The Aiyars visit Boat Clinics

Prominent editor, columnist and economist, Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, visited the upper Assam towns of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia on 27 & 28 December 2008 accompanied by his family. Mr. Aiyar is renowned for his writings in the publication - `The Economist’ and is the Consulting Editor of The Economic Times .It may be mentioned that the Times of India has recently released a collection of some of his best columns published over the last two decades as Escape from the Benevolent Zookeepers - the Best of Swaminomics.
The Aiyars have been intimately connected with C-NES - supporting the organizations efforts in providing sustained basic health services to the extremely poor,marginalized communities inhabiting the flood- prone islands of the Brahmaputra through the “Boat Clinic” Project. As many as five ships for this unique health programme have been funded by generous donations from them. The ships named Swaminathan, Shahnaz and Rustam have been serving Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Dhubri on Assam’s south western border with Bangladesh respectively. Shekhar and Pallavi will be commissioned before the next monsoons in Lakhimpur and Jorhat districts.
The Aiyars(Swaminathan, Shahnaz, Shekhar, Fransesca, and Rustam) arrived at the tea town of Dibrugarh on 27th December 2008 and drove straight to Maijan ghat where the “Shahnaz” was anchored together with “Akha,” the first boat clinic of its kind. The Shahnaz, is named after Mrs. Swaminathan.
The occasion was electrifying with the SB Shahnaz looking magnificent and decorated with banners and flowers draped over the boat’s railings to welcome the Aiyars. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Dibrugarh Mr Ashutosh Agnihotri came for the inaugural function, which was held in a tent on the banks of the river. The guests included some of C-NES’ strongest supporters over the years, who have been unstinting in their backing. C-NES teams from Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji as well as the new District Community Organizers for Jorhat, Lakhimpur and Barpeta/Morigaon participated along with doctors from these and existing districts as well as community workers.
Mr Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee of C-NES, and the person behind the concept and success of the boat clinic initiative, welcomed the Aiyars and thanked them for donating funds for building the boats. He said that the support from the Aiyars had created opportunities for health services to the unreached communities in three districts of Assam to be expanded to five. Mr Swaminathan Aiyar responded by saying that the boat clinic programme was a very good example which serves the needy and the poor people. He said that the test of a good idea or even a prototype was its upscaling to at least a million because only such a figure would indicate true outreach and impact. He described the boat support as “a birthday gift”.
Ms. Shahnaz Aiyar, who was visibly moved at the occasion, said she hoped programme would continue to provide service to the poor people in the river islands.
On 28 December, the Aiyars, Mr Hazarika and the C-NES team reached Guijan ghat of Tinsukia at 0900 hours to visit the SB Swaminathan and conduct a simple ceremony there. The boat was readied for the occasion with garlands of marigold flowers and the Aiyar family was welcomed with gamosas from the district health team as was Deputy Commissioner KK Dwivedy who highlighted the boat clinic’s success saying that it had treated over 10,000 persons in extremely isolated areas. “This is remarkable and an amazing effort,” he said, lauding the initiative – he later wrote his appreciation in the visitor’s book. He spoke of meeting villagers of these excluded islands, “some of whom even shed tears while saying that they have received injections and immunization for the first time in their lives”.  Mr Shekhar Aiyar said that he was honoured to be a part of such a great initiative.
The Aiyars then performed a small pooja and the boat then sailed to an island, Erasuti Garamjan, for a health camp. The team quickly put up a tent and patients started trickling from the village, about a kilometer distance. The Aiyars and the non-medical team visited the village and chatted with village residents on social and economic conditions. Over 70 patients were registered for Ante Natal Care, Routine Immunisations and general health checkups.
After lunch aboard, the participants sailed for one hour to view river dolphins (C-NES is running another successful programme that works on mobilization of river bank villages for the conservation of this highly endangered fresh water mammal.
After the boat anchored at Guijan ghat, the key organizers of the programs in the districts – the DCOs of Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Dibrugarh — Hiranya Deka, Dulu Buragohain and Amrit Kumar Bora expressed their appreciation to the Aiyars for their support and their visit. Mr. Swaminathan Aiyar said that the C-NES team should be appreciated for making Sanjoy Hazarika’s dream a reality.
The next day (December 29th), the Aiyars left for different destinations in Assam and Delhi.