After attaining independence from the British colonial regime on 15th August 1947, the indigenous Government of India soon began constituting a well defined administrative structure for the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
The centre did provide for the Islands’ representation through a nominated Member of Parliament. Late Lachman Singh and then Lala Niranjan Lal were the members till 1967. Neither anything was expected of them nor did they contribute anything much significant.
Late K R Ganesh (standing third from right)
In 1967, late KR Ganesh, darling of the masses, was elected to the parliament with a thumping majority. People had very high hopes and expectations from him. But he was too preoccupied with his own ambitions. He did scale new heights in his career, first as a Deputy Minister and then as Minister of State in the Finance Ministry of the central government of India. He resigned as the emergency was lifted and contested as a candidate of Congress for Democracy, a Babu Jagjivan Ram outfit, and lost to Manoranjan Bhakta of Congress I. (See picture below)
Manoranjan Bhakta continues his marathon race till date but for a brief aberration during 1999-2004, when Bishnupada Ray of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) was elected as the Member of Parliament. Like KR Ganesh, he too pursues his personal agenda. He has well for himself. There is no reason to believe that he has a vision for the development of the Islands. At least, since 1977 he has never spelt it out.
There was a semblance of power to the people for a brief period from 1982 to 1994 with a 30 member Pradesh Parishad. It was quietly abolished for no apparent reason. It was a tactical move to scuttle any competition at the top. It was a congress monopoly those days and hence there was no voice of protest.
Economic DEVELOPMENT OF ISLANDS
Different people have different definitions of development. In A & N Islands, it is a central grant driven economy and hence, what one finds is – roads, bridges, buildings – too many of them, ships and harbours, schools and colleges, healthcare and all that goes with it. The quality of services rendered by these agencies is anybody’s guess.
Administration is the largest employer, the largest buyer and the largest construction agency. There is no industry. There were some plywood industries that packed off as a curb on tree felling was introduced. The economy revolves around traders and contractors who control the politics also. The money earned in the islands is invested in the mainland; consequently there is very little private effort to spur the economic activities.
CREATION OF DISTRICTS
Ostensibly to increase the pace of development, on August 01, 1974, the territory was divided into two districts by creating a new district of Nicobar comprising of all the islands in the Nicobar Group with its headquarters at Car Nicobar.
Similarly, a third district of North and Middle Andaman was created on August 18, 2006. But in spite of 33 years of its existence, the Nicobar district is a second grade entity. Apart from a deputy commissioner and a superintendent of police, there is nothing to distinguish it from other parts of the Islands.
The condition of North and Middle Andaman district is still worse. It rarely had a full time deputy commissioner for three months. Most of its brief existence, it shared its deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police with its big brother South Andaman district. It is a hoax played on the people of those flimsy districts. All the decision making powers are concentrated in the South Andaman district.
The administration for sometime past has been making noises in the national and international media about tourism as the mainstay of the Islands’ economy. It spends 2-3 crores of rupees on advertisement but is yet to evolve a transparent and practical tourism policy.
The other sunrise sector is touted to be fisheries and high value agriculture. But nobody in the administration has a clue how to go about it. Andaman Sea is the only sea in the world where fish die of old age whereas the administration spends millions on catching, prosecuting, feeding and transporting back the poachers from neighboring countries. About high value agriculture, the least said the better.
Till 1952, people entering A & N Islands were required to have an entry permit. But a free India could not restrict the free movement of its people. As a result, the population that stood at a mere 33,000 in 1951 leapfrogged to 3, 56,152 as per 2001 census. Unofficial estimates peg it at 5, 50,000.
Encroachment is the law in the territory. Anybody can encroach upon land anywhere he likes, be it revenue or forest of any description. People generally, are not stinking rich yet they manage. There is no grinding poverty per se. but all the poverty alleviation programs are implemented. Poor people from mainland flock to grab free land and the benefit of such programs. Politicians swell their vote bank and the bureaucrats look the other way.
Those 11,000 people who were left behind by SS Norilla on March 11, 1942 have been overwhelmed by the economic migrant. They have lost their identity. They don’t count in the scheme of things anymore.
THE KILLER TSUNAMI – 2004
On balance, things were not too bad if not very encouraging. Come December 26, 2004 and the entire equation changed. The devastating earthquake combined with the killer tsunami waves took heavy toll of lives and properties. Parts of the Islands were swallowed by the earthquake.
Thousands died and many more thousands simply disappeared from the face of the earth. The shock was too much, the pain too severe.
The tribal people of the Nicobar district had to suffer the most. Their world has changed forever. They are still living in temporary shelters. Life would not be the same again – not for the people of the Nicobar district.
The livelihood of old inhabitants is threatened in South Andaman. But nobody has any tears to spare for them. They don’t form the major vote bank anymore. They still live in a tunnel of despair waiting for the messiah who would deliver them.