four foot soldiers or it has ramifications beyond that ? Is the Municipal Secretary also being protected?

The Chief Secretary enjoys the clout of both the Politicians as well as the Administrator, and in this specific case, it is learnt that he obliged his political friends and did not deter from putting immense pressure on Aslam Khan to submit, which he didn't budge. However, Court granted the accused bail, as CS had the last say.

The Chief Secretary is the Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO), with 40 departments under him. In many cases, trying to protect his own officers, he sits on the files. In another instant, a case on an Assistant Engineer in APWD in Rangat, is still pending. The AE, a native of Rangat also runs proxy business units and indulges in various corrupt practices, which were substantiated by Anti-Corruption Unit. Because of the proximity of the AE to the Chief Engineer (APWD), who in turn, as of now is in the good books of the CS, there is no movement in the case.

Above all, the Chief Secretary has started a slander campaign against Mrs Aslam Khan, SP. Wild allegations that she has indulged in corrupt practices are all over the place. The latest rumour is that she was hand in glove with a non-governmental organization, working against corruption, and has indulged in corrupt practices. And it is being spread through various channels, which are yet to be substantiated. When asked for a list of allegations, the authorities said that it cannot be shared with anybody.

The way the whole issue was dealt smelt of corruption and favouritism in higher places, and the fallout was the transfer of a competent officer, who was performing well. The justification that the replacement officer, Shibesh Singh, IPS is highly qualified and competent is not the answer to the question why an honest and competent officer like Mrs Aslam Khan IPS is being replaced.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Andaman Marathon, Cyclone Lehar and Teachers Recruitment

Andaman Marathon, Cyclone Lehar and Teachers Recruitment

Why our predicament is same in all three cases - Marathon, Cyclone and Teachers recruitment! 

By Zubair Ahmed

Despite heavy downpour, the turnout for the Andaman Marathon was commendable, and the Organizers deserve appreciation for that. As announced earlier with pride, as many as six athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia participated in it and in true sportsman spirit beat the Island marathoners in the main event. And, we all clapped and clapped, till they felt that they deserved the applause.

After the devastating 2004 Tsunami, a well-prepared Andaman and Nicobar Islands braced the fury of Cyclone Lehar, which crossed the Islands leaving behind a trail of devastation. With no casualty, the Disaster Management proved its ability to secure human lives by evacuating people from vulnerable areas. Kudos to ANI Admn and the "never giving up" spirit of the Islanders!

A wave of dissent is simmering throughout the Islands, with rallies, meetings, representations being submitted to the Administration concerned with mainlanders nabbing majority of jobs in the Islands, especially the 420-plus vacancies notified for teachers.

In the half marathon, in General Category female, the Kenyans, Ms. Gladys J. Tarus,  Ms. Everline N. Ancha and Ms. Chenaneat Lorva came First, Second and Third respectively. In the Reserved Category for Islanders female,  Ms. Birshi Bhay was 'declared' winner. In the half marathon male, Mr. Daniel Yegum (Kenya), Mr. Antony Moungh (Kenya) and Mr. Gebre Gizachew (Ethiopia) came first, second and third respectively. In the Reserved Category for Islanders male,  Mr. Kapil was 'declared' winner.

All the winners truly deserve "applause". There was another category of 10 kms, which was 100% reserved for Islanders. And, once again applause for all those who won their races.

A few decades back, most of the weather forecasts were taken with a pinch of salt. "Chances of rain and sunshine" was a cliché used for weather forecasts. Things have changed. Now, they are able to scientifically predict the speed, intensity, direction and probable time of a cyclone with accuracy to an extent. But, nobody can reduce the speed or intensity, change the direction or postpone a cyclone as per their wish.  Cyclone Lehar came, created havoc and left to "mainland". Applause for the disaster-preparedness!

Contrary to the firm belief, around 1126 applications from mainland has landed at DEO, South Andaman for the 420+ vacancies for teachers. Nothing like speculation! Even if after scrutiny, 50% applications are rejected, there are about 500 applications from mainland with CTET pass. After verification of original testimonials, merit list on the basis of self-marking will be prepared and the results announced.

Now you might be wondering what is the connection between Andaman Marathon, Cyclone Lehar and Teachers Recruitment.

