Gogoi lays stone for University of Cooperative Management in Assam

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today laid the foundation stone of the Rajiv Gandhi University of Co-operative Management, the first of its kind in India, at Demow Pathar in Joysagar in this district of Assam.

The proposed university, expected to give the co-operative movement a new dimension and a big thrust to Panchayati Raj system and rural economy of the region, will be established on a 250-bigha plot.

Mr Gogoi hoped that co-operative movement would fulfill a long cherished dream of the people and said, "Panchayat and co-operative are the only means which will bring economic independence of the rural populace."

Terming 2010 as an eventful year for Assam, Mr Gogoi said the state witnessed all-round development in different sectors.

Saying that development cannot take place without peace, he hoped that peace will prevail in the state and different extremist organisations would come foward for talks with the government.

Co-operation and Culture Minister Bharat Narah said the government has sanctioned Rs 1 crore for the preparatory work for the University.

"The state government shall sanction Rs 20 crore after submitting the concept paper and detailed project report (DPR). We have also sent a concept paper and DPR with an estimate of Rs 40 crore to the Union Ministry for Development of North-East Region", he said.

Assam Law, Sericulture, Handloom and Textiles Minister Pranab Gogoi inaugurated the website of the proposed university on the occasion.

Prof M R Dixit of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, who is heading a three-member consultative group for designing the academic programme of the proposed university, hoped that the institution would strengthen the economy of the state, in particular, and India, in general.

Peace talks a political gimmick: Prafulla Mahanta

GUWAHATI: Rejecting the Assam government's peace process with United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), leader of opposition Prafulla Mahanta today said the exercise will be futile without the presence of the outfit's elusive chief Paresh Baruah.

"The recent offer by the government for talks is only a political gimmick and unless Paresh Baruah, known for his anti-talk stance is not included, the process will be futile," Mahanta, also a two time chief minister, told reporters in Guwahati.

A change in the political leadership in Bangladesh, where the top ULFA leaders were taking refuge, paved the way for talks with most of the ultras arrested and released on bail.

"But there is no point in talking to different groups at the same time. The entire top leadership of ULFA have to be included in the talks process including Paresh Baruah," he said.

Baruah remains the only top and influential leader who is still underground as the other prominent ULFA ultras, including its 'chairman' Arabindo Rajkhowa have been arrested and released on bail.

BJP to move Parliament panel for probe

Guwahati, Dec. 31 : BJP MP Ramen Deka will seek a probe by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into alleged misappropriation of central funds in North Cachar Hills district of the state.

Deka, who is also a member of the PAC, told reporters here today that he would write to PAC chairperson Murli Manohar Joshi, requesting examination of the alleged misuse of central funds in the NC Hills that finds mention in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

“Taking into consideration the importance of the subject and the statewide interest evinced in it, I have decided to seek a PAC probe into it,” said Deka, the Lok Sabha MP from Mangaldoi.

“I am going to request the PAC chairperson to inquire into the misappropriation of money released under different central schemes like the National Rural Health Mission and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, among others,” he added.

The special audit carried out by the CAG points to some glaring financial irregularities in Dima Hasao (formerly NC Hills) district. The CAG audit report pertained to the fiscal 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

The CAG report has stirred a political storm in the state with the Opposition parties cornering the Tarun Gogoi government on this issue.

The state government has already ordered a CBI inquiry into the financial scam in the NC Hills.

Even the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which probed the alleged politician-bureaucrat-militant nexus in embezzlement of funds in NC Hills, has found involvement of some public servants of North Cachar Hills Autonoumous Council.

Deka also said a four-member PAC sub-committee has been constituted to study utilisation of funds released to the northeastern states under the non-lapsable central pool of resources. Deka is the convenor of the PAC sub-committee. The non-lapsable central pool of resources was created by the Centre in 1989 from the 10 per cent unspent balances provided in the budget of Central ministries and departments for funding specific infrastructure projects in the Northeast.

NHPC submits status report on Subansiri project

NEW DELHI, Dec 30 – Amidst the raging controversy over construction of big dams in the region, the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) has held the delay in signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Government of Assam and the law and order problems, responsible for the slow progress of the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Power Project.

In its latest report on ‘Status of Hydro Electric Projects under Execution’ the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) without going into the controversies surrounding the project, has broadly categorised the problems beseizing the 2000 MW project.

Signing of MoU with State Government of Assam, washing away of coffer dam in 2008, slope failure of power house in January, 2008, change of surge shaft to surge tunnels, law-and-order problems, damage to bridge at Ranganadi River were cited as some of the reasons for the delays in the status report.

The project, scheduled to be completed by 2011-2012 (12th Plan period), has already witnessed cost escalation to Rs 8155 crore from Rs 6285 crore.

Notwithstanding the apprehension over diversion of the river, the report said that the river was diverted on December 25, 2007 and construction of diversion tunnel completed.

As reported earlier, Government of Assam’s reluctance to sign the MoU has led the NHPC to move the Union Power Ministry, seeking its intervention in the matter.

State Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi had told this newspaper that though the original no objection certificate (NOC) given by the State Government stated that Assam would be entitled to six per cent free power, subsequently NHPC has refused the same. No negotiation has taken place till now among the State Government, NHPC and Power Ministry, he had informed.

“Further we were promised 600 MW of power from the project, whereas what we were actually allocated was 208 MW of power, which is why we have not signed the MoU,” he had pointed out.

The uncertainties over the projects in Arunachal Pradesh led the Board of Directors of NHPC, recently to surrender two other vital hydropower projects including Subansiri Middle and Upper hydroelectric projects (HEP) in Arunachal Pradesh. The two projects are now likely to be handed over to joint venture companies selected by Arunachal Pradesh Government.

The 1,600 MW Subansiri Middle Hydroelectric Project is likely to be executed by joint venture (JV) formed by Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited and Jindal Power Limited (JPL), while the 2,000 MW Subansiri Upper Hydroelectric Project may be taken over by KSK Energy Ventures Limited, sources said.

Meanwhile, the 600 MW Kameng Project being executed by NEEPCO has also slipped deadline.

PM’s heart surgeon hurt in road mishap

Nagaon, Dec 30 : Cardiac surgeon Ramakanta Panda, who had conducted a heart surgery on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year, was today injured in a road accident while on a family vacation in Assam’s Nagaon district, official sources said. The doctor received injuries on his head and his son got wounded while
the driver of his car was seriously injured when they were travelling to the Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat district.

Dr Panda’s VIP vehicle was travelling behind a truck that suddenly turned turtle causing the doctor’s car to hit against it at Somoguri, sources said.

His wife and daughter, who were also travelling with the heart surgeon were, however, unhurt. After an initial medical examination at the Nagaon Civil Hospital, they were airlifted to Guwahati in a special army helicopter.

Dr Panda, the vice-chairman of the Asian Heart Institute at Mumbai, had lead a team of doctors who successfully conducted a heart surgery on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh last year at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.

The cardiovascular-thoracic surgeon had also done a successful complex bypass surgery and aortic valve replacement on Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi this August at the Asian Heart Institute.

Minority snub for Christian schools

Guwahati, Dec. 29 : Nearly 200 Christian schools in Assam, including Don Bosco, are facing an uncertain future with Dispur reluctant to accord minority status to them.

Sources said these schools had applied for minority status certificate two years ago but the education department had remained non-committal. They said Dispur was considering putting the prerequisite of admitting at least 40 to 50 per cent Christian students before the schools could be accorded minority status. But these institutes would find it impossible to adhere to this condition, they added.

