Saturday, July 20, 2013

Remembering Capt. Asheem Kumar Bhattacharjee

Remembering Capt. Asheem Kumar Bhattacharjee

N. Francis Xavier

More than fifteen years ago a young man came to my office with his father. He was to send his application for SSB but the last date was over. He had a ‘C’ Certificate from NCC Army.  I was officiating as Station Commander NCC that time. Seeing his enthusiasm I prepared a long letter recommending his case for consideration on account of the remoteness of the Andaman Islands and the frequent postal delays. I asked him to send his application along with the letter.

That was the last time I saw him alive.

The young man was Asheem Kumar Bhattacharjee, a student of M.Sc., Chemistry in JNRM.  His father was a well-known teacher.  I heard that he was selected and commission into the Gurkhas.

On 20 July 2000 a shocked Dr. Rath informed me that Capt. Asheem was killed in an encounter with militants in the Uri sector.  We rushed to his house in Prem Nagar to convey our condolences to the distraught parents. Then we met Hon’ble LG Shri IP Gupta who was very much upset at the news. He wanted to know when the body will be brought to Port Blair and visited the house to pay his respects. He also wanted a memorial to be built in memory of Capt. Bhattacharjee in JNRM and personally visited the college to select the site.

My memory is not clear but the body was brought by services aircraft two or three days later. The army unit in Birch gunj took over the funeral arrangements. With great sorrow I attended the funeral of Capt. Asheem. An officer who accompanied the body, a young Lieutenant narrated how Capt. Bhattacharjee, in charge of a Ghatak platoon charged the militants and shot down two of them before he was mortally wounded.  He was bleeding heavily from the wound during the evacuation and in great pain but refused to take morphine.  By the time he could get medical help it was too late. 

When I think of it sometimes I feel guilty. Perhaps he would have been alive still if his application was not accepted due to late submission.  But then, we would not have had our own hero, an inspiration for so many of our NCC cadets who wish to join the armed forces in the service of the Motherland.

Dule et decorum est pro patria mori
It is sweet and right to die for your country

Friday, July 19, 2013

When Sex Moves from Groins to Brains...

When Sex Moves from Groins to Brains...

Zubair Ahmed

One may have scruples, but nothing prevents two consenting adults from having sex in offices, lodges, government guest houses, bathrooms or even in cars; as it's not a cognizable offence. But when sex of senior government officers moves up from their groins and occupies the space in their brains, it assumes maniac proportion and become a matter for public concern. Even so, if it does not cloud official decisions, it remains within passable limits. But when it starts clouding the official decisions the situation starts going out of hand. A stage comes when the mania not only affects official decisions but also results in squandering public money to entice the gullible ‘victims’. Once it reaches that stage, the professional hawks take over and start exploiting the weakness of the man who sits on piles of money and his one signature can move lakhs and lakhs – of taxpayers’ money, from the government treasury to their kitty.

Sex in offices is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of imagination. It is used by both the sexes some times, just for pleasure. But the mechanics is not that simple either. There are smart workers who exploit the weakness of their bosses for money, appointment, transfer, relatives’ appointment, promotions and; also to get even with rivals in service. There are stories of sex maniacs who would keep their hardworking subordinates waiting outside their chambers for hours together when they are in the company of daily rated female workers enjoying tea and snacks; at the cost of genuine public work. Even officers of assistant secretary and deputy director level have many such tales to tell. It is a different matter that they would not say that on record, for obvious reasons.

The system of Daily Rated Mazdoors has eased the situation for such hawks that look for pretty women for DRM and keep them in offices instead of sending them to fields for work. In every office such DRMs can be seen and their behaviour and attitude itself would tell the story. One need not gaze at a crystal ball to find such characters. A look at the list of selected candidates in the appointments of daily rated mazdoors in various departments would tell a lot of juicy stories. 

But it starts pinching all the more when elements of coercion enter into it. The world is full of contradictory characters. There are four pure, chaste and moral women for each licentious woman in the society. They find it hard to adjust with a morally corrupt system where they have to respond positively to the amorous overtures of their bosses to obtain even their legitimate dues. If they don’t respond positively, they are harassed, insulted and humiliated. Their ACR’s are spoiled and promotions held up. There are many such stories.