In Andaman Marathon, all six winners came from outside and took away all the prizes except those 'reserved' for the Islanders. Cyclone Lehar came from outside and created havoc and left. Our share of destruction was however less, as 90% of the fury was "reserved' for mainland. As expected by the 'rumour-mongers' and unforeseen by the Administrator, more than a 1000 applications from the mainland has already reached the shores of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Now, it has to be seen how much mayhem it will generate.

Fortunately, we have an Administrator, who likes to talk his heart unlike his predecessors. Irrespective of the occasion, he touches every issue and try to convert it into a public spectacle winning huge appreciation and applause.

After the marathon, with his soul-stirring and passionate speech, the Administrator won the hearts and souls of the gathering. They clapped non-stop. He too truly deserved the applause! In fact, the Administrator clinched the opportunity to address those gathered after the culmination of the marathon to clarify or rather express his mind about the confusion or the uproar about Teachers Recruitment. He also utilized the Coop Week function to throw light on the issue.

Referring to rumours that mainland candidates will take away majority of the jobs of teachers, being recruited by the Education Department, the Lt. Governor urged the teachers and students to have confidence in him and reassured them that their interests would be protected and a 'viable' solution arrived at which will stand legal and administrative scrutiny.  He also appealed to the youth not to be misguided by rumours. He said the whole procedure would be fair and transparent.
Now, who are the rumour-mongers? Many delegations have met the Administrator and submitted representations demanding reservation of jobs for the Islanders. Bishnu Pada Ray convened a press meet. Vishal Jolly personally met him. Kuldeep Rai Sharma led a rally and addressed a gathering of candidates and met the Administrator and submitted a representation. Now, who among the three are spreading rumours? All of them are conscious of the fact that there are legal and administrative issues, as a policy is not yet framed. What all of them are demanding individually or collectively is the same - To get an executive order from the Centre for reservation of jobs for the Islanders like it exists in different UTs viz. Daman and Diu, Pondicherry, Delhi etc. What is perplexing is the fact that Kuldeep Rai Sharma's rally and public meeting was an eye-opener and a positive step, whereas all others are rumour-mongers. Its the same old beaten path Bhopinder Singh had followed. What Island Protection Forum is demanding and other political and social organisations are asking for are the same. And its a fact that 1126 applications from mainland have already landed in Andamans.

The Islanders have been smitten not once, but twice - Tsunami farmers issue and Buffer Zone. Hence they are thrice shy now rather than lucky! They are anxious and apprehensive.

The Administrator has already assured that he will not leave any stone unturned in protecting the interests of the Islanders, but with a caveat, as its not in his hands. He will approach Prime Minister and other leaders in the Centre.

What the Islanders are genuinely worried is the precarious situation where after a long wait outside the operation theatre, door opens and the doctor comes out, pulls his gloves off and says, "Sorry, I couldn't save him."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jarawas in Tirur: Irreversible Cultural Damage!

Jarawas in Tirur:
Irreversible Cultural Damage!

By Zubair Ahmed

One after the other, news about illicit barter between settlers and Jarawa tribe and exploitation are pouring in from Tirur since change of guard in AAJVS. In a fresh incident reported from Tirur, one Ashush Samaddar was arrested by Police on a tip off about a group of Jarawas being sheltered by him and for serving liquor in exchange of 20 kg of venison.  The Jarawa youth Kunu along with two members were found at the poacher's residence.

Of late, many incidents of transgressions are reported from Tirur. It has also come to light that four poachers, in connivance with a few staff in AAJVS headquarters are engaged in such activities. Three of them who are suppliers of implements to AAJVS also engage in illicit barter with the Jarawas. A couple of months back, one such person Saurab Biswas who was detected with a group of Jarawas was chased and apprehended by Coast Guard. However, he was let off after it was confirmed by AAJVS headquarters that he was an authorized supplier to AAJVS and also engaged in transporting Jarawas in his Dinghy officially. Later, his tender was cancelled. But, he managed to get fresh tender to one of his kin, Narayan Biswas.

The illegal liaison by such unscrupulous staff of AAJVS and police personnel posted in Tirur is a matter of serious concern as it fails all efforts to curb the menace of illegal poaching inside the Reserve and the unwarranted exposure.