Schools such as the Don Bosco, which were set up by missionaries, are open to all religions and communities. Enrolment of non-Christian students in these schools is over 90 per cent in the state.
Ravi Sagar, an advocate of Gauhati High Court who has taken up the matter with the government on behalf of the Christian schools, said it was surprising why the Assam government was not responding positively and promptly. He said the matter was pending despite chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s assurance to the chairperson of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui, on July 12 last year that the minority status certificates would be issued within three months.
The minority tag will give the schools protection from political intervention in their education policy and other academic activities. A teacher of a Christian school said the minority status would help the schools maintain the highest quality of education and prevent politics.
With Dispur remaining non-committal on issuing minority status certificates, these schools face the possibility of getting converted into general category institutions, raising fears that the state government would impose its education policy on them.
Sagar, who heads the NGO, Legal Cell for Human Rights, said, “We are running from pillar to post to acquire the minority status certificates. Unfortunately, the education department is complicating the issue. When we filed an application under the RTI Act in 2007, seeking information about the appropriate authority to issue such certificates, it said it did not have any such authority. Later, the government created an authority headed by Sohrab Ali, the joint secretary, education (elementary), to issue the certificates.”
Sagar said the latest ground being cited by the department for the delay was that it was awaiting a cabinet communication to determine the percentage of Christian students in these schools. “The department tells us that the percentage would be between 40 and 50, which would put the Christian schools in a quandary,” he said.
With the state government neither granting nor rejecting the minority status certificates, the schools are facing a predicament over approaching the national commission. Sagar said the schools could approach the commission only if the state government declined to issue the certificates or gave NOCs to the schools for approaching the central authority.
Sohrab Ali’s office said he does not talk to the media and no final decision had been taken on the matter of issuing minority status certificates.

Wanted: Home for shunned HIV orphan

Guwahati, Dec. 23 : A four-year-old HIV-positive girl from Nalbari, who was abandoned by her family after her parents died, has no place to go because orphanages in the state have refused to take her in.

The Assam AIDS Control Society is now looking to Manipur or Calcutta to find her a home because Assam does not have a shelter for HIV-positive orphans.

The child, who was born with the infection, lost her mother to AIDS in October. Her father had died of the disease two years ago.

Her paternal aunts, with whom she was living, abandoned the child who was left without food or shelter with villagers treating her as an untouchable.

A local NGO, Nalbari Barnibari Yuva Sangha, rescued her and handed her to the Indian Network of Positive People (INP+) in Guwahati on December 11.

The State AIDS Control Society has since been looking for a place for her to stay but has drawn a blank.

“We are in contact with officials in Manipur and Calcutta. We have been informed that there is no space in the only orphanage for HIV-positive children in Manipur, but we are trying to contact the Bharukha Welfare Trust head office in Calcutta. The NGO has a care centre in Guwahati but it does not have facilities for HIV-positive orphans. We are taking care of her, but we are struggling to find a care centre for the child,” the additional project officer of the State AIDS Control Society, N.N. Sonowal, said.

Sonowal said the girl is underweight and malnourished and doctors are taking care of her at a community care centre. But this is a temporary arrangement.

According to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) guidelines, the child can stay at the centre for only 15 days, and she has already been there for 10 days.

Jahnavi Goswami, president of the Indian Network of Positive People, said they would extend her stay at the centre but they still needed to find a permanent shelter.

“Very few states in India have facilities for HIV-positive children and many states are facing problems while taking care of such children. We had predicted a similar situation in the state and moved the state government for a special care home for HIV-positive children. A shelter home is being constructed, but it is yet to be ready,” she added.

Goswami was the first woman in the region to declare her HIV-positive status and has been active in HIV/AIDS prevention and care for the past few years.

There are nearly 70 HIV/AIDS positive orphans in the state but they are staying with family members. This is the first case of an HIV-positive orphan being abandoned by family, Goswami said.

In November 2009, Dispur had announced an orphanage dedicated to children whose parents had died of AIDS or who were themselves infected with the virus, but it is not ready yet.

Among other government schemes, the state health department is providing free anti-retroviral treatment facilities for HIV-positive people in three government hospitals.

ULFA, scams, mega dams kept Assam in news in ’10

Durba Ghosh

Guwahati, Dec 22 (PTI) The arrest of top ULFA leaders and their eagerness for talks raised hopes of a negotiated settlement to the decades-long insurgency problem in Assam which witnessed a relatively peaceful year.

The year also saw the government and the opposition often locking horns over issues like scams and mega dams.

Most ULFA leaders, who were nabbed in Bangladesh and handed over to Indian authorities, were soon released by the state as they expressed desire to sit for talks.

The Centre and the state government's approach to the issue was also significant. The Centre appointed former IB Chief P C Haldar as interlocutor for talks with northeastern militants who, thereafter held several rounds of discussions with ULFA 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa and other prisoned leaders of the group in the Guwahati Central Jail, where they are lodged, to take the peace process forward.

North Cachar scam less than anticipated: Report

Guwahati December 22

An Assam government internal enquiry report has contradicted the principal AG’s recent special investigation report. The panel had been constituted to look into the swindle of funds in North Cachar (NC) Hills Autonomous Council on November 30.

The state government enquiry report found that the amount of irregularity was lesser in extent than as it was found in the recent special investigation report of the AG.

The state government’s report found the total excess release of fund to the Council was Rs 33.03 lakh, and not Rs 11.46 lakh as had been reported by the AG in the special enquiry report.

“Year wise position (with regard to excess release of fund to the council) comes to Rs 0.39 lakh as against Rs 744.64 lakh as reported by AG for the year 2007-08 and Rs 32.64 lakh as against Rs 401.95 lakh reported by AG for the year 2008-09,” said the state government report.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi had directed the chief secretary to initiate an enquiry into the matter of excess release of Rs 11.46 crore to North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) by the government over the budget provisions; as reported in the inspection report of the principal AG audit, Assam.

The recent special audit report by the AG had testified the financial irregularity and proved that funds in excess of budgetary allocation were sent to the NCHAC in 2007-08 to June 2009.

“During the course of enquiry, the report received from the NCHAC has been scrutinised with the available records namely the budget documents including supplementary demands and the information received from hill areas department and other departments concerned. From the final position emerging out of the enquiry, it appears that instead of Rs 1146.59 lakh excess release as reported by AG audit, the excess release is only Rs 33.03 lakh,” the report said.

The alleged Rs 1,000 crore financial irregularity in NC Hills is fast becoming into a political albatross for the ruling Congress party in Assam. With assembly polls due early next year, the multi-crore scam has heated up the political environment in the state.

The main opposition party, the AGP, has started training its guns at the Congress and had levelled charges that Gogoi was involved in the scam, as he holds the finance portfolio, thus preventing him from taking any action against seven cabinet ministers who too are alleged to be involved in the scam.

Micro finance helping poor in rural Assam

Dispur, Dec.22 : A micro credit scheme is helping people in the rural and interior areas of Assam to reshape their socio-economic conditions by empowering them.

Srimoni Das is an economically independent woman hailing from the Bhoalpara village in Kamrup district of Assam.

Srimoni took a small loan from a Micro Finance institution named ASOMI with which she set up a poultry business.

The business earned her ample money and she is able to support her family that includes her husband and four kids.

Srimoni has now invested her profits in handloom business and bought weaving looms to make the traditional 'Eri Chadars'.

"My family income increased after taking a loan from ASOMI. The loan has turned out to be a great help. Earlier, we had financial problems, but now I am happy and financially sound," said Srimoni.

Primarily, the scheme aims to empower women by providing them with seed money to start their own ventures.

The beneficiary after availing the facility for a pre determined period of time is supposed to pay the principal amount along with a meagre rate of interest to the Micro Finance Institution. There are many MFI's in the northeast region, which disburse loans to the enterprising poor and needy. Both private and public banks support these MFIs.

ASOMI is one such institution that was established in 2002 and has been able to benefit more than 26,546 families in the region since its inception. It operates in the villages through its various programmes such as Self Help Groups (SHGs), Joint Liability Groups (JLGs), Enterprise Development Loan, Urban Micro Credit, Dairy Loan and Agriculture Transportation Loan.

