Brief Introduction:

“Plead Guilty and ensure Lesser Sentence” is the shortest possible meaning of Plea Bargaining. The Concept of Plea Bargaining in India is just three years old. The Concept was introduced in India by means of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2005. By this amendment, a new chapter that is Chapter XXI A has been introduced in the Cr.P.C.

History of Plea Bargaining:

Plea Bargaining fostered by the Indian Legislature is actually the sperm child of the West. The concept has been very much alive in the American System in the 19th century itself. Plea Bargaining is so common in the American System that every minute a case is disposed in the American Criminal Court by way of guilty plea. England, Wales, Australia and Victoria also recognizes plea bargaining. Every time we turn on to an American Cinema, we come across this concept.

Plea Bargaining: The Indian Version

Plea Bargaining can be defined as “Pre-Trial negotiations between the accused and the prosecution during which the accused agrees to plead guilty in exchange for certain concessions by the prosecution.”

The Supreme Court was very much against the concept of Plea Bargaining before its introduction. In State of Uttar Pradesh Vs Chandrika, the Supreme Court of India held that it is settled law that on the basis of Plea Bargaining court cannot dispose of the criminal cases. The court has to decide it on merits. If the accused confesses his guilt, even then appropriate sentence is required to be implemented. 

The Court further held in the same case that, mere acceptance or admission of the guilt should not be a ground for reduction of sentence, nor can the accused bargain with the court that as he is pleading guilty his sentence should be reduced.

Despite strict opposition by the Supreme Court, the Government found it comfortable to introduce this concept. Long list of pending cases before the Criminal courts was cited as the reason for the enactment of this provision. If a person accepts his guilt, then the time of the Prosecution is saved, which can be then properly utilized for proving more serious offences.

Plea Bargaining is applicable only in respect of those offences for which Punishment of Imprisonment is up to a period of 7 years. It does not apply where such offence affects the Socio-economic condition of the country or has been committed against women or committed against a child below the age of 14 years. 

The application for plea bargaining should be filed by the accused voluntarily before the court which is trying the offence. The complainant and the accused are then given time by the court to work out satisfactory disposition of the case. The court may reduce the sentence to 1/4th if the accused pleads guilty. There shall be no appeal in the case where judgment has been pronounced by the court on the basis of plea bargaining.

Drawbacks of Plea-Bargaining:

India is a country with lots of illiterate citizens who are unaware of their rights. There are people who don’t even know that they have a right to legal assistance when they stand before the court as an accused. The poor and illiterate citizens can be easily overpowered by the police and asked to plead guilty. This may convert the whole process of trial into “a drama”.  

The uneducated won’t even know that they have a far better chance of winning their case and be acquitted. Moreover, the officers in charge of the investigation may be tempted to enter into deals with the accused for monetary gains. If the plea bargaining application of the accused is rejected then the accused would find it very difficult to prove himself innocent.

The concept of Plea Bargaining has been introduced in India by seeing its success in America. The Law Makers in India have failed to take account of the fact that in America, Plea Bargaining was a practice even before it was introduced in the law. In India, the concept has been directly introduced as Law. The law makers even failed to notice the wide gap between the socio-economic conditions of U.S and India. The Government has also failed to update the people regarding this new amendment in the Criminal Law. The success or failure of this Concept in the Indian Context can only be judged when this baby concept becomes five or six years old.

* The author of this article is a LL.M Scholar from ‘Dr. Ambedkar Law College’, Puducherry-605 014. Xavier hails from Mayabunder in North Andaman. He is one of the few youth from the islands to take up Masters in Law. 

By Shaikh Azizur Rahman, Foreign Correspondent, THE NATIONAL
With additional reporting by Denis Giles, Editor, ANDAMAN CHRONICLE

Kolkata: Akhtar Hossain sat motionless on his hospital bed staring out at the sea, perhaps dwelling on how his dream to work in Malaysia had been shattered and wondering how he would now return home. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

As the doctor arrived at his bedside in the G B Pant hospital in Port Blair, capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, he regained his composure, but could not make sense of the questions he was being asked about his condition. “I do not understand,” he said.

Akhtar, an ethnic Rohingya from the south-eastern corner of Bangladesh, had been suffering from severe dehydration after drifting at sea for 14 days, without food and water for the 12, after being turned away from Thailand along with hundreds of other Rohingyas. He is now anxiously waiting to return to his village, Boroituli, in Bangladesh, where his parents, siblings and other relatives live.