Moreover, the cultural damage among Jarawas caused due to the prolonged excesses of six to seven years seems to be irreversible. The recent incident of a scuffle between two Jarawas under the influence of liquor did not attract the attention of the policymakers. The episode was given a different colour and concealed. For a decade, Tirur Jarawas remained under abrupt neglect and exploitation, with police personnel as well as the Tribal Welfare Officer posted in Tirur having a free reign.

It is also learnt that a few settlers were also indulging in sexual exploitation of the Jarawas. Some of them have erected small sheds behind their houses, where liquor is served and obscene films shown to Jarawas and lured to indulge in sexual acts. Though, such incidents were very much in the knowledge of police as well as the officer posted in Tirur, they turned blind towards it.

After the change of Tribal Welfare Officer posted in Tirur, and increased watch, Jarawas, who were addicted to alcohol are now desperate for their daily quota.

Without a total overhaul of the Jarawa police outpost at Tirur and an ironhanded approach in dealing with the poachers, the situation will only get worse. However, in most cases, the culprits seemed to be let off after minor or petty charges filed against them, making a mockery of the provisions of ANPATR.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Poacher Intrudes into Jarawa Reserve, Camps with Jarawa: Culprit Let off on Bail

Poacher Intrudes into Jarawa Reserve, Camps with Jarawa:
Culprit Let off on Bail

By Zubair Ahmed

Before the Kadamtala Jarawa Circus row subsided, another breach has been reported from Wandoor/Tarmugli. One habitual poacher, Nitai Mondal was arrested for illegal intrusion into Jarawa Reserve and camping with Jarawas inside the Reserve. However, typically he has also been let off on bail.

Defying all the regulations and monitoring mechanism put in place by the Administration, a local poacher Nitai Mondal, resident of Guptapara reached Chotagoja Jarawa Camp, a Jarawa Reserve on the West Coast on 3rd November with ration articles - rice, vegetable oil, sugar and tea and camped with a group of Jarawas. He halted with them and the next day took two Jarawas - Dawa and Lekhte to Bambu Nallah, where other Jarawas were camping. he stayed with them for a day and later took 5 Jarawas - Anijamu (43), Illy (25), Anjale (27), Achehane(25), and Tahe (22) to Tarmugli Island.

Nitai Mondal, who is an habitual offender is already booked in two cases of exploitation of Jarawas.

It is learnt from reliable sources that the culprit was nabbed by a police team with the assistance of AAJVS staff. The authorities comprising police and AAJVS team were informed by Alomole and Gilad, two Jarawas based in Tirur about the illegal intrusion of Nitai Mandal. The team immediately left for Tarmugli Island along with a Jarawa Kunu on a police interceptor boat, who got in touch with the five Jarawas. On further enquiry, the five Jarawas revealed that Nitai Mandal had stayed with them for two days and had later transported them to Tarmugli Island. Statement of Jarawas were recorded on a video capturing device too.

Dr Vishwajit Pandya, a senior Anthropologist associated with the newly formed Andaman Nicobar Tribal Research and Training Institute (ANTRI) said that the recent incidents are a setback to the efforts taken by the concerned authorities to protect the territory of Jarawas from poaching and exploitation of the vulnerable tribe. He further added that there is a serious need for cooperation from all agencies to create a consciousness to check such activities.

This incident has once again exposed the claims of the Administration how the stringent provisions of the ANPATR has been flouted with ease. Despite all the efforts of the police and AAJVS team, the police it seems could not properly build a case against the offender, in which ample evidence and witnesses were in hand. It is learnt that the key witnesses and the video evidence were also not presented before the court.

In Kadamtala episode, four persons were booked under the provisions of ANPATR, but the mastermind of the episode, Sampad Kumar, Pradhan, Kadamtala was let off on bail who had been booked under minor charges despite his deep involvement. Had the Pradhan been booked under ANPATR, it would have set a precedent, but the sluggish approach of the Administration has paved way for more such violations.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tirur Jarawa Reserve: 'Hotspot' of Negligence

Tirur Jarawa Reserve:
'Hotspot' of Negligence

By Zubair Ahmed

A local daily, Andaman Chronicle on 21st Oct 2013 reported an incident of clash between two Jarawas in Tirur under the influence of alcohol in which one of them was severely injured and hospitalized. The news draw a blank as the incident which took place on 18th October, only reached the corridors of Tribal Welfare Department and AAJVS headquarters, after it appeared in the press. And, they continue to feign ignorance as if nothing has happened.

