Manas National Park in Assam Gets Six New Elephant Calves

Six elephant calves named Soni, Tikla, Deepa, Sikom, Hamren, and Tinku have been relocated at Manas National Park from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation at the Kaziranga National Park.

The six calves hand raised at the conservation are the first initiative by the Assam Forest Department, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India, with the support of the Bodoland Territorial Council (the Manas National Park falls under BTC) to translocate the elephant calves.

The calves were looked by their keepers at the conservation centre where they were bottle fed by vets. They were transferred to Manas National Park to reach there by early morning at 4 am. The animals were translocated at night, as the stress level of the animals is usually high during the day.

Before being left in the core forest area to fend for themselves, the calves will first be kept within a large but limited forest fenced area under surveillance for acclimatization, a crucial step in the rehabilitation process, before being released in the deeper forest.

The calves were initially rescued from different places and situations. Three of them were rescued from tea garden areas, two were victims of man elephant conflicts and one was rescued from a flood situation. “After the calves were rescued, they were introduced to each other and taken together for walks inside the forests at Kaziranga so as to facilitate social bonding. Now they will have to become independent of their keepers inside the fenced forest area at Manas — which may take more than a year,” said Sashanka Barbaruah, the manager, communications, Wildlife Trust of India.

The six calves ranging from there to six years include two males and four females. Of them three have been fitted with radio collars to trace them and understand their behavoiur while adapting to the new environment.

The translocation of elephant calves to Manas National Park is a part of the strategy to renew the former glory of the National Park which is currently under the watchful eye of the UNESCO team so that it can retain its title of the World Heritage Site after being denounced of it and being demoted to World Heritage Site in Danger due to large scale destruction of the park when local terrorist has destroyed the bio diversity of the park

A project called Rhino Vision : 2020 is also underway at Manas National Park, where the One Horned Indian Rhinoceros species are being transferred to the park from Kaziranga National Park and Porbitaro Wildlife Sanctuary.

AASU flays Govt education policy

GUWAHATI, Jan 31 – The education policy of the Assam Government has been condemned by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which described it as a grave threat to school education, and especially to students in Government-aided schools across the State.

Lambasting the Assam Government’s stance vis-à-vis educational affairs, the student body demanded that the government should come up with a White Paper on its performance in the education sector.

In a press meet held here today, AASU leaders lambasted Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and State Education Minister Gautam Borah for their “utter failure and lack of vision” in promoting the education sector in Assam. They were of the belief that the Government, and the education department in particular, have prepared the ground for the destruction of school education in Assam.

“We have been drawing attention to a range of problems related to education, but so far the Government has failed to come up with a single satisfactory response,” said AASU president Sankar Prasad Rai, who added that the Tarun Gogoi government has simply failed to treat education as a priority sector.

He said that the Government’s decision to make Class V a part of primary education was ill-timed as there was a dearth of teachers and infrastructure to cater to the needs of students.

Rai expressed surprise over the fact that the Government’s decision was not preceded by a thorough assessment of the ground reality, and it would jeopardise the lives of countless children studying in Class V who would have no trained teachers or infrastructure to make learning possible.

Tapan Kumar Gogoi, AASU general secretary, in his address said that under Sarva Siksha Abhijan Mission, school education in Assam has confronted a serious crisis. He regretted that a large number of posts of teachers were lying vacant and the Assam Government has shown no interest in filling those.

Expressing apprehension over the appointment of school teachers on a contractual basis, Gogoi mentioned that teachers on contracts would not have the motivation to carry out their duties, and hence their posts should be made permanent.

AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya was strident in demanding that the Assam Government can no longer hide its shameful performance in the education sector and should come up with a White Paper stating what it has been able to do so far.

Bhattacharyya denounced the Chief Minister and the State Education Minister for failing to provide books to scores of students even after the commencement of the academic session. Further, he underlined the need to adopt a planned approach in different levels of education, which should include a rethink of the evaluation of examination answers scripts.

The AASU adviser said that there was an acute need for resurgence in the education system of the state if the interests of the students are to be protected. Referring to a recent survey carried out by Pratham, an NGO, Bhattacharyya asserted that the findings of the assessment portrayed the dismal state of school education in Assam.