“When he came here, with eight extremely dehydrated Rohingyas, Akhtar was half-dead and awfully traumatised. At night they sometimes screamed out. We kept food and water before them on the table, yet they shout out asking God for [food and water],” said a paramedic who was part of a team assigned to look after Akhtar.

The paramedic, who spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not permitted to speak to the media, said Akhtar and the seven Rohingyas were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, though the others had recovered and had been handed over to the Indian police.

“For the past two days Akhtar has been severely depressed and often breaks into tears, wanting to go back to his parents in Bangladesh,” the paramedic said.

More than 640 Rohingyas have landed on India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Indonesia’s Aceh Province over the past month.

They say they were intercepted by Thai marines as they approached Thailand en route to Malaysia, where they planned to look for work, and accuse Thai authorities of torture and destroying the engines on their boats before turning them out to sea without food or water.

Recounting his story yesterday, Akhtar said that last month he, his 19-year-old friend Farid and 410 other Rohingyas from Bangladesh and Myanmar piled on to four boats and set sail from the Bangladeshi coastal village of Cox’s Bazar, with a dream to reach Malaysia, via Thailand, to join the illegal migrant workforce there.

Akhtar said the group originally believed they had been intercepted by Myanmar forces and were being taken to a Myanmar island.

They were taken to an island where they were held for about a week and were beaten severely, before the soldiers broke their engines and towed them out to sea, leaving them for dead, Akhtar said.

“The soldiers packed our 100-seater boat with 412 people and left us in the middle of the sea with 100 kilograms of rice and 200 litres of drinking water. From the second day we had no food or water.

“We did not know where to go. The senior boatmen told us it was impossible for us to return to Bangladesh by just paddling the crippled boats.

“Hungry and thirsty people were crying loudly begging relief from Allah. Many were beating their chests and crying. It was frightening. I was also crying and praying to Allah to somehow guide us back home,” said Akhtar.

“On the fourth day no-one had the energy to paddle. Some people were shouting, ‘Allah you are most powerful, our creator, please help us return to our families, we are in the middle of sea and we cannot drive our boat’.

“The sun was beating down. Some fell asleep and did not wake up the next morning. We found their bodies had turned stiff. Some senior people said the dead should not be on board because their sight would demoralise others. I saw four bodies being dumped before my eyes within the first five days. One man sitting next to me died leaning against me. I had to drop his body into the water. It was horrifying.

“I was terribly thirsty and hungry. Like some others, I tried to drink sea water, but it was too salty and gave a squirmy feeling down the throat.

“I counted up to six days, then I lost track of day and night. Sometimes I woke up and found the number of people on boat was reducing.

About a week later, Akhtar said, the group sighted an island in the distance
“Someone shouted, ‘Allah, you have brought the land to us after 14 days. But you have already taken the lives of my brother and a hundred others’.

“People began jumping into the water and swimming towards the island. I was terribly hungry and thirsty and I had no energy. But still I began swimming with the others.

“Despite being a good swimmer, I had no strength to swim after some time. My muscles were dead. I just kept floating, as many did. Later in the day I was rescued [by Indian Coast Guard] from the water.”

One Rohingya man who was on Akhtar’s boat reached the Hut Bay Island by swimming 16km, possibly more, according to local police, before being spotted by local authorities who immediately alerted the Coastguard. They pulled another 102 people from the water.

While police found five bodies, they believe 309 of the original group of 412 perished in the sea, either while drifting on the boat or when trying to swim to the shore. Some believe sharks might have killed some of them.

Akhtar’s friend Farid was among the dead. “I had no idea that the journey to Malaysia could be so dangerous. I hope the Indian government will send me to Bangladesh soon. I shall work in Bangladesh now and never venture to go to Malaysia again,” Akhtar said.

“More than three-quarters of us died. Allah has kept me alive. It’s a miracle to me. I have to live the rest of my life as a good Muslim. Allah will definitely help me in Bangladesh.”


Los Angeles Times: January 05, 2005

The grimy 10-rupee bill is worth 25 cents. It has been folded several times so that it’s small enough to hide in the clenched fist of a 3-year-old girl.

Sitalakshmi won’t let go of it. For more than a week now, since the day of the killer waves, she has held the pittance tight in her tiny hand, as if her life depends on it.

