Vs. Union of India & Ors  Insc 601 (16 May 2007)
C.K. Thakker & Altamas Kabir
O R D E R CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2681 OF 2007 (Arising out of S.L.P.(c) No.
4716/2006) ALTAMAS KABIR, J.
2. The magnitude of the problem created by the Tsunami which hit the Andaman
and Nicobar Islands on 26th December, 2004, and the disaster left in its
aftermath, is difficult to imagine and its effects continue to subsist and
haunt the islanders even today.
3. The Special Leave Petition filed against the judgment and order passed by
the Division Bench of the Circuit Bench of the Calcutta High Court at Port
Blair on 16th January, 2006, in Writ Petition No. 205 of 2005 recounts the
various problems that were being faced by the Islanders in the wake of the Tsunami
and the steps that could be taken to mitigate their sufferings.
4. Since it was not possible to conclude the hearing of the appeal itself,
we heard the parties on the question of grant of interim relief till such time
as the appeal could be finally heard and disposed of.
5. Appearing in support of the appeal, Mr. Colin Gonsalves urged that on
account of the Tsunami which hit the islands, extensive damage had been caused
to the shelters and livelihood of the islanders and in particular those inhabiting
the Nicobar group of islands. According to him, some of the major problems
included scarcity of potable drinking water, lack of medical facilities for
treatment of diseases which had broken out after the Tsunami, lack of food and
shelter and destruction of the means of livelihood of the inhabitants of the
islands whose main occupation was fishing and agriculture. Mr. Gonsalves urged
that there was no dearth of funds for carrying out the work of rehabilitation,
but the same were not being utilized in a proper manner. He urged that although
there were about 2000 applications pending before the permanent Lok Adalat at
Port Blair, not more than 100 of such applications had been disposed of. He
urged that since sessions of the Lok Adalats were confined to Port Blair, many
of the affected people were unable to approach the Lok Adalat for necessary
compensation having regard to the geographical lay out of the islands. Mr. Gonsalves
emphasized the fact that inter island transport was scarce and the time taken to
come from the Nicobar chain of islands to Port Blair took about a week of
travel time. He urged that in order to provide proper relief to the persons
actually affected by the Tsunami, it was incumbent that Lok Adalats be held on
those islands which had been severely affected by the Tsunami.
6. According to Mr. Gonsalves, the next acute problem was housing and that
the design of the shelters which were to be provided by way of rehabilitation
was entirely unsuitable for the islands where the salinity in the atmosphere
was extremely high. From reports prepared by a team named "Integrated
Design", a part of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and
Habitat International Coalition, Mr.
Gonsalves pointed out that steel, iron and tin and other materials such as
ceramic tiles were intended to be brought from the mainland to be used in the
construction of the houses to be provided as part of the rehabilitation programme.
He urged that such a design was entirely unsuitable for the islands where
the percentage of salinity was extremely high.
He urged that the steel work under the ground level would come directly in
contact with saline moisture while those above ground would soon be corroded
and would after some time damage the structures and reduce them to environmental
7. Mr. Gonsalves urged that there was sufficient timber available for
construction of traditional shelters suitable for the islands by the islanders
themselves on account of the large number of trees which had been uprooted
during the Tsunami. This would not only reduce the costs but make the
rehabilitation process more meaningful and of lasting benefit to the persons
affected by the Tsunami without destroying the ecology and environment of the
islands. However, in the structures which had already been constructed
directions should be given to complete the flooring as the monsoons were almost
8. Furthermore, the cost of labour which would otherwise be paid to contractors,
would be available to the islanders themselves. Mr. Gonsalves also urged that
the maintenance of the structures proposed to be constructed would be extremely
high and would be beyond the capacity of those for whom they were meant, making
the entire scheme an exercise in futility.
9. Mr. Gonsalves then submitted that although most of the fishermen have
lost their boats in the Tsunami, the same have not all been replaced and even
those which have been replaced are unsuitable for fishing being made of fibre
Gonsalves submitted that fishermen of the islands were used to their
traditional boats which were suitable for the kind of fishing engaged in by
them. Apart from their practical value to the fishermen, such boats called
"hoodies" were made out of the trunk of the Paduak tree and were not
required to be registered under the law involving payment of taxes and other
charges, whereas the said rules were applicable to fibre glass boats. Connected
with the aforesaid problem, is also the problem of absence of cold storages.
