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How to help people of A&N
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi |
January 04, 2005 10:39 IST
Last Updated: January 05, 2005 14:06 IST
Andaman and Nicobar Islands were closest to the epicentre of the December 26 earthquake. They bore the brunt of the quake and also the tsunamis that followed.
It took a couple of days for the rest of India to even realize the extent of the devastation in these remote islands. Their distance from the mainland, lack of political clout and immense strategic importance to the military in terms of their location have resulted in a low-profile for the islands.
It has taken a crisis for Indians to engage in the task of locating these islands and getting to know them and their people. And people across the country are keen to help the people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Before you go ahead, here is an introduction to the ground realities.
|Rebuilding of ruined infrastructure is the main task in Nicobar district. What the islands need: |
|1. ||Expertise and material to repair roads and jetties |
|2. ||Telecommunication equipment to establish STD/ISD links |
|3. ||Environment-friendly pre-fabricated homes |
|4. ||Expertise and material to rebuild cold storages on 13 islands of Nicobar district |
|5. ||Mobile desalination plants |
|6. ||Earthmovers and bulldozers to remove debris from coastal areas |
|All requests/offers to help will have to be routed through the civil administration. |
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a Union Territory, administered directly by the central government. It comprises 556 islands of which only 63 are inhabited. The total population is about 450,000 and is overwhelmingly tribal.
Most of the islands are nothing but lush green jungles with exotic variety of herbs, plants, trees, animals, birds, wild flowers (including 110 types of wild orchids) surrounded by sea-green waters, which is home to 179 types of corals, sea turtles, 1200 species of fish, 1000 species of marine life, in addition to dolphins and whales.
It comprises two districts (Andaman and Nicobar) and a Lt Governor heads the administration. Besides its annual budget, the islands get more than Rs 1,000 crore meant to be used exclusively for the welfare of tribals.
The islands have one representative in Parliament, one municipal council and one zila parishad. Seen in another context, a lot of money is vested in a few hands.
The capital, Port Blair, is in Andaman district where four people have died when tsunamis struck. Life is normal except for acute water scarcity and a deep fear of the sea.
The Nicobar group of islands lies of the south of the archipelago and was closer to the epicentre of the quake. Its district headquarters is Car Nicobar, which was devastated - roads destroyed, shops gutted, schools demolished and supply of essential items disrupted. The toll is believed to be over 4,000.
In Nicobar district, out of 28 islands, 13 are inhabited. Many people from West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have settled on these islands. Non-tribals or non-Nicobaris need permission to do so. The total population is around 50-70,000, including illegal migrants who have set up petty businesses.
The district consists of disjointed islands. The normal mode of transport for the common man is ships.
Passenger ships from Port Blair are available to reach different islands of Nicobar district. It takes 12-14 hours or more to reach any point in Nicobar and there is no daily service. The Shipping Corporation of India operates these ships though the services have been disrupted. At present, only Indian Navy and Coast Guards ships are ferrying people.
At most islands, jetties and boats have been damaged. Secondly, skilled boat operators are in short supply because many have been traumatized by the quake and tsunamis and are not yet ready to resume work. Though boats continue to ferry people between islands, traffic is not yet normal.
Daily air services connect Port Blair to Chennai and Kolkata. Passenger ships too sail from these places, and Visakapatnam, for Port Blair.
But private air services are not allowed to fly from Port Blair to Nicobar. Only the armed forces have this right. The Lt Governor uses two small aircraft of Pawan Hans, one of which was grounded after the recent devastation.
Members of non-governmental organisations will not find it easy to arrange for transport from Port Blair to any part of Nicobar district. You will have to depend on the military establishment and civil administration. Secondly, once the 'free emergency services' are discontinued, it will require a lot of funds too.
Do keep it in mind that foreign money or foreign NGOs are unlikely to be allowed in A&N. The place is almost like a military cantonment even if nobody says so.