The girl’s mother gave it to her on the morning of Dec. 26 to keep her from crying. It was the last time she would soothe her daughter that way. Now the greasy banknote has become the child’s hold on the way things used to be.

“She even sleeps with it,” said Sister Neeta George, one of the nuns who run the basement orphanage where Sitalakshmi lives in the Missionaries of Charity convent, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The waves that hammered India’s remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands killed the girl’s mother, father and three of her brothers.

Only she and her 14-year-old brother, Balamurugan Kannan, survived.

With the courage of a man, a boy not much taller than 4 feet and weighing less than 80 pounds swept his little sister up in his arms and ran hard for higher ground.

His mother and father and three older brothers couldn’t outrun the waves. Like most of those killed here in the Andaman archipelago, about 700 miles east of the Indian mainland, their bodies may never be found.

India’s government has confirmed that more than 800 people died in the islands, and 5,681 are still missing and presumed dead. Local residents say the death toll is much higher.

In several southern Asian countries devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, orphaned children are among the most traumatized. Many come from seaside fishing villages, where the waves killed not only their parents but members of their extended families.

So they must turn to neighbors, or even total strangers, for help, protection and psychological support. They can easily be victimized again. Recovery efforts are just beginning, and orphaned children are already targets for abuse, warns UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.

In recent days, UNICEF has confirmed at least one case of traffickers smuggling a child out of Aceh province on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra, the area hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

Indonesian authorities are investigating reports that traffickers have targeted dozens more children. A message transmitted to cellphone users in the region offered 300 Aceh orphans for sale, UNICEF says.

In an effort to prevent such trafficking, the Indonesian government has banned children under 16 from leaving Aceh without their parents.

On Monday, UNICEF appealed for $81 million in donations to help an estimated 1.5 million children affected by the Dec. 26 catastrophe, many of whom the U.N. says are orphans or children separated from their families.

Balamurugan and his family lived in a fishing village about 100 yards from the sea on the island of Katchal, a few hundred miles south of Port Blair. He was at a shop buying a bandage for his mother’s hand when the earthquake struck.

“I picked it up, and just as I was coming out of the shop, it started shaking violently,” Balamurugan recalled Tuesday. “I took shelter in a shop nearby. Everything was crumbling down around me. There was a crack in the ground, and I could see water coming out from the ground. I got very scared.”

When the ground was still again, the boy ran home. He saw his parents standing outside their house. Balamurugan shouted at his mother to stay outside while he went for his little sister, who, in the panic, had ended up at a neighbor’s house several hundred yards away.

The boy couldn’t find his sister at the first house. After he grabbed her from a second house and ran for home, the first tsunami wave struck, swamping the beach. Balamurugan barely had time to run for higher ground as the ocean swallowed the rest of his family.

He carried his sister for five hours as he climbed with other survivors to a camp near a rubber plantation. They were rescued by a government-owned passenger ship, the M.V. Sentinel, early on the afternoon of Dec. 28.

After a 28-hour voyage, the vessel delivered them on New Year’s Day to Port Blair, the islands’ main town. Balamurugan eats and sleeps here on tent canvas spread out on the front lawn of a boys’ high school.

More than 45 survivors from his island, where all but two villages were destroyed, live in the same schoolyard, sharing the same hard ground. Their only cover is a rainbow-colored canopy normally rented out to wedding parties.

Each day, he visits his sister at the convent, where she lives with other orphaned girls. She is lost without her brother and often wakes up at night calling for him.

On her worst night, the nuns sedated the girl with a few grains of a sleeping tablet.

“We gave it to her only once – otherwise it would affect her – just to get over the shock,” Sister Neeta said.

The nuns hope someone will adopt brother and sister, preferably an Indian family so they can grow up close to their roots. Also, Indian law and bureaucracy make it difficult for foreigners to adopt children.

“We usually keep children for three months and try for their adoption,” Sister Neeta added. “If they do not get adopted, then we take custody and educate them. After they grow up, we marry them off, if they’re girls, or buy them land if they are boys.”

Denis Giles is the Port Blair volunteer who spotted the two children on Katchal standing alone as a crowd of evacuees fled the island. He and his friends bought two dresses for Sitalakshmi, one with a ruffled pink top and red rosettes. Her brother got pants and T-shirts, one a bright yellow tourist souvenir of what was once a tropical paradise.