Mr. Gonsalves urged that the two cold storages which had been installed at Campbell
Bay and at Car Nicobar had been destroyed by the Tsunami and unless they were
replaced, the fisher folk would not have any means of preserving their catch.
10. Mr. Gonsalves then referred to the destruction of agricultural lands by
intrusion of saline water which had made it impossible for cultivation. To cure
the salinity and make those lands which could be reclaimed suitable once again
for cultivation would take between six to ten years.
According to Mr. Gonsalves, about 10,000 hectares of agricultural land which
was used for paddy cultivation lies submerged under sea water even till today.
Out of this amount of land, it appears that about 4500 hectares are not
reclaimable for paddy cultivation and may only be fit for coconut plantation.
11. It was submitted that it is these persons, who had a claim to be
compensated and their matters were pending before the Lok Adalats of which a
small number is said to have been decided.
12. The next problem which according to Mr. Gonsalves required immediate
consideration was the employment guarantee which had been given by the
Administration to provide a job for one member of the Tsunami affected
According to Mr. Gonsalves, this scheme was based on the decision to employ
local people in the construction process, but although the tribals are willing
to construct their own houses in the traditional manner, contracts were being
given to contractors from the mainland who bring in their own labour and
materials thereby depriving the local inhabitants of the benefits of the
13. The next three problems referred to by Mr. Gonsalves in respect of which
immediate action was required to be taken are perhaps the most important of all
the problems. They relate to lack of drinking water, health facilities and
shortage of food. With regard to the shortage of drinking water, it was
suggested that since the monsoon was around the corner, appropriate directions
could be given to the local administration to arrange for preservation of the
rain water by means of rain water harvesting and construction of ponds, where
the rain water could be collected and used. As far as the lack of health
facilities was concerned, it was submitted that Campbell Bay, which has a
population of about 6000 people, has only one male Doctor. There is no Lady
Doctor to treat women patients and when the only doctor available goes on leave
there is no replacement. It was suggested that the Administration should take
immediate steps to arrange for more Doctors who if necessary could be
air-lifted to the different islands in emergent situations. It was also
suggested that serious attempts should be made to provide a Lady Doctor at Campbell
Bay for the same purpose.
14. According to Mr. Gonsalves, there was urgent need to continue to provide
dry rations to the Tsunami-affected people.
Mr. Gonsalves submitted that although dry rations had been provided to Tunami-
affected families which had been identified, such supply was for a time bound
period within which time such families had not been able to rehabilitate
themselves. It was submitted that it was necessary to continue to provide dry
rations as was being done to the Tsunami-affected families, till such time as
the affected families were able to support themselves.
15. In conclusion, Mr. Gonsalves submitted that ordinarily the families in
question were being provided with two cylinders of gas since replacement of
empty cylinders take a long time in the islands. He submitted that currently
only one cylinder is being supplied causing the families to remain without gas
for long periods. He urged that the system of providing two cylinders should be
16. Appearing on behalf of the Lt. Governor of the Islands and the Local
Administration, Mr. T.S. Doabia submitted that steps had been taken by the
Administration on war footing to provide relief to those who had been
devastated by the Tsunami. He urged that having regard to the geographical
placing of the Islands the process of rehabilitation have taken considerable
time, but the Administration did not lack a sense of urgency in rehabilitating
the Tsunami-affected families. Mr.
Doabia submitted that there were certain things which were beyond the
control of the authorities, such as the placing of more doctors and a Lady
Doctor at Campbell Bay, but earnest efforts were being made to address the
17. Regarding the nature of houses being provided for rehabilitation, Mr. Doabia
submitted that the design had been approved by experts, both local and central,
belonging to the Public Works Department and also the representatives of the
islanders themselves who were of the view that the same would prove to be
better than the traditional houses of the islanders which were mainly made of
wood. Mr. Doabia, however, submitted that the matter could be re-examined in
respect of the houses which are yet to be built, but as far as those which had
been fully constructed, the same could not be abandoned but would have to be
utilized. Regarding completion of the flooring of the houses already
constructed Mr. Doabia assured the Court that instructions would be given to
the local administration to complete the same as early as possible.
