Gogoi thrust on education

Guwahati, Nov. 27: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today underscored the need to provide more thrust to tea and minority pockets where the number of out-of-school children is maximum.
He made the observations while chairing the first governing body meeting of Rashtriya Madyamik Siksha Abhijan and the fifth governing body meeting of Sarba Siksha Abhijan, sources said.
Gogoi, however, lauded the efforts of the Sarba Siksha Abhijan for reducing the number of out-of-school children from 13.4 lakh in 2002-03 to 1.99 lakh in 2008-09. It is expected that the number would further go down to 98,667 in the current year. Jorhat, Golaghat and Lakhimpur are the three districts that do not have out-of-school children.
Gogoi stressed the need to create more classrooms to accommodate the increasing number of schoolchildren at the elementary level, saying there was a requirement of another 20,000 classrooms.
The chief minister also underlined the need to provide drinking water, toilet and common room in schools. He asked the officials of the literacy campaign to hold teachers’ training programmes in summer vacations to ensure smooth functioning of classes and also directed them to take stringent action against unwilling teachers.
“Capacity building and empowerment of teachers through in-service training is a prerequisite for quality education and no one can shirk this responsibility at the expense of the education of children,” the source quoting the chief minister said.
Mission director Avinash Joshi asked for the release of the state’s share of free textbooks worth Rs 66.24 crore and urged the finance department to release the sanctioned funds of Rs 21.97 crore awarded under the 12th Finance Commission for the purpose.

Assam to build rhino database

Conservation efforts based on Masai Mara National Park in Kenya
Guwahati, Nov. 28 : Taking a cue from Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park, the Assam forest department has decided to prepare the janamkundali (database) of every rhino found in the state’s national parks for a better understanding of the prized animal.
It would be a Herculean task as Assam has the largest population of one-horned rhinos in the world — Kaziranga National Park alone has a rhino population of more than 2,000.
However, experts said such a database on African rhinos had turned out to be a boon for conservation efforts in Kenya.
The project to prepare a complete database on each and every rhino will be first implemented at Orang Rajiv Gandhi National Park, the smallest rhino habitat in the state with a population of 65.
“Apart from providing better security cover, it will help in proper management and conservation of the rhinos,” the director of the park, Sushil Daila, told this correspondent today.
Daila, along with forest officials from Manas National Park and Kaziranga, had attended a conference sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Nepal a couple of days ago regarding implementation of the project.
The database will include each and every detail of a rhino vis-à-vis date of birth, body structure, behaviour and its area of movement, among others.
The Geographical Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) will be used to monitor the rhinos at the parks on a day-to-day basis.
Daila said in the case of existing rhinos, the date of birth would be assumed plus/minus four years.
He said having the janamkundalis of the rhinos would improve the health of the park.
“With the help of such a database, we will know exactly when the park will be saturated with rhino population,” he added.
Citing an example, he said a female rhino normally gave birth after an interval of two to three years, starting from the age of 10. Any variation in this cycle would indicate that something abnormal.
“Such changes could indicate, for instance, that there was a shortage of male rhinos. In such cases, we will have to think of translocating the females to other parks. The entire database would help us to know the rhinos better and boost our conservation efforts,” he said.
The database will also help protect the rhinos from the evil eyes of poachers since tabs would be kept on each rhino as a matter of routine.
“Each and every rhino will be monitored on a daily basis and if a certain rhino is found missing from a certain location where it generally grazes, a search can be launched immediately. All I can say is that poachers will not find it easy to kill a rhino after the database is prepared,” Daila added.

ULFA Admits To Have Set Up Bases In China

Two senior United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders have admitted to the police interrogators that the outlawed outfit has set up bases in China.

This is the first time the ULFA, which is fighting to separate Assam from India, has accepted setting up bases in China.
ULFA ‘foreign secretary’ Sasha Choudhury and ‘finance secretary’ Chitraban Hazarika, now in police custody since November 6, told interrogators that apart from Bangladesh they have bases in China and other foreign nations.

"Crores of rupees have been extorted from (Assam) and transferred to (ULFA) leaders in Bangladesh, China and other countries where they have established hideouts," the Special Operations Unit (SOU) of Assam Police quoted the two leaders as saying.
The interrogation testimony was submitted to the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in Guwahati on Tuesday.

"Several foreign agencies and NGOs provided logistic assistance to the ULFA leaders in foreign countries. They are trying to muster support from China, Bangladesh and other foreign countries for ULFA," the report quoted the arrested men as saying.
According to the officials, the two ULFA leaders were taken into custody by the Border Security Force (BSF) near Gokul Nagar in Tripura on November 5 while trying to creep into India. The two of them, who are based in Dhaka, denied this account.

There have been reports in a section of the media that the two were arrested in Bangladesh and handed them over to the Indian authorities on November 2.

The two men also disclosed that ULFA was planning to acquire a large shipment of arms and explosives from Pakistan and China for ‘use against the Government of India’, according to the interrogation report.

The ULFA is known to have close ties with the Pakistani intelligence. It is also known to have bases in Bangladesh where its top leaders have lived for a long time.

