Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Education: Quantity or Quality?

Education: Quantity or Quality?

Isn't it an irony that parents spend Rs 1000 per month for education in a private school, while government spends Rs 2000 per month on a child in a government school. The disintegration of education system in the Islands is directly proportional to the increase in investment in pay & perks, infrastructure, facilities, equipments and accessories. Is it systemic failure or lack of a system itself?

By Zubair Ahmed

An analysis of the three press meets by the heads of Electricity, Education and APWD would suffice to get a feel about our idea of development or achievements. When we talk about achievements, its more about quantity than quality in every sector.

Like any other department of the Admn, in education too, the number of school buildings, toilets, doors, windows, new recruitments, teaching and non-teaching staff, ayahs, peons and watchmen seems to be the focus. But, the dismal performance of govt schools in the board exams has now compelled the Administration to reflect on reasons behind the debacle.

The Administrator recently expressed concern over low pass percentage both in Class X and XII. Had we achieved 100% pass in Class X, we would have celebrated our success and started comparing it with states in Mainland conveniently overlooking the fact that even 100% is just quantity and not about quality. Will the Directorate tell us the overall average CGPA this year, even in the schools which achieved 100% results? It would be a shocking revelation!

In fact, if the Admn contemplates tweaking the system to make a turnaround, the change should begin from top to bottom. The Directorate needs an academic to run the show instead of a bureaucrat. A bureaucrat can be good in providing resources, but monitoring of academic performance is not their cup of tea. Mismanagement of resources including manpower is quite apparent everywhere. Schools with disproportionate pupil-teacher ratio is abundant in number.
The example of two schools in South Andaman District are glaring. One Govt secondary school at Jirkatang,  affiliated to CBSE, has 16 students on roll with five GTTs, two PSTs one Craft Instructor and one Librarian. Three students appeared for Class X Board examinations out of which two passed and one was placed under EIOP or compartment. The teacher-student ratio is 16:9! One teacher for every 1.5 student!

The CBSE-affiliated secondary school at Mile Tilak has 30 students and 8 teachers including a PET and a Librarian. Five students appeared for Class X examinations and secured 100% pass with an average result of 6.5 CGPA. The teacher-student ratio is 30:8! A teacher for every 3.5 student!

Why not buy a fully-air-conditioned 40-seater coach with home pickup for the children with lunch from a star-hotel and admit them in a premier school at Port Blair? The per capita cost would be less than what is spent on such schools, and a fortune can be saved too.

Isn't it sheer mismanagement or eternal indecisiveness to find a solution? These are not exceptional cases. There are many such examples throughout the territory. There was a school with 16 teachers and 9 students!
There are many schools in South Andaman District where enrolment is very low due to numerous private schools that have come up. But, the sanctioned strength of staff remains same with disproportionate teacher-student ratio. Many teachers can be seen loitering around or sitting around the headmaster gossiping.

In fact, there are approximately 300 surplus teaching staff including GTT and PST in the department, without taking into account those engaged under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The recent recruitment might have earned a brownie point, but was it need-based? The haphazard placement of teachers throughout the territory exposes the sorry state of affairs in the department. Even the official Pupil Teacher Ratio claimed to be around 15:1 is highly debatable. The no. of students studying in govt schools as projected by the Directorate is 86460, and teachers under the Directorate is 5574 which is also susceptible. In fact, no developed country, even USA can beat the record of Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) in our Islands. It runs in single digit.

A large number of media of instruction also add to the miseries of the department. The same infrastructure and faculty are needed for a small number of students. Schools were provided for small number of students again on demand, without considering the logistics and practical difficulties. Rationalization of medium, as pinpointed by the Administrator, however politically incorrect it might be, needs to be implemented.

To bring quality in education, a robust monitoring system needs to be in place. However, the department is not devoid of saner voices. They do admit that there is no accountability, no proper, timely and effective inspection of schools. Inspection by peers is hardly meaningful unless sustained and evaluated periodically. 

But the question is how inspections can be carried out with the present dispensation? Principals, DEOs, Asst Directors and sometimes Directors are of same scale. The DEO acts as principal in charges of many schools in the absence of regular principals. If the climate is conducive, they may sit in Directorate as Asst Directors and in bad times may be sent back as Principals or DEOs. There is no well-defined hierarchy to bell the cat?

In 2009, the pass percentage of Class X was 57%. Thousands of students were thrown out of education system. Last year, when the results were 97%, instead of celebrating it, we rued the system saying that Class X is no more a benchmark. This year, the results seems to have rationalized. Its a wake up call to take CCE seriously in lower classes itself to prepare them for board exams, especially Class X. Dissection of average marks in different subjects will be a good way to start with to know what we were missing down the line.

Moreover, to get into the bottom of the disintegration, there needs to be a thorough understanding of the CCE pattern, which is often blamed by majority of teachers for poor performance.

Earlier, they rued that students weren't serious due to no-fail policy. Now, when the pass percentage have come down, they blame the CCE pattern itself.

In fact, CCE pattern is widely misconstrued by most of the stakeholders. It prepares the students for life rather than just higher studies. There has been no serious effort among teachers in implementing it in true spirit. Blaming it as paper-work intensive system, the focus is deflected from children failing the purpose itself.

With a little bit of tweaking here and there, its one system, which gives sufficient emphasis on overall development of the child. It is observed that there has been a drop in the capability of writing among the children due to irrational mark allocation in different tools in formative assessments in lower classes, which can be easily overcome by following a rational system giving an extra edge for pen-paper test, preparing the students for summative assessments. Problem Solving Assessment (PSA) introduced by CBSE a couple of years back seems to be far beyond the comprehension of our teachers.

There has been wide discussion of inclusion of soft skills in school curriculum, but how many teachers in our Islands have ever seen the well-researched Life Skill manuals prepared by CBSE? Do they use it in schools? How many periods are earmarked for the same? Instead of blaming the system and looking out for solutions, there is a serious need to get acquainted with the materials provided by CBSE as well as NCERT, and implement it in true sense.