18. As far as the problem of replacement of damaged boats are concerned, Mr.
Doabia submitted that many of the traditional boats had been replaced by fibre
glass boats at the option of the islanders themselves, but in the case of boats
which are yet to be replaced a further option could be taken from the affected
fishermen. According to Mr. Doabia, the fishermen have already been provided
with nets to enable them to commence fishing, which was their livelihood.
19. On the question of supply of drinking water, Mr. Doabia pointed out that
in the islands there were only a few rivers which could not be relied upon for
supply of fresh water. On the other hand, the people of the islands depended
mainly on wells and ground water harvesting. According to him the local
administration had undertaken a programme to clean out and recharge the wells which
had been affected by the Tsunami.
However, the local administration was willing to abide by any instructions
that may be given in this regard to make potable drinking water available to
the Tsunami-affected families.
With regard to the continuance of dry rations, Mr. Doabia submitted that by
virtue of the interim order passed in this matter, the supply of dry rations
was being continued, but some of the families were no longer in need of such
rations. In this regard also Mr. Doabia submitted that the local administration
would have no hesitation to continue to provide such relief in terms of the
interim order passed by this Court.
20. The submissions made on behalf of the appellant and the Local Government
indicate that although the work of rehabilitation of the Tsunami victims has
been taken up in all earnest, there is still a good deal which is required to
be done to ameliorate the misery of the victims.
21. Each of the problems elaborated by Mr. Gonsalves needs to be dealt with
to enable the victims of the Tsunami families to cope with the disaster. The
monsoons are due at any time to add to the misery of those who were rendered
homeless by the Tsunami. Spread of diseases is a serious threat as also the
spectrum of hunger.
22. In these circumstances we feel that the following interim directions may
be given till the appeal itself can be taken up for hearing on wider issues, namely
:- (i) The Local Administration under the guidance of the Lt. Governor shall
take immediate steps to arrange for rain water harvesting and construction of
cemented tanks for capturing rain water during the monsoons for later use by
the inhabitants of the different islands. In addition, immediate steps should
also be taken to clean out the existing wells which had been polluted by the
Tsunami and to recharge the same, so that the monsoonal rains can be fully
utilized. If necessary, fresh wells may also be dug to augment the existing
supply of water.
(ii) The dry rations being supplied to the Tsunami affected families be continued
till the month of October 2007 or until the appeal is finally disposed of,
whichever is earlier. While distributing the free rations the local
administration may after holding an enquiry discontinue such supply to those
families which were no longer in need of such help.
The Administration may also consider, providing two cylinders of cooking gas
in place of one cylinder as is being currently supplied.
(iii) The fishermen who are still to receive replacement for the loss of
their fishing boats should be provided with such replacement as quickly as
possible after obtaining fresh options from them as to the type of boat which
they would like to have.
(iv) The Local Administration should arrange for the setting up of the
cold-storages at Campbell Bay and Car Nicobar.
(v) Rethinking should be undertaken with regard to the design of the
shelters to be provided to the victims of the Tsunami upon considering the
climatic conditions in the Islands. The possibility of construction of
houses/huts in the traditional manner and design, using climate-friendly
material, such as timber, should be explored.
(vi) The Local Administration should seriously consider the placement of
more doctors, including a lady doctor in Campbell Bay and Car Nicobar, whose
services could also be utilized in the other inhabited Islands where there are
no medical facilities.
(vii) The State Legal Services Authority of the Islands in collaboration
with the High Court Legal Services Authority of the Circuit Bench of the
Calcutta High Court at Port Blair may consider the possibility of holding Lok Adalats
in Tsunami affected Islands, both in the Andaman chain of Islands, such as
Havelock, Neil, Mayabunder, Diglipur and in the Nicobar chain such as Campbell
Bay, Kamorta, Teressa, Katchal, Hut Bay and Car Nicobar Islands to dispose of
the cases which are pending in respect of compensation and for disposing of
fresh claims, if any, in that regard.
(viii) In respect of persons whose agricultural lands remain submerged with
sea water and are yet to receive compensation, the Local Administration may
consider providing a job for one member of the family in keeping with the
assurances given earlier.
Let the appeal be listed for final hearing in the second week of August,
2007 on a non-miscellaneous day.