Thursday, March 27, 2014

Boat Tragedy: ANI Admn Still Digging up the Past

Boat Tragedy: ANI Admn Still Digging up the Past

By Zubair Ahmed

When people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and tourism industry is gradually recovering and trying to forget one of the worst tragedy that shocked the country, and cope up with the loss it incurred, the Andaman and Nicobar Administration seems to be in no mood to move on.

The ghost of the tourist boat tragedy that killed 22 lives seems to be still haunting the Administration. And, to cover up the negligence on the part of the Administration as the monitoring agency, it is still trying to point fingers at media and wash away all sins it committed. The Administration is bent upon crucifying the media, which could have become its eyes and ears.

Andaman Chronicle, which of late has been on the radar of the Administration for obvious reasons, is being targeted for bringing to light stories and asking inconvenient questions on different issues.

After a series of notices, eight to be specific and another series of examinations, the latest is a three-page rejoinder from the Superintendent of Police, South Andaman District, sent on 10th March and received by Speed Post on 22 March, alleging misrepresentation of facts by Andaman Chronicle on boat capsizing incident.

The rejoinder alleges that the newspaper published several incorrect and misleading information in the news items pertaining to the timing and cause of the capsizing.

The news article published in Andaman Chronicle on the following day was based on first-hand account of the eye witnesses who were interviewed by Andaman Chronicle. The information received by the paper may be different and distinct than the information received by ANI Police during investigation because of time gap in recording of statements of witnesses.

It is further stated that the matter is under investigation and also a magisterial enquiry has been ordered to enquire into the said incident. In view of the fact that the issue is sub-judice, and the magisterial enquiry is going on, it is uncalled for on the part of the Superintendent of Police to communicate the findings of their investigation, which is neither complete nor tested by judiciary in trial. An investigation is complete only when the charge sheet is filed in the matter and after that the Court tests the evidences and witnesses during trial. By sending a rejoinder to Andaman Chronicle, it appears that the Police Dept is making an attempt to prejudice the investigation and possibly subsequent trial by the Court by establishing that the investigation carried out by Police Dept is unbiased and correct and it does not require any sanction by the Court.

Andaman Chronicle had quoted one of the survivors, Mr Tyagarajan, Kanchipuram and reported that the accident took place before 3.00 pm. It had also quoted a few witnesses who said that the accident took place at about 2.45 pm. The dispute about the timing of the boat tragedy is still debatable.

Moreover, the paper had carried preliminary reports based on eye-witness and survivor accounts. The same survivor giving a different version does not prove that the report published by Andaman Chronicle was wrong.

It seems that when the house is on fire, the bride is concerned about makeup. Primarily, it is a matter of shame rather than 'image' that 22 lives were lost in the sea, that too hardly 300 mtrs from the Port Blair shore in a time span of 20 minutes. The first rescue happened after 40 minutes of the tragedy which itself says much about the level of preparedness.

Many more questions about the timing can be raised. What were the role of the District Control Room and even State Control Room?

Andaman Chronicle had restrained itself and did not venture to report on many aspects of the Safety Audit ordered by the Administrator. It would have put the Administration in a fix, had it questioned the logic behind plying of state-run boats soon after the tragedy without compliance. But, it would have caused inconvenience to thousands of passengers.

The Administration in fact announced Safety Audit for both state-run and private-owned boats soon after the tragedy. While the private boats were all stopped to ply, the state-run boats were plying carrying thousands of passengers even without completely complying with the safety guidelines. They are still making provisions in the boats to equip with life-jackets and other life saving equipments.

 How many boats owned by the Directorate of Shipping Services have all its documentation in order?

Interestingly, the rejoinder issued by the SP, South Andaman also alleges that in the past, Andaman Chronicle has published sensational news items on the Jarawa tribe without verifying facts and such incorrect and malicious reporting has spread enormous confusion and damaged the image of the Administration.

Andaman Chronicle has been publishing many news items on the Jarawa tribe since its inception.  The news reports in the newspaper was and still is published based on facts and information received after proper verification and conformation. As the issue is sub-judice, it would not be prudent to comment on this issue.

However, if the Administration is still interested in the past, it will open another can of worms, very difficult to shut. As the incumbent Administrator has time and again mentioned that he is not interested in digging the past, Andaman Chronicle refrained from publishing stories based on photographic evidences from immediate past. There were instances of choreographed dances made to perform by the  Jarawas for the entertainment of a chosen few. A crime committed yesterday or today is a crime!

As a matter of fact, Andaman Chronicle does not like to tarnish the image of the Administration in any way. However, the timing of the rejoinder sent after two months of the accident raises suspicion about the intentions of the Administration.

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