ADB approves loan worth $ 200 million for Assam government

Considering the past performance of Assam government in implementing power sector reforms, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved loan worth $200 million for the ‘Power Sector Enhancement Investment programme' in Assam.

Government sources said that the approved amount would be used to partly fund the state's $764 million power sector investment plan by 2014.

The funds would help in improvement of transmission and distribution infrastructure and reduce system losses. A distribution franchise plan, using a public-private partnership model, would be expanded into double consumer coverage.

The Assam CM had recently said that though the reforms had aided the power sector, there was still much to be done.

Pradyut Bordoloi, power minister of Assam said, "For the past 30 years or so, there has been no investment in the power sector. It was with loans from ADB and that too, with 90 per cent as grant, that our government could make major investment in the sector"

He also pointed out that the peak hour power demand in Guwahati had gone up from 80 MW in 2004 to 205 MW now. The peak hour demand in Assam is estimated to increase to 1700 MW by 2014.

The funds are expected to benefit around 1 million households, businesses, hospitals, schools etc. this loan from ADB is expected to be released in three tranches of $60.3 million, $89.7million and $50 million. The interest rate would be based on LIBOR (London Inter Bank Offer Rate)

Bravery at bullet’s end

Headmaster takes on Naga rebels
Silchar, Nov. 21 : Shot three times and bleeding profusely, 50-year-old Som Bahadur Chettry’s last act was what he had taught his students all throughout his career as a teacher — to stand up against injustice.

The headmaster of Birbhadra High School saved the lives of his family members, and perhaps even his neighbours, when he snatched an AK-56 from a militant’s hands even after being shot, forcing the three assailants to flee from the Upper Daghetar village in North Cachar Hills in the wee hours today.

Chettry, who took bullets in his chest and arms, was rushed to the civil hospital in Haflong, a few kilometres away, but succumbed to his injuries shortly after.

He is survived by his widow, two sons and a daughter.

A police source said a three-member group of suspected National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) rebels barged into Chettry’s house after midnight and demanded Rs 15,000 as “tax” to the outfit.
The headmaster’s family members, who were confined to another room, overheard a heated argument as Chettry said he would not be able to pay such a large sum.

“On being threatened, Chettry offered Rs 260 which was all he had with him at the time,” the police official said.

The militants then assaulted him.

One of the militants lost his temper and opened fire from the AK-56 rifle he was carrying, hitting Chettry on the chest and arms.

Even as he was falling, Chettry grabbed one end of the rifle and snatched it from the militant.

“The militants panicked when they suddenly found themselves unarmed. The AK-56 rifle was the only weapon they had. Chettry shouted for help, attracting the attention of his neighbours. Sensing that they could be in trouble, the trio fled. The villagers rushed Chettry to Haflong but he died just after being brought in,” the police official added.

The incident brought back memories of the Kashmiri girl Rukhsana, who had snatched an AK-47 from a Laskar commander who had entered her home and shot him dead in September this year. Rukhsana was appointed a Special Police Officer earlier this month by the state government as a reward for her exemplary courage.

A senior district administration official said Chettry’s family would be given Rs 3 lakh as part of the Assam government’s policy to pay this amount to any civilian killed in a militant attack.

“However, any decision on rewarding him posthumously for his act of courage will have to be taken at Dispur. We will definitely recommend his name to the government for an award. He can be a role model for others in the state, especially youngsters,” the official added.

A police source said the NSCN (I-M) has become active in the area of late after the Jewel Gorlosa faction of the Dima Halam Daogah laid down arms and the “Naga outfit moved in to fill in the vacuum”.

A manhunt has been launched in search of the rebels. Security was tightened in and around the village.
which has a mixed population of Dimasas, Nepalis and Nagas.      