The state of evidences of assessment by government schools will tell another sordid tale of affairs how much they are concerned about the students. If the Administration is serious about improving the quality of education in the govt run schools, they need to check the quality of evidences of assessment of each school. To make CCE work, periodic internal assessment of evidences need to be carried out.

A one time quality assessment test at two levels can help in getting a clear picture about the ground reality.  To assess the quality of language and mathematics up to Class V and Maths and Science upto Class VIII would help in assessing the teachers, schools as well as students. Necessary inputs and outputs from the review can help in taking remedial measures.

On making the teachers responsive and accountable, the Secretary recently made a remark about carrot and stick approach. Only reward and punishment can bring meaningful change in the system. Transfers are very lucrative in the department. A lot of political as well as bureaucratic pressures are exerted on the Directorate to accommodate the ‘well connected’ teachers in the headquarters. Others manage on medical ground; true or false. Yet others come up with excuses of ailing old parents, and close relatives; some actual, some cooked up to stay in South Andaman Main Island, not even Neil, Havelock and Little Andaman. If the warning from Secretary-cum-Director that non-performers will be shown the door makes an impact, well and good. Moreover, there are no incentives for performers, who gradually feel let down by the Directorate.

While the private schools with minimal infrastructure and manpower delivers, the over pampered government schools with experienced teachers and quality infrastructure fails miserably. The govt spends around Rs 20 crores on just salary of teachers, and per head expenditure on a child comes to more than Rs 40,000/- but the output is dismal. The irony is that when a parent spends Rs 1000/- per month for education in a private school, government spends Rs 2000/- per month on a child in government school. 

Sixth Pay Commission brought a windfall for the government teachers beyond their wildest dream. But in terms of output, there is hardly anything to write home about. The teaching fraternity instead of discussing the debacle in board exams would be more keener to discuss threadbare about Seventh Pay Commission and its nitty-gritty.
Its a fact that educated parents including govt teachers admit their children in private schools despite knowing that the teachers are not experienced and are not paid at par with those in govt service, but they are confident that the schools will deliver.

Its an enigma why govt schools in outer Islands, where there are no private schools too fail to perform. The enrolment is not bad. The community as stakeholders too needs to give a thought about it.

If ten percent of the time teachers spent on gossiping about their pay scale, DA and pay band is utilized to discuss about education and their students, the Administrator wouldn't have to worry about the declining quality of education in the Islands.

Friday, June 5, 2015

BSNL: A Love Story

BSNL: A Love Story

By Zubair Ahmed

On 28th April, when I checked my BSNL broadband, I found it not working. I thought it might come back in a while. But it didn't. So like any typical Indian, I looked out, but it wasn't a power failure to see whether lights are on in my neighbour's house. So, I called one of my friends. He told me that he too had same issue with broadband. I had that sadistic satisfaction like any typical Indian. On 31st April, I thought of reporting it at the local exchange. I carried my modem too, to make sure that the issue is resolved without wasting much time. And, the TTA at the exchange was very sympathetic and got busy checking the ports and when he failed, he called his counterpart at Telephone Exchange at Port Blair, Incharge of Broadband. They did speak something and he handed over the phone to me. In a layman's language I told him all the symptoms and about the different lights blinking on my modem when there is connection and when it doesn't work.

The guy at Port Blair said something about authentication issue and 'assured' that he will resolve it. I waited for a couple of days. And finally, one day suddenly the net came and it went too suddenly, before I could even smile with satisfaction. In fact, I wanted to thank the TTA at the local exchange for resolving the issue within a week. But, before his mobile rang, my internet LED on the modem had gone. I left the issue then and there and got busy in other mundane activities.

Meanwhile, whenever I met my friends during that week, like any typical Indian, after enquiring about their wellbeing, I made it a point to ask about their broadband connection too. A few of them said, they had constipation issues, which was resolved after taking Kayam Chooran, but the broadband connection issue continued. A few of them said that connection was made, but no use without any data transfer. A few of them had authentication error, and a few of them had forgotten which LED on the modem meant what! Finally, I too resigned to my fate and looked outside for my internet needs. Fortunately, an alternate connection at my workplace was working.

Thanks to the guys at the local exchange, I could spend quality time with my family and kids without the broadband connection. Now it was the turn of my friends, who kept calling me and checking the status of my connection. They were concerned. My heart goes out for them. I had almost spend 20 days now without seeing the internet LED blink on my modem. I wasn't that emotionally attached to my modem, but that green light sometimes started blinking in my dreams too. Some connection it wanted to make.

On 25th day, I decided to give it a try again. And, my ordeal started, an emotional one.

I went to the local exchange and met the TTA. He had two pairs of cable in one hand a list of phone nos. in other hand. He looked tired. I felt bad, and in a withdrawn mood, he showed the list, and there were more than 20 phone numbers which had same problem. Was I shocked? No. The issue was getting bigger now. It was not just about my connection now. I kept wondering, why is it not getting resolved. I took my phone with an Airtel sim and made a call to DGM, BSNL.

A very compassionate voice answered me. I was happy. He was not arrogant. Explained him in detail about the problem, 25 days and 25 broadband connections. He gave a sensitive hearing and asked me to SMS my landline no. and he assured that he will look into it. And I didn't want to be selfish, so asked the guy sitting next to me and enquired about his wellbeing as well as his broadband connection. He said he faced same problem. So I messaged the DGM two numbers.

I waited till evening. There was no reply. I called the DGM and asked if I can meet him. He assured me that he has conveyed my complaint to the concerned SDE as well as JTO.

On 26th day after my first formal complaint, I made up my mind and directly reached the Telephone Bhawan opposite Bengali Club. The building bore a deserted look. I went inside and I was directed to one SDE. Very politely, he heard my complaint and when he learnt that it was about broadband, I could see a sigh of relief on his face. It was not under his jurisdiction. But as a human being, he listened and even spoke to me for a while. I didn't know I had become so confident that I could convey my technical as well as emotional issue with him. Slowly I was falling in love.

