Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Renaming of Islands Controversy: Forgotten Islands


The Renaming of Islands Controversy
Forgotten Islands

By Pankaj Sekhsaria

If a certain line of beliefs and historical thinking has its way, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could well see a monumental shift in their present namescape.The island named after Hugh Rose, the man who finally cornered Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi in 1858, could soon be named Laxmi Bai Dweep or maybe Rani Jhansi Dweep. Havelock Island named after the British general who retook Lucknow could well be named Nana Sahib Dweep and the island chain itself should be the Shaheed and Swaraj Islands because that is what Subhas Chandra Bose wanted them to be. The Rani of Jhansi or Nana Sahib may have known little of the islands (or even that they existed) but that surely is of little consequence.
This group of 500 odd islands, scattered in an arc in the Bay of Bengal, is certainly fertile territory for a massive, even lip-smacking renaming exercise - Tatiya Tope, Mangal Pandey, Subhas Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar... the list is endless; one's imagination the only limitation and why not - reclamation of one's history, after all, is believed to be one of the most important and effective tools of nation building. There is one hitch however, a question that renaming enthusiasts might want to first consider - How does one reclaim what was never yours in the first place?
The A&N islands, located far away from mainland India (roughly 1,200 km from Chennai) can only be considered a gift the British left India when the empire disintegrated. There are undeniable connections of India's freedom movement with the islands best symbolised by the revolt of 1857 and the Cellular Jail. There can be no denying that and neither can one deny the close bonds that a large section of the country feels with these islands, but all put together this history does not go beyond 150 years. We might want to rename Havelock Island in the memory of Nana Sahib, but is it not worth asking whether the island that is today called Havelock had some earlier name too?
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been the traditional home of a number of aboriginal commu-nities - the Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge and Sentinelese (in the Andamans), the Nicobaris and the Shompen (in the Nicobars) that have been living here for nearly 50,000 years. The 150 years that we want to claim now is like the blink of an eye in comparison. Injustices have been done and continue to be done to these communities in a manner that has few parallels in India.Their lands have been taken, their forests converted to plywood and agricultural plantations, and the fabric of their societies so violently torn apart that extinction looms on the horizon for many of them. The Great Andamanese, who were at least 5,000 individuals when the 1857 uprising happened, are today less than 40 people. The Onge who were counted at about 600 in the 1901 census are only a 100 people today. There are critical issues of survival that these communities are faced with problems that are complex and will be difficult to resolve. If indeed there is energy and interest in doing something in the islands and for the islanders these are lines that we need to be thinking on.
These are people, like indigenous peoples everywhere, who have their own histories, their own societies, and yes, their own names for the islands and places. First the British called them something else and now we want to call them something else again. If indeed the places have to be renamed, should not an effort first be made to find out what the original people had first named them, why they were so named, what their significance was and which names are still in use by them. Should that not be the work of scholarship and historical studies? It would be a far more challenging and worthwhile exercise, and perhaps not a very difficult one either, because a lot of information does already exist. If the real and complete history of the islands is ever written, the British would not be more than a page and India could only be a paragraph. How's that for a perspective and a context?