Foreign nationals can stay in Andaman for 30 days with a special permit; all applicable rules are strictly implemented. They can't visit the Nicobar group of islands, which is a restricted area where one is not allowed to visit, settle or do business of any kind without special permission.
Photography of tribals is prohibited. Use of plastic bag is not allowed. Even Indians need a permit to visit Nicobar, which is given only in exceptional cases.
Thus helping the people of Nicobar in their hour of crisis becomes a tough assignment for any Indian, leave alone foreigners.
|Where to send relief material: |
|V V Bhat ||Punit Goel |
|Chief Secretary ||Relief Commissioner |
| ||Office of the Deputy Commissioner |
|Port Blair ||Port Blair |
|Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India ||Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India |
|Phone: 03192-233110 ||India |
|Important telephone numbers: (STD code- 03192) |
|Lt Governor Ram Kapse ||03192-233333 |
|Chief Secretary V V Bhat ||03192-233110 |
|Deputy Commissioner Gyanesh Bhandari ||03192-233089 |
|Development Commissioner Anshu Prakash ||03192-234880 |
Carrying out charity or relief work in A&N is quite unlike in any part of the mainland. The shadow of the administration is ever present and it is advisable to go along with the government machinery.
You simply cannot visit Katchal Island and distribute relief material. It will have to be routed through the supply lines established by the armed forces. In a best-case scenario, you may be able to route it through the local community or local churches.
The Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity has started operations and the Tata Group and Travel Corporation of India are considering making arrangements to provide relief. Around 40 NGOs from all over India have shown interest in providing relief material. Their proposals will be vetted within a week.
Since the tsunamis struck, the armed forces joint command has been hyperactive to ensure relief to the local population. There are more than 3,000 Nicobaris in relief camps in Port Blair and the military is ensuring that no one goes to bed hungry.
For those keen to help, it is best to send cash. Tents, water and food have been sent but not yet distributed. Tents are needed because construction of homes will take time and it rains heavily in the islands. The administration is aiming to complete as much work as possible before the monsoon begins.
On most islands drinking water is contaminated or supply pipelines have been broken. Most islands were conserving rain water, which has now been polluted.
Please contact Jet Airways or Indian Airlines, which have offered to fly relief material free of cost for the time being.
If you want to send cash, please route it through the Prime Minister's Relief Fund or Lt Governor's Relief Fund.
It appears like the panning of long-term relief measures is hampered by the strategic importance of these islands and political contingencies; the MP Manoranjan Bhakta is a Congressman while Lt Governor Ram Kapse was appointed by the previous National Democratic Alliance government.
An influential factor is the armed forces, which is being represented by the commander-in–chief on the islands Lt General B S Thakur.
It would help if people kept a vigil on the central government's relief efforts. Secondly, it is important to ensure that relief efforts are targetted at the tribals, who constitute the majority in A&N, and not the recent settlers and non-tribal migrants.
The recent settlers, mostly from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal, can return to their native states on the mainland but the tribals are natives of the islands and have nowhere else to go. Forget any other part of India, the tribals of Nicobar are unlikely to re-settle even in the Andamans.
Right now, their centuries-old relationship with the sea is disturbed. Only time can reduce the trauma and heal the scars.
Rebuilding of ruined infrastructure is the main task in Nicobar. What the islands need:
1) Expertise and material to repair roads and jetties
2) Telecommunication equipment to establish STD/ISD links
3) Environment-friendly pre-fabricated homes
4) Expertise and material to rebuild cold storages on 13 islands of Nicobar district
5) Mobile desalination plants
6) Earthmovers and bulldozers to remove debris from coastal areas
All these will have to be routed through the civil administration.
Where to send relief material:
V V Bhat
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Office of the Deputy Commissioner
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Important telephone numbers: (STD code– 03192)
Lt Governor Ram Kapse - 03192-233333
Chief Secretary- V V Bhat – 03192-233110
Deputy Commissioner Gyanesh Bhandari – 03192-233089
Development Commissioner Anshu Prakash - 03192-234880