Expectations and Accomplishments

By Zubair Ahmed

Lt Gen A K Singh completed one year as the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands on 8th July 2014. After resuming charge from Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh, who had stayed a little too much, the change was refreshing. The Islanders had all their expectations pinned on the new Lieutenant Governor. And he too sensed the pulse of the Islands and made a few changes in the rules of engagement with the elected Member of Parliament, PRIs and obviously with his own bureaucrats.

He interacted with everyone quite often and could easily connect with people at grass root level. He won their hearts and the acceptance level went up. But, they yearned for more and started expecting the long pending projects and schemes getting fructified through him, which were otherwise lying entangled for quite a long time in the intricate bureaucratic mesh. And, they were not asking for the moon as they could see a gleam of hope at the end of the tunnel.

However, it never looked or looks to be an easy task ahead. In the last eight months, if the callous and lethargic Administration was the biggest impediment and the push required was enormous, of late, a new challenge has cropped up.

After the whopping victory of NDA at Centre and comeback of Bishnu Pada Ray as the Member of Parliament, the Administration is literally facing the heat. There are visible differences in the priorities of the MP and the Administration. Or the MP is quite vocal about his right of way. If the prerogative of the Administration is inclusive growth, the Member of Parliament has got his axes to grind in the political arena. Lately, he has been very critical about utilization of funds especially in areas where he could not garner votes. And, he has also started to see misuse of fund in all such projects.

If the cliché during last five years was ‘there is no shortage of funds’, now even the MP is asking “where is the fund?” For the first time, the financial health of the Administration is discussed at street level, courtesy, the MP, which may be a good sign as far as transparency is concerned. But, it would be sad if it becomes an excuse for stalling projects.

If the Islands have to progress, the Administration as well as the Member of Parliament will have to work in tandem. There cannot be two lists of priorities for one territory. And, the Administrator has time and again shown the generosity to accommodate the demands of the Member of Parliament, but there seems no reciprocation from the other side, which is going to be a formidable challenge in the coming days.

As far as the achievements of Lt Gen A K Singh are concerned, foremost the Islands got an accessible and interactive Administrator open to suggestions from all quarters. A few major accomplishments in terms of infrastructure was raising of the height of Dhanikhari Dam which eventually happened and was commissioned in December 2013, improvement of 38 kms of rural roads, focused development in Havelock as a tourism destination, construction of fish landing jetties. Establishment of Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research and Training Institute was another major step. In education, setting up of a new degree college and massive recruitment drive of teachers were well appreciated.

Special focus was given to disaster management preparedness and initiatives for safety audit in the wake of the boat tragedy. In the health sector, setting up of MRI, Dialysis and radiology units were accomplished. Two resorts owned by the Admn were renovated and refurbished and eco-friendly facilities on beaches were put up. Apart from that, Air India flight between Port Blair and Car Nicobar will commence this month onwards, an additional helicopter was inducted into service and 37 new buses were acquired.

Though there was much hype and hoopla about tourism sector, a lot could not be achieved, and it reflects even in the tasks ahead for the next 100 days. There is no mention of any progress in the three major projects - CG Earth project at Long Island, Taj project at Havelock and Soma project at Neil Island. Has the Administration given up on all the three projects or is it going to drag eternally? And, its not exciting that nobody is talking about seaplane anymore. It's one area where the Islands was losing money, and in a way its a welcome step, whether those in the helm of affairs agree or not.

In the last one year, more than what the new Lieutenant Governor could achieve in terms of developmental projects, he set the ball rolling for many ambitious projects, which on completion would surely change the face of the Islands.

In shipping sector, acquisition of smaller ships and vessels are yet to get the deserved priority. It doesn’t even feature in the next 100 days target. More than the 2 x 1200 pax mainland-Island sector vessels, there is urgent need for improving connectivity in the foreshore and harbour sector. North and Middle Andaman District is still lacking sea connectivity due to shortage of vessels. If tourism and other sectors in Diglipur and Mayabunder have to develop, it’s vital that more vessels ply on a regular basis. Moreover, the harbour ferry service between Bambooflat and Chatham has hit roadblock due to lack of jetties and sufficient vehicle ferry vessels. It doesn’t seem to be in the scheme of things as of now.

What is forthcoming is more attractive and exciting than what has been achieved, only if all the forces concur on achieving it in a time bound manner.

Setting up of Medical College would be the most anticipated one. There are challenges as well as hurdles in setting up the medical college. The dispute over temporary location of the college may be just a minor setback, which can be resolved through consultation and dialogue. However, there are cynics who still think it as wishful thinking that the Islands could attract good and qualified faculties, thus solving the long pending problem of specialists and super specialists. The engineering college is still struggling to get good faculties and managed by guest lecturers and a few of them on contract. Even the Shipping Dept couldn’t find a Marine Engineer and the only corporate entity; ANIIDCO could not get a CFO. How lucrative and sustainable can be the package that would attract experts and specialists to these far-flung Islands?

The Undersea Optical Fibre Cable Project is now a long term project which could take more than three years. But, it’s once again on track after it was derailed and took a complete u-turn. It is learnt that the DPR will be prepared by DOT and placed before Telecom Commission.  The capital expenditure of the project which might cost Rs 1500 crores will be met by Universal Social Obligation fund and operating expenditure will be met by the UT Administration. Instead of a branch from the existing cable between Chennai and Singapore, the newly proposed project will be a cable directly laid from Chennai to Port Blair with a lifespan of 25 years. If this project sees the light of the day, it would be another feather on the cap of the incumbent Administrator, who despite knowing all the impediments went ahead and salvaged it. A delay of three years is no big deal as the Islanders are habituated to such way of life.

Housing project with special focus on EWS and LIG Housing would be another major step which is on agenda and could be a path-breaking achievement if it takes shape during the tenure of Lt Gen A K Singh.

The past one year was eventful. The Lieutenant Governor is now familiar with the land, people and the way of life here. He is also quite obviously familiar with the bureaucracy. Time and again, he has been issuing diktats for them to follow. The enthusiasm and vigour that the LG manifests is somewhere missing in the Administration. It was quite visible when issues were raised by the media and the theoretical replies were emanating from the secretaries. 

It is also palpable that there is lack of institutional memory in the Administration. Frequent reshuffle in the bureaucracy is taking toll on various projects and continuity is lost in the bargain. The Shipping and Tribal Secretary was caught unaware about a few proposals in Shipping sector as well as the alternate sea route to Baratang, for which the Supreme Court has already set a deadline of March 2015. Lack of coordination between departments is another area which decelerate projects, as in the case of  APWD and PBMC regarding water supply and distribution in municipal area, Revenue Dept and APWD in the matter of Commissariat Nallah Dam project.

There is optimism everywhere and it has to be seen how the Lieutenant Governor and team with the support of the Member of Parliament, PRIs and the Islanders in general takes the territory ahead in the coming days.