"The entire ASOMI plans to reach 2 lakh homes by the year 2012 and it should be a brand name to every home. Apart from the micro finance schemes we also have a dairy plant where we process milk that we procure from our borrowers and sell it under the brand name of ASOMI," said Subra Bharali, chief executive officer, ASOMI.

ASOMI has 54 branches and provides employment to 214 persons. In past the MFI has also won several awards for rendering its services to the rural people.

More Assam areas under Saakshar Mission project

The Union government has sanctioned another seven districts in the state for this programme taking the number to 12 now

Guwahati: The centre has sanctioned another seven districts in Assam for the centre’s flagship program —Saakshar Bharat —taking the total number of districts to 12 for the program.

The Saakshar Bharat program is aimed at 100 per cent literacy of female adults, where 50 per cent or less female adults are non-literates.

Director General of National Literacy Mission Jagmohan Singh Raju here said, “The Saakshar Bharat is one of the 18 flagship programs directly monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office and we want that Assam provide a fillip to the implementation of the projects within the target deadline of March 2012.”

The program is already underway in five districts of Sonitpur, Karbi Anglong, Darrang, Dhemaji and Bongaigaon and would soon begin works in seven other districts of Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Barpeta, Morigaon, Hailakandi, Goalpara and Tinsukia. Singh said the center has already sanctioned Rs 14 crore for the seven districts of the state.

Singh held a meeting with more than 400 representatives and panchayat heads from the 12 districts and reviewed the implementation of the program.

“Female adult literacy is very poor in Dhubri (35%) as per 2001 census and we have asked the state agency to expedite the implementation of Saakshar Mission program. We will take up steps to ensure that the problems being faced by the agencies are tackled as per the norms,” Singh said.

“Literacy of the women is very important because without basic education, we cannot ensure implementation of other important rights
of RTI, RTE and other fundamental rights. In Dhubri district, two-third of adult female is non-literates,” he said.

The Saakshar Bharat program was launched in September 2009 by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 365 districts were included for the program.

BJP demands deletion of illegal voters’ names

GUWAHATI, Dec 19 – BJP activists today courted arrest during its ‘Jail bharo’ agitation in the State demanding deletion of names of Bangladeshi migrants from the voters’ list ahead of the forthcoming assembly polls in the State.

Party activists raised slogans and took out processions before staging demonstrations in front of the offices of the deputy commissioners and sub-divisional officers throughout the State.

In the city, the BJP protesters led by local MP and party national vice-president Bijoya Chakraborty blocked the main road in front of the Kamrup (Metro) DC’s office.

“We staged demonstrations in all the four constituencies of Guwahati, and the programme was a big success with the participation of some 5,000 BJP activists. The illegal voters’ names must be deleted from the voters’ list, as it has grave ramifications on the State’s socio-political fronts,” Chakraborty told The Assam Tribune. She also said that the party decried Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s reported statement terming Hindu terror as a bigger threat to India than Islamic terror, and demanded that Gandhi be arrested.

The BJP has been raising the issue of an abnormal increase in the number of voters in the last few decades in Assam.

“The State’s electorate growth trend of 2004-06 reflected large-scale infiltration of illegal Bangladeshis to every nook and corner of the State. Out of the 126 constituencies in the State, 82 recorded over seven per cent growth per annum in the number of electorates in the years between 2004 and 2006 as against the 1.67 per cent all-India growth from 1999 to 2004. Out of these 82 constituencies, 18 recorded over 10 per cent annual growth of electorates, the highest being recorded in Dhekiajuli constituency at 22.5 per cent per annum,” Shiladitya Dev, national secretary, BJP Kishan Morcha, who led the protest at Haflong, the headquarters of Dima Haaso (NC Hills) district, said.

The protesters later submitted a memorandum to the Chief Election Commissioner of India through the deputy commissioner of the Dima Hasao district, urging him to take urgent steps to prepare a correct voters’ list by deleting the names of the Bangladeshi nationals before the Assembly elections.

The BJP activists led by Dev besides Kulendra Daulagupu, State president, BJP ST Morcha, Assam Pradesh and Banani Kemprai, BJP district president, Dima Hasao took out a protest procession from the Cultural Institute Hall to the main road in front of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner.

“This high rise in the number of voters is not due to normal growth of population, but because of the inclusion of the names of the Bangladeshis who have been illegally infiltrating into the State. It is crystal clear that Assam’s voters list contains the names of lakhs of illegal foreigners,” Dev said, adding that the Bangladeshi nationals had changed the demographic profile of Assam and were now ready to become the kings in the 2011 assembly elections.

“Not only have the Bangladeshis changed the demographic profile of the State, but have also encroached thousands of hectares of forest and tribal land in the State as well as created social tensions with the rise of anti-social activities like kidnapping of Hindu girls, rape, smuggling, intimidation, etc., in these areas,” Dev said, adding that this was happening due to the appeasement politics of the present Congress-led Government.

“In the name of a fair voters’ list the Government is only harassing the Hindu migrants who are being killed in Bangladesh with none to protect them,” Dev said.

Daulagupu said that the vote-bank politics of the Congress was responsible for this sorry state of affairs and this alarming situation would continue as long as the Congress remained in power.

Woman techie from Assam murdered in Bangalore

A 29-year-old software engineer working with Dell was Friday murdered at her flat in an upscale south Bangalore area, police said.

Payal Surekha, who hailed from Bongaigaon in Assam, was married to Anant Narain Mishra for about five years. The husband who works as a gym instructor in Bangalore was away in Orissa, police said.

'It is not a murder of gain. Someone known to the victim must have committed the murder,' deputy commissioner Alok Kumar told reporters late Friday.

According to the police, Mishra called home and when there was no response, he phoned the flat owner staying nearby to find out why Payal was not answering. The owner, who also had a key to the flat, found Payal tied and stabbed.

Kumar said preliminary investigation showed that a man was enquiring about Mishra's residence at around 10.30 a.m. About half an hour later he was seen leaving the apartment complex.

Sonia Narang, another deputy police commissioner, told IANS that Payal used to work in the afternoon shifts starting around 2.30 p.m.

She said it appears that the murder would have taken place around 10.30 a.m.

FCI admits to anomalies in procurement of rice in Assam

Guwahati, Dec 18 : Assures farmers of buying rice at minimum support price.

Admitting anomalies in procurement of rice in Assam, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) today assured the farmers of the state to buy rice at minimum support price (MSP) within a week.

FCI also assured the farmers to send a proposal to the Centre for construction of rice-buying centres in at least five places in Assam, besides godowns and rice mills in every district of the state.

The assurance from the FCI came after farmers under the banner of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) held a protest demonstration outside the FCI zonal office demanding purchase of rice by FCI at MSP. It alleged that farmers of Assam were not getting the minimum support price for their rice despite increase in rice production in the state this year.

ML Koshti, zonal manager of FCI admitted anomalies in rice procurement in Assam and middlemen taking advantage of the situation.

Assam witnessed a boom in rice production this year due to congenial weather condition and use of hybrid seeds.

In the year 2009-10, Assam produced around 44 lakh metric tonne of rice and occupied the second position among all the states in the country.

It was a rice-surplus state last year and the trend is expected to continue this year too. In this financial year, the state’s agriculture department has set rice production target at 46 lakh metric tonne.

Rice cultivation occupies almost two-third of the total cropped area in the state.

Theatre festival to promote environmental concerns in Assam

The Badungduppa theatre Group has organised a traditional theatre festival to promote environmental concerns in Assam's Golapara District.

The research-orientated theatre organization, whose main motive is to raise concerns about nature, organised the festival among Sal trees in the forest.

Sukracharya Rabha, the director and founder of the Badungduppa Kalakendra, said the objective of holding the festival was to spread awareness about local legends through theatre.

"We have made the stage under the sal trees. We did this because we want to make people realize through theatre that how can we make a relationship between human being and nature," said Rabha.

"Since after becoming civilized, we have become more technical, and because our human behaviour has also disturbed the nature. So, that is why I think how we can make changes through theatre and change the human perspective," he added.