As directed by him, I reached the Telephone Exchange near Central School. It was lunch hour. I just walked in and enquired about the guy who handles broadband. After a few queries here and there, I met one guy who asked me about the issue. I enquired whether he is handling Broadband. He nodded but with a caveat. The concerned SDO had proceeded to mainland to bring his family. So he just took over that morning. I asked him if he was aware about the broadband issue in one of the exchanges. He nodded negative. I named the exchange. He couldn't place it anywhere. I knew if he can't even pronounce the name of the exchange, there is no chance he would be acquainted with the broadband problem in that exchange. So, politely I asked him, whom I should meet. He asked me to wait in the chamber next door. Some SDE will come and meet me.

Whiling away my time waiting for the SDE, I looked around. I could see a few very motivating quotes pasted on the glass partition. And, one quote which grabbed my attention defied all my sympathy and emotions for the TTA of my exchange. I had high regards for him, for whenever I visited him, I saw him working very hard meddling with cables, checking this port and that port and not even wiping sweat from his forehead.


I saw a very normal, humble looking gentleman coming out from the equipment room. I smiled and just followed him into his chamber. He too gave a patient hearing and told me that the DGM had called him. When I enquired about the progress, he gave a blank look. I was confused. I asked him if he is aware of the issue. I liked his honesty. He said he is unable to diagnose the problem.

I was nobody to suggest a solution. But as a common man, I asked if he tried replacing the ports from the faulty equipment to a functioning one, he said, he is scared that it might spoil the working one too. He then told me that he can't find any fault with the equipment. So no blaming the equipment. I asked if they tried the Electricity Dept way. He looked perplexed. I made him relaxed and told him, if they could switch off another equipment and shift the faulty ports and check it. He said no. I couldn't find any breakthrough coming from this guy. I just asked him why is the whole department so sober and demotivated. He just smiled. I wished him well and came out.

Next what? I took an auto and went straight to the new building of BSNL opposite the Fire Station. Had planned to visit the DGM, but couldn't meet him, and finally went upstairs to meet the CGM.

Another personality that impressed me. Had a bollywoodwala Bihari look. The CGM was in a relaxed mood, who appeared to be the kind whom stress can't takeover.

When he learnt that I am going to write about it, he called the DGM. One guy came with a bunch of files. Serious looks. He just sat through. All the talking was done by the CGM.

I asked why nobody gets shocked to know that the problem is 25 days old. I even asked why they are not shocked that around 25 nos. in one exchange is not working.

Looking at my face, he might have gauged the emotional trauma.

"Don't be so emotional, it happens in India. Hamare desh mein shishtem aise hee kaam karta hai." he said munching something.

When I explained my predicament, quietly he asked for my landline no. I gave it. He dialed someone and spoke for a while and said, " There is some problem with the DSLAM."

I felt relieved. Here is someone who finally cracked the mysterious puzzle. But, the relief was short lived.

Then he took me on a long ride about the origin of internet and the nascent stage of internet in the Islands, lack of bandwidth, the issues with the satellites, the OFC between Kolkata and Patna and Mumbai, Delay in transportation of equipments, and about his concern for the 5000 broadband connections. Finally, hammering the final nail, he took a huge file and started flipping it and said, "These are the proof of correspondences we are making with the ministries to solve the problem."

I just felt ashamed. What a fool I was to take such a frivolous issue of just 25 connections in one exchange for just a small delay of 29 days, not even one month. I felt that instead of becoming part of the problem, I was gradually becoming a problem, and should desist from demanding anything more.

"Sir, please delete my no. I won't mind if my problem is not resolved, but I was concerned about the other 24 nos." I told him.

"You should become a minister or a politician," he said. "If you have any problem, please come and meet me," he continued.

What a bunch of nice guys, whose doors are always open for anyone. Yes, of course, what if net is not working, you may pay a visit and chat with them, of course, offline.

An awesome experience it was. If you are too motivated, to get grounded kindly pay a visit to BSNL office and meet them from bottom to top. Any spark of motivation left in you will extinguish in no time. And if you find time do pay a visit to the CGM. Though he may not be able to help you about your connections, his sermon would be a blessing in disguise.

What I had heard about BSNL was lack of bandwidth, but the way people from top to bottom in the hierarchy functioned strengthened my conviction about their lack of motivation and zeal to redress the complaints. They are revered for their services stretching from Campbell Bay to Diglipur, but can’t say much about the quality over quantity. How can you not love such a lot?

I looked at the signal on my mobile phone, and pressed the FB app to check the notifications if I could get through, knowing well that my phone was not ten times faster than my dad's phone, and my dad's phone is neither.

After 30 days, I may be still waiting for that green LED to blink, but I am still alive, because I have never considered internet to be a lifeline.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Power - On and Off

Power - On and Off

Power supply has been playing cat and mouse for quite sometime for the last two months. Constant blaming of nature's vagaries since ages is a reprehensible excuse. Acute shortage of man and material adds to the woes.

By Zubair Ahmed

If you ask why so many interruptions in power supply now, they blame it on the unexpected pre-monsoon showers. The rain was a relief from scarcity of water and the simmering heat. But it brought miseries of a different kind. Nights had turned nightmares without power. The authorities still feel the unexpected rain was the spoiler, the usual rhetoric though.  Its a fact reiterated time and again that rain and power cannot co-exist peacefully in our territory. Vagaries of the nature have been an reprehensible excuse since ages. But, the overall power situation in South Andaman had gone for a toss since February this year. During last two months, that too during Board exams, power played cat and mouse.

And why is it so in Port Blair too, where the vegetation is low and with so many feeders? They blame it on relay coordination. Oops.. its the new term doing rounds. Or maybe that is what we are told to believe. The supply from different small and big power plants with different DG sets and calibrations is in itself a problem, if not properly coordinated.

