Gogoi to quit if any minister involved in scam

Guwahati, Feb 23 : Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Friday said he would resign if any of his ministers was found involved in a multi-million rupees scam involving government funds, even as the opposition burnt his effigies and sought his resignation.

There is a political storm in Assam after the media picked up a story carried by The Week magazine alleging that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had named seven ministers and a former governor of involvement in a Rs.1,000-crore scam of swindling central funds.

The money was meant for the development of North Cachar Hills district. The scam reportedly took place between 2004 and 2009.

"The NIA never sought permission to interrogate the ministers and so report is absolutely false... I will resign if any of my ministers are involved," Gogoi told reporters.

"We would take legal action if The Week fails to prove the charges," he said.

The Assam government, in early 2009, sought a probe. New Delhi entrusted the NIA to investigate the alleged politician-militant-bureaucrat nexus in the North Cachar Hills.

The NIA has since filed a chargesheet against 14 people although no ministers were named.

"The North Cachar Hills district Autonomous Council was ruled by the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) and their alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the period for which the probe took place... So if at all there are any problems it is the ASDC-BJP who are responsible," Assam Health Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma said.

Sarma, who is also the state government spokesman, is among the seven ministers named in magazine that said that Gogoi had refused permission to the NIA to interrogate them.

The main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) burnt the effigy of the chief minister and demanded his resignation.

"A chief minister who tries to protect his ministers for swindling government funds has no right to stay in office," AGP leader Atul Bora said.

The AGP threatened to demonstrate in front of the Raj Bhawan Saturday as part of a state-wide protests.

Rockybul sues magazine

GUWAHATI, Feb 20 – Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain today filed a criminal defamation case against the editor of The Week for naming him as one of the beneficiaries of a Rs 1,000 crore financial scam in the NC Hills Autonomous Council, while, the other six ministers named in the report are also contemplating same kind of action.

State Government spokesman and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that he has already sent a legal notice to the weekly magazine and he would file a defamation case if the magazine fails to seek apology within 21 days. He said that the other Ministers named in the report are also contemplating action against the magazine.

Sarma made it clear that the Government’s stand on the issue is clear that the National Investigating Agency (NIA) did not name any Minister in the charge sheet nor the agency sought permission to grill any Minister. “There cannot be two reports, one filed in the court and another somewhere else. The Government will only go by the charge sheet,” he added.

Our Nagaon correspondent adds: The Forest Minister has filed a criminal case under Section 500, 501, 502, and 34 IPC, against managing editor of The Week Philips Mathew, chief editor TR Gopalakrishnan and writer Kanhaiya Velleri, and Jacob Mathew of the Malaya Manorama group for publishing a defamatory write-up on its February 7, 2010 issue.

In his statement before court, the minister observed that since his name was not in the charge-sheet of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), then on what authority the magazine questioned the NIA for excluding his name from the charge-sheet, and another question was how did the magazine obtain the NIA report. The case (no 546/2010) was filed in the Court of the SDJM, NS Baruah.

Dhruba Kumar Saikia and Alok Goswami represented Hussain.

Ravi Shankar arriving in State on Feb 17

GUWAHATI, Feb 13 – Spiritual leader and founder of Art of Living, Sri Ravi Shankar, will embark on a two-day visit to Assam from February 17.

Beginning his visit in Guwahati he will participate in a musical evening at the Nehru Stadium and on February 18 inaugurate a Kisan Mela at North Salmara which promotes organic farming, among others.

Preceding his visit, he spoke exclusively to The Assam Tribune in an email interview.

Asked about his message to the common person in a state that has witnessed violence for a long time, Sri Ravi Shankar said, “It is high time we realise that violence has not yielded any result. Assam, the state that was one of the foremost, has gone backwards. We have lost thousands of committed, dynamic Assamese youth in this violence. We should find alternative ways of peaceful demonstrations and democratic solutions.”

His message to the youth of North East India on how they could motivate themselves to overcome challenges was clear and unequivocal. He said, “I want them to know that the youth of the country are with them in the struggle for their identity,” and added, “While we have to honour regional and linguistic identities, we should never lose sight of our universality in the divine spirit.” Not too long ago, Mahatma Gandhi has shown the world that one can stand up against the most powerful empire of the world in a spiritual and non-violent manner and yet achieve goals.

