Lakshadweep Becomes the Only Union Territory Under Indian Jurisdiction Without Single Case of COVID-19, While Andaman & Nicobar Islands Heads for Disaster

Port Blair, July 8: As India overtook Russia and became the nation with the third most number of COVID-19 cases, Lakshadweep, the archipelago of 36 islands, seems to have cracked the code to tackle the virus, at least for now. The islands, the country’s smallest Union Territory with a population of about 64,000 and lying about 380 km off Kochi, has the rare distinction of becoming the only region under the Indian jurisdiction where not even a single case of COVID-19 has been reported till now, reported the New Indian Express a couple of days ago.

The national daily said, “The way Lakshadweep Islands resisted the pandemic -- more than five months after India reported its first coronavirus patient -- is a story of meticulous tracking and executing a well-planned routine to the last detail. T Kassim, deputy collector, Kavaratti, said more than 1,000 people had gone to the mainland for treatment purposes, and their return was planned in a well charted-out manner. For instance, only the natives of Lakshadweep were allowed to return while the administration closed the doors on outsiders such as tourists.

“Even for the residents, what we have done is strict quarantine for seven days at the government guest house in Kochi. After seven days, they will be tested for COVID. Only those testing negative will be allowed to board the ship (to the island),” said Kassim. On reaching Lakshadweep, the people will also be strictly monitored during the 14 days of home quarantine. “Since the population is small, we can manage this relatively easily,” he said.

Unfortunate it is that the Union Territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, which is cut off from mainland India by 1200 Kms has failed miserably when it comes to containing COVID-19. 70 plus positive cases and the number seems to be ever increasing. The only solace for the UT’s Administration led by the Lt. Governor and Chief Secretary as the head of the Secretariat is that no deaths have been reported.

Whether it is development or containment of pandemic, nothing can be successful if there is a one way approach, without taking into consideration the stakeholders of the place. The worst is that in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands there is no single person or authority to take the responsibility, while there are many who wait to show the rules, when pointed out.

With 30 plus COVID-19 cases in the second spell, Andaman & Nicobar Islands had done fairly well and had gone to the extent of declaring itself as corona free islands. Term is wise or unwise, the decision of the Andaman & Nicobar authorities to follow the MHA guidelines, forgetting that an island system is easy to manage if done sensibly, has created havoc. The islanders now have sleepless nights with no assurance that the person next is already affected. “We won’t be surprised of the number of COVID-19 positive cases cross the 100 mark in couple of days”, said a shopkeeper in Aberdeen Bazar not wanting his name to be disclosed. The reason quite but obvious, “I need to run my business and can’t afford to poke the administration and its authorities”, he said.

Question and you are quarantined. Question and you are arrested. Question and you are doomed. This is the present status of people in the A&N Islands.

Following the ‘management?’ of the A&N Administration, COVID-19 has already spread its wings in two of A&N Islands’ districts. The last and the third, populated by tribals are now worried.

Aslam Majid, the first Captain of Kamorta in the Central Nicobars in a communication said, “It has come to my knowledge that there has been no proper scanning of people arriving at the Nancowrie Jetty. Some people enter the islands without getting scanned for symptoms”, he said. Majid, as a tribal leader has appealed to the Assistant Commissioner, Nancowrie for his intervention. Earlier, the tribal leaders in the Nicobar District had demanded for mandatory quarantine of the officials who report back to duty in the islands, which speaks for itself.  In such a situation, it won’t be surprising if the last District remaining COVID-19 free gets infected.

Taking Responsibility:

Tourism: The Andaman & Nicobar Islands, known for its pristine beauty used to be a favorite destination for tourists from across the globe. Thousands of people, especially youths depended on tourism to earn their livelihood. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this industry is now dead thus badly affecting thousands involved along with their families. When it comes to taking credits, there is no dearth of officials in the Administration but when it comes to taking responsibility, there are none who wishes to discuss or even listen to the problems faced by the tourist facilitators. Is it not the responsibility of the A&N Administration led by the Lt. Governor to think about the future of Andaman Tourism and the thousands who are solely dependent on tourism?

Water Scarcity: A twenty minute supply of potable water to the citizens once in six days? Can such a thing be imagined in a place which is surrounded with sea and records an annual rainfall of more than 3000 mm? The worst being that the only referral hospital of A&N Islands is running scarce of water. Surgeries are being postponed for want of water in this hospital. In such a situation, one can imagine what the fate of the islanders will be like. Is there any authority, who is ready to take the responsibility for this? If not, who should be termed responsible for this disaster?

Telecom Connectivity: The Andaman & Nicobar Islands is one of the worst, when it comes to telecom connectivity. The Under Sea, Chennai Andaman & Nicobar Islands OFC project is ready to commence its service. Dates after dates are being announced and this thing is happening when people would want to depend on internet for most of their works, in the wake of the pandemic. Students are suffering, and the BSNL, the largest service provider is asking students to get up during odd hours to study? How irresponsible an act can this be?

You name it and you have it: There is no single sector remaining in the islands, which is functioning well under the present Administration. Be it be shipping, road transport, education, health among many others. Who is responsible for such a catastrophe?

It’s challenging times the world is undergoing through. But that does not mean, Andaman & Nicobar Islands are to be left under the mercy of officials who do not want to take responsibility. The example of Lakshadweep is right before us, being the only territory to remain COVID-19 free. What matters is the will to do it and the courage to take responsibility.

The time is now ripe for the public representatives to come forward unitedly, leaving all differences behind to fight for the rights of the islanders, as it is clear that the fate of the islands and the islanders are getting pushed in the dark. It can be hoped that the public representatives get this message, loud and clear.