PAUPER’S LOG: Losers Breeding Ground


Losers Breeding Ground

By Abu Arsh

The moment, schooling for our kids comes to mind, the only option we yearn for is admissions in a big Private Public School. Top of the list are the convents followed by other privately run educational institutions. Government run schools are thought to be for the less privileged. Getting our wards into Private Schools is an exercise not many would forget for the rest of their lives. The school we send our kids is supposedly indicative of our social status and clout. For admissions, no stone is left unturned, be it using recommendations, overnight teaching tiny tots etiquette lessons, mugging up alphabets, identifying colours or naming objects. For the kids' interviews, parents are dressed up at their best and appear more cultured or wealthy than they actually are. Any demand for capitation or small favours for the institution are always handy. Of late people with other skills and utilities like mason, carpenter, welder, electricians or mechanics can outdo a Doctor or an Engineer posted at long south or extreme north. The more nearer the utilities, the better is the chance of ones ward getting through the interviews. Our tiny tots fumble and stammer through this scrutiny giving their best shot. As the seats are limited, dropped jaws far outnumber the gleaming faces on seeing the list of successful candidates.
Kids get ready for their journey into the new world of learning and acquiring knowledge. Parents dream big for them and hope one day their wards will make Papa proud. For kids "My Daddy is the Strongest" is taken a bit more seriously than it ought to be, as it's taught in school. Very soon it becomes more of academics for the Mommy and Daddy than their wards. Any attempt by the kids themselves to complete an assignment leaves them with fewer marks compared to ones done by Daddy's or their assistants. In the parent teacher meets, parents kick themselves for not paying attention to the kids' education by completing their child's works, unlike the other proud parents who walk away with all the laurels. Kids get introduced to moral science and charity. These schools charge hefty fees but every other day there is a dump box collection for the needy. Social service week carries instructions neatly typed asking for goodies for the less privileged which even the more privileged dare use in this day and age of rising curve in price index. The Strongest Daddy's part away with big bills for the dump box with our kids complaining about Maam's and Miss' patting those cool kids for their generosity and allots them more no of stars. Annual days are days and weeks, which keep the parents on their toes buying dresses and accessories for a role of a lamp post or tree planted in a corner for a single scene. The lead role invariably goes to wards of Strongest Daddy's. Top student honours would also go to the same multitalented kids. Their proud parents would have tears in their eyes occupying the front row seats next to the principal and Chief Guest. So much so for the right to education and CCE pattern.
The same grooming goes into their senior years at school with the Boards exams looming large. Assignments now have to be done through outsourcing. Professional artists and model project designers are to be hired. Shabby self made attempts by normal students are not worthy of centre stage. Stylised uniforms and gelled hair with spikes are the proprietary of the well healed, not to be tried by normal kids. Gangs of guys operate with the spoilt students having more members from outside school than among classmates. Latest mobile phones with wi fi are in their pockets at all times with normal kids sulking for even an elusive Samsung Guru. Grades are not a problem with internal marks already in the kitty without much hassle. The utilities available at their Dad's disposal help in enhancing the moral of these all rounder students, making them recipients of teacher's pampering. If that is not all, their Dad's would do the impossible- leak the Board Question Papers.  A few of these Dad's may be cooling their heals in a jail but their kids would still become Doctors as arrangements have been made for any capitation fees in the world. Our schools have become breeding ground for losers. A normal child's psyche and confidence is given a constant battering from the day he starts schooling to the day he passes out. Where does the blame lie- In us, as we have allowed this system to flourish.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tsunami-affected Farmers on Warpath Once Again


Tsunami-affected Farmers
on Warpath Once Again

By Staff Reporter

When the administration runs out of promises and solutions, they send the Tehsildars and Policemen to negotiate. Waiting seven years with a bundle of hollow promises hurled at them by the administration, the tsunami-affected farmers once again hit the road demanding distribution of the Rs 130 crore compensation package lying with the administration.
The tsunami affected farmers of South Andaman sat on a one-day token dharna at Tiranga Park on 24 November demanding the administration to immediately disburse the compensation package of Rs 130 crores sent by the Central Govt. Making their demands wide and clear, AP Mohammed, President, Gram Sudhar Sangham cautioned the administration not to play with their sentiments. He once again reiterated the long-forgotten demands of the tsunami farmers whose land is submerged under seawater. He also announced that the farmers will once again gather at Tiranga Park on the seventh anniversary of Tsunami to remind the administration about the promises made to them.
Speaking on the occasion, Manickam, Ex-Pradhan, Wimberly Gunj said that the farmers are left in the lurch without any clear explanation. He said that the farmers had demanded alternative land, but the administration failed to convince the Central Empowered Committee and later sought cash compensation.
Abdul Azeez, Pradhan Stewrat Gunj asked the administration to make public the minutes of IDA meeting held in June 2011? He also demanded a relief package for the farmers without further delay.
Saraswathi Narayan, Ex-Pradhan Sippighat also spoke on the occasion. She said that the administration has forgotten the old inhabitants of the Islands, whereas those tenants who just lost their household items were given shelters and free ration for a period of five years.
Hamza, a farmer from Stewart Gunj warned the administration that 26 December will be a new tsunami, when the affected farmers will gather in large numbers to protest the attitude of the administration towards the farmers.
Rajesh Lall, General Secretary, Gram Sudhar Sangham spoke about the Rajarhat Housing Scam, where land was allotted for tsunami victims by West Bengal government and is being diverted by land mafia. 