Assam boy’s tryst with Olympic star

Shubham Roy Choudhury (left) with two other students during his trip to the UK
For Shubham Roy Choudhury, a Class IX student of Kendriya Vidyalaya Khanapara in Guwahati, it was a moment to savour.
He was among 48 students from 13 countries and one of the two students selected from India who recently got the chance to meet UK Olympic gold medal-winning athlete Denise Lewis in Cardiff, UK.
Shubham was among those who attended the UK School Games from September 3 to 6 as part of the International Inspiration programme. This is a key strand of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to engage and inspire the youth of the world through sport.
The 48-strong group of young leaders was specially selected to attend the 2009 Games in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea.
The UK School Games, which is managed by the Youth Sport Trust, is a multi-sport event for elite young athletes of school age and includes opening and closing ceremonies and an athletes’ village to replicate the environment of a major sporting event, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
This year’s event featured 1,600 athletes competing across 10 sporting events: track cycling, athletics, badminton, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, judo, swimming, table tennis and volleyball, with disability events in athletics, swimming and table tennis.
“I think the whole programme was fantastic. We learnt about different sports, how to organise an important national event and most valuably, individual development through sport and interact with young people from the UK as well as young leaders across the world,” said Shubham.
Denise Lewis, who met the young leaders at the Games in her role as an ambassador for the International Inspiration programme, said, “I am delighted that we are able to offer these young leaders the opportunity to volunteer at the UK School Games through International Inspiration”.
Guess who went shopping at the Cinnamora Sunday haat or weekly bazaar this Sunday? None other than Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi who returned to the place where he used to go marketing every week when he was young and not so famous. With wife Dolly in tow, Gogoi was a picture of the typical Assamese middle-class shopper as he haggled over the prices of vegetables before buying them. Though there were security personnel, he ensured that they stayed away as he went about shopping.
The Cinnamora weekly market, located on the outskirts of Jorhat town, is a popular Sunday shopping destination for people of not only the upper Assam town but also from nearby places. Gogoi's hometown, Titabor, is around 12km from the market.
A close aide of Gogoi quoted the chief minister as saying that he used to cycle to the market every Sunday from his Jorhat residence when he had more time to spare. “Coming from a rural background, he absolutely loves marketing in such rural ambience,” he added. Besides vegetables, Gogoi bought eggs and bananas from an aged shopkeeper whom the chief minister knows since long. “They chatted for a long time. Gogoi Sir was almost nostalgic,” the aide said.
The Dalai Lama made sure that he would subtly drive home the truth about a lot of things close to his heart during the last leg of his weeklong visit to Arunachal Pradesh on November 14.
One was clearly the development of the Himalayan state to which he had escaped in 1959.
Acknowledging the warm welcome bestowed upon him by the people of the state, the Dalai Lama, during his special discourse to an invited and enlightened group in the state capital, subtly observed, “I am touched by the love and trust of the people of Arunachal. This is a young state ... still developing. But you will need a lot of effort for development. Both spiritual and material development should go hand in hand.”
Though he moved on to other issues, those in the know could not agree more with the Dalai Lama. The state needs largescale development.
A visit to Itanagar or frontier areas like Tawang underlines the desperate need for development.
“The state capital, for instance, has nothing to offer. It is even smaller than some towns in Assam. It is very dull. Even the road leading to the state capital is in bad shape, not a good advertisement for luring investors and tourists,” said a resident, hoping that the new government under Dorjee Khandu, a devout follower of the Dalai Lama, would pay heed to the spiritual leader’s views on development.

Bibliophiles protest Assam move to kill reading habit

Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s fact. Angry bibliophiles demonstrated this in the Assam capital on Monday.

Decades ago, novelist Ray Bradbury envisaged a robotic, subservient society kept away from books that could help them think. In his fiction Fahrenheit 451, books are for burning and rebellious readers are given a date with a killer mechanical dog.

A couple of police dogs did keep watch on some 500 book lovers and publishers who protested the Tarun Gogoi government’s "bid to kill the reading habit". But they let their handlers in khaki raise the temperature instead.

Resentment among bibliophiles grew after the Kamrup (Metropolitan) district authorities cited security reasons to shift two major annual book fairs out of the city. The Judges’ Field, in the heart of the city, was the traditional venue for both the Guwahati Grantha Mela and the Northeast Book Fair.

Five years ago, the government made Judges’ Field out of bounds for the public, reserving it only for Republic Day and Independence Day functions. Consequently, the book fairs were shifted to the Sonaram School Field and Engineering Institute Field within a 5 km radius of Judges’ Field.

“These two venues are not so conveniently located, but they were at least accessible for bibliophiles,” Giripada Deva Choudhury, president of All Assam Book Publishers and Sellers Association, told Hindustan Times. “But the venue on the city outskirts where the government wants the book fairs to be shifted has no infrastructure and no connectivity.”

According to protest organizer Kamal Kumar Medhi, the government’s anti-bibliophile order was illogical. He said: “If books are a security threat, how come Meena Bazaars, theatres and religious congregations held in the city venues aren’t?”

Consumer rights activist Deven Dutta felt the government was wielding security as excuse to quietly allow a moneyed clique take Judges’ Field over for an elite club. “Luxury for the influential apparently matters more than the simple pleasure of reading for the masses,” he said.

The government’s whimsical decision, felt retired Gauhati University professor Hiren Gohain, was reminiscent of Bradbury’s fictional work. “What the authorities have conveyed is their intention of killing the reading habit, so that youngsters do not grow up into a thinking lot that asks uncomfortable questions.”

Kamrup (Metropolitan) Deputy Commissioner Prateek Hajela, who was handed a memorandum by the protestors, said the government would weigh the bibliophiles’ demand. “The earlier order stays as of now,” he added.

Newly elected Assam MLAs sworn in

Guwahati: The two newly elected Congress MLAs from South Salamara and Dhekiajuli seats were today sworn in.

Wajed Ali Choudhury from South Salmara and Bhimananda Tanti from Dhekiajuli were administered the oath by Speaker Tanka Bahadur Rai.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, his cabinet members and other Congress MLAs were present on the occasion while opposition MLAs of the AGP and BJP were conspicuous by their absence, assembly sources said.

The Congress had wrested South Salmara from the AUDF and Dhekiajuli from the AGP in the recently concluded by-elections.

Choudhury defeated Abdul Rehman Ajmal, son of AUDF president and sitting MLA Badruddin Ajmal, while Tanti defeated Shiv Charan Tanti of AGP.