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AIR triggers exodus from Nicobar

By Sheela Bhatt in Car Nicobar
December 30, 2004 05:18 IST
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A live phone-in programme on All India Radio has created havoc with the relief operations on the devastated island of Nicobar.

The island is a reserved tribal area where non-tribals, except government servants, are not allowed to settle down without permission. Foreigners are strictly forbidden. More than 10 foreign correspondents have been refused permission to cover the devastation on the island.

On Wednesday around 2 pm, during a live phone-in programme, a Port Blair resident called AIR and passed on a two-minute message to his missing relatives in Nicobar in the local dialect.

In no time, residents of Malacca, Kinyuka, Kimous, Kakana, Chukchukiya and Arong villages began converging on the helipad on Nicobar island.

'Since the last three days, we had taken refuge in the jungles. We didn't get water or food. Once a day, officials visited us to provide khichdi, but that was insufficient," Felicity, a tribal woman sitting near the helipad, told

She came out of the jungle after listening to the message on radio, which she thought was an official announcement. But she was not alone; 300 people had come along with her.

Her family has lost its home, boat and fishing net. "Our village is finished. On radio today, the government has asked to us to reach Car Nicobar IAF station. I heard it myself," she said.

The caller had said, "All the Nicobaris should come out of the jungles and head for the Indian Air Force helipad. The administration with fly you to Port Blair where you will be provided food and shelter."

His two-minute message has created a severe logistical problem at Car Nicobar Air Force Station.

Lt Governor Ram Kapse pulled up the producer of the programme who defended himself saying he is not familiar with the local dialect and hence was unaware of what the caller was saying.

"Under no circumstances will all of them be brought to Port Blair. We can't handle so many refuges. Secondly, the IAF cannot handle the workload," the governor's senior assistant told

Nicobar island was one of the worst-affected by Sunday's earthquake and the tsunamis that followed. The geography of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which is spread over 1,000-odd kilometres is proving to be a major biggest stumbling block in relief operations.

Due to logistics problems, the administration is unable to supply food and drinking water in the villages of Nicobar, prompting its residents to opt for evacuation, which is another logistical problem.

The IAF is doing a heroic job in the absence of regular operations by civilian airlines. In the last three days, it evacuated around 4,000 people from Nicobar island.

It is proving to be a difficult, time consuming and extremely costly affair. Most officers of the A&N administration think it is a futile exercise.

The evacuees, who have been put up in camps in Port Blair, have no clue of what the near or distant future holds for them. They have lost their homes, livelihood and have now left their land behind.

"Most of the people whom we evacuated were flying for the first time in their lives," said an IAF official adding, "When things cool down, these tribal will not have the money to return to their villages in Nicobar. The ship fare alone will cost them over Rs 500."

The calamity continues.

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Sheela Bhatt in Car Nicobar