On defining happiness and contentment at the individual and social levels, the spiritual leader is of the belief that happiness is not a concept to define and understand. “It is merely a state of mind and feeling. This is not only absence of misery, but a positive state of elevation”, he noted.

At the centre of an effort to popularise yoga and meditation across the country and abroad, he underlined their strengths in benefiting people from diverse backgrounds. “The many benefits of Yoga and meditation are not exclusively for a few people,” he said and pointed out that such knowledge was the property of humanity at large.

Art of Living is in the middle of a plantation drive in various parts of India, including Assam. When asked to comment on the importance the organization is giving to forest regeneration, he remarked, “It is said that the average person utilizes oxygen from 16 trees to survive his/her lifespan. As the population of the world grows, we need more trees for our very survival”.

Related to the environmental security of the region, his views on construction of mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh favoured a balanced approach. While there is a definite need for power and infrastructure to achieve progress, environmental concerns cannot be ignored. “We need to walk a middle path” he mentioned.

ONGC move on Assam Asset hailed

GUWAHATI, Feb 12 – The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have welcomed the announcement of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGCL) on its Assam Asset.

The ONGCL today said, in the form of news-paper advertisement, ‘it has been decided that there shall be no creation of subsidiary company for ONGC operations in the State of Assam’ by separating Assam Asset from ONGC. It also stated that the ‘ONGC Management continued to commit its total support in terms of resources, including manpower, finance, technical expertise etc’ to the Assam Asset.

The ONGCL, however, said in its advertisement that in a bid to improve productivity in Assam Asset through appropriate changes in the decision making process and a more focused approach with improved profes-sional support to local manage-ment, were under consider-ation. One of the options examin-ed was creating a wholly owned subsidiary of Assam Asset (like ONGC Videsh Limited).

It needs mention here that several organizations of the State have been resorting to agitation protesting the reported move the Union Petroleum Ministry to convert the ONGCL Assam Asset into a subsidiary company. They expressed the apprehension that this would pave the way for privatisation of the potential Assam Asset.

The Sivasagar district unit of the AASU launched a series of agitational programme including a 96-hour ONGC bandh in protest against the reported move. The AASU said in a statement here today that it would continue to keep a strict vigil on the functioning of the ONGCL and demanded that the ONGCL should concentrate more on increasing its Assam Asset production.

It has also postponed its proposed February 16 meeting on the issue, said the students’ body in its statement.

AGP general secretary Sarbananda Sonowal said in a statement here today that his party considers the announcement made by the ONGCL today as a positive development. This announcement has been viewed by the AGP as a step taken in the right direction honouring the sentiment of the people of Assam, Sonowal said.

The AGP recently gheraoed the ONGCL headquarters at Nazira in protest against the reported move. Sonowal said that the agitations launched by the AGP and other organizations like the AASU, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, All Assam Tai Ahom Students’ Union, CPI, BJP, Telpathar Sangram Samiti, ONGCL Employees’ Union, Small and Heavy Vehicle Owners’ Association, among others, have made the Government of India relent.

Sonowal also thanked the above organizations, State’s intellecturals and media for their bold stand on the issue. He also demanded that the ONGCL should put its best effort to enhance Assam Asset’s crude and natural gas production for overall industrial growth of Assam

Besides, he said, the ONGCL should also taken up public welfare programmes to meet the hopes and aspirations of the people of the State.

Women not to work in planters’ homes

Dibrugarh, Feb. 12 : One man’s alleged sin has snatched work from scores of women in Lepetkata Tea Estate in Assam.

A day after the estate plunged into turmoil over the alleged sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy, a casual worker, by a garden manager, the labourers’ welfare forum decided it was too risky to allow women workers into managers’ homes. The forum today adopted a resolution that no woman labourer would work in managers’ bungalows from now on.

The 52-year-old accused manager fled from the garden after the controversy, forcing a daylong lockdown in the garden yesterday.

The organisations spearheading the agitation under the banner of the Brihattar Lepetkata-Barbaruah Sramik Surakshaya Samity, the local units of the Asom Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) and the All-Assam Tea Tribes’ Students Association (ATTSA), however, decided not to call a strike.

The functioning of the McLeod Russel India Limited-owned garden almost returned to normal today with assistant manager Gunajit Deka taking over.

