Sunday, September 11, 2011

Six Years is Too Long a Wait


Six Years is Too Long a Wait

After 6 long years of wait, and generous Govt spending, tsunami relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding is a story of neglect for the residents of rural South Andaman.

By Debkumar Bhadra

More than six years back, on December 26th 2004 the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, along with the rest of the world were hit by a massive undersea earthquake which incidentally shifted the islands towards south-west by about 1.25m. The tsunami that followed the mega-quake devastated the islands washing away almost anything to everything coming its way. Remote sensing and visual inspection of islands shoreline confirm uplift of Andaman group and subsistence of Nicobar group. The effects include submergence of land, destruction of property and loss of numerous lives. The Govt of India and few NGO's responded to the crisis situation helping survivors overcome trauma inflicted by the epic disaster. But after 6 long years of generous spending on tsunami relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding, the survivors from rural South Andaman find themselves subjected to official apathy and pushed under the development shadow.
The quake triggered tsunami caused ingress of sea water from Kadakachang creek flooding large tracts of agricultural land at Kanyapuram, Stewart Gunj and Wimberly Gunj area. Farmers who lost their productive land had been demanding alternate land but after 6 years of wait, a press note published in The Daily Telegrams dated 18/07/2011 requesting the tsunami affected farmers to give their consent in writing as to the mode of compensation whether in cash or alternate land, created a paradox in the life of those affected by the epic disaster; their demand for apt compensation not only remains unheard and unfulfilled but stands shattered too!

A small group reiterated their demand for alternate land and rejected accepting cash (in lieu of land). Others murmur it took 6 long years for the authorities to ask what the farmers want; when will the benefits be declared and disbursed is perhaps eternity. Those who are not in a mood to wait further are citing common sense to accept the instant offer, however indecent it may appear.
Another glaring example of official apathy is the Kadakachang bridge and sluice gate that was left damaged by the epic disaster. Though a steel bridge was put in place to restore traffic, the base beneath the bridge slipped within months of its installation. But keeping in view the necessity, the bridge though unfit had been kept open, temporarily with small curtain walls on either side of the bridge so that traffic over the bridge could be restricted to pedestrians, two wheelers and light motor vehicles.
A careful look near the bridge area during low tide, unfurled yet another disturbing tale. I was shocked to witness sea water flowing through the mud below the road connecting the RCC and steel bridge. This means during high tide, sea water flows beneath the road from sea to landward side and in the reverse direction during low tide. This is very dangerous because long term removal of mud supporting the road above could result in collapse of the entire stretch of road along with the Kadakachang Bridge and sluice gate all of a sudden!
What is surprising is despite lapse of 6 long years, the Kadakachang bridge is still hanging away from its base and those walls restricting vehicular traffic remains intact as well. Scores of people, two wheelers light motor vehicles etc cross over the precariously placed steel bridge, ignoring the signboard erected nearby which reads : Warning!! Beware of Crocodiles. Perhaps for a common man, the urge to reach the destination (cost effectively) seems more eminent and stronger than the danger lurking beneath their feet.
On the other hand sea water ingress from the defunct Kadakachang sluice gate had converted large tracts of land at Kanyapuram, Stewart Gunj and Wimberly Gunj area into a crocodile sanctuary. Cattle, goats, dogs etc are being devoured by killer crocs regularly. Even human life is not safe in the region. Earlier a crock had attacked a boy, then a woman; both of them had been fortunate to survive the attack on their life. But the killing of Ms Lauren Failla of Morristown and now Mrs Champa Mondol from Tushnabad indicates rising vulnerability of human life in island waters.
Erection of Warning signboard is necessary, but not sufficient. It is a know fact that population of crocs are increasing at an alarming rate, which if not checked immediately would further intensify man-animal conflict situations in the days to come. Secondly the mangrove habitat of salties which has been devastated by the tsunami, every patch needs to be re-grown. Efforts are also required to be made to notify appropriate dumping grounds so that the problem could be tackled effectively.
Till few years back, the islanders had been a mute spectator in the affairs of governance. But with the induction of PRI system and the advent of private news media, social networking sites etc peoples are increasingly voicing their concerns. This has been evident in the CBSE question paper leak episode and repeated in Anna's crusade against corruption. Islands participation in the mass uprising in solidarity with Anna is a pointer to the fact that the islands are no more a passive society. It is a healthy sign, provided the authorities recognize those channels, strengthen them to gain insight into the problems faced by common man.
The Administration has all the means, intellect as well as best working hands at its disposal. It ought to motivate those faculties to fire their cylinders towards providing governance satisfying the needs and aspirations of the common man.
The precariously hanging bridge at Kadakachang and the defunct sluice gate could be set right in a fortnight. Repairing the bridge would facilitate vehicular traffic across the bridge as well as minimize sea water ingress, which eventually would help in tackling the croc menace.
Its high time for the authorities to match words with proactive deeds and curb the dissent brewing among the masses. Relief package based on consensus in a time bound manner is need of the hour. Foot dragging would result in someone rising to the occasion, fit into the shoes of Anna and eventually embarrass the authorities. Anyhow, 6 years has been too long a wait.

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