The Badungduppa Kalakendra gets assistance from the Holland Theatre Embassy and the group was invited to perform in different parts of the country and the world.

"We are based in Amsterdam and we are really happy to support this project of Badungduppa and this festival 'Under the Sal tree'. The company in Holland encourages all the villages of the whole world in different counties to develop their art, to develop their rituals, their tradition so that it can be spread out," said Dyana Martinez Morales, a member of Theatre Embassy, Holland.

Rabha initiated drama festival 'Under the Sal Tree' in 2008 and this is its third consecutive celebration.

This year, seven groups hailing from nine different villages of Assam and West Bengal participated in the festival.

They performed in the shade of the Sal trees during the day without any artificial light or sound system.

The three-day festival would conclude today. By Peter Alex Todd (ANI)

Assam govt raise retirement age of doctors to 65

The Assam Government has decided to raise the retirement age of doctors to 65 to meet the growing manpower need in its hospitals.

This was stated by the State Health Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sharma while inaugurating the newly-built Directorate of Health office at Narengi in Guwahati .

The new office building has been constructed at a cost of two crore rupees from the allocation of Twelfth Finance Commission.

Bhutan national day in Guwahati

Guwahati: Insurgency in Assam becoming a thing of the past, Guwahati will host on Friday the national day of Bhutan, with a message that the two neighbouring entities are mutually inseparable.

“Over 70 per cent of Bhutan’s boundary with India is actually with Assam. People on both sides have age-old ties that we want to renew and strengthen for mutual benefit. That exactly is why we are celebrating our national day tomorrow in Guwahati for the first time,” said Dasho Tshering Wangda, the Bhutanese Consul-General for Eastern India located in Kolkata.

The Bhutanese diplomat in fact would rather not recall the Royal Bhutanese Army’s Operation All Clear to flush out ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland militants.

Also on the cards is a Bhutanese Consulate in Guwahati.

Canoro stops production at disputed Assam oil block

Canadian company Canoro Resources, involved in a legal dispute with the Union petroleum ministry for cancellation of its production sharing contract (PSC), has stopped production from its Assam oilfield, claiming an excess of water to oil ratio.

The Amguri field in Assam produces about 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe). According to Sproule, an internationally recognised body engaged in making resource/reserve assessments, the reserve of oil condensate and gas at Amguri stood at 12.287 million Boe.

The company recently informed the ministry about stoppage of production, said a person familiar with the development. When asked, an official at CanoroĆ¢€™s office here refused to comment.

The pre-Nelp block, abandoned once by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, is held jointly by Kolkata-based Assam Company India Ltd (ACIL) and Canada-based Canoro Resources Ltd. Canoro holds 60 per cent operating stake in the block and the rest is held by ACIL.

Singh urges Gogoi to ensure thorough probe in N C hill scam

Guwahati, Dec 15 (PTI) Asserting that the Congress does not want to shield any corrupt politician, party General Secretary Digvijay Singh today urged Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to ensure a thorough probe into the multi-crore North Cachar hill development fund scandal.

"I will urge the chief minister to include all the other departments which has been not included in the purview of the CBI probe," Singh, party in-charge of Assam, told reporters here reacting to a query that the CBI was only probing five departments connected to the alleged misuse of development funds for the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council.

"The Congress party does not want to shield any corrupt politician. Gogoi himself initiated the probe and there is no question of protecting anybody," he said.

Claiming that his party would win next year''s assembly election for the third time in row, Singh said the government under the leadership of Gogoi has been able to establish peace.

"Remarkable breakthrough has been achieved in the health, education and agriculture sector while the government has given an open invitation to the militant groups for talks," he said.

On the controversy regarding construction of mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh that would have adverse downstream effect in Assam, the party leader urged the Centre and the NHPC, implementing the projects, to keep the sentiments of the people in mind before taking any decision.

AASU demands CM’s resignation

GUWAHATI, Dec 15 – Members of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) resorted to 30-hour hunger strike from 7 am today in all the district headquarters of the State demanding resignation of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. In Guwahati, members of the students’ body resorted to hunger strike on the banks of Dighalipukhuri.

In a release here today, Sankar Prasad Roy and Tapan Kumar Gogoi, president and general secretary respectively of the AASU, said that the students’ organization would continue its movement demanding the resignation of the Chief Minister.

The AASU alleged that the Congress Government in Assam, in a bid to protecting the interests of Bangladeshi nationals, suspended the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951. The Government has gone against the future of the State by supporting construction of mega dams including the Subansiri dam project.

The involvement of the Government in the financial scam in North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council has now been proved and as the Minister in charge of the Finance Department, the Chief Minister cannot escape his responsibility for the scam, the AASU said. The AASU further said that under the circumstances, the Chief Minister should quit honourably.

Meanwhile, the North East Students’ Organization (NESO), the umbrella organization of the students’ bodies of the NE states, will stage protest demonstration in all the states of the region in protest against atrocities on the students of the region in Delhi.

The NESO, in a release, said that the Chief Ministers of the NE states must put pressure on the Centre and on the Government of Delhi to ensure security of the students of the region. The students’ body pointed out that the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh himself assured the NESO that all necessary steps would be taken to ensure security of the students’ of the region but he did not fulfill his assurance. The NESO demanded that the Prime Minister should keep his word.

Mahanta seeks special audits of council funds

Guwahati, Dec. 14 : Two-time Assam chief minister and leader of the Opposition Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today demanded special audits by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of the funds meant for Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

Mahanta suspected that there were largescale financial anomalies in the two autonomous councils.

“The CAG special audits in the NC Hills Autonomous Council exposed largescale irregularities of funds meant for development purposes and we suspect that there are similar scams taking place in the Bodo and Karbi Anglong councils. Media reports have repeatedly shown several irregularities in the functioning of the two autonomous councils,” Mahanta said at a news conference.

He said even the leader of Bodoland People’s Progressive Front, Rabiram Narzary, suspected misuse of funds in BTC. “We strongly demand special CAG audits,” he said.

“The state government’s nexus with the militants is clear from the fact that the government is giving protection to two dreaded DHD militant leaders — Niranjan Hojai and Jewel Gorlosa. While Hojai is being given royal treatment inside Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, Garlosa is being kept in a special cell of Assam police. We demand clarification on why the duo are not in jail,” he said.

The AGP and Mahanta have demanded Gogoi’s resignation over the Rs 1,000-crore scam in the NC Hills.

Mahanta also criticised Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s comment on the aex-Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare saying that Singh played communal politics card ahead of his visit to Assam. “Congress has always played communal politics and Digvijay did it again before his visit to the state,” Mahanta said.

‘Films should not ignore rural Assam’

SUALKUCHI, Dec 13 - The ailing Assamese film industry would do well if it pays heed to the feedback coming from the grassroots. Mere class room critique and raising hue and cry at urban centric film festivals would not help to improve the prevailing slump in the industry that is waiting for a panacea.

A large group of film lovers in Sualkuchi said that they wanted to see films made in the backdrop of the typical Assamese culture while expressing their opinion during an interactive session of a film festival held here on Sunday night.

It needs to be mentioned here that this demand for films capturing the flavour of their own culture has been made time and again by the film lovers and it has also been supported by many veteran actors who were part of hit films like Dr Bezborauh, Chameli Memsaab etc. Hadi Alam Bora who acted in Chameli Memsaab had recently said in the media that lack of films true to the culture of the State was one major reason behind the decline in the Assamese film industry.

People of all age group in Sualkuchi had flocked to the Srimanta Shankar Mandir Natghar here to watch a few Assamese feature films and some short films. The programme was organised by Cinegoers, a group of culturally inclined young people who pursue different professions.

The first film to be screened was Aideu directed by Arup Manna. This film portrays the life of Aideu Handique, the actress who was looked down upon by society for acting with a male counterpart in the first Assamese film Joymati by Jyotiprasad Agarwalla. That people enjoy a good movie was evident by the pin drop silence during the screening of the film and no mobile phones rang out throughout the festival.