Brother and sister both got a bath and all the candies they wanted before Giles, 28, dropped them off at the convent, the place he trusted most.

Giles said Port Blair’s Catholic bishop assured him that the children would get a free education. When he recalled saying goodbye to Balamurugan the first night at the convent door, Giles choked up.

“While we were leaving, the boy started crying for the first time,” he said. “During the entire trip from Katchal to Port Blair he didn’t cry.

“Me and all my friends came and hugged him and said, ‘We will visit you whenever you want.’ ”

News Day, 17 April 2005

Thousands of tribal people died when the tsunami struck the Nicobar Islands last December. There remains no trace of their villages that once stood guarding the shoreline in the Bay of Bengal.

The surviving families cannot gather the courage to have a glimpse of the place where they had their homes. They have moved to relief camps in the higher lands, far, far away from the sea, where they never preferred to live. The heat is unbearable up there, as are the flies in the daylight and mosquitoes during the night.

Since they lost their coconut trees, canoes and pigs in the tsunami and, most important, their sets of tools, their lives have become miserable. The relief aid they are getting is not only proving to be useless, but it actually may threaten their way of life.

The first thing the Nicobarese need is tools, so they can begin to construct huts, dig canoes and make plantations. A set of tools is the most essential belonging of a Nicobari or, for that matter, for any indigenous community. But more than three months after the tsunami, they have received only 150 sets of tools for 2,000 surviving families, and these are of such poor quality that the tribals cannot use them.

Among the relief materials distributed in the Nicobars were "dhothi" for men and "sarees" for women (typical Indian dress made of one piece of cloth that drapes over the torso and legs). The Nicobarese haven't worn anything like this ever before and do not wish to. The men normally go bare-chested, and the women wear a blouse and a colorful, printed wraparound to cover below their waist. To the surprise of all the relief agencies, the Nicobarese have used these cloths to stitch mosquito nets.

The Indian government is constructing temporary shelters for the homeless tribals, who still are living in tents. It was announced that "seismic experts" in New Delhi have approved the shelters. Each has two rooms, a kitchen and an attached toilet. The roof and walls are made of galvanized iron sheets imported from India. But while government engineers measured the site for construction of the expert-approved houses in the open highlands, the Nicobarese were seen constructing their traditional huts inside the jungle, where it is shady, using the last of tools that survived the tsunami.

When I asked a Nicobari why he was busy constructing his hut, he replied, "Who would live in such houses? Let them construct it and do their duty, and we will do ours. Where shall we keep our pigs?"

The Nicobarese never live in closed houses with partitions. They prefer an open area to attend to nature's call rather than in a closed flush-out toilet. They have their huts on stilts, which not only are earthquake-resistant but also give them space to house their livestock.

All the while, in Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman and Nicobar island chain, hundreds of tribal members from Car Nicobar, evacuated after the tsunami, have a merry time. They are spending most of their relief money on booze. Bars and wine shops in Port Blair are flooded with Nicobarese. Indian Manufactured Foreign Liquor, IMFL as it is called, is scarce in their land, which India's government has declared a tribal reserve. They are fascinated by city life, and after such a long stay in the city, their eagerness to return to their land seems to be declining. Some are even looking for land in Port Blair so they can stay on.

To the list of all of the terrible damage done to the Nicobarese people in the tsunami, we can add this: On one hand, the tribals have been lost in a new world of the city dwellers, while on the other hand those who were lucky enough to stay back in their own land are at a loss to understand what is going on there.

The involvement of government and nongovernmental agencies cannot be avoided during natural calamities such as the tsunami. But did anyone consider what the tribals really need?

TIME, Jan. 09, 2005
--Reported by Aravind Adiga/ Kudathanai; Denis Giles/aboard the relief ship MV Sentinel; Robert Horn/ aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln; Carolina A. Miranda and Deirdre van Dyk/ New York; Alex Perry/ Port Blair; Eric Roston/ Washington; and Jason Tedjasukmana/ Banda Aceh
Yusniar still hears the roaring in her head, the waves thunderously loud. The sea that was supposed to be a mother, protecting, sustaining, became a fury, sweeping two of her children away.