As the matter pertained to infighting among Jarawas, which itself was very rare, there was not much to be done. However, what was grossly neglected was the fact that the Jarawas were in inebriated state. In fact, the Admn claims to have fully set up three hotspots, which becomes the point of contact for Jarawas, whether supply of liquor is also part of the hotspot business needs to be investigated. Or, how come the Jarawas got alcohol when the Administration claims to have foolproof mechanism everywhere.

It is learnt that the Dept is trying to hush up the matter and a report has also been cooked up as per convenience saying that the wound was due to fall from a tree. It seems to be a befitting report to avoid any further controversies. Or many inconvenient questions will have to be answered. How and from where did the Jarawas get alcohol? What were the AAJVS and Police staff doing? What the forest staff is doing to stop poaching in the Reserves?

In fact, as reported earlier pertaining to the Kadamatala incident, in which Jarawas were tutored to parrot a few lines by the Pradhan and a set of poachers, this incident too is multi-dimensional.  It has been established and confirmed now what conspired between the Police and the set of officers who investigated the Kadamtala incident. The Pradhan was initially kept out of the loop to avoid political pressures and controversies. The pressure from the media forced the Admn to review their stand and the Pradhan was booked on some minor charges and bailed out within hours.

In both cases, media played a vital role in bringing to light the incidents. It doesn't mean that the officials working for Jarawas - AAJVS, Police and Forest are ignorant about the happenings. All of them try to keep things under wraps as much as possible to keep controversies at bay. In the last five years, not a single case was suo moto identified by the concerned agencies and cases booked.

Tirur is more vulnerable and sensitive than Andaman Trunk Road and Kadamtala, as the level of interaction between the Settlers and Jarawas are very high. While speaking to a shopkeeper in Tirur, he pointed out that Jarawas frequently visit the settlement and take whatever they want from the villages. Recently, they had raided a few houses and took away many utensils and clothes. When asked about their visit to the shops, he blatantly denied it saying they don't buy anything from shops.

When we spoke to a few poachers, they said that the Jarawas understand the value of money and they do visit shops and buy whatever they want. When we asked them about availability of alcohol to Jarawas, they denied such things saying that they are not aware of it. When asked about people visiting the Reserve, once again they feigned ignorance.

The unconcerned and apathetic stance of the villagers speak volumes about the kind of relationship they have with the tribes. Everyone plays safe while dealing with the issue of Jarawas keeping themselves at a safe distance from the issue.

"Jarawas have started speaking Bengali and Tamil," said Mohan Haldar, Pradhan, Tushnabad Panchayat. Mohan is now a bit cautious and wary after the Kadamtala incident. Earlier, he used to reel out a list of demands by Jarawas and also used to send regular petitions to the authorities demanding compensation for the damages caused by Jarawas. "We need to be very careful dealing with the Jarawas, as its a very sensitive issue," he said.

"We need to form Village Task Force as suggested by former LG Vakkom Purushottaman, comprising of youth who will act as watch groups to check poaching by the settlers," he suggested.  The changed stance of the Pradhan is a welcome step, which needs to be properly channelized to bring a meaningful change at the village level. "There are a few poachers, who spoil the name of the village and they are identifiable too," he said. "If the Forest and Police personnel do their duty properly, this can be easily checked," he added. Moreover, he also blamed the AAJVS posted in Tirur who are hardly available in the village for a couple of hours.

A water supply scheme is coming up at the fringes of Jarawa Reserve at Tirur, the foundation stone of which was laid by P K Singh, Chief Engineer cum Secretary, APWD last week. The project will help more than three villages to get safe drinking water. However, if the Admn becomes casual, this spot will turn to be another hotspot for Jarawas. Without proper watch and vigil, there are chances of increased interactions between labourers and Jarawas. "The project should not be stalled for this issue," Mohan said. 'We are taking all necessary steps to avoid any kind of interactions," he said.

With the injured Jarawa discharged from hospital, and back in their Reserve, and with the cock and bull story invented by the Dept finding  place in the file, the issue may be deemed closed. However, if an independent agency investigates, the truth might spill out which may pave way for a proper recourse to the never-ending saga of poaching in Jarawa Reserve in Tirur.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tuna Mission 2009-2014: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

VOL. 35 | ISSUE. 09 | FRIDAY | 26 AUGUST 2011 |

Tuna Mission 2009-2014

The hype around Tuna Mission may not be a farce, but the mission might crash land before take-off due to the haphazard and piecemeal way of implementation. Lack of proper coordination between different agencies involved and the half-hearted approach of Department of Fisheries, the nodal agency, is pushing the mission backwards.