EDITORIAL: The Fate of Tsunami Affected Farmers

The Fate of Tsunami Affected Farmers

The Island economy is foremost not an agrarian economy. But, most of the communities, barring a few, had a stint in agriculture for some span of time during the settlement here. From locals to the recent settlers, everyone tried agriculture for sustenance during the early period and gradually shifted to other vocations as and when opportunities presented before them. They may have taken to farming during the early settlements, but now, there is a major shift in their vocation. And to find the reason is not very difficult.
They were rather forced to be farmers, just for the sake of feeding themselves. In 1858, when the first batch of convicts/freedom fighters, were deported here, they were engaged in clearing the forest for making the place fit for settlement. Later, not a thing to do, many of them start farming as a vocation, as it directly fed them, without depending on anybody else. Food was the main reason why they turned to agriculture. It would be preposterous to think of any other cause.
As the settlement grew and more people from the mainland joined them, most of them had to turn to their primary vocations. There were barbers, tailors, and many others. Some of them were actual farmers before deportation, like the Moplahs from Kerala, who were peasants working on lands owned by the Nairs in and around Malabar region. As usual they grew paddy in the field cleared by them. The Sindhis and Pathans also had experience of farming. They mostly grew sugarcane in the field. If they grew paddy, it was to feed the milching cows and buffalos.
The British had allotted 5 acres of agricultural land as part of the agricultural ticket given to the convicts/freedom fighters, who preferred to stay back even after they were released. Agriculture became their prime means to acquire food. Educational status was another reason, why they could not take up any other profession.
Later, through various settlement schemes announced by the Government of India, people from East Bengal, Ceylon, Kerala, Burma and ex-servicemen from Punjab arrived in hordes and settled at various places like, Diglipur, Mayabunder, Betapur, villages in South Andaman, Katchal and Campbell Bay.
With a few exceptions, the main vocation of these settlers was agriculture. The Bengali settlers in North Andaman, and Ex-servicemen in Campbell Bay were foremost agriculturists and are still engaged in the same. But to speak about the early convicts/freedom fighters, they were not skilled farmers. And in the due course, never wanted their children to go farming.
After independence, early settlers as not interested in their paddy fields, never tried any innovative methods or introduced any groundbreaking technology to increase the yield. It was just paddy during monsoon and a few vegetables during summer. They never exposed their children to agriculture. Instead, educating them were their major concern. Gradually, the paddy fields started remaining uncultivated for years. As getting education was easy, and finding employment with the administration easier, many families had one or two persons employed in different departments of the administrations.
Even the uneducated and conservative Moplahs, started sending their children to schools and once schooling completes, they also took to government jobs. Among the early settlers, only the first or second generation were farmers. The new generation may not be aware that their grandfathers even own agricultural land. In this way, more land remained unfarmed. Nobody was complaining. Even the agriculture department was not concerned.
As an alternative, voluntarily, sharecropping system started emerging. The influx as well as wide unemployment among the new entrants to the Islands paved way to sharing the crop between them and the landowner.
Although agriculture among the old inhabitants has taken a backseat, the land is precious for them, as it is the only thing they can bequeath to their coming generation. The land which now lies inundated by the tsunami of 2004. 
After seven years, the farmers are waiting for emancipation, which seems to be not coming. Instead of spreading flowers at various monuments on the anniversary of the fateful day, it would be apt for the administration to compensate the farmers and close the chapter before next anniversary comes. 

Hopes, Aspirations and Challenges Ahead - Shakti Sinha Interacts with the Leaders of Tomorrow



Hopes, Aspirations 
and Challenges Ahead
Shakti Sinha Interacts with 
the Leaders of Tomorrow

In a unique TV show conceived and produced by Doordarshan Kendra Port Blair, the Chief Secretary Shakti Sinha interacted with the college students of these Islands. It was a welcome change that the young minds put across queries that affected them and the Chief Secretary without any inhibitions took questions on water, transportation, agriculture, education, disaster preparedness and of course Assembly for the Islands. He also discussed government's vision on infrastructure, tourism and human resources of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The show conceived by G Sajan, Asst Director, Programme, Doordarshan Kendra, Port Blair was one of its kind.

Shakti Sinha initiated the discussion with an opening remark about the Islands. He said that Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a very unique Island archipelago in our country. There is no other state or territory in our country like these Islands. It's very far from the mainland, surrounded by sea. Moreover, the culture of the Islands is also distinctive. It's an ideal India. Nature and human resources are its main resources. If both these resources are developed, the Islanders can see the Islands developing itself. Tourists come in large numbers to see the natural beauty of the Islands - mountains, forests, marine life and the ocean. Then poured questions from the young adults.