Speaking with Andaman Chronicle, Mr U K Paul, SE, Electricity Department said that he is expecting a consultancy team from Chennai, who will do the survey and properly set right the relay coordination. And he is hopeful that once its done, frequent tripping of Gensets will come down reducing the downtime.

The power generation scenario in South Andaman is also not very comfortable after IPP Suryachakra Power Corporation Ltd shut down one more 5 MW Genset from its installed capacity of 20 MW. Its generating 10 MW power now. The other two Hired Power Plants (HPP) - Sudhir Ready and New Bharat contributes around 14 MW. In fact, New Bharat, which was almost written off was coaxed to run their gensets. IPP and HPPs seems to have turned constant pain in the neck for the Administration.

The department run power plants at Phoenix Bay and Chatham generates 15.8 MW. The newly installed 5 MW Genset is the only saving grace as of now. Any further disruption by IPP or HPPs would plunge the territory into darkness.

The Transmission and Distribution is one sector, where the Department has been drawing flak from all quarters. Even when power was surplus, the frequent interruptions due to poor maintenance and obsolete and worn out infrastructure had marred the reputation of the department. It forced the Administration to conduct an audit of power generation as well as transmission and distribution. The report saw light in November last year. Six months are over, and as mentioned in the report, most of the short-term work would be completed within two years.

Moreover, lack of inter-departmental coordination is quite obvious when it comes to proper maintenance of overhead as well as UG cables. The Electricity authorities blame the Forest Department for not giving sufficient corridor for laying power lines. In fact they rue the strenuous and tedious process of clearances.

The proposal to replace the overhead bare conductors with insulated cables in the Rural areas is yet to begin, and this rainy season too, blame would be on monsoon miseries. A 33 KV sea-link line Zebra- and Zebra-2 between Surya Chakra Power Plant at Bambooflat and Chatham Power House is completed which would help in power evacuation as well as optimal use of grid apart from the two line Panther-1 and Panther-2 connecting SPCL with Port Blair at Garacharma Sub-Station. 

The ground staff of the department is seen working very hard, clearing vegetation, changing fuse, pruning branches of trees and their efforts are well appreciated by everyone, including the Administrator. But, what is seen is not what actually would have been the situation. There is acute shortage of man and material in the department. There are more than 65 posts of linemen lying vacant for decades now. There is shortage of JEs as well. The lines are now maintained by untrained mazdoors, and any accident would attract huge hue and cry. The department is run by skeletal staff and its quite visible in all site offices. There is no efforts to fill up the posts, which is one main reason in delivery of services.  Many gensets in the department-run power plants are performing sub-optimal just for want of spare parts. The list of excuses for all shortfall in service can be attributed to shortage of manpower as well as material.

The Panel - 5 which covered a large area from Hope Town to Shoal Bay and Jirkatang with a peak requirement of 3 MW has been bifurcated with installation of a new sub-station at Bambooflat. Panel 5 has been branched off into three feeders - Feeder 1 -Hope Town, Feeder 2 - Shoal Bay and Jirkatang combined. Up to Wimberly Gunj, the UG cable is connected to SPCL directly. And, the sub-station which was due for last three years have started functioning on trial basis from last Saturday. There are a few hiccups, which needs to be overcome. But, it doesn't seem to be a major solution as the feeder which caters Shoal Bay and Jirkatang - two ends - is overhead line from Bambooflat to these areas. Any disruption in Shoal Bay would still effect Jirkatang and vice-versa. Only safe zone, as informed by the concerned authorities is up to Wimberly Gunj, which has been separated from Jirkatanag and Shoal Bay line. Ideally, a sub-station anywhere close to Wimberly Gunj would be the long term solution with three different feeders catering in three different directions.

There is a mention of more sub-stations in the audit report. That seems to be the only solution in the long run. As the thumb rule, 33KV line should not go beyond 20 kms without a sub-station at every 20 kms.

"A survey needs to be conducted to assess the requirement of sub-stations throughout the territory, which needs to be taken up urgently," U K Paul said.

The 5-MW Solar Plant as of now is more a problem than a solution with huge cloud movements throughout the year. The peak generation that too upto 3 MW during sunny days is hardly for 15-30 minutes between 11.45 am to 12.15 pm. And the sudden fluctuation affects the whole grid with pressure on other power plants. Roof-top solar panels is a good solution for individual houses, but the project is taking its own sweet time.

The 30-MW proposed LNG plant is still in MOU stage, and it seems to be one solution in the field of clean power generation. But if overhauling of transmission and distribution is deferred, nothing is going to help improve the situation.

All talks of renewable energy is quite welcome and needs appreciation. But, in a territory like Andamans, the base load cannot be left to the nature to decide, and hence diesel gensets are going to stay, and a focused vision with long-term planning is required well in advance. Or else, if we keep adding one or two small gensets every now and then on piecemeal basis, we will be accumulating more problems of diverse nature.
Disclaimer: I regret that lack of flow in this article is due to four or more power interruptions experienced in one hour. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

GB Pant Hospital: Problem of Plenty?

GB Pant Hospital:
Problem of Plenty?

The ANI Admn is on a rollercoaster ride with so many major projects being executed in a hurry. The do or die approach is appreciated by one and all. Meanwhile the larger interest seems to eclipse all lapses including procedures and processes. It’s pertinent that with the noble end, the means too needs to be noble and transparent.

By Zubair Ahmed

Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital, the flagship of healthcare in ANI and the only referral hospital had almost shed the sobriquet of slaughterhouse, with slightly improved healthcare services despite shortage of specialists. But, the recent developments portray a very precarious picture. Mismanagement and negligence, has now become a slur, going back to the old days.

It’s quite scary that there had been 5 cases of maternal deaths in the last three months. What is plaguing the grand hospital, with the best infrastructure, claimed by many experts, visiting the Islands, doing sufficient PR for the Administration?