By Zubair Ahmed

A department, which has miserably failed to promote fisheries at local level and is groping through a dark tunnel, has ventured into an ambitious project, without men, machinery and vision. On collision with everything under its patronage, the department under Dr Krishnamurthy has already lost its face and confidence beyond recovery.

The genesis of Tuna Mission 2009-2014 under such a department is indeed a very interesting story. The continental shelf area of India is around 5.12 lakh sq. kms. The Exclusive Economic Zone around the Islands is 6.00 lakh sq kms, accounting for 30% of the total EEZ of the country The fishing zone under the command of Andaman and Nicobar Administration is upto 12 Nautical miles. If by a rough estimate, from the Northern tip to the Southern tip of the Islands, the area upto 12 Nautical Miles is calculated the area under the licensing command of the administration will be approximately 44000 sq kms.

The estimated potential yield of tuna resources in the EEZ around the Islands is about 64500 MT. Out of these three varieties are oceanic and available only in the deep sea, which are commercially viable in the international export market - Bigeye tuna - 500 MT, Yellow Fin Tuna - 24000 MT and Skipjack Tuna - 500 MT. There are three other varieties known as Neritic Tuna, available in the territorial or coastal zone with a potential of approximately 18000 MT which has no value in export market and has only local market. But, Khatta Bhangdi is a big no for locals. The Tuna Mission proclaims that the above varieties of Tuna is available in the Exclusive Economic Zone, but it never mentions that how much tuna is available in the 45000 sq kms, which comes under the licensing command of the administration. The three high value variety is oceanic variety and highly migratory in nature. And it's a fact that the assessment of the migratory route of tuna is still unknown and a mystery.

According to experts, there are two branches of tuna which migrates to Andaman Sea. It starts from Eastern Africa and moves towards South to Gulf of Eden and diverts eastwards towards Pakistan, Gujarat coast and comes down to Kerala Coast, from where it splits into two branches and moves towards Lakshadweep and Vizag. It is still unknown about the movement route of tuna from either of these branches. All assessment of the route of tuna migration is based on assumptions.

As per the Mission, the Department of Fisheries with the technical help of National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) on the basis of FSI’s findings will be initially installing 10 Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD) at various locations in the Islands within the territorial waters. The use of FADs to attract and hold species of fishes like tuna is a recent significant development in the tuna fisheries in many countries.  Speaking to LOA, Dr NV Vineeth Kumar, Director, NIOT said that deployment of FADs has been quite successful in Lakshadweep, where fishermen were trained to catch fish around the FADs. He said that the aggregation of tuna fish has also increased around the FADs. However, the catch is that the most of the FADs will be placed in the coastal zone for the benefit of local fishermen with small crafts, and in this zone, deep sea vessels are not permitted to fish, which will adversely affect the tuna catch. Moreover, the quality of tuna available in the coastal zone is not of export quality. High quality tuna variety is available in deep sea, where only big vessels can venture.

Why Andaman and Nicobar have been made the base of Tuna Mission is also questionable. The Department of Fisheries, mired in various controversies due to its inefficiency and inaction in promoting fisheries at local level, has been made the nodal agency for implementation of this grand mission. “I cannot understand, why MPEDA is not fully involved in this project. MPEDA is treated as a pariah by the department,” said Bhaskar, President Andaman Chamber of Commerce. He also added that the local fishermen are not competent enough to catch tuna. Most astonishing fact is that in a report published in 2000 by Fisheries Survey of India, which is active in surveys and reporting about fish aggregation reports that the hooking rate of Yellow fin tuna is just 0.83%, Bigeye tuna - 0.003% and skipjack tuna is only 0.03%, which means that the combined hooking rate per 100 hooks will be hardly 1% of tuna.  Moreover, the combined catch per 100 hooks including shark and other fish species is just 37%. However, Dr D.L. Ramalingam, Zonal Director, FSI told LOA that 1% of tuna is a huge quantity and is profitable. The Mission is already off-track as two precious years has been lost and it has already overshot the short term targets without achieving anything. When asked about the delay in implementation of the Mission, Dr. Krishnamurthy, Director, Fisheries Dept said that they had to face many hurdles like arranging the loan component from banks for procurement of boats. As per the plan of action, by 2011, it should have introduced 50 Nos. of deep sea fishing vessels through private enterprise, which is yet to take off. He said that the department is giving subsidy upto 50% for tuna specific boats costing about Rs 15 Lakhs. However, the crafts suggested by the Fisheries department bring another sham to the fore.