Compared with some people, she was lucky. Yusniar, 50, was able to find them and bury them herself, before retreating to the hills where she can keep an eye on the ocean, keep it in its place, from her tent made of blue plastic sheets and Styrofoam fished out of the swamps. Neither she nor the 150 others camping with her near Banda Aceh, capital of the Indonesian province that suffered the worst destruction, are ready to come down. The relief workers haven't yet discovered them, like untold numbers of others. "The water took away everything," she says. "We're afraid the waves may come back and try to take the rest of us."

The most experienced soldiers in the modern wars against catastrophe call this the greatest challenge of their lifetime. The arrival of aid to the battered region offered the first promise of relief to the storm's survivors, but many questions remain: How quickly can $4 billion go toward saving 5 million people when the U.N. is warning that disease could kill as many as the tsunami did, a number now reaching upwards of 150,000? How do thousands of rescuers, from hundreds of agencies, from dozens of countries, speaking different languages, coordinate their efforts so that relief workers in need of antibiotics don't find that the truck they are unloading carries only biscuits and blankets? How do they resettle a port town when residents look at the ocean and see a grave, refuse to eat fish for fear it has fed on the lost? How do they calculate human nature in countries where government soldiers fight with rebels over who gets the credit for feeding people who are close to starving?

As if to rebalance some cosmic scale, another wave is washing over South Asia like none the world has ever seen. The worst disaster in memory has evoked the greatest outpouring of charity. "Just as we see the power of nature to destroy, we have seen the power of human compassion to build," said Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. The pledges coming in to the U.N. for tsunami relief already surpass all the relief money received in 2004 for the top 20 disasters combined. The politics of pity is never pure, so there was a kind of global competition in generosity, especially after the U.S. increased an early pledge of aid tenfold, to $350 million. Japan offered $500 million, Germany topped that with a $660 million pledge, and Australia weighed in with $810 million. Arab commentators engaged in some self-criticism, asking why Norwegians and Belgians offered so much more than Arabs to help Asia's suffering Muslims. During his visit to Indonesia, the hardest-hit country and the world's most populous Muslim nation, Secretary of State Colin Powell could not let pass an opportunity for self-congratulation. "I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action," he said.

But for all the strutting and spitting, the overwhelming response was one of mercy. The money came so fast it crashed the website of Catholic Relief Services. Save the Children was logging more than 10 times the normal volume of calls, so that everyone from the CEO to the custodians was recruited to man the phones. Some groups, like M??decins Sans Fronti??res (Doctors Without Borders, or MSF), actually announced that they had taken in all the money they could use for tsunami relief and began directing donors to their general disaster funds, because other places in the world still need help even if they don't make headlines. But the charity toward the tsunami victims was unrelenting. Kids in Michigan sold hot chocolate; in North Carolina they sold lemonade; students in an eighth-grade class in Wenatchee, Wash., voted unanimously to give their class-trip money, which they had been raising for more than a year, to the Red Cross. There was Sandra Bullock pledging $1 million, Willie Nelson scheduling a benefit concert, NBA players offering $1,000 for every point they scored during games played late last week, and Helen E. McKenna, 88, a widow in San Francisco, donating her whole month's Social Security check. "My family was saying I was getting too old to handle my own money and that I should get a financial adviser," she said. "But it's my money. I can do whatever I want with it."
The same technology that has made this the most intimate of modern horrors has vastly increased the size and speed of the response. Relief organizations that used to have to wait for the check to come in the mail were receiving 80% to 90% of their donations online and moving the money out into the field faster than ever before. A dollar donated in the U.S. to Action Against Hunger, for example, is wired from New York City to the headquarters in Paris, where it buys water tanks, pumps, pipes, testing kits or chlorine tablets. Those supplies are shipped to international staging grounds in Igualada, Spain, near Barcelona, flown to Colombo, Sri Lanka, then trucked to a place like Batticaloa, on the island's northeast coast. Time elapsed from donation to distribution: 48 hours.