GYANESH: Sir, this is your second stint in these Islands. You had been here as a young officer three decades ago. What changes do you feel or what was your vision at that time and how do you see the changes today?

We always remember our olden days as golden era. In true sense, day to day life in our Islands three decades back was very different. Port Blair was a small town, there were cleanliness everywhere. But life was very tough. There was no cooking gas. People used to cook with firewood. No phones at all, forget mobile phones. If you had to talk to someone in Mayabunder, you had to write a letter, which will reach in a week time. Ships plied between mainland and Island twice a month. The next day, there was rush in Ratnam market for purchasing onion and potatoes, as it exhausted in no time. I still remember, the Islands had to go without onions and matchbox for a month. Today, the whole scenario has changed. Take any Island - Kamorta, Campbell Bay or Diglipur, there is a vast change. To communicate, use the phone, travel anywhere in a day. A few decades ago, there were no newspapers. If your family is in mainland, you could contact them once in a month. The difference is huge. In education sector itself, we have an engineering college. JNRM has become a major institution. Earlier, the Govt College was very small. Our main effort during that period was for day to day survival. Today, we are discussing our future, that's the difference.

AKASH: All of us know that our Islands highly depend on rain for water. Every year, we get about 3000 mm of rainfall, the pattern of which keeps changing. But, our population is increasing. We still face acute shortage of water. What plans do our Admn have to tackle the scarcity of water?

It's a very good question. For South Andaman, not only Port Blair, Dhanikhari Dam is a very important source of water. The height of Dhanikhari Dam is being raised by 5 metres. Five metres does not look very big. But the capacity of storage will go up from 17 million litres to 32 million litres. In other words, we will be doubling the storage capacity. Side by side we are also trying to lay down the submarine pipeline from Chain Nallah in Rutland Island to South Andaman, which will again feed Dhanikari. As far as South Andaman is concerned, water will not be an issue at all from next six months onwards. In other parts of the Islands also, we are planning major water supply schemes by harvesting as much water as possible, which includes major rainwater harvesting, creation of water bodies, and improvement of quality of drinking water, fit for human consumption. We are constructing water filtration plants everywhere. As far as I can see, water will not be an issue anymore in Andaman Islands.  Of course, you are right, rainfall pattern changes a lot. During last one year we have had more rainfall ever recorded in the history of Andaman Islands. But sometimes, we get little rainfall. So we do need to augment water supply sources everywhere and we do need to adopt rainwater harvesting technologies as far as possible.

 SUNITA:  We have a few colleges in our Islands with limited seats. Many poor students cannot afford to go to mainland for higher studies. Does the Administration have any plans to open more colleges? Or can we have our own university?

I already mentioned that we had just one college a few decades back with very limited strength. But today there are about 3000 students in JNRM itself. We have a college at Mayabunder too. The intake capacity of engineering college is also being augmented. We can decide about opening new colleges or adding classes, but we need many permissions and bring faculties. The toughest part is getting faculties. Classes without faculties don't make sense. We are definitely trying to increase the number of student intake. But, it does not happen overnight. Schools can be opened without much fuss, but starting new college needs a lot of infrastructural requirement and faculties. As far as a university is concerned, it's too early to say anything. We have only three-four colleges. When student strength increases, we should have a plan in our scheme of things to have our own university, which should be Andaman focused and offer quality education. In future, we will have to think on that line too.

SCHALASTICA: Sir, we all know that on 26 Dec 2004, a huge earthquake occurred in our Islands followed by devastating tsunami. I too experienced it, but 99% of people in our Islands were not aware of it. Our Islands are vulnerable to such kind of disasters. We were told that there was some kind of mock drill exercise in Car Nicobar, but the public were totally unaware of it. Does the Administration have any plans to create awareness?

 You are right that we had a mock drill exercise in Teetop in Car Nicobar recently. But, it was a very small exercise just meant to test the system. We did not want to cause a panic by ordering evacuation. We could have done that, but first we wanted to check that our systems are working fine or not. If there is a disaster, we were just testing how the health department would respond, what Fire Force and Police Dept would do. We will conduct such exercises and in the future, we will involve the community in other actions creating awareness. Right now, the only disaster in our mind is tsunami or earthquake. We have to also think of other disasters. As you said 99% of people were not aware about tsunami. Now we know tsunami. We cannot rest on that. We have to prepare our communities, as they must understand what they have to do in the event of a disaster. Unless they are involved, it would be a failure. Our teams have visited various places including Indonesia to learn their ways of preparedness and we want to bring that kind of knowledge to the Islands. We have also formed community groups in various places. We never wanted our drills to cause panic and create situations like stampedes. Hence, we plan it very carefully.