The size of a Bigeye tuna is approximately 170 kg, Yellowfin 160-180 kg and Skipjack about 40 kg. The department is planning to convert and improve about 200 motorized dinghies (also called boats) for tuna fishing. These dinghies cannot venture into deep sea for tuna fishing and even if they catch tuna of the size mentioned above, how much quantity can these dinghies carry? Will they be able to maintain the export quality of fish onboard the dinghies with small iceboxes? And if the modified small motorized traditional crafts fish in the coastal areas, they will be harvesting the Neritic tuna, which is not preferred in the International export markets. This variety does not have a local market too as the local population equally detest this variety. Likewise, the tuna specific crafts of 10-12 mtrs proposed by the department on a subsidy of 50% are also not fit for tuna fishing. Tuna fish is prone to histamine formation after decomposition, which is highly allergic and not acceptable for export. It requires to be preserved in a controlled temperature, which is impossible on the crafts suggested by the department. A fishing expert speaking to LOA on anonymity said that the department is not interested in involving premier institutions like CIFTNET and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) based in Kerala, who have the technical expertise in designing tuna specific crafts and training the fishermen.

With time running out and no specific plan at place to identify prospective fishermen either from the Islands or mainland for tuna fishing, the various components of the Mission is lagging behind like any other developmental project in the Islands. The department has not initiated any action to develop ancillary infrastructure required once the mission takes off. On the ground, the  department has initiated the process of deployment of FADs with the technical help of FSI and NIOT. It has also started conversion of small boats. However, Bhaskar is skeptical and told LOA that this mission is not going to happen by 2014.  “How can such a mission be implemented in piecemeal basis? It should be taken up in turnkey basis and implemented with high zeal,” said Bhaskar.  But, Dr Ramalingam, Zonal Director, FSI was very positive and said that conclusions cannot be drawn so quickly. He further added that FADs will not just aggregate tuna. There will be other fishes too. When asked whether the FADs will be placed on the migratory route of tuna, he said that It is impossible to assess the route and FADs will be placed at locations as per the surveys.

The FADs, to be deployed will be useful for the local fishermen and the catch will naturally improve. But, how is it going to help the Tuna Mission cannot be predicted.

The only Fishing Training Centre in Port Blair has been auspiciously closed down due to the inactivity of the present director. The complete infrastructure is in shambles. Now, once again, in the name of Tuna Mission, funds will flow to revive it and later leave to the mercy of nature, by the time the administration realize that the mission was impossible. However, in a year, the incumbent director will be on superannuation and in 2014, when the mission is supposed to reach its pinnacle, he will not be there to blame.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Jarawa 'Circus' Boomerangs

Jarawa 'Circus' Boomerangs

By Zubair Ahmed

With the arrest of three poachers from Kadamtala under PAT Regulation, 1956, a new modern-day Enmei myth has been busted. It was widely reported in local and national media that a group of ten Jarawa youth out of hunger and desperation had ventured out of the forest and met the Gram Pradhan demanding food, school and a rendezvous with the Lieutenant Governor and Deputy Commissioner. As per the report, they had a huge list of demands ready.

As per the release issued by ANI Admn, on 03 Oct 2013, 10 Jarawas had reached Kadamtala Panchayat office demanding rice and eatables besides meeting with govt. officials. As per enquiry conducted by AAJVS authorities, some persons had gone into Jarawa habitat Hocha Botha (western coast) and stayed for 02 days for hunting. Further, they provided the Jarawas with rice, cooking oil and other eatables etc. instigated them to meet the Pradhan for food and other items.

During investigation the accused persons namely Maharaja Bala @ raja, Surender @ Surin and Rahul Mondal, all three residents of Kadamtala, have been arrested. All three have been remanded to 14 days judicial custody.

