THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS | ISSUE 30 | 20 APRIL 2012
LIES AND DAMN LIES
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.