The new financial rules have put enormous powers in the hands of the Heads of Departments and the secretary level officers. There are reasons to believe that such powers are misused to obtain sexual gratification too. Lately, cases have come to our knowledge that girls are flown down to Port Blair by big time business who fly in, obtain large orders and in return provide what the benefactor wants; money or women.

The sporadic episodes of sexual exploitations in workplaces that appear in the media are considered abominations and the character of the victim is always deemed dubious, where the perpetrator gets away clean or the issue is settled with interventions and negotiations by leaders and politicians. The issues never got serious attention beyond the police stations where cases are filed and withdrawn.

The malaise has reached a stage where it has started hurting the simple, innocent and hardworking women employees who wish to remain faithful to their husbands and family values.

These were till now discussed on social media, drawing rooms and in coffee houses; though in hushed tones. Its good to see Lt Governor setting up an high level committee to inquire into a complaint of sexual harassment of an employee of APWD.  The Committee will also look into any violation of various statuary obligations at any level of the Administration and submit its report within 7 days. Till the truth comes out, character assassination of the complainant or the alleged will only gratify the hunger of rumour-mongers.       

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Keeping the Hope Alive! Tasks Ahead for the New Administrator

Keeping the Hope Alive!
Tasks Ahead for the New Administrator

By Zubair Ahmed

"The cry of the poor is not always just. But if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is." ‑ Howard Zinn

Certainly we do not have a choice in selecting our Administrator. But, sometimes by coincidence we are bestowed with Lt. Governors, who prove their mettle and leave a mark. 

Even though It's too early to presume and judge the new Administrator, Lt Gen (Retd) A K Singh, PVSM, AVSM who took over the helms of the Island territory this month., he has already suffocated to death the ardent and critical critic in me with his healing touch and down to earth disposition. But, once again the skeptic in me keeps pestering and reminding me about the events that unfolded some six and half years back when Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh took over as the Administrator.


On December 29, 2006 at 11.45 AM, when Lt Gen (Retd) Bhopinder Singh AVSM, PVSM was administered the oath of office and secrecy for the office of the Lt. Governor and Administrator, he had declared, "I don’t believe in operating from the office alone. I would be touring extensively. I would like to keep my ears to the earth so that I could feel the rumblings inside. That way, I believe, I will be able to serve the people better and meet their hopes and aspirations in a more positive and effective way. I will work in close cooperation with the stakeholders and nothing would be imposed from above."

The Lieutenant Governor and Administrator Bhopinder Singh too went on a whirlwind tour of the territory from Campbell Bay to Diglipur apprising himself of the ground realities. He had extensive meetings with the local officials, PRI members and the common people. He listened to their problems, discussed developmental programmes and in many cases took spot decisions to solve the pressing problems of the people.

LG Bhopinder Singh repeated his five point philosophy in every meeting. He exhorted the officials to complete the developmental projects in a time bound manner, to send him the feedback on progress of work at regular intervals; weekly, if possible. He also emphasised the need for the officers to be accessible to the common people, listen to their problems and expedite solutions. He demanded total transparency in governmental works and system. Bhopinder Singh assured that there was no shortage of funds for developmental works but the funds should be spent judiciously.

The Light of Andamans on 24 Feb 2007 editorialized:

"The motorcade of the dignitaries would zoom past the devastated fields filling the nostrils of farmers with dust. That is where Lt. Gen (Retd) Bhopinder Singh, Lt. Governor makes the difference. He is the man who thought it fit to go into the villages, talk to the people, realise their pains, understand their problems and put his hand of sympathy on their shoulders. That is the least a mortal can do. It is not the shelters; it is not the free ration, it not the permanent houses that drive a man to fight against odds in life, overcome tragedies. It is the encouragement, the sympathy, the understanding that acts as moral boosters."

Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh also captured the hearts of the Islanders when he spoke off the cuff at Island Tourism Festivals and at other occasions, and at many times announcing various schemes and projects, which either he could not follow up or the bureaucracy could not materialize for him.

Still, after six and half years, when the incumbent Lieutenant Governor takes a similar route, the Islanders are overwhelmed. When a soft word, a sympathetic look, an encouraging sentence, sensitivity towards common man’s feelings are at a premium, a little step with a healing touch makes people forget the past and erase all bad memories. They expect miracles.