SANTHAKUMAR: We have only Pondicherry University conducting Entrance Examinations here for higher studies like M Phil and PhD. Many students cannot afford to go to mainland to take such examinations. Why universities like JNU and DU are not conducting entrance examinations in our Islands?

You should know that these universities cannot have campuses here. And, many universities like DU do not conduct entrance examinations. And, for exams like CAT, lot of expenditure is involved. If there is large number of students, we can surely write to the authorities concerned. It's a very specific demand, and we will be very happy to write to such universities, if there is a demand to conduct entrance examinations in the Islands. The Administration will extend all support. Now, UPSC conducts its examinations here, for which we bear the complete expenditure.

The flight fare to the Islands is too high. And, student community too faces a lot of problems due to the steep hike in airfare.
You are absolutely right. We have taken up this issue with Government of India for a long time. However, fares are not always going up. As of now, the fares are extremely low. I myself bought a ticket to come back from Delhi at a cost of Rs 6000/-. So fares go up and down. But, the Administration has requested the Govt that at our cost, we are prepared to run a plane everyday by rotation to Chennai, Vizag and Kolkata at literally no loss no profit basis to force the other airlines to bring down their fares. It is a fact that the airfares in India are deregulated and nobody can fix fares. It's the airlines which fixes it like vegetables, where nobody can dictate the price. Moreover, if the supply is high and demand supply mismatch is not there, price will come down. Hence, we are trying to increase the supply so that no cartel can monopolise.

SACHIN: We have sufficient agriculture produce in our Islands, but we do not have agro-based industries here. Farmers do not benefit due to lack of value-addition. And farmers lose interest in agriculture itself. What steps the Administration is taking in introducing agro-based industries?

It's not the job of the Administration to setup industries. Private sector has to chip in. Our mandate is to facilitate and provide conducive atmosphere. There are many a scheme in agriculture in which subsidy is provided. For e.g. for setting up a cold storage facility, or purchase of machinery, we can provide subsidy. If any entrepreneur wishes to setup a unit, we will provide all facilities, as these Islands are very remote and the expenditure involved is huge. Unfortunately, the area under cultivation is very less and it won't be feasible with limited supply to run an industry. But, we are committed to take up the issue. With the help of NABARD, we have started a unit of Dhal in Diglipur just to encourage and send a message that there is scope for agro-industry. The Administration can only run pilots, but a full fledge food processing unit by the Admn is not at all viable. At the same time, we are fully committed to support any private entrepreneur who wishes to setup such industry.

SHOBINI: I would like to know about the attractive way of education known as e-learning. Do we have any plans to introduce e-learning in our Islands?

Absolutely, e-learning is at the heart of our long term plans for Andaman Islands. I had mentioned separately in another question that we lack faculty and its very difficult to get trained faculties. E-learning is a solution to that. However, e-learning requires very good speed of internet, able to download and upload. Presently we rely on satellites, where the speed is very slow. I myself am very frustrated when I want to download any page on the internet. With great difficulty we have made Government of India to agree and we will be the only state govt or UT Admn in the entire country to be laying down our own submarine optical-fibre cable, connecting us to the world. Once it happens, the bandwidth available will enable us not only to have e-learning facility everywhere, especially in the outer and remote areas; we can have many other activities. We require E-learning badly in many places as there are many schools in remote areas with very less strength, where posting teachers for every subject is not feasible. Once we have the backbone ready, that we expect to have by mid-2013, just a year and half to go, a very short span of time by world standards, we would really be able to give our students all over the islands tremendous opportunity of learning, not just the course curriculum, but will be able to explore the web world. When I discuss about human resource development, e-learning is at its very heart.

ARUN KUMAR:  We are surrounded by water on all sides, but we don not have water sports facilities in our Islands. Have the Administration taken any steps to promote water sports in our Islands?

