Thursday, February 13, 2014

Havelock: Forsaken Paradise - 2 | Dangerous Cargo

Havelock: Forsaken Paradise - 2
Dangerous Cargo

By Zubair Ahmed

Havelock is a proverbial hen that lays golden eggs, but keeping it alive, it seems is nobody's concern. Hardly two hours away from Port Blair, unlike Kamorta and Campbell Bay, the show is going on. How the Island is surviving without cargo services is a question nobody wants to answer.

There are hundreds of two-wheelers and four wheelers used by locals as well as tourists, apart from speed boats and jet-skis. The resorts rely on gensets for their power requirements. Daily consumption of fuel - Diesel and Petrol - is approximately 2200 ltrs.

The Island doesn't have a petrol pump, but all the fuel requirements are met, apparently through illegal channels. There are three fuel bunks licensed to sell 300 ltrs each. But, the required quantity of fuel is much higher and always available, but for a premium. How the bunks get their fuel from Port Blair is another uncomfortable question.

"MV Malar, a DSS cargo vessel brings fuel for the Electricity Dept run power house, and no other cargo ships come to Havelock," said a resort owner. Large quantity of fuel - the dangerous cargo - is transported in fishing Dinghies, and it operates right under the nose of the Administration.

"There is no way but to overlook this illegal and dangerous activity," said a police officer on anonymity. "Maybe after a disaster, we might think about it," he added.

'The Administration is in the process of starting a petrol pump at Havelock," said P Vishwakannan, Director, Tourism. "The land has been identified and ANIIDCO is looking for a consultant now, to complete all licensing formalities," he added.

It might take another year or two for the petrol pump to come up, and till then the Administration might turn blind towards this necessary evil.

No cargo ships transport vehicles to Havelock, but one can see hundreds of vehicles on road. When asked how the vehicles are transported, Ajay Gharami, a resort owner said, "Everything from car to bike to eatables, are transported on Dinghies from Port Blair."

"Most of them are motorized country boats, which carries the cargo to Havelock, and I cannot comment on their legalities," said Veeraiah, Deputy Director, Shipping.

When asked whether the Dinghies comply with the safety guidelines or they come under any Act, he said that they are registered as fishing dinghies by Fisheries Dept.

"Its illegal and the Dinghies with fishing license are not supposed to carry cargo, and if they do, their licenses can be cancelled," said Chandrashekhar, Director, Fisheries Dept. When asked about the issue in Havelock, he said, "The ferries are not taking cargo, and people are forced to use the Dinghies, but I have issued directions to check violations of the license provision," he added.

Speaking to Andaman Chronicle, Cdr V K Trivedi, Harbour Master said that he is not aware if any DSS cargo vessels are plying between Havelock and Port Blair. When it was pointed out that the Dinghies load goods even from Phoenix Bay Jetty and Junglighat Jetty, he said that he will look into it.

"Why can't the Directorate of Shipping Services ply one cargo vessel to Havelock daily?" Samit Sawhny, Barefoot Holidays asks. "The Dinghies if stopped without alternative will be disastrous, as life will come to standstill in the Island," he said.

"DSS vessels are taking cargo, and if those who want to avail the service needs to make the booking two-days in advance so that we can also make proper arrangements, but we don't know why people are reluctant to avail the service," replied Veeraiah, Deputy Director, Shipping. "In fact we had informed a delegation from Havelock about the arrangement," he added.

"We cannot rely on a chartered cargo vessels, which takes its own time to sail, and most of the perishable food items by the time it reaches Havelock goes waste," said another resort owner. "Moreover, there are practical difficulties as most of the DSS ships leave early in the morning, and we cannot load the cargo in the evening due to its perishable nature," he added.

Earlier, there were boats like M.V.Ramanujam , vessel of choice of the tourists and the local people alike for its cheaper tickets and openness. For the local people, it was cheaper and could carry all kinds of cargo like basketsful of crabs, fowls; goats, vegetables and tonnes of banana.

With the recent boat tragedy, the focus of the Administration has turned towards safety on sea, but if such blatant abuse of laws are being allowed due to complacency or lack of alternatives, its high time, the goal post is shifted. Havelock should be a classic example of how tourism is facilitated and allowed to run.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Havelock: Forsaken Paradise | So Close, Yet So Far!

Havelock: Forsaken Paradise

So Close, Yet So Far!
By Zubair Ahmed
Havelock has over the years emerged as the tourism capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It has the most beautiful beach in Radhanagar rated very highly by international agencies and a tourist’s itinerary is incomplete without visiting Havelock.
Everyday about 6-8 boats including two catamarans ferry approximately 1500 tourists to the Island. With around 1000 beds, tourism industry is booming with local population also benefiting from the industry. Out of 45-odd resorts, 15 resorts belong to the local people, who overlooked the lure of the real estate sharks and explored the emerging tourism industry. Resorts and lodges have proliferated all over the place. Ancillary services like water adventure sports, launderette, ayurvedic massage parlours, eating joints have also started to emerge.
Till last year, the Island, touted to be the visage of the Islands bore a very forlorn look with narrow roads without footpath and piling garbage everywhere right from the Jetty. The initiative of the new Administrator Lt Gen A K Singh has started showing results. The roads have been widened with footpaths and a cycling track added. A small but significant step! Radhanagar beach too got a facelift, albeit for the President’s visit.
Despite all the focus and attention, Havelock, which is hardly 60 kms from the capital, has a list of sordid tales to narrate with infrastructural neglect written all over the place.
What the Island today craves is basic infrastructure for the industry to thrive. Once it’s done, the government does not have to do much. The market forces and the inherent urge to climb up the social ladder would ensure the rest.
Of late, disasters have been knocking on the doors with unimaginable frequency. The recent fire incident should be an eye-opener for the Administration. In this case, the telecom network, it seems was also one of the culprits.
“Unfortunately, the emergency fire number 101 was down on that fateful day, due to satellite link failure,” said V Raju, Chief General Manager, BSNL.
The villagers as well as resort owners rues erratic land line and prolonged non attendance of fault repair.
When asked about the erratic phone and internet services in Havelock, he said that things are going to improve very soon. “We have already doubled the bandwidth from 8 MBPS to 16 MBPS prior to President’s visit,” said the CGM. “There were issues with the DG sets too, which we have all replaced,” he added. For the President's visit, a separate optic fibre cable was laid to Dolphin Resort from the Exchange at Havelock Jetty.
“The resort owners can also go for V-SAT connections, which can give them excellent net connectivity,” V Raju said. It is learnt that around six resorts use their own V-SAT Connections.
There are about 185 landline connections in Havelock. The existing exchange has issues and needs to be upgraded, and the satellite link has its own demerits too. “The permanent solution is undersea cable, for which it is learnt that the EFC was held on 11 Feb 2014,” he said.
"Almost all resorts rely on online booking, but they can't access their own websites from Havelock, as there is no net connectivity. ”We have supplied EDC machines to all resorts, but no transactions get completed due to poor phone connectivity," says Suraj Kumar, Manager, SBI, Havelock.  In this age, an Island like Havelock, where on a given time, there are more foreign tourists than any other place in Andamans, the Island remains disconnected from the world. "There is a satellite internet cafe, where one has to shelve Rs 300/- per hour to access internet," said Suraj Kumar.
When through social media, tourists posts their photos and adventures online for their near and dear ones to see, Havelock remains an exception, disconnected, so close, yet, so far!