Secretary of the Surakshaya Samity Sunil Robidas said the fact that the manager had fled proved that he was guilty. “It is very unfortunate that the manager got involved in sexual harassment of a teenage worker and what is more frustrating is the fact that he chose to flee from the scene,” Robidas said.

“We cannot allow our female workers to risk their dignity for a day’s wage,” ATTSA member Ashok Urang said.

It is a common practice in the gardens to employ women workers as domestic help when they are off duty.

The workers have set a deadline of 15 days for the Dibrugarh district administration and the police to arrest the absconding manager.

The police, however, said the manager may have fled the state and a case had been registered at Barbaruah police station. “We are looking for him and a search has been conducted at some possible places. An alert has also been sounded across various police stations,” said Khurshid Ali, the circle inspector of Moran.

The ACMS general secretary-in-charge and former state labour minister Dileswar Tanti urged the management to sort out the issue at the earliest.

Assam prof's relatives accuse hospital of negligence

Bangalore, Feb 12 Relatives of a professor in Assam University, who died while being treated at a leading hospital here, today alleged that the death had occurred due to negligence by staff, a charge denied by hospital authorities.

According to a complaint filed by the patient's relatives with the Ulsoor Police station, Robert Tiba, a Phd Scholar and a resident of Manipur, met with an accident on January 25 and was admitted to the hospital, where he was operated upon on January 27.

After gaining consciousness, he was "repeatedly administered some drugs", both orally and through injection without testing its effect on the patient, the complaint said, adding, the patient immediately reacted and slipped into a coma.

When the nurse on duty was informed, she said it was just a reaction to a drug that was administered.

Police open fire at timber smugglers in Assam

Nagaon: Police opened fire on a group of smugglers attempting to carry timber out of the forest in Assam's Nagaon district today, police said.

The smugglers had cut timber from Garajan forest under Samaguri police station and was trying to escape with it in a truck.

The police opened fire but the smugglers managed to escape by abandoning the vehicle, which has been seized, the police added.

'Direct funding to BTC to be considered by 13th FC'

Kokrajhar (Assam), Feb 12 Direct funding of Central allocations to the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) would be considered by the 13th Finance Commission, Union Home secretary G K Pillai said today.

The Finance Commission would also discuss the modalities for allocation of the funds directly to the BTC, Pillai told reporters here.

Withdrawal of the pending cases against the disbanded Bodoland Liberation Tiger (BLT) cadres and granting of scheduled tribe status to the Bodos in Assam's Karbi Anglong district would also be taken up in the meeting, the Union Home secretary indicated.

After reviewing the Bodo Accord here last night, he said, tripartite talks would be held soon to meet the requirements of the unresolved clauses of the memorandum of understanding in 2003 between the Centre and the disbanded militant BLT headed by Mohilary.

Assam Jatiya Bidyalaya fellowship to AC Dutta

GUWAHATI, Feb 12 – The Assam Jatiya Bidyalay Educational and Socio-Economic Trust has decided to grant Assam Jatiya Bidyalay fellowship to noted botanist Anand Chandra Dutta for the year 2010.

The fellowship would be formally given to Dutta on February 22 at the school premises.

Dutta, as per the fellowship, would be given a stipend of Rs 4,000 per month for a period of two years. Vice-Chancellor of Tezpur University Mihir Kanti Choudhury will also be present on the occasion. A book titled Oi Mili by Dharani Lakhar will also be released on the occasion. The book has been published by the trust.

Informing this Dr Basanta Deka, president of the managing committee, said that the trust has unanimously decided to grant Dutta the fellowship and the latter would be under no obligation to do any research work on any subject for the trust.

“He has done extensive work in his field and the fellowship is just a way to appreciate and recognise his contribution,” Dr Deka told media persons here today.

Born at Sekonidhara village of Jorhat on February 8, 1923, Dutta started his career as a teacher in Marioni Middle English High School in 1944-45 and then joined the Tocklai Tea Research Centre in 1947.

He was instrumental in setting up a full-fledged tea museum at Jorhat in 1977.

Known for his extensive botanical research work, he collected and preserved 151 types of grass in 1947. He has also prepared a database on rare species of flora using his won photograph.

Dutta has also prepared a list of 10,000 trees for the Tocklai herbarium. Even when nearing ninty, he has been actively involved in study and research on nature and wildlife. He has contributed a number of articles in newspapers and journals besides authoring eight books, mostly on flora.