I think you are a student of commerce. You might be aware that income and expenditure statement is very important. The initial capital investment for water sports equipments is very high. The recurring costs are not much. Hence, ANI Admn has procured many water sports equipments - like paragliding and jet skiing. We are also operating a few. Our idea is to operate it in association with a professional agency. In fact, it is very difficult for a government agency to run a service-oriented or tourism oriented activity. As we are government servants and not students of commerce, it is very difficult for a govt servant to reorient his mindset to understand that customer is the king. Moreover, water sports equipments are highly technical in nature. For eg. We are setting up a decompressing chamber in GB Pant Hospital for divers, which will be ready very soon. The Administration is willing to do the capital investment. But the actual running of it has to be by private sector. The Admn is wiling to facilitate, partner and provide all required infrastructure. A couple of months back, the administration had invited Yachting Society of India to start yachting in our Islands and hundreds of students took interest in it, and now the idea is to promote it as a sport. You are right that the Islanders should get such facilities, at the same time; it will improve the employment prospects in the Islands. To run it as a tourism facility, we need to have skilled manpower, and the prospects are very high. It's a major component in our growth strategy.

PRIYA: We are told that 85% of the Islands is under forest cover. However, we see rampant illegal poaching and logging everywhere. What steps are being taken to conserve and protect our flora and fauna?

There is nothing much to worry. I think the forest cover includes mangroves, water bodies and it is about 93% and not 85%. There have been encroachments in the past, but if we look at the satellite imagery for the last many years, there is no increase in it. Moreover, the areas under encroachments have slightly come down also. There might be occasional illegal logging here and there, but it's not a cause of concern. On the other hand, trees are a renewable source and if you are able to harvest trees in sustainable manner, there is absolutely nothing wrong. In fact it is advisable to use renewable energy resources as against non-renewable resources like steel and cement, which requires mining, which requires heavy energy cost of conversion and heavy cost of transportation. So while we are completely against illegal logging with zero tolerance and against encroachments, we should also accept that nature and we have to live together and we can take from nature provided that what we take is sustainable. While you are right to be concerned, we need to spread the message that how important nature is to our lives and we have to utilize what nature has to offer in a sustainable manner.

MAMTA: There are many posts vacant in the educational institutions. But, the posts are not advertised, which brings frustration among the youth. On one side, we can see no scope in government sector and at the same time, the private sector is very limited. What measures can the administration take to reduce unemployment?

First, concerning posts of teachers, we do recruit teachers soon after summer holidays. We have done the exercise this year and large number of posts have been filled up. Some we could not fill up as we could not get adequate no. of trained and qualified teachers. Vacancies in the college have been filled up by the UPSC. About prospects of employment, the scope of recruitment and employment in the government sector is extremely limited. We won't be able to employ many more people in government sector except for those posts where people retire. What we can rely upon is the bandwidth we are going to have with the laying of the submarine optical fibre cable. Once we have the backbone with large bandwidth, e-learning, e-medicine and all government work on the internet like govt to citizen transactions, govt to business kind of activities, once we are able to conduct such activities, IT and IT-enabled activities will have scope in Andaman Islands. Of course, our population is limited, but we will be able to create large number of jobs. The future is employment in those sectors where you can provide service to the public and make money out of it. Even tourism and other activities will benefit a lot from IT and ITES. I am sorry to disappoint you and say not to look into government sector, as it will be only able to employ limited no. of people in the future, not only in Andamans, but all over India.

PARVEZ:  There is huge brain drain happening in our Islands as those well qualified and experts leave the Islands due to lack of exposure and opportunity. How can we prevent such exodus?

First of all, we should not be much concerned about brain drain. People tend to work at places where they are comfortable and get the right environment. But you are right, many students who proceed to mainland for professional courses on seats allotted from the Island's quota do not come back and our people does not benefit from their services, which is not a good thing. It's a complex issue where the demands of the society and individuals are poles apart. Hence, we need to create a balance by augmenting the standard of life, which might force them to think of working in Andamans. To achieve this, we need to have better air connectivity, better connectivity like phone and internet and good educational institutions, wherein not only our children, even experts and qualified persons from outside come and work here. We need to concentrate on these aspects. The administration has started taking steps like reduction of airfare, setting up of medical college, augment bandwidth and improve all other facilities. People should sense that without sacrificing any comfort, they can work here. Theoretically, everybody sacrifices, but when it comes to one's own life, we start thinking about our family and other responsibilities. When there is overall improvement in the living standards, we will not talk about brain drain, but brain gain.

MOYNA:  Sir, our Islands face lack of quality medical facilities especially in the remote Islands. Many patients are either shifted to GB Pant Hospital or referred to Mainland. Poor people cannot afford treatment in mainland hospitals. Even lives are lost due to lack of better healthcare.

