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Quota protest awaits Pranab

Pranab Mukherjee attends the 48th annual convocation of the Indian Statistical Institute on Friday. At the event, he said the country needed competent statisticians and institutions teaching the subject should strive to upgrade the standard of education in the field. Mukherjee had been the chairperson of the institutions for eight years till 2012. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Jan. 10: An agitation demanding government job quotas for Andaman natives has intensified ahead of a visit by Pranab Mukherjee tomorrow.

The protesters, mostly unemployed locals not covered under existing reservations for tribals, are on a hunger strike at venues and routes in Port Blair the President is scheduled to take during his trip till Monday.

They are demanding 100 per cent reservation for locals in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Old-timers said the demonstrations were possibly the first not based on caste or tribal identities that defined earlier quota protests in the Union territory.

The youths have rejected appeals from the authorities, including lieutenant governor A.K. Singh, to end their protests despite promises that the Centre was “seriously considering ways to address their concerns”.

Michael Raj, general secretary of the Unemployed Youths and Students United that is spearheading the agitation, alleged that Andaman chief secretary Anand Prakash “was non-committal on our demand” and was “impolite” when a delegation met him yesterday.

“We are not asking for caste-based reservations. We want preference given to local educated youths whose parents built the islands’ infrastructure with their sweat and blood,” Raj said in Port Blair today.

Chief secretary Prakash, speaking as the protests gathered pace, said the quota was being “seriously looked into”.

The trouble was sparked by a recent advertisement for recruitment of around 1,500 teachers, without reservations.

Rakesh Bali, secretary in the department of information and culture, claimed that enough suitable candidates were not available locally.

“We have scanned the applications and found 98 per cent are from locals,” Bali said over phone.

In the teachers’ jobs, he said efforts were on to get government permission to relax recruitment rules to accommodate locals. “But for that, there is a due process required to be undertaken.” He suspected an attempt by the demonstrators to “get publicity” ahead of the President’s visit.

Most government employees in the islands are from other states, with the authorities saying the region’s low literacy and backwardness mean that not many are educated enough to get the jobs.

The protesters do not seem convinced, though, and have sought the Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s support for a bandh to be called soon.

The President will reach Port Blair tomorrow morning. On Sunday, he will visit Havelock Island, the largest in the archipelago. On Monday, Mukherjee will travel to Car Nicobar, the northernmost tip of the Nicobar Islands and one of the worst hit in the 2004 tsunami.

The President will leave the islands on Monday evening.