PM, State Govt agreed on 1971 as cut-off year

GUWAHATI, Feb 12 – Though Assam is witnessing a fresh controversy regarding the cut-off date for updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951, the minutes of the tripartite meeting , in which the decision to update the citizenship document clearly stated that the NRC would be updated by including the names of persons from the electoral rolls up to 1971 and their descendents.

The decision to update the NRC was taken in a tripartite meeting involving the Central and State Governments and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) on May 5, 2005 and the meeting was chaired by Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh.

The minutes of the meeting, which is available with The Assam Tribune, said, “AASU representatives raised the issue of updating of the NRC. They wanted this task to be completed in a time bound manner and suggested creation of a separate administrative machinery in the state for the purpose. CM, Assam said that the State Government has agreed to update the 1951 NRC by including the names of persons from the electoral rolls up to 1971 and their descendents. He said that efforts would be made to complete the task within two years after which identity cards will be issued. He also agreed to create a separate directorate to take up the work expeditiously and wanted the Central Government to give financial assistance for the purpose. Prime Minister assured that the Government of India would provide financial support to the State Government to enable it to complete the work within the stipulated time.”

From the minutes of the meeting, it was clear that the Central and State Government had agreed on the formula on updating of the NRC way back in 2005 and unnecessary controversy has been raised now on the issue. It is also clear that the Central and State Governments totally failed to meet the deadline for updating of the NRC.

The State Government took a very long time only in finalizing the modalities for updating the NRC, while, the Centre issued the notification to amend the Citizenship (Registration of citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 only in November last year to authorize the Assam Government to go ahead with the process of updating of the NRC.

The notification issued by the Government of India made it clear that for preparation of the draft of the NRC, the district magistrates would publish the copies of the NRC of 1951 and electoral rolls prior to the year 1971 and send the same to the local registrar for wide circulation and public inspection. Though there have been reports that 1966 would be the base year for updating the NRC, the Government notification did not say so. The notification only mentioned, “the names of the persons who came to Assam after 1966 and before March 25, 1971 and registered themselves with the Foreigner Registration officers and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority shall be eligible to be included in the consolidated lists.” From the notification, it is clear that the Government is taking up the work of updating the NRC as per the provisions of the Assam Accord.

Meanwhile, AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said that the formula for updating of the NRC was taken way back in 2005 and the Government is responsible for the fresh controversy. He said that the failure of the Government to take timely action in updating the NRC , as well as the contradictory statements by Chief Minister and other Ministers created confusion in the minds of the people.

Bhattacharya pointed out that there is no question of a base year as “we are not demanding a fresh NRC and only the existing NRC of 1951 will be updated.”

Reacting to Chief Minister’s statement that the AASU demand for DNA tests for establishing linkage was impracticable, Bhattacharya said that the Chief Minister should not try to encourage Bangladeshi nationals by opposing DNA tests to establish linkages. He said that there should be a foolproof mechanism to prevent foreign nationals to get their names enlisted in the updated NRC and DNA test is such a method.

The AASU adviser said that there is no reason to conduct DNA tests of all the citizens of Assam. There is no controversy regarding the citizenship of the tribal and ethnic groups and the AASU only wanted DNA tests of the suspected nationals. “Conducting DNA tests will be a costly affair but as the Government of India has assured to provide funds for a comprehensive NRC, the Assam Government should not oppose carrying out of DNA tests. If required, the Centre should be persuaded to set up a DNA test laboratory in the State,” he said. He also said that there should be provisions to take punitive action against anyone found to be providing false information to get his or her names included in the NRC.

The AASU discussed the issue with Union Home Secretary GK Pillai yesterday and he assured that the NRC would be updated as per the decisions taken in the tripartite meeting held with the Prime Minister in the chair. He also assured the AASU that the demand of the AASU for DNA tests of suspected nationals would be considered.

Assam governor denies disrespect to tricolour

Guwahati, Feb 12 Assam Governor J B Patnaik today said no disrespect was shown to the national flag during a Republic Day function at the Raj Bhavan here.

The governor, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his wife reportedly had cut a cake on January 26 which was decorated like the tricolour.

