The continuing investigation into charges of sexual assault against a former chief secretary and another top administrator of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands has brought to light the lack of a political system in the Union Territory, where all authority is held by bureaucrats.
Top politicians in the islands bemoaned the fact that, with no Assembly and a Pradesh Council without elected members since 1994, even their advising role is still limited, giving the bureaucracy—especially the Chief Secretary—excessive influence.
In response to a complaint from a 21-year-old woman, the A&N Police’s Special Investigation Team is looking into charges of gang rape and sexual assault against former Chief Secretary Jitendra Narain and Labour Commissioner R L Rishi. Police are probing into allegations that more than 20 women were reportedly brought to Narain’s Port Blair home during his one-year term, and some are believed to have received employment in exchange for sexual favours. Three months ago, Narain was moved, and he is currently on suspension.
Kuldeep Rai Sharma of the Congress, who is now the MP for the A&N Islands (which only have one parliamentary seat), draws attention to the administrative issues with managing the archipelago, which is made up of more than 500 islands, only 36 of which are inhabited. “In this country, the bureaucrats under the direction of the Chief Secretary decide the policies, hence it is past time to restore the Pradesh Council with complete executive authority. The officials treat it like just another assignment, while only the local politicians are aware of the actual situation, the MP claimed.
For about a year, Jitendra Narain’s senior private secretary was the CPI(M) Secretary, A&N, D Ayyappan. He left his government position at the start of 2022 in order to devote himself entirely to party activities. He claims that accusations against Narian are an example of the huge power that bureaucrats possess and that they control the situation “in the absence of a democratic set-up.” “There is no venue where the representatives of the public may attend, and the officials still make all financial and policy decisions. Even the Raj Bhavan’s doors remain closed to everyone.
The CPI(M) leader had this to say about Narain: “He had a very dictatorial manner of working and would often abuse his subordinates.”
Ayappan continues, “Only the CPI(M) had criticised the action and even the BJP remained mute when the Pradesh Council was dissolved during Congress control with a modification to the A&N Municipal Regulation.” Since then, the CPI(M) has pushed for the creation of a Puducherry-style assembly and government in Port Blair.
The BJP, which remained silent over the allegations of sexual assault against Narain until the Calcutta High Court ordered him to appear before the SIT, has recently released a statement denouncing the act. The Pradesh Council should be reinstated with executive authority, according to its top leaders.
Ajoy Bairagi, head of the BJP in A&N, claims that the lack of a political system is causing people to struggle. “Over 200 government employees, largely senior ones, retired voluntarily when Chief Secretary Jitendra Narain was in office. The Chief Secretary is in charge of making all final decisions in this case, from A to Z, which is why a dangerous issue has developed.
Bishnu Pada Ray of the BJP, who has served as an A&N MP three times (Vishal Jolly lost the 2019 elections to Kuldeep Rai Sharma of the Congress), claims that he and Bairagi met with Union Home Minister Amit Shah about the “loot and plunder” in the remote region about two months prior to Narain’s transfer to the position of Chief Secretary.
He said that the Home Minister took action and that Narain’s transfer was one among the actions.