These persons were found to be habitual intruders into the Jarawa Reserve Area and it is learnt that they used to supply alcoholic substances to Jarawas.

However, the story does not end there. On 2 Oct 2013, Maharaja Bala, a blacksmith by profession and a regular poacher had invited the Jarawas to his house, which is on the fringes of the Reserve. About ten Jarawa youth instigated by Maharaja came to his house and stayed the whole night. Maharaja, always wanted to sell his wares to Jarawas, and kept instigating them against the quality of iron implements supplied by the Tribal Welfare Department. He had also added a demand to their list saying that they require the services of a blacksmith to repair their implements.

The Pradhan of the village, Sampat Kumar Roy too joined them and tutored them what to say. According to reliable sources, both Maharaja and Sampat had brought two bottles of liquor (On Gandhi Jayanti, a dry day) and served the Jarawas. "Liquor will give you enough strength to be bold to face the officers," they were reportedly told. Sampath had also asked them not to budge to any kind of appeasement and not board any vehicle, if AAJVS staff asked them to.

It is also learnt that two more poachers, Swapan Biswas and Suresh were also accompanying the Jarawas on the night of 2 October. Both of them are absconding.

Its intriguing why the Pradhan Sampath Kumar Roy, the ringmaster of the circus has been let off. He is very vocal about mainstreaming of Jarawas, which is not a crime, but he was also present at Maharaja's house, that too with a bottle of liquor and tutored them how to perform in front of the officers. Misled and misguided, the Jarawas parroted the lines taught to them. It is also learnt that Jarawas have now realized their mistake and are also on the lookout for the poachers, who misbehaved with them. "We will beat them if we get them,' Affee, the Jarawa youth told the source.

There are many messiahs of the Jarawas who are in a haste to bring them into the mainstream, for their own advantage. Speaking to LOA, a senior anthropologist said that settlers have always felt Jarawa to be an hindrance in their development and wants them to be settled in one of the uninhabited Islands. "They are eyeing their land and resources," he said.

The welfare of the Jarawas and their territory has been entrusted to three agencies - AAJVS, Police and Forest Dept. In a seminar organised by Anthropological Survey of India (ASI), Secretary Tribal Welfare had mentioned that the Admn has already identified a few hotspots where interactions and barters with the Jarawas take place. However, lack of proper coordination between the three agencies have resulted in many such excesses in the tribal reserves. A report by one of the Expert Committee on Jarawa Policy had mentioned that rice has already found inroad into Jarawa lifestyle.

In Tirur, Wright Myo and Kadamtala, poachers frequently venture into Jarawas Reserves for hunting deer and wild boars, depleting their resource base. Recently, a Dinghi was captured in Wright Myo in which forest dept seized about 8 deers - out which five were alive. Although, the Dinghi was seized there were no arrests made. The modus operandi of the forest beat staff is to let off the perpetrators and only seize the contraband. Large scale timber poaching is also reported from all these areas. In another incident which was reported by LOA, a group of forest staff who had ventured into the Reserve to extract cane and ballies were ambushed by the Jarawas and all their belongings were snatched.

Many such incidents are in the knowledge of forest officials, but no action is ever taken. It is also learnt that the welfare officers looking after the Jarawas have time and again reported about poachers in villages who frequent the Reserve and set traps to catch wild boar and deer.

Recently, police had booked cases against fishermen who were found fishing inside the Buffer Zone. Although, PAT regulations have been made stringent, due to non-application, poachers freely carry out their misdemeanors. PAT Regulation prescribes stringent punishment of imprisonment up to 7 years.

Unless the hotspots are plugged properly and tight watch on poachers in the villages increased, interaction between Jarawas and Settlers cannot be checked. As of now, there are 408 Jarawas in Tirur, Middle Strait and Kadamtala, and the resource base is sufficient for them, only if it is protected from the poachers. It is not the Jarawas who are venturing out to mingle with the Settlers, but its the other way round, which requires awareness as well as implementation of the stringent laws, as tweeted by the Lieutenant Governor.

It is very unfortunate that the villagers/settlers living in the fringes of Tribal reserves are ignorant about the history and lives of Jarawas. It is high time that knowledge about the tribes and their rights to life, land and livelihood are incorporated in the school curriculum so that at least the next generation does not carry the notion that the so-called 'junglees' are a nuisance and hindrance in the march of progress and development.