“What I had read about Aideu Handique I saw it in the film. I became so emotional while watching the film,” said 60-year old Bhagyabala Das, who likes to watch films. But she said that she does not watch films now like she used to do before. “I don’t like the present films. They do not show our villages and our life,” she regretted.

Supporting Bhagyabala, Lila Choudhury, another resident of Sualkuchi said that films like Dr Bezboruah, Buwari, Ajali Nabou etc should be made so that people in the rural areas can relate.

“Films should not ignore the expectation of rural Assam, because it’s the films lovers of rural Assam who have sustained the film industry,” said Diganta Das.

The festival was an effort of cinegoers to promote film viewing, but it turned out to be a platform for the film lovers of rural Assam to voice their expectation from the film makers. The festival also proved that the popularity of short films is rising as the spectators clapped spontaneously to show their appreciation of a short film. Two feature films and six short films were screened in the festival.

Two poachers shot dead in Kaziranga

Guwahati: Two rhino poachers were killed in a gun fight with wildlife rangers at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam on Monday, officials said.

A wildlife warden said a group of four to six poachers entered the park early Monday and were waiting for a rhino herd near the Agoratoli range.

"A team of forest guards chased the poachers and soon there was a gun fight between the two sides," he said.

The firefight continued for about 30 minutes, killing two poachers.

"A massive hunt is on with forest guards looking for the other members of the group," the warden said.

A rifle, a large quantity of ammunition, jungle boots, food and raincoats were also recovered, he added.

This is the second major success of forest rangers this year. Four rhino poachers were killed and seven arrested in May.

"We are happy with the way our forest guards are fighting an organised poaching syndicate active in the park. We cannot ignore the help from local villagers living on the periphery of the park in our fight against poachers," Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told a news agency.

The 430 sq km park is home to the world's largest concentration of one-horned rhinos. As per the 2009 census report, some 2,048 of the world's estimated 3,000 one-horned rhinos lumber around the swamps and grasslands of Kaziranga.

Nine beasts were killed so far this year, while 18 rhinos were killed in 2008 and 14 in 2009. Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by poachers in the wilds of Kaziranga, the highest being 48 in 1992.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of Asia.

Rhino horns are also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

A rhino horn sells for up to Rs 1.5 million per kilogram in the international market, according to officials of the forest department.

RBI's financial inclusion plan for Assam

Banking and monetary regulator, Reserve Bank of India has chalked out its plan for financially including 2327 villages of Assam having a population of 2000 and above.

The target for achieving this aim has been set for March 2012.

Deputy governor, RBI, Subir Gokarn has said that the apex bank is mainly aiming to bring banking closer to people who are still untouched by the service. He said so during his first visit to the state.

"A large number of people in the country is still without a bank account and access to finance is important for a person to make a living," Gokarn said.

"If people's income do not increase, banks will not make money," Gokarn said.

The central bank has adopted the business correspondent (BC) model so as to reach out to the maximum. The BC model aids in penetrating to those areas where setting up a bank branch is practically not achievable under present conditions.

The correspondents will be empowered to take deposits and make payments to customers. "Villagers can also get loans from the banking correspondent," Gokarn said.

4 killed in road mishap in Assam's Morigaon district

Guwahati, Dec 13 : At least four people were killed in a road mishap in central Assam’s Morigaon district today, official source said.

They said that a passenger vehicle rammed into a stationary truck, which was parked on the National Highway (NH) 37 near Nellie after it developed some mechanical problems.

The driver of the vehicle did not see the parked truck due to thick fog and hit the truck with great speed.

Four people were killed on the spot, while two others suffered serious injuries and were admitted to a local hospital, they added.

Did China block flow of Brahmaputra on Nov 12?

NEW DELHI, Dec 11 – Did China block the flow of the Brahmaputra river on November 12?

The External Affairs Ministry’s reply to an unstarred question by Maya Singh in the Rajya Sabha has led to confusion over the sensational incident.

The BJP MP had asked “whether due to the construction work on the hydro-power project by China that is already underway on the Brahmaputra, the water flow was blocked on that day last month.

In response, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur said the Government has taken up this matter with the Chinese side during the recent India-China strategic dialogue on November 16.

The Chinese side has conveyed that China has always taken a responsible attitude towards trans-border rivers. China has also clarified that Zangmu is a small power project, which would not store water or regulate the volume of water, and therefore, would not have an adverse impact on downstream areas, the Minister said.

As reported in this newspaper, international experts are sceptical about Chinese claims as a series of dams including 38,000 MW giant dam is proposed at the bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) has disclosed that it has awarded comprehensive basin-wise Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study in Arunachal Pradesh.

A comprehensive basin-wise EIA study for Lohit basin has already been awarded by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) India Limited, MoWR, Paban Bansal said in reply to a question by Kumar Deepak Das.

The Central Water Commission (CWC) is entrusted with similar studies for Siang and Subansiri basins in consultation with the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and MoEF. The draft terms of reference for these studies are under finalisation, said Bansal.

The construction of ongoing big dams in Arunachal Pradesh has been taken up after considering cost benefit analysis, safety aspects, environment impact and obtaining mandatory clearances from the concerned agencies of the Government, he said.

The construction of proposed big dams would be undertaken only after conducting EIA studies including the impact of the projects in downstream areas according to the ToR sanctioned by the MoEF, Bansal said.

However, the Minister admitted that the USA has decommissioned some of its dams. He said it was due to various reasons such as obsolence, economic factors, safety considerations, risk reduction, high operation and maintenance costs and environmental concerns.

Studies related to decommissioning of dams are taken up for the dams in existence and not for construction of new dams. However, before issuing the green signal to the construction of big dams in the country including Arunachal Pradesh, Detailed Project Report (DPR) for hydro electric projects costing over Rs 500 crore is submitted to CEA for concurrence.

Meet on water conflict

Guwahati, Dec. 11 : An expert on the Brahmaputra today said adequate regional and international co-operation is essential for management of water resources in the region.

Dulal Goswami was speaking at a two-day national workshop on Water Conflicts in the Northeast: Issues, Cases and Way Forward which began today.

Organised by Aaranyak in association with the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, it is deliberating on issues like impact of hydro power projects, rehabilitation of flood-affected people, flood management infrastructure, proposed seismic survey, ground water contamination, trans-boundary water management, water policy, river bank erosion, gender role in water security and a a framework for resolution of water conflicts.

“Having two major international rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Barak, that flow through three most populous countries in the world -— China, India and Bangladesh — besides a host of tributaries with inter-state watershed boundaries, the management of the vast water resources of the region needs adequate regional and international co-operation and pooling of resources at the national and global level,” he said.

Speaking on Northeast India: The Geophysical Context of Water Conflicts, Goswami said while it was true that the current utilisation of the colossal water resource potential of the region is dismally poor, the policies for the utilisation of these resources need to have a broader outlook.

He said Brahmaputra’s “classified” river tag has hit researchers, as there is a bar on getting hydrological data of the river.

A case study on conflicts over the Tipaimukh hydro-electric project by R.K. Ranjan Singh was also presented in the workshop.

A paper on River Bank Erosion in Rohmoria area in Dibrugarh district: Impact, Conflict and Peoples’ struggle by Siddartha Kumar Lahiri was presented.

“It is time for the state to understand that social negligence piling up for decades may boomerang at unexpected moments with unpredicted intensities unless a sincere effort is shown,” the paper said.

Assam bid for upper house

Guwahati, Dec. 11 : Assam is on its way to having a bicameral legislature. It is likely to have a legislative council or upper house by next year.

Announcing this here today, parliamentary affairs minister Bharat Chandra Narah said he had already sent a cabinet memorandum to the chief minister’s office.

“Once the state cabinet approves this, we will send it to Parliament for approval. Parliament will have its next session in February,” he said, adding that it might take some time as the state was heading for elections next year.