The whole focus of the Administration in the last one year has been on the upcoming medical college. About 85 specialists cum teaching faculties have been recruited. All of the newly recruited personnel are based in Port Blair, and majority of them in GB Pant Hospital. Though, it’s too early to comment on their performances as faculties, their services in GB Pant Hospital are not something to write home about. There is a buzz, maybe, from the old school that either the newly appointed are very old, with no hands on practice for many years lingering in administrative works or very young, fresh from college.

Maybe they will prove the critics wrong in the long run, but as far as healthcare is concerned, there can't be a teething period. It affects lives. There is sheer confusion everywhere, with so many doctors on roll, yet deficiency in services.

In the last case of alleged medical negligence, Mrs. Homakshi, 21, wife of Mr. D. Janaki Rao, resident of Haddo, lost her life. According to sources, the patient had developed hypertension, which is not uncommon, resulting in rupture of arteries leading to heavy bleeding. The family members allege that the patient did not get proper attention. They have demanded enquiry.

Five maternity deaths in a short span of three months is a serious concern, whatever the final reports say. No medical board has ever indicted any doctor for negligence or lapse in the Islands.

Andaman and Nicobar Administration is on a rollercoaster ride with so many major projects being executed in a hurry. The do or die approach is appreciated by one and all. Meanwhile the larger interest seems to eclipse all lapses including procedures and processes. It’s pertinent that with the noble end, the means too needs to be noble and transparent.

From shifting of Ayush to modifications inside the OPD section of GB Pant Hospital and the facilities spread in three or four locations are a few infrastructural requirements being carried out before the deadline is met.

To fulfill the MCI guidelines, the Administration did not even hesitate in calling back the available specialists from the District Hospital at Mayabunder, North and Middle Andaman. All the three specialists - Surgeon, Psychiatrist and the Anesthetist have been withdrawn to fill the numbers to satisfy MCI. Moreover, there are no regular doctors in any of the PHCs in Radhanagar, Tugapur or Long Island. Literally, as far as availability of doctors are concerned, there is no major difference in a PHC, CHC or District hospital.

Virtually, there is not a single specialist in a district with a population of more than one lakh. And, people there have been demanding physicians and technical staff for a long time. Ultrasound machines are lying idle for lack of operators or a gynecologist.  

In Nicobar district, there is a surgeon, but without an Anesthetist.  The regular transfer of doctors has not taken place since last one year.

On the one hand, GB Pant Hospital is crammed with specialists, but the authorities are still in a quagmire, unable to place them properly. The chaos is literally taking a toll on delivery of services. Grand, multi-crore buildings furnished with mosaic, tiles and glasses do not make a good health institution, it’s the delivery of healthcare that matters.

On anonymity, a specialist said that the newly recruited doctors are unable to cope with the situation independently and most of them have been tagged with the local doctors.

And even in cases of forensic investigations, still the hospital is relying on the general doctors or sending sample to mainland. In fact, when the doctors have been appointed with enormous emoluments paid every month, why can't the Administration utilize their services diligently?

During the last six months, under Dr S K Paul, it was an emergency-like situation. Expecting some plum position in the upcoming medical college, when he was asked to bend, he literally crawled.

One of the staff, who in an emergency had to rush for surgery in a private hospital, was denied reimbursement. She was taken from GB Pant Hospital to the private hospital, as on a Sunday, the surgeon was not available. When she submitted her medical bills for reimbursement with the Directorate where she was working as a Teaching Faculty in the Nursing School, a mock medical board was set up to deny her the reimbursement. Medical reimbursement in the Islands is in itself interesting tale.

In another strange case, an X-Ray technician posted at PHC Wimberly Gunj was arrested on charges of sexual harassment four months back, and the Department is yet to provide alternative. When the Pradhan Jyoti Kindo approached Dr S K Paul, then Director, instead of a solution he blamed her for getting the guy booked.

It’s quite obvious that rift has started surfacing between the old and the new. However, it’s the Administration which needs to address the genuine concerns raised by the local doctors. Their apprehensions were taken up by Andaman and Nicobar Health Service Doctors Association.

The Association had met the Secretary Health and apprised her about the concerns. It has blamed that the Administration at no point thought it essential to discuss the modalities of opening the medical college, and the status of the senior specialists and GDMOs with PG qualification and GDMOs in general. They were kept in dark. They have also raised the issue about the transfer policy of doctors as well as other staff, once GB Pant Hospital comes under the control of the society, ANIMERS. With interviews being conducted for Jr. Resident, Sr. Resident, Asst Professors, Associate Professors and others for the medical college and all of them working at GB Pant Hospital, what would be the status of 22 sanctioned existing GDMOs of the hospital?

The Association is also apprehensive about the jumbled alterations made inside the OPD complex to accommodate the new staff, which would be disastrous in case of fire accidents or other disasters.

When the Islanders are upbeat over the developments, it’s pertinent that the Administration does not ignore the dissenting voices and accommodate genuine concerns of all stakeholders, most primarily if it affects their lives.

Monday, March 30, 2015

No 'Bar' on Renewals!

No 'Bar' on Renewals!

Its March and time for renewal of bar licenses. Do we have a procedure or process, transparent enough, that checks and reassess the ground situation taking into consideration various socio-economic indicators before the license of a bar is renewed? Forget the violation of provisions in the Regulations. Its learnt that even a report from Police Station is not sought prior to renewal.

By Zubair Ahmed

We have hundreds of reasons to justify sale of liquor through the ANIIDCO outlets, as well as the hundreds of bars spread across the Islands, ruining lives, families and vitiating the social and communal life. We will cite hundreds of reasons from Jammu & Kashmir to Gujarat to of late Indira Point why prohibition is not an option at all. We shall sneer at and harp that Great Nicobar Development Committee is demanding to get the liquor shop re-opened. We shall try to convince the women, who want sale of liquor to be banned, to think about the ill-effects of illicit liquor and how dangerous it would be. We shall try to organize awareness programmes and not tell them the ill-effects of alcohol on mind and body, but tell them to be moderate. The problem with our efforts is that our conscience doesn't allow us to speak about it, as the saying goes - Don't preach what you don't practice! It's a catch-22 situation.