The AASU leaders warned that if a favourable response from the Government was not forthcoming it would be left with no option but to go in for mass agitation. Before that, the students’ body plans to go in for a brainstorming session engaging teachers and educationists to chalk out an agenda to improve the education scene.

Solar lanterns brighten up Assam village

Jharuwagaon (Assam): On a winter evening in Assam's Jaruagaon village, six-year-old Rupjyoti is searching for his solar lantern.

This is the time when Jaruwagaon's children return home with their respective lanterns - every day since the solar lamps were given to this village in October last year as part of NDTV-TERI light a billion lives campaign.

Solar lanterns have not only brightened up the dark evenings here, but have made better economic sense.

Champabala's general store is lit up with the same lantern. She says the kerosene lamp's vapour would give her a headache. Now she works longer hours.

"After this light we all have benefitted. Children can study and we can work in the evenings. It's quite amazing," said Champabala.

Rupjyoti reluctantly sits with his school text book while his elder brother helps peal betelnut which is sold in the market the next day. The dark evenings of Jaruwagaon are now all lit up.

Ganga Devi would spend at least Rs. 150 a week buying kerosene, but now this lamp comes for just Rs. 3 a day. A supersaver. And it lasts all evening.

The village has no idea how this lamp arrived but they wanted to thank whoever sponsored it.

Jaruwagaon was sponsored by Shubhra Nag in the NDTV-TERI fundraiser for lighting a billion lives.

At least 20 villages around Jaruwagaon do not have electricity. But the idea of this solar lantern and a few peoples' willingness to come out and change lives has actually changed at least 500 lives in this village alone.

From children studying, to men working and women weaving on the loom, it's literally been a change from darkness unto light.

Assam parties launch poll campaign with rallies

Guwahati: The ruling Congress party and Assam's main Opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Saturday traded charges of corruption, marking the formal launch of electioneering for the state assembly elections expected in March-April.
The AGP on Saturday held a public rally in Guwahati and pledged to halt the Congress juggernaut from making an electoral hat-trick in Assam.

'We cannot allow the Congress to come back to power and to ensure their defeat we need to work as a team with lot of conviction and in a focused way,' said AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary.

The AGP rally was attended by an estimated 10,000 people with almost all the top leadership participating.

'Corruption has been the hallmark of the Congress government during the past nine-and-half years and unless we defeat them the future of Assam looks indeed bleak,' Patowary said.

Former chief minister and senior AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was more vocal in his attack saying the Congress party in Assam has become synonymous with corruption.

'Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his cabinet colleagues are all involved in blatant corruption with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) indicting the Assam government of misappropriating funds to the tune of millions of rupees,' Mahanta said.

The Congress party too held a massive public rally at Nalbari, the home town of the AGP president, and launched a blistering attack on the opposition.

'The AGP during its two terms (1985-1989 and 1996-2001) did nothing for the people of Assam and their highpoint was the infamous saga of secret killings in the state,' health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the rally.

More than 50 family members of ULFA leaders were killed during the tenure of the AGP - most of them picked up by masked gunmen and killed. The killings were popularly referred to as secret killings.

The general feeling was that the assassinations were masterminded by the AGP government, although several enquiry commissions failed to come up with a justifiable explanation as to who ordered the killings.

'The then chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has simply no moral right to criticise the Congress party as during his regime the state saw the darkest chapter of secret killings and he himself was embroiled in the Rs.400 crore veterinary scam,' Bhumidhar Barman, revenue minister and senior Congress leader, said.

'In fact, the CBI named Mahanta in the charge sheet but the then governor refused permission for his prosecution.'

The tone and tenor of the two rallies is a pointer that Assam would witness a high voltage verbal battle as election dates draw near.

HS council not to conduct Class XI examination

GUWAHATI: The Assam Higher Secondary Education Council (AHSEC) has decided that from this session onwards, the Class XI final examination would not be conducted by the council but by the respective affiliated schools and institutes themselves.

From 2011 onwards, the institutes recognized by the council can conduct the Class XI examination. The exam is most likely to take place in February or March and schools have been notified to declare the results before April 14.