Raising the money is just the beginning. Delivering the supplies to the people who need them turned out to be the greater challenge. That meant confronting a practical, political and cultural obstacle course that slowed down aid to the most desperate areas while everyone learned the shortcuts. In many places, the roads that were bad to begin with are gone now and the ports swallowed whole. With bulldozers scarce, elephants have been enlisted to help clear debris. When pilots try to fly into a small airport, they find that the maps are suddenly wrong because the landscape has been rubbed away. Precious hours were lost when the lone airstrip in Banda Aceh was closed after a 737 hit a water buffalo while trying to land. "We need to make small, damaged airstrips some of the busiest airports in the world," says the U.N.'s Jan Egeland. In some Sumatran villages, it was impossible to deliver any goods at all until the U.S. and the Australian military showed up with amphibious vehicles that could stage beach landings. Sari Galapo, a U.N. volunteer in Batticaloa, was worried about the people on an island no one had heard from since the bridge to the mainland was washed out, so she set off by canoe. "The boat was barely above the water level, and I didn't want to look at the water," Galapo says. When she arrived, she discovered that the local government official had lost most of his family to the tsunami, become depressed, poisoned himself, and was hospitalized. In the meantime, no aid had got through until Galapo sounded the alarm.
When the physical hurdles are conquered, the political ones remain. In India, where 10,000 died and 6,000 are missing, the government was determined to portray itself as an advanced nation that can manage its troubles and made a point of dispatching its own relief workers to aid other countries in the region. The government was especially sensitive about foreigners invading the Nicobar islands, where the military keeps a secret electronic-listening post. Sparsely populated and almost impossible to reach in normal times, the islands are home to some of the world's last Stone Age tribes--five groups, with populations of 30 to 250, of Pygmy Africans and Mongol hunter-gatherers who stalk wild pig in the rain forest with bows and arrows. They were believed to have been wiped out by the tsunami, until a relief helicopter attempting to assess the damage was fired on by tribesmen shooting poison arrows.

Across the Nicobars, the International Red Cross estimates a death toll of 30,000 out of a population of 50,000. Meghna Rajsekhar, 13, saw the ocean swallow her mother and father, and after floating at sea for two days on a wooden door, she washed up on a Car Nicobar beach that was swarming with snakes. Newspapers wrote of refugees in Great Nicobar fending off crocodiles as they trekked through the jungle in search of water. For Aisha Majid, the tribal leader of Nancowry, an island filled with the homeless, the government's actions make no sense. She asks, "When the government can help other countries, why are they letting us down?" Says fellow survivor Aslam Majid, 22, who went five days without water: "People aren't dying from the tsunami. They're dying of thirst and hunger."

Elsewhere, relief workers have found themselves caught up in civil wars that have been raging for years. In Sri Lanka, there were hopes for some kind of peace, however temporary, between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels who have waged a 21-year war for independence in the northern part of the country. Scores of displaced Tamil families taking refuge in a school in Kudathanai had gratefully accepted food and water brought by government soldiers. But when soldiers arrived with a specially cooked New Year's meal, refugees refused it on orders from a rebel. That night part of the school was set on fire. "We are stuck between the army on one side and the [Tigers] on the other side," says K. Jayakumar, 29, a fisherman. "Please tell them both that we deserve some peace after all we have been through."
In all the worst-hit areas, the most immediate enemy is infection. Thousands of people were essentially attacked by their own flimsy homes, sliced up and gashed by falling planks of wood, shards of glass and jagged pieces of corrugated tin. So many wounds went untreated or were badly treated in local clinics that gangrene and tetanus have set in; amputation is the most common operation in field hospitals.

Among the first international aid workers to reach ground zero on the Indonesian island of Sumatra were the doctors and nurses of MSF. When they arrived at the one functioning hospital in Sigli, on the east coast, there was only a single, volunteer surgeon on hand. "Our hospital was crippled," says Dr. Taufik Mahdi, director of the 35-bed unit. "Most of our doctors and nurses were too traumatized to work or left to look for loved ones missing after the tsunami." That first day the MSF team performed six operations, and it hasn't stopped since. "The minute we sew one up," says Dr. Claire Rieux, a general practitioner from Paris, "another gets wheeled in."

Spending a day at the hospital with the MSF team reveals the scope of the crisis. "Oh, man, this one is really bad," an Australian doctor shouts as he approaches the operating theater. He's holding up the arm of a man whose limb looks like a shank of lamb. The elbow is essentially gone, and the lower and upper arm is barely held together by a few sinewy strings of muscle and flesh. Though paint is peeling off the walls and a layer of grime covers many of the hospital's windows, Sigli's only hospital is fairly clean compared with many others in Indonesia's remote provinces. There are small victories. A young girl is wheeled in for surgery, her left foot severed at the heel. The doctors fear they may have to remove her leg at the calf to stop the infection from spreading, but after a massive cleaning and huge doses of antibiotics, her foot is reattached.