Its March and time for renewal of bar licenses. Do we have a procedure or process, transparent enough, that checks and reassess the ground situation taking into consideration various socio-economic indicators before the license of a bar is renewed? Forget the violation of provisions in the Regulations. Its learnt that even a report from Police Station is not sought prior to renewal.

If one checks the number of cases registered at each police station, the highest number would be cases related with excise violations. But, do the data have any bearing on our policing? They keep filing cases against violators and still violation keeps going on. The graph never shows a declining trend in cases related with excise.

Out of 3800 cases registered in 2014, 1933 cases were related to Excise Regulation, more than 50% cases!

Recently, the police department, launched a campaign against illegal sale of liquor, involving NGOs and even conducted various programmes in Port Blair. The Police officials accepts that there is no illicit brewing of liquor, but illegal sale procured from ANIIDCO liquor shops thrive. Police in association with NGOs did try to conduct a programme for bootleggers too. In fact, instead of bootleggers, a large number of women turned out at the venue demanding ban on liquor itself. They are the victims of various atrocities committed under the influence of alcohol. A woman narrated her ordeals, where her inebriated son as well as husband creates ruckus at home. There is no denial that many of the cases of domestic violence and suicides can be attributed to this scourge. Legal or illegal, both do equal damage. Though, the police is keen on containing the illegal menace, there seems to be no solution in sight.

Humane Touch, a NGO which had launched a campaign against alcoholism in 2008 in Ferrar Gunj Tehsil with support from Police Department was quite successful in curbing the menace of illicit liquor in the whole region.

There were so many lacunae in the way cases were booked against the bootleggers. The fine amount was pittance which they willingly paid whenever they were booked. It was a very demoralizing situation after all the effort put by the police in conducting raids. After prolonged deliberations, they found a way out. Book the habitual bootleggers under 110 (G) Cr PC,. which require such person to show cause why he should not be ordered to execute a bond, with sureties, for his good behaviour for such period, not exceeding three years, as the Magistrate thinks fit.

Every habitual bootlegger, with three or more cases against them were booked under this section and produced before Sub-Divisional Magistrate, and a bond of Rs 25000/- executed. In case of violation, had to pay Rs 25000/-or get a prison term of 3 months. It worked. A few of them were jailed, which was deterrent enough.

During a recent survey by Humane Touch, they could find many bootleggers active in Hope Town selling liquor illegally. When they approached Bambooflat Police Station, they were told that cases were regularly booked against the violators after conducting raid. What shocked was the number of cases filed under 110 (G). There were more than 5 cases filed against bootleggers of the area, a few of them repeaters. But, the SDM was so soft-hearted that they were all released. Even repeaters were not taken cognizance of. What's the use of a solution, when the officials let it pass?

Bamboo Bar at Bambooflat has been a perpetual nuisance for the area. There had been protests and objections against the bar. There are about 150 excise related cases filed under PS, Bambooflat in 2015, in which there are cases related with the bar. However, when it comes to renewal of bar licenses, it is learnt that no report is sought from the Police by the District Administration.

On the one hand, we show much concern for rising trends of suicides. And in a small Island society, if we are unable to ascertain the causes, aren't we acting like ostrich. The intricate relationship between alcoholism and suicides in our Islands is not  a fairy tale.

Any voice raised against this scourge is dubbed idealistic. The irony is that when voice against a bar is raised, wellwishers come out harping that the protestors are sponsored by bootleggers, and when voice is raised against bootleggers, they accuse the activists to be on the payroll of bar-owners. And, there was a time, when the district officials too enjoyed the show, when supporters of the bar-owner including politicians would throng in the District office voicing their support. In fact, the bar owner once even conducted a signature campaign and why would any alcoholic not sign? After all, prohibition is just a directive principle in our Constitution under Article 47.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Governance and Development Issues Top on Our Agenda: Vishal Jolly

Governance and Development Issues Top on Our Agenda:  Vishal Jolly

The Islands needs either a Legislative Assembly or a Pradesh Council with executive powers, said Vishal Jolly addressing a press conference after attending a Conference of Union Territories held under the aegis of BJP in New Delhi.

He said that a presentation was made before the national leaders, including Central Ministers highlighting major issues concerning governance and a roadmap for future development of the Islands. He also said that a memorandum has been submitted, which was well received.

On governance he said that the Islands governed by a Lieutenant Governor with a team of bureaucrats could never do justice to the place as well as the people.

"Lack of a democratic setup is quite visible in the skewed policies framed without the participation of the Islanders, as well as implementation of various projects and schemes of Government of India," he said.

Comparing the financial assistance coming from Central Government and the meager revenue generated, he blamed the existing system of governance for the state of affairs.

"The Central Government has been supporting the Islands with financial assistance to the tune of Rs 4000 crores including Plan and Non-Plan fund. However, the revenue generated is hardly Rs 240 crores per annum, just 6.25% of our expenditure," Vishal said.

In case of an Assembly or Pradesh Council, he suggested that stringent anti-defection laws needs to be enforced to prevent horse trading, which  decides the fate of governments in small states, and he said that frequent changes in power system is an impediment in the long term.

On the existing three tier PRI system, he observed that  in a small place it often leads to overlapping of jurisdiction causing unnecessary duplication. And he suggested replacing Zilla Parishad electoral constituency by Legislative Assembly to ensure people's participation in governance.

On Development front, he said that the Islands need to take advantage of its geographical location which straddles the maritime gateway to the Bay of Bengal.  He said that the world's busiest shipping lane, Malacca Strait pass just to the South of A&N Islands. Because of the unique location of the Islands, India can dominate both the Bay of Bengal and play an important role in Indo-Pacific transit.

He put forth the idea of a Trans-shipment Port with all allied services at Campbell Bay, Great Nicobar, Southernmost tip of India, which will go a long way in harnessing the benefit from the maritime trade along Malacca Strait hardly 100 kms away.