P K Kalita, controller of examinations, AHSEC, said, "The education council conducts an examination at the Class XI level only in this state. Of late, the council has come to the conclusion that conducting a public examination for Class XI has no significance and it is rather time consuming."

He also said, "The Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has been maintaining that the pressure of public examinations on students has to be reduced and that no other state follows this pattern. So, we too have decided to change the system. The move will delegate additional responsibility to educational institutes and will also increase the number of academic classes for Class XII."

"The process would be less time-consuming and pressure would decrease on students because the exam would be internal. Students can thus concentrate more on their studies and schools can pay more attention to their performance," Kalita added.

The controller of examinations also declared that the Higher Secondary final examination for Class XII would commence on February 14 and end on March 9 for Science, Arts and Commerce streams and vocational courses; the practicals would be held from March 12.

Approximately 2,40,000 candidates from all the streams are likely to appear for the exam this year and 692 centres have been selected for the exam all over the state.

However, the date for declaration of the results has not been decided yet, but it is most likely to be around the second week of May. "Last year, the results were declared in May and this year, too, we hope we would be able to declare the results within the second week of May itself," Kalita said.

Assam rewards athletes for earning laurels

GUWAHATI: The state government on Friday rewarded 12 promising athletes, who have brought laurels to the state in various national and international events, with a cash amount of Rs 50,000 each at the Srimanta Sankardev Kalakhetra. The state government also felicitated Commonwealth Gold Medalist Renubala Chanu and bronze medal winner Jayanta Talukdar with Rs 10 and 5 lakhs respectively.

As declared earlier, chief minister Tarun Gogoi handed out cheques worth Rs 10 and 5 lakhs to Commonwealth Games heroes Renubala Chanu and Jayanta Talukdar.

Apart from them, young pugilist Shiva Thapa, lawn ball player Tania Chaudhury, swimmer Fariha Zaman, boxer Pranamika Bhuyan, body builder Mahadev Deka, swimmer Elvis Ali Hazarika, ex-India footballer Gilbertson Sangma and badminton coach Dipankar Bhattacharya were all given out cash incentives of Rs 50,000 each for their contribution in sports.

Renubala Chanu, who had bagged gold in the 48-kg category during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and is currently fighting fitness problems, expressed joy over the financial help. "Such kind of recognition always helps an athlete to perform to the best of ability. It will surely encourage many to pursue sports," said Renubala, an employee of Northeast Frontier Railways in Guwahati. She added that she would not be able to take part in Jharkhand National Games due to fitness problem. "But I will be completely ready for the 2012 Olympics in London," she said.

Ace swimmer Fariha Jaman asked the Board of Sports of Assam to constitute a single association for the betterment of budding swimmers. "I couldn t compete on the first day of the Senior National Championship last year due to some problems in the Assam Swimming Association. This year, the same thing might happen which will again kill my hope to play for Assam," said Fariha.

At present, the Assam born swimmer is representing Karnataka due to infighting in the Assam Swimming Association.

Youth to get UID through youth affairs ministry

New Delhi, Jan 30 : Indian youth can now get the unique identification (UID) number with the help of youth and sports affairs ministry. Ajay Maken, the minister in-charge, has decided to provide UID to 20,000 youth enrolled with National Youth Corps, in the first go. Thereafter, the young Indians with the Nehru Yuva Kendras, having about youth clubs around the country, would get UIDs.

“I have asked the officials to speak with the UID Authority of India in this regard,” Maken said. Under the UID scheme, every Indian resident will get a unique number based on biometric identification in the next three to five years.

Enrolling those in youth corps has a twin purpose. First to track whether they are actually getting Rs 2,500 every month under the national youth scheme. Second, is to find out whether they got employed with the help of skill training under the programme.

Maken said through the UID the ministry can have a large database of youth in India for whom existing programmes will be reformed.

One such initiative has been taken for youth in the north-eastern India following a suggestion from Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. “I have called a meeting of all youth affairs ministers from north-east to discuss how skills of youth there can be upgraded with the help of industry body FICCI,” Maken said.