Narah had moved a resolution during the July session of the Assembly this year to create a legislative council in the state. He also recommended to the Union government that Parliament be moved to formulate laws to this effect under the provisions of Article 169 of the Constitution.

Legislators cutting across party lines had supported the resolution, which was passed by two-thirds majority.

Narah today said the basic idea behind the creation of an Upper house was to offer representation to small ethnic groups, which were not represented in the Assembly.

“It is our responsibility to give equal representation to all the indigenous communities of the state,” he said.

The minister said the upper house could not be more than one-third of the total size of an Assembly. As the total strength of the Assam Assembly is 126, the proposed upper house will have 42 members.

The role of the proposed council is likely to be primarily consultative with limited legislative powers. The expenditure of the council has to be borne by the state government.

“It is nothing new as setting up of an upper house has been one of the important points of the Congress Lok Sabha election manifesto in 2004 as well as in 2009,” Narah said, adding that Assam had an upper house from 1931 to 1938, which was abolished after Independence.

Various sections, including political parties, have been demanding a two-tier legislature in the state for long, considering the aspirations of diverse ethnic groups.

The state Assembly had adopted a similar resolution in 2005 but the Centre returned the proposal seeking more details, Narah said.

Assam may one day be high AIDS-affected state

Guwahati: Though Assam is not a high AIDS- prevalent state till now but, it can very well acquire the status considering its position surrounded by Nagaland and Manipur where the dreaded disease has spread its tentacles wide.

Being the gateway to the Northeast, Assam is visited daily by a rainbow crowd of migrant workers, truck drivers, Army personnel and tourists from all over the region, making it highly susceptible to the spread of the disease.

Often this floating population, a lot of them from Nagaland and Manipur, engage in unsafe sexual practices during their temporary stay.

According to the Assam State AIDS Control Society, the state receives a very large number of trucks from outside every day and these long-distrance drivers come in contact with sex workers.

''Moreover, the region's easy access to drugs due to its close proximity to the heroin-producing Golden Triangle of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand contributes to the spread of the deadly disease,'' the ASACS said.

The ASACS will shortly implement the third phase of the National Aids Control Programme after successfully conducting the first two, it said.

Migration from outside the state in view of the large demand for manual labour in development projects is high and these migrants have been found to exhibit 'risky sexual behaviour', it said.

NSD drama festival at Tezpur ends

TEZPUR, Dec 10 – The 19-day drama festival of the National School of Drama organised here in association with the historic Ban Theatre concluded here recently with the staging of 19 different thought-provoking plays of the region in Mizo, Garo, Manipuri, Nepali, Assamese and Hindi languages.

The plays presented dealt with a variety of subjects ranging from mythology, social issues like caste, gender, lives of the marginalized and elderly, exploitation in feudal structures, revisiting of historical events, music and folklore. Mayabazar in Telegu directed by R Nageswar Rao was staged on the opening day of the drama festival followed by Assamese play, Akash directed by Baharul Islam, a multi-lingual drama of Manipur Dakghar directed by Heisnam Kanhailal, Kannada play, Ambapratigga directed by Guru Sanjib Subarna, Bengali play Rokta Korobi directed by Gautam Haldar, and Assamese plays Mirijiory directed by Anup Hazarika, Sup – Ak Prahasan directed by Ashim Kumar Sarma, Astarag directed by Dr Arup Barthakur and Siraj directed by Pratham Das.

Other plays that were staged were in Bengali language directed by Sisir Dev Ayudaan and English play, A Love Story of 1950, Mizo play directed by Nousad Mahamad The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Marathi play directed by Rabindra Kharein, Katyar Koljaat Ghusli, Manipuri play directed by Shila Devi, Gouralila Garo play directed by Pabitra Rabha Dukon Arunachali drama directed by Suk Bahadur Drowa Jhangmu- Ek Devi Ki Kahanu Tamil drama directed by Purisai Kannappa Sambandan, Panchali Sabatham and Maring drama directed by S Thaninleima, Khaalteba etc also conveyed a message among the audience regarding the cultural diversity of the across the country and the national integrity.

It may be mentioned here that the Poorvottar Natya Samaroh, which is presently running in its fourth year is a special platform that has been able to position to showcase the work of young directors and distinguished practitioners from within and outside the North-East.

Cyber smut boy in net

Guwahati, Dec. 10 : The CID of Assam police has arrested a computer engineering student from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh on charges of morphing nude photographs of a girl from Guwahati with whom he had developed an “affair” through a social networking site.

Arpit Bhargav, 19, was arrested yesterday from his residence at Jabalpur based on a complaint lodged by the girl and her father on November 19.

A two-member CID team arrested the third semester computer engineering student of Takshila Institute of Technology, Jabalpur, with the help of Madhya Pradesh police. He is being brought here.

CID sources said according to the complaint lodged by the girl, Bhargav got in touch with her through a social networking site two years ago when she was studying in New Delhi and they developed an “affair”.

The boy used a fake profile photograph in his account and both exchanged photographs through the site.

“According to the complaint, both were in touch through the networking site for a long time and fell in love.

They exchanged photographs and even talked over mobile phone but when she came to know that the boy’s photographs were fakes, she stopped talking to him and gradually tried to snap ties with him.

But Arpit sent threat messages in her profile and sent SMSs from three mobile phone numbers.

When the girl asked him not to contact her anymore, Arpit morphed her nude photographs and uploaded these on the networking site,” a CID officer said today.

Based on the complaint, the cyber crime sleuths of the CID started an investigation and blocked Arpit’s profile on the networking site but the engineering student opened another similar account and again uploaded morphed nude photographs of the girl.

“We had a tough time to locate the boy as the photographs uploaded in his account were not his original. But we finally traced the mobile tower from where Arpit sent SMSs to the girl to Azad Bakeri at Jayanagar in Jabalpur. We reached Jabalpur on Tuesday and apprehended him with the help of local police,” the CID officer said.

The CID sources said the three mobile phones which Arpit used to send text messages to the girl were in his mother’s name.

The CID team seized the three mobile phones and the computer set used by the boy. They also found obscene morphed photographs of the girl stored in his computer.

Arpit has been booked under Sections 66A/67A of IT Act 2000 and was produced in the court of Jabalpur chief judicial magistrate.

The CJM remanded him in the custody of Assam CID for a week.

Six farmers abducted in Assam

Haflong (Assam), Dec 9 (PTI) Six farmers were abducted by unidentified militants from two villages in Assam''s Dima Hasao (North Cachar Hills) district early today, police said.
Armed militants abducted four villagers from Maibang village and two others from Dehangi village and took them to an undisclosed destination.
The kidnapped farmers have been identified as Joybo Maramsa (55), Hamring Maramsa (46), Hamjen Maramsa (40) and Kajol Maramsa (38) from Maibong while Roben Hasnu (35) and Debendra Hasnu (32) from Dehangi area.
Security forces have launched a massive search operation to trace the abducted villagers, police said.
Meanwhile, the three surveyors of the Indian Oil Tanking Company, kidnapped by activists of the Dimasa National Democratic Front (DNDF) on December five from Langting area in the district, remained untraced.
Initially, DNDF activists had abducted surveyors Bandip Siva Garuda, Santosh Ashok Rai Chandra and Wilfred besides their cook Ranjit Das. The same day they released Garuda who conveyed to his employer, hired by Indian Oil Corporation to conduct seismic survey in the area, that the ultras were demanding a ransom of Rs one crore.

Karbi Anglong's Ronthean Festival promoting a unique Assamese lifestyle

The decline of militancy in Assam's Karbi Anglong District has given a boost to the region in terms of socio-cultural development.

Recently, the district played host to the Eighth Rongthean Festival, where members of twelve different tribes like the Karbi, Kuki; Vheipes, Assamese, Nagas and Dimasa took part.

The three-day festival showcased the socio-cultural panorama of the region and also symbolized unity. he Rongthean Klimsomer Club organized it with the support of state and central departments and with the help of private sponsorships.