It's a good question that you have asked about outside Port Blair. Many people think that our Islands begin and end in Port Blair. We definitely need to improve our medical facilities outside. Compared to many parts of mainland India, our medical facilities are far better. At the same time, our challenges are far difficult. Patient evacuation is a issue of major concern. Our main issue is non-availability of specialized doctors easily. Hence, we have come to two agreements with Government of India to depute specialists to the Islands for three months. And when they come, we make a rotational tour of our Islands from Campbell Bay to Diglipur. In advance, we inform the doctors and the patients about visit of specialists so that they can mobilize the patients. We have also tied up Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi. But, it's not sufficient. We have also drawn up a plan which we will be implementing from next April onwards, where poor patients will be given financial assistance and airfare for treatment in mainland. So, it's the combination of all these activities, through which we hope to improve the quality of healthcare.

NAZNEEN:  We nowadays face the problem of load shedding. With more demand for electricity, is there any plan to augment power generation using solar and wind energy?

Absolutely, we have already signed agreement with National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) which is setting up a pilot solar plant. We are setting up a pilot of mixed fuel plant. We have also setup windmills in Car Nicobar for testing and that test itself takes five to six years before we can setup a windmill energy plant. In our Islands, we will have to look how to improve the quality of electricity we get. Right now we have local power stations serving in local areas. The advantage is that we can manage it easily. The disadvantage is that small plants consume more fuel. Bigger plants are fuel-efficient plants. Instead of running small stations everywhere like Diglipur, Mayabunder, Rangat etc., we can think about setting up bigger plants in one grid for the Islands, so that it can get power from hydro, say Kalpong Dam,  from Diesel and also get supplemental power from wind energy, solar energy or mixed fuel. We are definitely working on it and have implemented some of them.

RADHIKA:  There is a trend of parents sending their children to public schools for education. How can we attract children to government run schools?

First of all, government schools must improve the quality of education. We have already implemented compulsory training of teachers every year. The system of Continuous Evaluation has also begun. Right to Education is also being implemented. To improve the quality of education, we will have tie up with other agencies to assure minimum quality everywhere. We should not be bothered about parents sending their children to public schools, but our focus should be to improve the quality of education in government run schools, where the doors are open for one and all. Quality cannot be achieved by any magic wand. However, it is our responsibility to see that overall quality of education is improved.

NAGESHWARI: We have very few beaches open for tourists, which is getting crowded due to increase in tourists. Are there any plans to open new Islands with good beaches for tourism?

Absolutely, we see tourism as the single biggest source of employment generation in the Islands. The Administration has already entered into agreements to setup hotels and resorts at Havelock, Neil and Long Island. We tried for Little Andaman, but we could not get a good bid for it. We have introduced seaplane services from Port Blair not just to Havelock, but to Diglipur where tourists are interested to see Ross and Smith Islands and Hut Bay too. We are trying to have bigger planes which can fly upto Campbell Bay, where we have the best locations for wave surfing in India due to the height of waves. We have to pursue different places. Side by side, we have developed a project report with Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a Karnataka government company. We are setting up three nature circuits - Mount Harriet-Madhuban, Cutbert Bay-Long Island and Ross and Smith-Saddle Peak, Diglipur. The idea is every Island should be able to develop with minimum tourism facilities. People can there and partake in various activities and these ventures will create a lot of employment everywhere. At the same time, we have to be mindful about the impact of tourism on nature and our environment. We cannot destroy or over exploit our environment, which is our single best resource for tourism. Definitely we are opening up new Islands for tourism development.

PREETI: Indian Railways is one of the leading railways in the world. It has constructed many railway links in many difficult terrains in our country even in Srinagar and Arunachal Pradesh. When will be Andaman on the railway map of India? Is there steps being taken in that direction?

It's a good question. A study has also been done in this regard. Before answering the question, we need to ask many other questions. Is it required or not? What is possible in our Islands? A decade ago, a survey was carried out for a railway line between Port Blair and Diglipur. If we analyse the internal rate of return or even the economic rate of return and the social rate of return, the negative rate of return is very high. Despite all these, Railway Ministry has decided to resurvey and assess the need for railway line and its feasibility. Whether a railway line materializes or not, the means of communication from Campbell Bay to Aerial Bay will be improved with focus on quality, speed and comfort.

SUNITA:  What steps have been taken by the authorities to protect the two indigenous tribes - Jarawas and Sentinelese?