Fran??ois Gillet, MSF's logistics coordinator in Sigli, is desperately trying to find extra beds, plugs and lightbulbs, which no one seems to have. "It's the little things that often get overlooked and are hardest to find," he says. The group has relied on satellite phones for most of its communications, but even they have been less than reliable. "This is why we have to be as organized as possible," says Belgian Alexis Moens, the field coordinator. "You have to put up a structure that is strong enough on both the medical and logistical sides. Otherwise, things just won't work."

Other relief workers operate as a mobile triage unit, moving through the refugee camps that have sprouted across Sumatra's now barren landscape. Some 50,000 people are camped in local mosques and schools. Most of the refugees are still using rivers for washing their dishes and bathing--a recipe for cholera and typhoid. As the advance teams uncover unsanitary conditions in the camps, they report them to MSF water and sanitation units working in the area. "We work until midnight every day at the earliest, but we're always running behind," says Moens. "We just don't have the time or people to be everywhere."
In a crisis of this scale, some tasks require the kind of muscle only a superpower has. The U.S. Navy has 21 ships and 12,600 crew members working on rescue and relief operations in the waters off Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Seahawk helicopters--their blades filling the air with a fluttering rumble--sidle in and touch down on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln's 4 1/2-acre flight deck. Since sunrise on Jan. 1, the carrier's Seahawks have been flying from 13 to 17 missions a day. "We're going nonstop from dawn until sunset. Then the commanders meet, talk about what we've learned that day and map out what needs to be done tomorrow," says Captain David Lausman, the ship's executive officer.

The sailors and pilots are trying as best they can to coordinate with private groups to set up a smooth supply line. A host of aid organizations flies in supplies on U.S. C130 cargo planes to the tiny runway of the airport at Banda Aceh. Once unloaded, the planes must take off immediately to clear space for the next plane. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are landing on a converted football field a few hundred yards away, and the pilots are managing the transfer of supplies from the C130s to the helicopters. "It was like the Wild West down there when we first flew in," says Lieut. Dave Moffet, "but it's getting better." The helicopters head off for the villages, each one delivering 2,000 to 3,000 lbs. of food, medical supplies, communications equipment and even a few toys and some candy for the children. Along the way, their crews scour the countryside, looking for isolated hamlets that have yet to receive help and for displaced people straggling along roads. When they come across those who are sick or wounded, they ferry as many as possible to the field hospital. "We're seeing a lot of dehydration, diarrhea, lacerations and people missing limbs," says Kenny Rowe, a petty officer on a Seahawk. "We've got people with gangrene and other infections that could be fatal that haven't been treated for a week." Back at the airport, a few C-2 Greyhound transport planes load up with rice and carry it in. "Right now rice is gold to these people," says Rowe.

But like the doctors on the ground, the pilots encounter frustration. "We land in villages, and we can't understand what they're telling us," Moffet says. "People tell us there's a village 6 kilometers away that needs food, and then we go out looking for it and can't find it, and we have to go back two or three times looking for it." Desperate people rush the helicopters and risk being sliced by the blades. "We're lucky most of them are pretty short," he says with a wan smile. Now they try to get a translator off the choppers first to keep villagers back. "We try and fly different routes every day to find villages we're missing. We found one today because they had laid out an H in a field with white stones."
The Lincoln will eventually have to be relieved, perhaps by the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. But for now, no one is in a hurry to see this tour of duty end. "Frankly, I don't care how long we're here," Moffet says. "We're not going to leave these people hanging." Sailors on the Lincoln receive constant emails from buddies elsewhere offering to pitch in.

The true test will come when attention wanes and the world moves on to some other preoccupation. The people in this region will need help for some time to come--and not just food, water and medicine. "They've lost everything. You'd be surprised--they need little things we don't even think about in our daily lives," says Gail Neudorf, deputy director of emergency and humanitarian relief for CARE USA. "Things like soap, washing powder, buckets, bottles for water so you have a clean container to keep water in, cooking utensils, sleeping mats, clothing, blankets, diapers, sanitary pads, matches, candles, lanterns, cooking fuel. In time, we'll look at getting books for kids out there, school kits." Then the survivors will need another army of donors to piece together the lives they have lost.