The announcement comes at the time when one of the biggest states in the region, Assam, is going to polls. The move is being seen as a last ditch effort to woo youngsters, who have been launched a campaign against the government for over-exploitation of natural resources in the region.

Already, Right To Information activist Akhil Gagoi has launched a people’s movement against the state government for allowing a large number of dams on river Brahmaputra. The government thinks that such sort of activities can be checked if youth are given skill training for employment purpose.

Maken said if the youth are given skill training to help them in getting livelihood the problem of insurgency in the region could also be checked. The ministry has identified naxal affected areas and Jammu and Kashmir for starting similar programmes.

Assamese trying to revive age-old ties through Indo-Bhutan friendship fair

With the decline of militancy in Assam, the people here are trying to revive the age-old ties with neighbouring countries, and one such initiative was the 'Indo-Bhutan Mela' organized here recently.

On the eve of Magh Bihu, Assam's Baksa District witnessed a huge influx of Bhutanese tourists and the traditional Magh mela held in the region, which was later renamed 'Indo-Bhutan Mela'.

Scores of tourists from Bhutan were present in Subankhata village to participate in the fair, which aimed to revive ties, promote peace and harmony and also boost the trade and commerce between the two nations.

The visitors were provided free lodging and transportation facilities.

"Since 1951, the people from Bhutan participate in huge numbers in Magh mela. But after the Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) started operating in the region this relationship was affected. We have taken this initiative to revive this age-old friendship," said Hem Narzary, Advisor, Subankhata Magh Mela.

"To promote trade and commerce between two countries we need to work hard and then strengthen our relationship. After that we can start working on promoting trade between both sides," added Bhutan-India Friendship Association (BIFA) Vice President Norbu Wangdi.

The cuisine and culture, which are the best ways to build bridges, played an important part in the Indo-Bhutan Mela. Stalls serving both Bhutanese and Assamese cuisine were set up for the visitors.

Traditional dances during the mela provided a window to the culture and traditions of both the countries.

A photo exhibition that showcased cordial relations that have existed between both nations was also held during the fair.

"We have come here for the first time. It is a great experience. We watch a lot of Hindi movies there and we are enjoying ourselves here," said Bhutia, a tourist.

"It's not only about Subankhata area but the entire Baksa district. We can sell rice, potatoes and many other things to the Bhutanese people and they can sell their products here in our market and both can benefit from it," added Binjoy Boro, a local.

Feast for the eyes awaits cine buffs from tomorrow

GUWAHATI, Jan 29 – With an assortment of internationally acclaimed films on offer, cine-buffs of the State would get to view as many as 30 films of good taste in the third edition of the Cine Art Society, Assam (CineASA) Guwahati International Film Festival-2011 that would start from January 30.

With films appreciated and awarded in Cannes Film Festival, those with anti-establishment undertones, films depicting different strata of society, stories of little-known issues around the world – the festival would be a rare treat for cine-lovers interested in tales of different climes and cultures.

Around 30 films would be screened in the festival that would conclude on February 6.

The film fest to be inaugurated in Guwahati by renowned Malayali filmmaker Shaji N Karun, would also be screened in Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur.

In Guwahati, the film festival would have three venues, including Rabindra Bhaban, IIT-Guwahati and Jonaki – the auditorium of Assam Film (Finance and Development) Corporation, Panjabari.

Addressing the press today, Bitopan Borborah, the festival director said that Shaji N Karun’s internationally acclaimed Kutty Shrank (The Sailor of Hearts) would be the inaugural film, whereas the fest would end with Gautam Ghosh’s acclaimed movie Moner Manush. The inaugural function at Anuradha would be marked by a musical performance by noted artiste Kallol Barthakur.

“In the third edition of the film fest, films from China, and a number of films from Mexico would be screened in the ‘Country Focus’ section. In the ‘Jewel of Asia’ segment, two films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul namely Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Syndromes and a Centaury, and in the ‘Chorus for Freedom’ section Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s two films Crimson Gold and Offside would be screened.

In the ‘New Assamese Films’ segment of the festival, Jangfai Jonak of Sanjeev Sabhapandit would be screened.

