M A I N   N E W S

Beaches vanish in Campbell Bay
Sridhar K. Chari writes from the Andamans

Port Blair, January 1
A sober New Year’s Day in Port Blair saw the Integrated Relief Command (IRC) constituted by the Government of India take effect, with Lt-Gen B. S. Thakur, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, taking charge of the relief efforts as the Operational Head of the Command.

The C-in-C, who has also been designated its spokesperson, stated: “Now our efforts will be synergised and resources allocated in a more co-coordinated manner.”

The situation in the southern islands was improving, especially with well water sources being identified in Car Nicobar and other places, he said. Apart from evacuation of the injured and the dropping of food supplies, a key priority for the administration is the disposal of dead bodies. “We are trying to see if we can involve the local community members to do this as a community service, once the procedure for identification etc is completed,” he said.

On the situation in Campbell Bay, he said: “An indication of the devastation there is that all the beaches have vanished. The waters have come well inland. The place was known for its beautiful beaches.”

On reports that the people there had resorted to a violent agitation against government officials, he said: “The inland road has been disrupted at many places and so it was difficult to make headway with relief efforts. Some of the people there, with no food for several days, naturally showed agitation. But that was all that happened.”

The Chief of Army Staff, Gen N.C. Vij, who visited Car Nicobar islands today (but not Campbell Bay due to unfavourable weather conditions) said the villagers had organized themselves and “there was a ray of confidence and hope in their faces.”

About 120 bodies had been cremated there. He created a stir by stating first, “I have been told that there are more than 1000 dead there,” and later withdrawing it by stating “it is not that the bodies are lying around.” He did however stress that the process of cremating the dead has to gather momentum.

Lt-Gen Thakur, asked about this, stated: “Today we have got sniffer dogs, and that will help us locate the dead. Nothing is lying around.”

Chief Secretary V.V. Bhat, providing the latest “official figures” said the body count was 812; evacuated 5000; missing 5,400 and number in relief camps 12,000.

Though the C-in-C is the Vice-Chairman of the IRC and the Lt-Governor is the Chairman, as the Operational Head of the IRC the C-in-C is virtually in full charge of relief efforts, which have so far been widely perceived as poorly managed by the local administration. Lt-General Thakur today actually received his new posting as Vice-Chief of Army Staff, with the CINCAN post here going to Lt. Gen Aditya Singh. But CINCAN officials indicated that he will not be moving “until things stabilize here.”

Mediapersons have not been allowed into the southern islands since December 30, ostensibly not to hamper relief efforts, but presumably because of the cremations and burials going on, and the large number of dead bodies. The local administration had issued a fiat to that effect. Thakur said that the media would be taken there “when logistics permit.”

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