The main objective of the Rongthean Festival is to promote and preserve the culture of the region, which has been slowly taken away by modernization. We also want to promote our age-old traditions and skills to the younger generation," said Chiratin, the president of the Klimsomer Club.

To preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the district, a small market was set up at the festival venue, which showcased traditional Karbi attires, artificial jewellery, decorative items made from wood and Karbi cuisine.

Participants also took part in several competitions in various age groups.

A marathon was also organized to promote sports and sports persons of the area.

The fun filled affair also provided a platform for promoting Karbi fashion. Models in traditional attires walked the ramp and young artists sang and danced to folk tunes at a cultural night during the event.

"Karbi Anglong is a backward area. We organized this festival to develop the region and promote the youth of the region. We have included sports, cultural and educational events in the festival to promote the development of the youth," said Maria, a resident of Rongthean Village

The main attraction of the festival was the second Karbi Anglong Beat Contest, which attracted ten top rock bands of the country.

The contest was organized under the aegis of Eastern Beats Music Society that promotes music in the region.

Dementia, a popular rock band from Nagaland bagged the first prize.

"People of Rongthean village at this time of the year can come together and enhance the feeling of bonhomie and brotherhood that can go a long way in promoting the social and communal harmony," Ayushman Dutta, Secretary, Eastern Beats Music Society.

The region was once affected by militancy, but now peaceful and the new dawn of hope is clearly visible. (ANI)

Assam: A Tainted Dawn

By Anshuman Behera / South Asia Intelligence Review

On August 25, 2010, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that "while the year 2009 was a distinct improvement on the year 2008, it is in the 2010 that we have seen a dramatic decline in the number of incidents and in the number of casualties in the Northeast."

He disclosed, further, that there had been only 464 incidents until August 15, in 2010, as against 1,297 and 1,561 for the whole year in 2009 and 2008, respectively. However, the State ranked the second most vulnerable in the Northeast, according to a April 2, 2010, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) release, Assam, [Manipur was ranked the worst affected], has witnessed some distressing incidents, despite an overall improvement and the neutralization of a number of active insurgent groups.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, a total of 158 persons, including 98 militants, 48 civilians and 12 Security Force (SF) personnel, were killed in 417 incidents in 2010 (all data till December 5) as against 392, including 196 militants, 175 civilians and 21 SF personnel, killed in 753 incidents in 2009, indicating a 59.69 per cent decline in militancy-related fatalities, and a 72.57 per cent drop in civilian killings in 2010 as compared to 2009, indicating considerable improvement in the security scenario in the State.

The State witnessed 10 major incidents (involving three or more killings) in 2010, as against 24 in 2009. The major incidents of 2010 included:

November 8: At least 19 persons, including 13 Hindi-speaking people, were killed and several others injured when militants of the Anti-Talks Faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-ATF) went on a killing spree in five Districts across Assam.

October 3: The Police shot dead four NDFB-ATF cadres during an encounter in a thickly forested area at Dekatan in Dhemaji District and rescued an abducted trader, Cotton Nandy.

July 30: At least five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed and 33 were injured, when United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) blast and damaged a bus at Bhalukdubi under Goalpara District.

July 26: Four Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel, including an Assistant Commandant, were killed, and three were injured, in an ambush by the NDFB-ATF at Amlaiguri under Panbari Police Station in Chirang District along the Bhutan border.

March 1: Four suspected militants of the Bengali Tiger Force (BTF) were shot dead in an encounter with SFs at Chereng Chapori in Darrang District.

January 2: Unidentified militants shot dead three persons, including two NDFB-Pro Talks Faction (NDFB-PTF) cadres and one college student, Bilifang Basumatary (20), at Mukuldang under Gossaigaon Police Station in Kokrajhar District. A truck driver and two other students were also injured in the gun attack.

The NDFB-ATF has emerged as the most violent militant group in the State, despite the fact that the surviving rump of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the most dreaded formation till 2009.

The NDFB has been involved in 30 civilian killings in 2010, as against four by ULFA. 18 ULFA militants were killed in 14 incidents, while the NDFB lost 56 cadres in 42 incidents in the year. 25 of these cadres were identified as members of NDFB-ATF, killed in 23 incidents. Reports are not conclusive about the affiliation of the fatalities in remaining incidents.

While the NDFB-ATF has been on a killing spree, the NDFB-PTF has been engaged in a cease-fire with the Government since September 23, 2009, and has mostly remained away from militant activities. Unsurprisingly, on January 29, 2010, NDFB-PTF announced that it would participate in the Bodo Territorial Council Elections in Assam. The elections were held on April 9, 2010, and the Bodoland People’s Front won the majority.

The role of NDFB-PTF was, however, unclear. On February 1, 2010, a NDFB-PTF delegation met the Centre's interlocutor in Assam, P. C. Haldar, to press for an early solution to the impasse by creating a separate State for the indigenous tribal people of Assam.

As the NDFB-PTF sustained its commitment to peace talks, on July 1, 2010, the Union Government extended the cease-fire agreement with it for six months till December 31, 2010. Meanwhile, on November 19, as many as 43 Bodo political and non-political organisations came together to form the Bodo National Conference – a common platform to resolve various issues affecting the Bodo people.

The Conference was formed in a bid to convince the NDFB-ATF chairman Ranjan Daimary to join the peace parleys and also to ensure peace and unity among the Bodo people, and those living in the Bodo areas. On November 18, 2010, NDFB-PTF cadres had distributed a map depicting a separate Bodoland to participants at the Bodo National Convention.

The map included nine Districts. NDFB cadres insisted that a resolution be passed by the Convention on the basis of the map. Though some important resolutions were adopted during the two-day national convention, the Bodoland State issue was not included in the new set of resolutions, as it is one of the oldest demands of the Bodo community.

ULFA’s capacities have, of course, been decimated as a result of the capture or surrender of almost its entire top leadership. Nevertheless, the surviving elements continue to sustain a violent intent. In June, a group of 10 ULFA cadres were reported to have entered Guwahati city to carry out extortion and subversive activities as per directions from the ‘commander’ of the ULFA’s '709th battalion', Hira Sarania. According to partial data compiled by SATP, ULFA has been involved in nine reported incidents of extortion in 2010, as compared to 21 reported in 2009.

Reports indicated ULFA had launched an extortion drive in April 2010, and had served extortion notices to people in different parts of Assam. A November 2 report indicated that ULFA hardliners, headed by 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Barua, were trying to launch a fresh recruitment drive to replenish the organisation’s depleting strength. Highly placed Police sources indicated that the outfit had started its recruitment drive in the Upper Assam Districts. Nevertheless, sources claimed that ULFA had failed to recruit significant numbers of youth.

Despite this, on February 1, 2010, the Union Government proposed peace talks with ULFA. Immediately thereafter, on February 2, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, in custody since December 4, 2009, rejected the offer, saying that they could not talk with the Government while in custody. Rajkhowa was arrested in Bangladesh on December 2, 2009, and was subsequently handed over, along with nine other persons, to Border Security Force (BSF) personnel at the Dawki outpost in the Jaintia Hills District on December 4.

Meanwhile, Paresh Barua, in an e-mailed statement, on April 21, declared: "There is no question of talks without the issue of sovereignty on the agenda. Agreeing to hold talks without the sovereignty issue would be like surrendering to the colonial forces".

On November 27, 2010, however, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi stated that peace talks between ULFA and the Centre were expected to begin in January 2011.

On November 7, 2010, he had observed, "We have only expressed our hope to start the peace process in December. Before the initiation of peace talks, all jailed ULFA leaders have to be released on bail, which we can’t (do). Though the State Government isn’t against the release of the jailed ULFA leaders on bail, it depends on the Court." Nevertheless, the Government did release four prominent ULFA leaders, Raju Baruah, Pranati Deka, Bhimkanta Buragohain and Pradip Gogoi.