The ‘World Prism’ section of the festival would feature films from Germany, Norway, Canada, South Africa, South Korea and Russia. These films have been well-received in many reputed film fests, including the Cannes, Berlin and Venice, among others.

Noted filmmaker of State and working president of CineASA, Manju Borah highlighted the need to guide the school and college students towards picking and viewing the movies with good taste.

Kamatapur demand blockade hits road, rail traffic in western Assam

Guwahati, Jan 28 : Rail and road traffic were severely affected in western Assam today in the wake of a 36-hour blockade called in support of a separate Kamatapur state.

The All Koch-Rajbonshi Students Union (AKRSU) had given the blockade call, which started at 0500 hrs this morning.

AKRSU supporters blocked the National Highway at several places and also staged a protest on railway tracks.

As a result, several trains, including the Rajdhani Express, were stopped on the way at different stations.

Vehicles were also left stranded on the Assam as well as West Bengal side as agitators staged demonstrations at inter-state gates.

The AKRSU has been demanding creation of a separate Kamatapur state, carved out of districts in Assam and West Bengal.

Train and road traffic hit in rail-road blockade in Assam

Kokrajhar (Assam), Jan 28 (PTI) Train services between Assam and metropolises Delhi and Kolkata and road traffic were affected in a 36-hour rail and road blockade called by All Koch Rajbongshi Students Union(AKRSU) from today.

All long-distance trains, including Rajdhani Express,Brahmaputra Mail, Saraighat Express, Kamrup Express, have been halted or controlled at Gossaigaon, Bongaigaon, Fakiragaon and Kokrajhar leading to late running of many trains, official sources said.

The rail and road blockade has been called in Bodo Territorial Council area demanding the creation of a separate Kamtapur state and scheduled tribe status for the Koch Rajbongshis, AKRSU sources said.

AKRSU supporters squatted on rail tracks at Salakati and its road blockade caused all long distance buses and trucks to be stranded on N H 31.

There was, however, no report of any untoward incident, the sources added.

3206 jobs in CPMF for Assam domiciled candidates: SSC chairman

Guwahati, Jan 28 (PTI) Altogether 3206 jobs will beavailable in six central paramilitary forces for domiciledcandidates from militancy affected Assam, besides 1750 postsreserved for the North East Region, Staff Selection Commissionchairman N K Raghupatty said here today.

For the border districts of Dhubri, Cachar, Karimganj,Baksa, Kokrajhar, Chirang and Udalguri 325 posts were reservedfor candidates from those areas of Assam, Raghupatty toldreporters here.

The SSC would be recruiting for six paramilitary forces,including the Border Security Force (BSF), Sashastra Seema Bal(SSB), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), CRPF andAssam Rifles, he said.

Across the N-E region, he said, there were 100 vacanciesto be filled up by domiciled candidates in Arunachal Pradesh,217 in Manipur, 329 each in Mizoram and Nagaland, 316 inMeghalaya and 459 in Tripura.

Stating the candidates from Assam could also apply for allthe vacancies across the region, the SSC chief said, theapplicants from the region could further be considered forvacancies in other parts of the country if suitable candidateswere not available there.

Regretting that the number of applications handled by hisn-e regional office here was low compared to the all Indiafigure, the SSC chairman said, Assam in particular had notdone well both in terms of the number of applicants andsuccess rate.

During 2010 -11 (upto January 25) 60075 applications hadbeen received for open examinations with 587 of them onlybeing selected, Raghupathy said, adding, one possible reasonfor poor representation of Assam was lack of awareness amongstudents about different examinations being conducted, thesyllabi and requisite educational qualification.

Hoping to attract a large number of applications from thelarge number of educated unemployed youths in the area andonly matriculation being the requisite educationalqualification for the huge number of vacancies in thegovernment, he said, applications would be issued fromFebruary two next in all the local and national newspapers tobe received till March 11 next either online or by post.

The recruitment process being time-bound to be completedwithin six months, he said, for the ITBP it will end on July31 and for the others on October 31 next.

The SSC had been entrusted to recruit around 55000constables in the central para military forces under the UnionHome ministry, Raghupathy added.