"The tricolour was not painted on the cake...a cardboard was used to hold the cake and on the silver foil covering the cardboard was a painted representation of the tricolour...The cardboard with the silver foil, in which the tricolour was painted, was not cut," a statement issued by the Raj Bhavan said.

Bangla seeks air link with Guwahati

GUWAHATI, Feb 3 – The Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Tariq A Karim today met Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and discussed bilateral issues beneficial to both the countries.

Karim also underscored the need for air connectivity between Guwahati and Dhaka and opening up a common integrated border trade centre in the North-east. Bangladesh is also considering to set up a visa issue office in Guwahati for the benefit of the people in the region.

Disclosing this at a programme organised by the Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Eastern Region (FINER) in Guwahati today, Karim pointed out that proper connectivity is a must to develop bilateral trade between Bangladesh and North-east India. “Despite vast scope, we have not been able to harness our trade potential. This is apparently due to poor infrastructure and lack of connectivity,” he said.

Citing reasons in this regard, the Bangladesh envoy revealed that the trade points scattered on either side of border are in a shambles. “If we really want to increase our volume of trade, the existing trade points need to be developed. We are keen to expand our trade ties with the North-east, but to carry forward our plans, we must upgrade the present connectivity in our bordering areas and this region,” he added.

Expressing concern over rising illegal trade across the border, Karim revealed that the volume of illegal trade across the border stand at $ 4 billion which has become a matter of concern for both the countries.

“This is a major issue which needs to be addressed immediately,” he added.

Karim also advocated setting up of Trade Information Centres so that traders can access proper information about the trend of market in Bangladesh and North-east India as well.

Earlier, FINER gave a presentation covering various areas in the North-east for wooing Bangladeshi investments.

FINER chairman RS Joshi said that Bangladesh is no longer a strange neighbour for this region as far as trade is concerned. “North-east and Bangladesh can increase the present volume of trade by involving the traders of both the countries,” he said.

Joshi also said that FINER has laid emphasis on the development of eco and medical tourism sector by engaging trade bodies of Bangladesh and the North-east.

Assam to put pressure on Kamal Nath for fresh tender in NC Hills

GUWAHATI, Feb 3: The Union Ministry Road Transport and Highways has called a meeting of all State PWD ministers of the country in New Delhi on February 5 when the Assam Government is likely to put pressure on the ministry for issuance of tender of works again in the NC Hills stretch in the State where construction work of the East-West Corridor came to a grinding halt. Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath will chair the meeting.
The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is the nodal agency for construction of the East-West Corridor work from Srirampur to Silchar in Assam and the State Government that does not have much say on the matter is looking after progress of the work. However, the work in the stretch of the corridor falling in NC Hills in the State came to grinding halt last year due to insurgency problems in the hill district. Even when the works of the project were going on, it was very slow due to incidents of kidnap and extortion by the DHD-J and other militant outfits. Last year, the situation reached such a pretty pass that four construction companies working in the project in NC Hills pulled out of the work, and the work of the corridor in the district has since been stopped.
With the DHD-J laying down arms a few months back, the situation in the hill district is conducive for project work. The State PWD has been constructing a 37-km two-lane road in the hill district without any problems from militants. According to sources, since normalcy returns in NC hills, the State Government wants the NHAI issue tender afresh for the work of the corridor in the NC Hills stretch so as to allot the work to some other construction companies.
According to sources, Assam PWD Minister Ajanta Neog, who is going to take part in the February 5 PWD ministers’ meeting, will put pressure on the Union ministry to speed up the work of the East-West Corridor in NC Hills by allotting the work to some other construction company.

Assam to set up Medical Corporation

GUWAHATI: The Assam Government is contemplating setting up a Medical Corporation in the State to make the health sector more disciplined and dynamic.
This was announced by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi while laying the foundation stone for a 200-bed cancer hospital here. He underlined the need for setting up more medical colleges and health institutions under public-private partnership.
The Chief Minister also inaugurated the Oncology Department of the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) and year-long golden jubilee celebrations of GMCH. Mr. Gogoi said he hoped the new cancer hospital would be a great help to thousands of cancer patients of the North-Eastern states.
Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Rs. 86 crore would be spent on building the new cancer hospital at GMCH.
It would be ready within two years, complete with state-of-the-art medical equipment for treating cancer patients.
The Radiation Therapy block would be ready by December and opened in January 2011.