Earlier there was a fear that the population of the tribes are drastically coming down. In fact the population growth of all indigenous tribes was on a decline after the advent of British. However, 2011 census paints a bright picture, where the population of Jarawa has increased from 256 to 380 and the numbers of Shompens have also gone up. We have no idea about Sentinalese, as we do not go there and disturb them. We are more conscious about the cultural change happening among the Jarawas due to their interaction with the settlers. Now there is no hostility. To find out the changes in their community, Government of India has formed a committee and Administration is part of it. Many experts - sociologists and anthropologists are being involved who have already worked here and among the Jarawas. They will submit their findings and based on that a policy will be formulated. Jarawas will be dealt as per their will. If they want to come and join, we won't stop, but we have to know what changes are happening in their society and what are their aspirations? We cannot decide for them. We have to empower them so that they can expound their viewpoint. We cannot impose any vision on them. However, there cannot be any fear that their numbers are coming down.

SANDHYA:  It is said that we have abundant variety of marine wealth in our ocean. How can we exploit the vast marine resources?

One-third of India's Exclusive Economic Zone falls under the jurisdiction of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We should have been one of the biggest centres of export for fisheries. But, our traditional fishermen only fish in the coastal waters, where the catch is very limited. Moreover we do not have continental shelf. Keeping these limitations in mind, in 2010, we launched Tuna Mission because there is huge reserve of Blue-fin Tuna in the deep sea. Those interested in building big trawlers, we are providing subsidy upto 25 per cent. Moreover, we are going to put fish aggregating devices (FAD) which will also increase fish catch. If Tuna Mission turns successful, we will be able to export fish from the Islands and it will bring more revenue as well as employment. Right now, its in early implementation stage and we cannot forecast the success rate, but it remains our priority.

SNEHA:  My question is about cleanliness in the city. Even though we are known as green paradise, most of the places are very unclean, which sends a wrong message. What steps have been initiated by the administration to keep the Islands sanitized and clean?

We have elected bodies at village as well as town level. We have PBMC in Port Blair town and Panchayats in village level. Sanitation is the job given to the elected bodies. They are supposed to collect house tax. They also get a lot of grant in aid from the Administration. So, on one hand, I can just say, sorry I cannot do anything about it. It's the responsibility of the elected bodies. But no, we are very concerned about it. We are working with them very pro-actively how to improve. We are trying to locate better spots for disposal of waste in Port Blair town and surroundings, which includes segregation of waste into degradable and non-degradable. We are also working with Panchayats at different parts if they are willing to do so to give them extra financial help as well as to enable them to do the processing in a better way. Garbage disposal is a major problem in the Islands. Today, it might not appear to be a problem, but as our lifestyles are changing, we are adopting more consumer habits, consuming more tetra packs, more plastic bottles and this is becoming a problem. And throughout we are working with the elected bodies, how to improve the quality of sanitation services.

MAMTA:  What will be the Administrative setup of this Islands. Shall we have an Assembly or we will continue with the present system?

You are asking this question to a wrong person. I am a government servant. My job is to implement government policies. What the Government of India wants here as system of governance is beyond my purview. As a private citizen, I can have some views, but as Chief Secretary, I cannot have such views. Even if I have my views, I cannot express it in public. It would be violation of conduct rules. Sure, there is democracy everywhere. We have elected bodies here. What final shape it would attain will be decided by the government of India and its leadership. I won't be able to comment on it.

SNEHA:  There are many remote areas in our Islands, where there is no road connectivity even after 50 years of Independence. For eg. Nischintpur, Jagannath Dera, Ganesh Nagar which comes under Diglipur Tehsil. What is your strategy to overcome this in the next nine years?

Mainly, our aim is to connect every place. But, some of the villages that you have mentioned were not settlement villages. They were forest encroachments, which were later recognized as revenue villages. To make roads to these villages require lot of legal procedures due to reserve forest and the creeks. But wherever possible roads are being constructed and I think there is hardly any habitation left out which will not have access to communications. If there is no way to lay road, definitely ferry service has been initiated. As you mentioned, Jagannath Dera, wherever possible roads are being made. The process of identifying the alignment and environment impact assessments are being done which needs approval and dereservation of reserve forests under Forest Act. All these are very long process, which as the Admn, we are committed to follow. We will definitely follow these policies and see that all these places get connected as soon as possible.
In fact it was a great pleasure to listen to the youth of Andamans and to know their aspirations, the challenges ahead them and their concerns. If we don't get such feedback, our plans will have weaknesses. As I said, we cannot decide for the Jarawas, no government can plan without the inputs, suggestions and ideas of its citizens.