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Andaman ‘sex assault’ case: Parties point to absence of political structure, extent of powers with Chief Secy

With a Pradesh Council abolished since 1994, bureaucrats run the show on the islands; among those being probed in case is former Chief Secy

The official residence of the chief secretary in Port Blair where the women are suspected to have been taken. (Express photo by Ritu Sarin)

The ongoing probe against a former chief secretary and another senior bureaucrat of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands on allegations of sexual abuse has highlighted the absence of a political structure in the Union Territory, with powers entirely vested in officials.

Top politicians of the islands rued that with no Assembly, and with a Pradesh Council that had elected representatives abolished since 1994, even their advisory role remains curtailed, resulting in inordinate powers with the bureaucracy, especially the Chief Secretary.

As reported first in The Indian Express, a Special Investigation Team of the A&N Police is probing allegations of gangrape and sexual assault against former Chief Secretary Jitendra Narain, and Labour Commissioner R L Rishi on a complaint by a 21-year-old woman. As part of the investigation, police are looking at claims that over 20 women were allegedly taken to Narain’s residence in Port Blair during his year-long tenure, and some are said to have got jobs in lieu of sexual favours. Narain was transferred around three months ago, and has now been suspended.

The present MP from the A&N Islands (it has only one parliamentary seat), Kuldeep Rai Sharma of the Congress, highlights the logistical problems in governance of the archipelago, which comprises over 500 islands, only 36 of which are inhabited. “Here it is the bureaucrats led by the Chief Secretary who are the policymakers, and it is high time the Pradesh Council was brought back with full executive powers. It is only the local politicians who know the ground realities while the bureaucrats treat it as just another posting,” the MP said.

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The CPI(M) Secretary, A&N, D Ayyappan served as the Senior Private Secretary to Jitendra Narain for almost a year. In the beginning of 2022, he quit his government job to take up full-time party work. Calling charges against Narian symptomatic of the enormous clout bureaucrats wield, he says they run the show “in the absence of a democratic set-up”. “There is no forum where the people’s representatives can go and the officers continue to take all policy and financial decisions. Even the doors of the Raj Bhavan are shut to all.”

About Narain, the CPI(M) leader says: “He had an extremely autocratic style of functioning and would routinely harass his staff.”

Ayappan adds that when the Pradesh Council was abolished during Congress rule, with an amendment in the A&N Municipal Regulation, only the CPI(M) had criticised the move and even the BJP was silent. The CPI(M) has since been demanding the establishment of a Puducherry-model Assembly and Government in Port Blair.

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The BJP, which did not comment on the sexual assault charges against Narain till he was directed by the Calcutta High Court to appear before the SIT, has since issued a statement condemning the incident. Its senior leaders also say the Pradesh Council should be revived with executive powers.

BJP A&N president Ajoy Bairagi says people are struggling in the absence of a political structure. “There are over 200 government staffers, mostly senior, who took voluntary retirement during the tenure of Chief Secretary Jitendra Narain. Here, the final powers for all decision-making, from A to Z, rest with the Chief Secretary, and that is why such a serious situation has arisen.”

The BJP’s Bishnu Pada Ray, who has been three-time A&N MP (Vishal Jolly lost the 2019 elections to the Congress’s Kuldeep Rai Sharma) says that around two months before the transfer of Narain as Chief Secretary, he and Bairagi had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah about the “loot and plunder” in the remote territory.

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According to him, the Home Minister took action, and that one of the measures was Narain’s transfer.

First published on: 31-10-2022 at 09:32 IST
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