In another major development for the State, on February 11, 2010, about 400 cadres of the Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) laid down arms and surrendered to the Government at a formal ceremony in Diphu, some 270 kilometers south of Guwahati. Thong Teron, ‘general secretary’ of the KLNLF, declared, "We initially started armed struggle to solve our problems, now we want to try to solve them politically."

Following the surrender of the KLNLF militants, Union Home Secretary G. K. Pillai stated, on February 22, 2010, that the Government was also engaged in peace talks with groups like Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), United Peoples’ Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), KLNLF, NDFB-PTF and ULFA, and would try not to have any further divisions in Assam.

Meanwhile, the KLNLF-Anti Talks Faction, on October 28, 2010, decided to test its support base among the general people of Diphu District by calling for a 24 hours District bandh (general strike) on October 30, to protest against the alleged killing of its cadres by SFs, in league with KLNLF rank and file presently under the cease-fire. However, there was no further report about such a general strike talking place.

On November 3, 2010, the State Government informed the Union MHA about the involvement of members of National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) in illegal activities such as extortion in Assam. The matter was also reported to the Cease-fire Monitoring Committee in Nagaland, which includes representatives of the Central Government and the militant outfit.

Worryingly, a November 5, 2010, report quoting Police sources indicated that the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) had established links with the Adivasi People’s Army (APA) raised in Sonitpur District with ULFA backing. This was discovered during the interrogation of Tarjan Majhi, the Sonitpur District ‘commander’ of the APA. Majhi was arrested along with five others on November 3, 2010, at Bhairabguri under Dhekiajuli Police Station of Sonitpur District.

Majhi claimed that an ULFA ‘sergeant major’, Das, had provided arms training to APA cadre in Majbat area of Udalguri District and helped them contact the Maoists. The APA ‘District Commander’ from Gossaigaon in Kokrajhar District claimed he had recruited a large number of APA members and procured some firearms.

Assam's counter-terrorism strategy still relies disproportionately on Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs). In the beginning of 2009, 150 companies of CPMFs were deployed in the State. According to Government sources, their number has come below 100 companies in 2010. However, the State Government has expressed the view that the present strength of Central Forces in the State is inadequate.

The Centre, on the other hand, has expressed the position that the overall improvement in law and order in the State, the decline in the strength of ULFA, and several other outfits entering into cease-fire with the Government, justify the pull-out of CPMFs from some Districts, leaving a sufficient Force to operate against the NDFB-ATF in areas of their dominance.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, during his visit to the State on November 12, 2010, in the aftermath of the NDFB-ATF killings between November 8 and 10, urged the State Government to mobilize its reserve Police battalions for deployment in the NDFB-ATF affected areas, to launch an offensive, along with the Army. The State Government was asked to fill up existing vacancies – over 6,000 – in its Police Force, to fight the surviving insurgencies and stabilize the operational gains of the past years.

Assam has a Police-population ratio of 172/100,000, better than the all India average of 124, but the lowest for any State in the troubled Northeast. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi while speaking at a conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security in New Delhi on February 7, 2010, said the Assam Government was proposing the recruitment of 4,100 Police Constables by June 2010.

He also said that the appointment letter for 2,401 Police personnel would also be given by June 2010, resulting in a decline in the Police vacancy to just 1,239. The State Government has also approved the recruitment of 10,000 Home Guards and 3,500 Special Police Officers (SPOs), including 1,500 to be deployed in major markets and 2,000 to be deployed on National Highways and Railways.

The Assam Government also proposed to raise the sanctioned strength of the Police Force by 50 per cent in a phased manner over the next four years. However, given the State's dismal financial profile, the implementation of such ambitious plans appears unlikely.

Assam has made very significant gains against insurgency over the past years, in part as a result of operational successes, in part because of chance factors such as the change in attitude of the regime in Bangladesh, and part, because several groupings have simply succumbed to exhaustion.

Nevertheless, it is evident that some groups retain significant residual capacities, even as others – ominously including the Maoists – are just waiting to fill the emerging vacuum. As far as its disturbing history of insurgency is concerned, Assam is still a long way from being out of the woods.

(The writer is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)

Assam: Mahanta Claims NREGA Scam Cost Rs 180 Cr

Guwahati, Dec 7 : Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today claimed the state government was responsible for a scam of Rs 180 crore of NREGA funds besides the multi-crore fund diversion in N C Hills.

"I have with me relevant documents of the NREGA scam," the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly told reporters here.

The AGP leader also claimed that for the past six months, the government had failed to submit the utilisation certificate for the developmental scheme to the Centre.

"And for this the Centre should take action and dismiss the state government," he said.

Earlier Mahanta alleged that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was involved in the development fund diversion in North Cachar Hills district Autonomous Council.

Referring to the government's offer to hold a special session of the assembly in January to discuss the hill district scandal, he said, "We are ready for a debate, but the offer is a ploy to hoodwink the people and divert their attention from the massive scandal involving public money."

National seminar on NE water conflicts in city

GUWAHATI, Dec 6 – The Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India (Forum) and the environment group Aaranyak are jointly organising a two-day national workshop on “Water Conflicts in the North East: Issues, Cases and Way Forward” in the city with a two-day programme from December 10 at the Kharghuli Don Bosco Institute.

The workshop will be attended by experts, practitioners, civil society researchers from the water sector and journalists who will discuss and deliberate on various aspects of the conflicts related to water, its management, utilisation and rights, said a press release.

The Forum and Aaranyak are compiling a compendium of case studies on water conflicts of NE India in which about twenty authors from different parts of the region are participating. The authors will present their case studies in the workshop on conflicts covering areas like impact of hydro power projects, rehabilitation of the flood-affected people, flood- management infrastructure, proposed seismic survey, ground water contamination, transboundary water management, water policy, river bank erosion, among others.

The authors are also highlighting the issue of developing a framework for resolution of water conflicts.

Renowned geo-morphologist Prof DC Goswami, a former Head, Department of Environmental Science, Gauhati University, renowned water management expert Prof Jayanta Bandyopadhyay of the Centre for Development and Environmental Policy, IIM-Kolkata, and eminent expert on environment policy and conflict management Prof Matthew McKinney, the Director of Centre for Natural Resources and Environment Policy, the University of Montana, will deliver three invited lectures at the workshop.

Former Water Resources Secretary, Government of India Prof Ramaswamy R Iyer will deliver a lecture on ‘Transboundary Water Conflicts: Issues and Way Forward’ at 4.30 pm on December 9 at the Uzanbazar Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture as part of the workshop. The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion on water resources of North East India: science, management, people, conflict and politics.

Prof DC Goswami, Prof Ramaswamy R Iyer, Prof J Bandyopadhyay, Shripad Dharmadhikary, of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Madhya Pradesh and KJ Joy of the Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management, Pune are taking part in the panel discussion as the panelists. They will offer their views on the theme and answer questions from the audience and the media, said the press release.

Assam CM safeguarding scam-tainted ministers: BJP

GUWAHATI, Dec 3 – The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Assam Pradesh, today demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi for his dilly-dallying over the multi-crore NC Hills scam.

The party also accused Gogoi of trying to safeguard his ministers involved in the scam.

Addressing mediapersons here, spokesperson of the party Dr Pradip Thakuria regretted the stand adopted by Gogoi and said that the Chief Minister had lost the moral right to continue in office since the day the special audit report of the Accountant General (AG) was handed over to the government. “But Gogoi has been cheating the people by sitting idle even though the report clearly points out to the rampant anomalies in the NC Hills Autonomous Council,” said Dr Thakuria, adding that the BJP which has been voicing against corruption will mobilize public opinion on the issue of NC Hills scam.

It needs to be mentioned here that the party has already taken up several protest programmes demanding immediate steps against those guilty of fund misappropriation. It will again stage a protest demonstration against the government tomorrow in the capital city.

“Our agitation will continue till the guilty in the NC Hills scam are punished,” said Dr Thakuria, remarking that the party has taken to the path of agitation so that the future generation does not get a bad precedent.