Referring to the data provided by Nippon Maritime Centre, Singapore, he said that approximately 80,000 merchant shipping vessels carrying cargo and merchandise transit through the Strait lying close to Campbell Bay. If a trans-shipment port comes up at Campbell Bay, the shipping sector would prefer to utilize the facility which as of now is going to Hambantota Port, in Sri Lanka, taking a diversion of extra 300 miles. It is important to note that Indian transshipment in this port is 62% which in term exceeds Rupees 15 billion.

"The sea draught around Campbell Bay is more than 18 mtrs, which is the deepest in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and can draw vessels of any size and capacity," he said.

He further added that the trans-shipment port will help India strengthen its presence in the Southernmost part as a security provider from maritime piracies. as well as the competition arising from the presence of nations like China in the vicinity.  It would generate revenue for the government and large-scale skilled and non-skilled employment for the local population.

Batting for an independent Shipping Corporation for the Islands, he said that Andaman and Nicobar Islands have the second largest fleet of about 85 ships after SCI, consisting of 1200-pax Mainland bound ships as well as small vessels plying within the islands. The Directorate of Shipping is unable to manage the fleet on commercial lines and has engaged Shipping Corporation of India and a private firm for technical as well as manpower management, which is a drain on the exchequer without proper monitoring affecting the services. The Andaman and Nicobar Administration is unable to hire qualified personnel due to payment constraint in the government sector. Hence, it would be advisable to have an independent Shipping Corporation for Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Out of around 85 ships, the ratio of non-operational ships are very high due to lack of proper Ship Repairing Yard. A fully equipped Dockyard would go a long way in the maintenance of existing vessels as well as a support system for the trans-shipment port too.

In tourism sector, he said that Andaman and Nicobar Islands have enormous tourism potential due to its location as well as the enchanting Islands with beautiful and virgin beaches.

He said that a good number of Yacht and Cruise liners intend to reach our shores how ever due to lengthy and distributed clearance procedures, miniscule of the yacht and cruise liners ultimately visit the Islands. Not to mention a major chunk of it goes to other locations like Phuket. He suggested that with the introduction of a Single-window Online Portal for online application and issuance of permits for Yacht and Cruise Liners, the process could be made visitor friendly, which will help in increasing tourism possibilities.

He also suggested introduction of Visa on Arrival for Tourists at Port Blair airport as well as Seaport at par with the facility extended to various other cities of our country, the quantum of foreign tourists visiting the islands will increase manifold, bringing in more foreign exchange.

Vishal Jolly said that he has placed the demand to open up more Islands for tourism.

"There are many potential Islands, which can be opened up for tourism. Many Islands, where day-time tourism can be allowed such as the 14 Islands inside the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park including Grub Island, Alexandra, Tarmugli, and Mahua Dera Islands in South Andaman," he suggested.

Demanding sufficient infrastructure, he said that many other Islands remain out of the tourism orbit due to lack of connectivity and infrastructure such as Madhuban (South Andaman), Avis Island (Middle Andaman), Ross and Smith (Diglipur) and Hut Bay (Little Andaman) and many more.

He also put forth the idea of two or three Tourism Circuits involving three or more islands wherein tourists could enjoy boat rides and Island camping like Port Blair - Havelock - Long Island - Diglipur, Port Blair - Hut Bay - Nicobar - Campbell Bay etc.

On renewal of Palm Oil Cultivation, presently abandoned, he suggested that it needs to be revived and modernised.

"Presently our country import edible oil to the tune of Rs 1 Lakh Crores, in foreign exchange. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands which also falls in the same Geographic region of South East countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, the largest producers of the World, could contribute in the sector of Red Oil Palm Cultivation,"

The existing A & N Forest Development Corporation has large area under Red Oil Palm cultivation in Little Andaman, which is in bad shape and was abandoned due to various reasons such as low yield. The employees are now depending on Government grant for salaries. It could be revived with plantation of improved and high yielding varieties of Red Oil Palm. Modern machineries, tools and techniques as in South East Asian countries could be used to revive the Red Oil Palm industry which will also generate high amount of bio-mass," he said.

He also said that the review of the recommendations of Shekhar Singh Commission is on the anvil.

"On Tourism and Fisheries, two sectors heavily dependent on seafront activities from stringent CRZ Norms, I have suggest that these two mainstay sectors need to be exempted from the norms, so that more infrastructural development comes up bringing more revenue," he said.

On the issue of tsunami affected farmers, Vishal said that soon some positive news will come from Delhi.  

On Domicile issue, he informed that he has demanded to put in place Domicile Criteria for local jobs by promulgating the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Public Employment (Requirement as to Residence) Regulation and thereafter fill up the available vacancies in Govt. Departments in a time bound manner.

Apart from the above issues, Vishal said that the demand for ST status for Ranchi community has also been discussed with the leaders.

Replying to a question on exorbitant airfare in Mainland-Island sector, he said that he has spoken to the Lieutenant Governor to also involve private players for chartering flights, as Air India is unable to provide aircraft due to various reasons.

Citing the achievements of the new government, he said that Medical College, Andaman College, Chartered Flight, Revamping of Sports in the Islands were a few major steps.

Vishal also requested the Administration to simplify the procedures in Revenue department, so that common man is not unnecessarily harassed by the officials citing rules and regulations.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015



        In a consultative meeting recently held at New Delhi chaired by the Union Ministry of Agriculture, GOI, with regard to review of (1) Extension of fishing ban period in Indian EEZ (2) Deep sea fishing policy and (3) Draft Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill 2012 attended by Union Minister of Defence, Minister of State for Agriculture, various State Ministers and Senior Executives the Hon’ble Lt. Governor, A&N Islands affectively put forth the constrains and difficulties of local fisher community. 

        He appraised about the current practice of fishing ban period of 47 days towards Bottom trawling and Shark fishing in the territorial water of A&N Island. Further based upon the spawning season he advocated for shifting of ban period to July – September every year, this period also synchronizes with monsoon. For extending the ban period to 61 days as recommended, the Hon’ble Lt. Governor suggested provision of adequate compensation.

