Sunday, April 22, 2012





By Zubair Ahmed

It's very easy to say that the farmers have waited eight years. However, in these eight years, the Islands saw three Administrators, four Chief Secretaries, five Deputy Commissioners and countless Commissioner-cum-Secretaries for Relief and Rehabilitation.
Simultaneously, the submerged landscape has also changed its nature into different avatars during the last eight years. Before tsunami, it was agricultural land, post-tsunami, it was called tsunami affected land, later it turned to be a fishing ground brimming with fishermen and crocodiles, now it's transforming into a mangrove groove with fresh offshoots appearing here and there. Finally, nature-lovers and conservationists have started to realise that the newly-formed wetlands are turning into an abode for migratory, resident and common birds.
However, the status of the affected farmers has remained unaffected without much to talk about. The Administration never allowed them to shed the affix 'tsunami-affected' from their names. They are sympathised with and everybody worth of their salt has tried to play with their emotions. Elections were fought and won on this issue.
When the Home Minister P Chidambaram visited the Islands to take stock of the development and progress of this territory, he proclaimed at a public meeting at Congress Bhavan that ANI Admn has successfully completed the Tsunami Rehabilitation Programme except carpeting of 4.8 km road and distribution of compensation package to the farmers whose lands are submerged. 
"The 2012 tsunami did not touch the shores of Andamans, as it felt ashamed how ANI Admn had miserably failed in compensating the poor farmers affected by the 2004 tsunami," said an aggrieved farmer sarcastically on the attitude of ANI Admn towards the tsunami-affected farmers of South Andaman.
Some called the day of protest a black day, others a shameful day. And, the ANI Administration felt that a day was wasted. The Deputy Commissioner wanted his honour not to be breached. The bureaucrats at the highest level did not want to climb down the elite pedestal and meet the protesting farmers. The Lieutenant Governor, who had once openly declared his personal interest in the tsunami compensation issue, shirked away from meeting the farmers as it seems, he himself remains clueless and in darkness about the issue.
After a long wait and various forms of protest in the last couple of years, assurances of various types and kinds were what the farmers got in exchange. When the Home Minister P Chidambaram visited the Islands in January this year, he promised twice that an amount of Rs 130 crores has been sanctioned and will try to disburse it before 31 March 2012.
There is a deep sense of betrayal, fear and permanent sense of loss, as the landowners, who see their submerged land and the lackadaisical attitude of the Administration.
In fact, the Home Minister did say that the fund has been given to ANI Admn and about 95% victims are willing to take the compensation package and a small minority of about 5% are reluctant and his request was to convince the remaining few. He categorically said that efforts will be made to disburse the amount before the end of last financial year. He even said that it would be very difficult to reopen and revise the package at this moment and when specifically asked, assured that the submerged land would not be acquired in lieu of the compensation amount, as it was a natural disaster.
When the protesting farmers met Bhupinder Singh Bhalla, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Revenue he informed them that the amount was only sanctioned and not allotted, and the file is in Ministry of Finance. It is also strongly doing the rounds that the amount was diverted.
There has been lack of transparency in the ways of the administration. First, they failed to identify sufficient alternate land, and later they announced the amount as relief and now they are stressfully mentioning it as compensation in lieu of submerged land.
When mourning the deaths of thousands in a ritualistic manner, precious little has been done for the living. It has been a long game of passing the buck and any other tool that could justify inactions. The inertia of rest breaks only in bursts, after such protests.
Its time the Admn removes the albatross of Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation round its neck closes the file and the territory moves ahead with other pressing developmental projects.
The Islanders deserve not a clarification, but immediate release of the relief amount and surely an apology for all the lies and damn lies perpetrated in the due course.

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