“Andaman & Nicobar now on development track”
“For promoting tourism in Andaman, we have taken many steps. The first thing that we did in this regard was lowering the tariff ‘loot’ done by airlines. Earlier, one used to shell out Rs 24-25 thousand for coming to Andaman, even from Chenna, which is our entry gate, and the fare was Rs 15 thousand. So, we talked with central minister of the department concerned and got the fare lowered. Now, one has to shell out only Rs 8 thousand from Delhi and Rs 3 thousand from Chennai. This alone boosted our tourism sector and a rise of 38 per cent was registered,” said Professor Jagdish Mukhi, Hon’le Lt. Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands in an interview with Deepak Kumar Rath, Editor, Uday India. Excerpts:
First of all, tell us about the situation of Andaman & Nicobar before and after you took the stewardship of the islands.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands had been a neglected lot for several years, and only in recent three-four years, the scenario has started changing. When I took over, we expedited the process. Let me give you some information of different fields. The good point of that place is that medical and education facilities are free of cost. There is 87 per cent literacy rate. The per capita income of that place is more than the national per capita income. Per capita expenditure by the government is the highest in Andaman. People out there are secular in its truest meaning. Secularism today has got political connotation but if you have to witness what true secularism is then you have to visit Andaman. Inter-religious marriages are a very common sight in Andaman.
What is the religion ratio in Andaman?
Out of the population of 4.5 lakhs, there are 32 thousand Muslims and 60 thousand Christians and all others are Hindus. The population of Andaman consists 40 per cent of Bengalis, 40 per cent of South Indians and 20 per cent people are from all across the country. Despite this mixed population, everybody in Andaman reads, writes, understands and speaks Hindi.
You talked about medical facilities. What is their status?
See, the medical facilities, which Andaman has for its rural areas, are unmatchable in India. Primary health care centers are better than the specialized hospitals. You can find every medicine in these centers, all the branded ones. Practically, these primary health care centers are 15 bedded hospitals with 3 doctors providing the rural population with medi-care. We also have a super specialty hospital–G B Pant Hospital–which is a 500 hundred bedded hospital. But in this super specialty hospital, we don’t have a few of important departments like cardio. If one in Andaman gets a heart attack then one won’t survive as one can’t get any immediate relief and by the timeone reaches to any other place for treatment, one will die. So, after I took over, I decided that anyhow I will bring one cardio department in Andaman. We faced many difficulties at the start but at the last on June 1 this year, we will inaugurate the cardio department, where every treatment related to heart ailments will be available. Likewise, we had an orthopedic department there, but it was not capable of doing hip replacement or knee replacement, but now from June 1 onwards, these facilities will also be available for the people of Andaman. After six months which means in January next year
we will be starting two more departments, i.e. neurology and nephrology. Also, we had started a medical college here. So, we don’t have scarcity of doctors in Andaman.
What is the status of education in Andaman
Primary education system in Andaman is very good. When I came here, I immediately took notice of the education sector and started one college, a law college with five-year degree course. Now, we are trying to bring a central university here this year. So from 2014 onwards, we have given high importance to this sector. We have opened a general college in 2014, a medical college in 2015, a law college in 2016 and a central university in 2017.
What are you doing with regard to promotion of tourism in Andaman?
For promoting tourism in the area, we have taken many steps. The first thing which we did in this regard was lowering the tariff ‘loot’ done by airlines. Earlier one used to shell out Rs 24-25 thousand for coming to Andaman, even from Chennai, which is our entry gate, the fare was Rs 15 thousand. So, we talked with central minister of the department concerned and got the fare lowered. Now, one has to shell out only Rs 8 thousand from Delhi and Rs 3 thousand from Chennai. This alone boosted our tourism sector and a rise of 38 per cent was registered. This tariff loot was the reason behind people flocking to Thailand or Indonesia but now they will be more inclined to come to Andaman after this step. Furthermore, for attracting tourists we have taken many steps like sea walk. In this sea walk, we take people to seabed and leave them to walk amidst the beauty of the sea world. Now we are about to start a new project ‘submersible scooter’, for which necessary permission has been taken. In this ‘submersible scooter’, people will be driving a scooter 20 meter under the water. So, by putting these adventure sports in front, we are attracting tourists. Also, many resorts and hotels are coming up with various attractions for tourists.
What was done to combat social evils prevalent there?
We have started campaigns to stop some social evils prevalent in these islands. Last year, on 2nd October (Gandhi Jayanti), we banned the sell, storage and consumption of tobacco products. The logic behind this was that in 2015, there were 50 cases of oral cancer detected in the Andaman Islands and these tobacco products were the main reason behind this. In 2016, this number increased to 86, which is 75 per cent increase from the last count. The second step in this regard is related to consumption of alcohol. As our Constitution has put it that every state shall endure to lessen the consumption of liquor, we invited public reaction on this matter through many symposiums and the overwhelming response was to ban it. But I said I will not ban it rather regulate it. In this direction, the first step we have taken is the creation of Directorate of Prohibition, whose work is to advertise the ills related with consumption of liquor. As for saving the young from the ills of liquor, we have fixed the minimum age for drinking at 22 years, which was 18 earlier. Secondly, we have increased the rates of liquor to be at par with Chennai and Kolkata. Also, we have curtailed the timing of the bars’ functioning in the area. Earlier, they used to open from 11 in the morning to 11 in the night, which resulted in school-going children gravitating towards these bars. Now, we have fixed the timing from 4 in the evening to 10 in the night. Even after this, many young children would be seen loitering around these bars in the stipulated time. To stop this, we devised a new formula. We decided that no liquor vend, bar or wholesale will have a cash box. All the transaction will have to be done through cards (debit or credit). In this way, children are saved from this ill as generally they have the cash not the card. Also, we have declared religious days as dry days, which earlier were three days and are now 15 days.
What is the status of power sector in Andaman?
In Andaman, 92 per cent power generation is done by diesel, which means you are polluting an unpolluted area. The day I took oath, I had decided that by 31st December 2018, we will make every power generation a green one. It is a very difficult task, but with the help of Government of India, we got sanctioned a 100-megawatt solar plant. We have already signed an MoU with the Government of India and the company, which is also a government enterprise. For encouraging the green power concept, we have identified 52 government buildings, and on their rooftops, we are placing solar panels. Likewise, we are encouraging people to put solar panels on the rooftops of their houses, so that they can generate their own power. Along with this we are also encouraging gas-based electricity. For this we did an agreement with Petronet-LNG company and they are in process of starting the project.
What is your next target?
The next target is fisheries, because this is one department, where a lot has to be done. It has immense potential. As many would not know that around 33.33 per cent of Indian coastline belongs to Andaman& Nicobar. We have 604 islands, so naturally, we have the upper hand in this department.