Andaman Islands to get better healthcare, flight connectivity

New Delhi, May 24 (IANS) Acting on the recommendations of a parliamentary panel that criticised the government for its ‘indifference’ to the healthcare needs of people of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the union home ministry has asked the health ministry to examine if a super speciality hospital can be set up in the Bay of Bengal islands.

The ministry is also seeking better air connectivity for the islands and is in touch with the civil aviation ministry for subsidised air fares on the national carrier’s flights linking the islands to other parts of the country. The home ministry move comes after a parliamentary committee directed it to apprise the two ministries of the problems faced by 3,56,265 residents of the islands, including central government officials.

A senior home ministry official told IANS: ‘We have already forwarded the committee’s report to the ministries concerned and have asked them to examine the feasibility of implementing its recommendations.’

The ministry asked the health ministry to examine if a super speciality hospital could be set up, and approached the civil aviation ministry to improve air connectivity to the Islands and whether air fare on flights to and from the Islands could be subsidised.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, headed by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Rajya Sabha member M. Venkaiah Naidu, made the recommendations to the home ministry after the chief secretary of the Andaman Islands informed the panel about the lack of medical facilities.

‘It is a sad state of affairs that no super speciality treatment and services are available in the Islands and the people have to travel to Tamil Nadu or Kolkata for treatment for which expenditure is not reimbursed,’ observed the panel, in its report submitted to parliament April 27.

‘The committee does not understand why the central government has been indifferent to the woes of the people in general and its employees, particularly the pensioners who are living in the Islands,’ the committee said.

‘The committee recommends that the home ministry may take up this matter with the ministry of health and family welfare for appropriate decision at an early date. The committee recommends that the government should also formulate suitable medical insurance scheme for all the persons living in the Islands,’ it said.

While examining the Island’s connectivity to the mainland, the committee was told that ‘there is a shipping subsidy but no air subsidy. The administration provides 90 percent subsidy for ship journey for local people and 75 percent for other people. However, the ships were ageing.’

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told the committee that ‘not only was there no subsidy but the airlines were actually charging more than the normal fare’.

‘The committee was also given to understand that by paying less amount than the air fare for Port Blair, people can visit some cities in neighbouring Southeast Asia with attractive packages like free stay and sightseeing,’ noted the panel.

‘The committee is of the view that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a special place in our history of freedom struggle. It is a sort of pilgrimage for the countrymen where the Cellular Jail is located,’ said the committee.

‘Many of our legendary freedom fighters were lodged in Cellular Jail and served life sentence. Some of the freedom fighters went to the gallows also,’ it said.

The committee, therefore, recommended that ‘appropriate subsidy should be given on air fare to attract tourists to the Islands’.

‘Special packages for students could also be considered for making them understand and appreciate the sacrifices our freedom fighters made for our independence,’ the committee said.

The distance between Port Blair and Chennai by sea is over 1,000 km.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at rana.ajit@ians.in)

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