When Lt Governor A K Singh visited the crocodile victim at GB Pant Hospital and put his hands of compassion on Lipus Das' shoulders, all protocol barriers disappeared into thin air. Instead of calling the public hearing a 'Durbar' and standing with the public interacting with them as one among them bridged the gap between the ruler and the ruled. When he cycled with the Island team and even had a slight fall at the velodrome , he stood tall amongst them. When he invited a fisherman to cut the ribbon of fish landing centre at Diglipur, he was sharing power with the common man. Within a week of swearing in, wherever he went, he left his mark. He asked DGP not to hold traffic for long during his visits.

Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh too was generous with LG's Relief Fund, which he distributed among the needy and distressed frequently which earned him praise and admiration from all quarters. Otherwise, his inept administration and ill-advised decisions without outcome dented his image.

Indeed, for Lt Gen A K Singh, its a fresh beginning. Its easy to have spot decisions, but the proposal will take ample time to overcome the labyrinthine bureaucratic process. As in the case of  an ambulance for Nicobari settlement in Harminder Bay, Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh announced it on the spot during his first visit to Little Andaman in 2007. Till 2013, no ambulance reached Harminder Bay. But, can the Islanders be rest assured that Lt Gen AK Singh is not Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh?

After the familiarization tours, when the Lieutenant Governor settles down, he will need enough resolve to review all the projects and proposals in pipeline, entwined once again in various bureaucratic conundrums. A few projects that the Islanders are hearing since last one decade if gets proper attention will go a long way.

Water from Rutland still remains a dream. Eight years and Rs 15 crores down the line, the elusive fresh water is still in Rutland and the parched throats in Port Blair. Let the Islanders pin their hope on the new Administrator to pursue vigorously the Rutland Water Supply Scheme to serve the people with water next summer; and not just promises!   

Undersea Optical Fibre Cabling connecting mainland and Island was one of the promising projects which could have changed the face of the Islands by bringing it closer to the world. The bids have been opened and the L1 identified. However, the project, which is supposed to be complete in 18 months is dragging eternally for the last three years.

The undue delay in the Wet Lease of Ships/Vessels to cater in the Inter-Island, Foreshore and Harbour sector is affecting the whole sea transport system.  With shortage of vessels on all routes, service is perennially hit especially vehicle ferries in Bambooflat-Chatham sector.

Chartered Flight between Mainland-Island is another project the bureaucracy is scared to venture into. With sky-rocketing airfare between Mainland and Andamans, this proposal should have been pursued vigorously.

Many Short-term and Long-term Tourism Projects were envisaged in the Tourism Policy of the Islands, which still remains in paper.

The worst condition of rural roads with Zilla Parishad and other two wings of PRI interested in expeditious spending’ of money and rather than ‘judicious spending’.

The deadline for Alternate Sea route to Baratang is March 2015. What has been done on this front is anybody's guess. The Administration has never taken it seriously or it would not have wasted precious five years.

North and Middle Andamans is yet to be treated at par with South Andaman as a district. With great difficulty a separate district of North and Middle Andaman was created amidst its fair share of political controversies and bureaucratic red tapism. It finally has a separate Zilla Parishad, a degree college, a judicial court, a hospital, a few ports and helipads, a small airstrip and a few other facilities but is totally dependent on Port Blair for all its basic needs. For every other eventuality its residents are to rush to Port Blair, be it proceeding to mainland for higher education or super-specialist medical treatment at metros. Traders sitting at Port Blair control their markets and cost of living are much higher for all basic commodities. There is always resentment in the settlers at being a step behind the South Andamanians. A unambiguous blueprint needs to be prepared for the holistic development of NMA District making it independent and self-sufficient, and reducing its dependency on Port Blair and South Andaman.

Presently, there is no shortage of power in the Islands with both IPP, HPP and department-owned power plants generating surplus electricity. But, the department lags behind in proper maintenance of lines and frequent disruptions and outages causing heavy T&D loss.

The Chief Secretary and his set of bureaucrats draw power from the Administrator, and if he shows the same commitment and resolve till the end of his tenure, he will surely be remembered as an outstanding Administrator as well as human being.

The tasks ahead for the new Administrator are daunting enough. But not impossible!