        Speaking on Deep Sea fishing policy and Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill 2012 the Hon’ble Lt. Governor, appraised the august gathering about the fragile marine ecosystem around A&N Islands and requested for not permitting the operation of harmful fishing gears around these islands. He also informed that presently royalty is being collected for any fish or fish produce taken out of this union territory by local traders and fishing industry whereas, the Deep Sea / LOP joint venture vessels are exempted of it which is  discouraging for the local fishers and the fishing industry in Andamans. He also urged the Department to consider royalty advantage for the UT even for deep sea fishing undertaken in are EEZ around the Islands.

        Commenting on Draft Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill 2012 he pointed that the Coast Guard alone is not competent to inspect the fish catch on board deep sea fishing vessels hence, appropriate agency may also be inducted and the vessels may be asked to call at Port for regular inspection and monitoring.
        In the best interest of the Union and local fisher community the Hon’ble Lt. Governor also enlightened the apex congregation that the territorial water limit in respect of A&N Islands is yet to be notified; as a consequence, the local fishers are deprived of their legitimate arena. Hence, a review of prevailing status in accordance to Laws of the Seas needs to be initiated and notified at the earliest, which is likely to extend our sovereign right substantially, benefitting the local fishers and protecting the fragile marine ecosystem around A&N Islands. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kamsarat Nallah Dam Project: Project Stuck in Muck?

Kamsarat Nallah Dam Project:
Project Stuck in Muck?

A stay order on excavation of earth on a writ petition has spooked the Kamsarat Nallah Dam Project. Will the project get delayed and miss the deadline?

By Zubair Ahmed

A resident of Wimberly Gunj files a writ petition seeking stay on the excavation work going on at Kanyapuram village for the Kamsarat Nallah Dam Project. Now, how the Administration reacts to the Court Stay Order will decide whether the project gets delayed. And whom should be blamed if the project gets stalled or delayed? Petitioner or Respondents?

The work on Kamasarat Nallah Dam Project was progressing briskly. Excavated earth being transported from a nearby area allocated by the Revenue Department. There had been objections from a resident that the heavy vehicles plying in the area is creating pollution as well as damage to his building and he had also blocked the way. No later, an alternate route was identified. And the excavation work resumed.

Till last week, a few trucks were plying that too during evening and night hours. But, of late the number of vehicles as well as frequency has increased. The knee-jerk reaction to the Court Order! A day after, the earth cutting at that particular site has stopped.

Despite hushed resentment, people know that its a necessary evil hoping that water crisis in the area will be addressed to a large extent with completion of the project. They want the project to happen at any cost.

Objections to anything good or bad is natural. That is human nature. The merits and demerits of each project gets debated. There are groups who worry that large excavation and displacement of earth will create environmental problems. And another opine that there is a price to be paid for any development. Ecology can wait!

The authorities too were upbeat about progress of work and the deadline also looked quite achievable. The project though not fully spooked, earth cutting from one particular site is stalled. Whom should be blamed?

Earth cutting in the Islands is a very sensitive issue, and a lucrative one too. There is huge demand for earth for developmental projects. Even residential projects are hindered due to non-availability of soil.

The Kamsarat Nallah Project was delayed due to the same problem last year. High level interventions were required to sort it out. However, half-hearted steps were taken to restart the project. The identified land for excavation is revenue land.

Now, the stay order by the Court will surely delay the project. APWD is not being blamed by the petitioner. Its the Revenue Dept headed by Deputy Commissioner and the Tehsildar, who are made respondents. Why is it so?

The Petitioner alleges that his adjacent land is severely damaged due to the excavation work. In the petition, he also alleges that the area is not properly demarcated showing the writ petitioner four corners of his land. He further alleges that the said land is grazing land, and cannot be utilized for any other purposes.

The Court Order, however, sensing the urgency of the petition, says that the Administration has already started excavating the 'land of the petitioner'. And that, till 20th March status quo as of date, as regards nature, character and possession of the property in dispute should be maintained by the parties.

The copy of the Order had not reached the RCD Division of APWD according to sources.

Its quite obvious that lack of inter-departmental coordination is one core reason why so many developmental projects are affected. It takes more time to sort out issues between departments. The Revenue Department should have carried out all necessary modalities before handing over the site for excavation. Most of the time, they rely on Google map to identify and pin a location. Its same with our master plans too. Many a big project is juxtaposed on residential areas.

In this instant case, there are other issues too, where the petitioner has reasons to celebrate. The same group had launched a marathon agitation against a few officials of RCD alleging corruption and foul-play. In fact, extension of the tenure of Chief Engineer was also one among them. Though, the agitation did not get the mileage or support from the public, they had been keeping an eye over all activities surrounding RCD. Sometimes, the quality of construction of road was questioned, and sometimes they blamed foul play in off-loading construction materials meant for Kamsarat Nallah Project at Haddo or Chatham instead of Hope Town. But this one was masterstroke. One opportunity to hit their adversary, and it seems to have hit the bull's eye as of now.

This episode also shows how lack of a little care and concern while handling issues create problem. Had the issues raised by the group during the agitation given an ear by the Administration, it would not have blown to such proportion, where a major project is getting delayed.

The merits and demerits of the petition will be decided by the Court, but the project is adversely affected by this move. And, Revenue Department as well as APWD have many lessons to learn from this episode. When they search for suitable land for excavation, they need to ensure that the land is clear from all encumbrances and also does not poise pollution. Lack of proper groundwork is quite visible in this specific episode. Why demarcation of land is such a cumbersome procedure?

Certainly, The issue will be sorted out once the Court commences, and the work may also resume. But the archaic procedures of revenue department will be the only impediment, a solace for the petitioner. 

And, not the least, the Administrator, who often comment on the Island mindset gets another opportunity to reiterate what he keeps saying - Whenever I try to take one step ahead, there are people who try to pull five steps backward!