Assam govt refers nine cases for CBI in NC hill district scam

Guwahati, Jan 27 (PTI) The Assam government has referred nine cases related to misappropriation of development funds in NC Hills district to the union Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) so that CBI can probe them.DoPT has given its consent for inquiry and investigation into five cases by CBI but is yet to give its consent for the remaining four cases, an official release here today said.The state government government had referred one case each relating to the public works department, public health and engineering, agriculture, soil conservation, forest, health, panchayat and rural department and two to the social welfare department, the release said.The state government is further examining all cases of misappropriation mentioned in the special audit report of Accountant General for referring it to the CBI, it said.The CAG had detected anomalies in development fund management of North Cachar Hills district. The issue has rocked the state with opposition parties demanding dismissal of the ruling Congress government on the issue.

Open Border Causes Anti-Social Activities in Assam

Karimganj, Jan 27 : Indo-Bangla border in Assam's Karimganj district has turned it into a den of anti-socials forcing the villagers to flee the area.

Confirming that the situation was "serious", Additional Superintendent of Police, Karimganj, K M Gupta said due to virtual absence of security forces, the area had become a spot for anti-social activities.

"With three murders in the last three months, the area is mostly occupied by Bangladeshi infiltrators who take the advantage of the porous border and sneak into the country for anti-social activities and quietly return," police said.

Although BSF jawans were manning the boder in the Karimganj sector, there was neither any border outpost nor any watchpost as second line of control, they said.

Out of panic families of at least six villagers of Dholgram had fled to nearby areas, police said.

However, the district administration and police have underlined measures to strengthen security in the area.

Proposed peace talks with ULFA has heralded anew age in Assam

Guwahati, Jan 26 (PTI) The proposed peace talks with the ULFA and other insurgent outfits in the state have heralded the beginning of a new age in Assam, Governor Janaki Ballav Patnaik said today.

Unfurling the tricolour at the official Republic Day function at the Latasil Parade ground here, Patnaik said a conducive atmosphere had been created for peace talks following ceasefire agreements with various militant outfits in the state.

The Governor also congratulated the people of Assam for their positive stand on the peace process.

Expressing his happiness at the improvement in the law and order situation in the state, he reiterated the government''s strong measures against any extremist outfits indulging in violence.

On the occasion of Republic Day, Patnaik urged all to pledge themselves to unitedly work for peace, uphold the state''s unity, work for welfare and unity of the people and development of the state so as to be one of the most developed states in the country.

Assam hopes to meet fish demand in 3 years

Guwahati, Jan. 26 : Assam has always paid a huge import bill for buying fish. But it is on its way to becoming self-sufficient in fish production in the next three years.

Announcing the 5th Assam Matsya Mahotsav — a three-day fish festival to be held at Shilpgram in Panjabari from January 27-29 — fisheries minister Nurjamal Sarkar said here that Dispur has taken steps in the past few years to bring down the deficit and make the state self-sufficient in fish production.

He said fish production had increased in the past five years — from 181.48 lakh tonnes in 2006-07 to 190.32 lakh tonnes in 2007-08, 206.74 lakh tonnes in 2008-09 and 218.82 lakh tonnes in 2009-10. The target for 2010-11 is 230 lakh tonnes, he added.

The total fish requirement in the state is 2.36 lakh tonnes.

“In 2009-10, the fish import was 18,450 lakh tonnes of which 5,250 lakh tonnes were exported to the neighbouring states,” Sarkar said.

Though the total surface water area for fish in the state is 3.90 lakh hectares, the aggregate demand for fish has always exceeded production.

Sarkar said several measures had helped the state increase fish production. During the Eleventh Plan, 6,080 hectares of water area has been created for fish farming. Fish Seed Rules 2010 was framed under the Fish Seed Act for the first time to regulate fish seed production to ensure availability of quality fish seed to farmers.

Sarkar said an angling and aquarium hub, the first in the state, will be inaugurated at Matsya Vikash Sarovar, Panbazar on January 29. The commissioner and secretary of fisheries department, P.K. Barthakur, said, “The hub will help youths to take an interest in aquariums and later take it up as a profession.”

The festival will include seminars, exhibition, games and drawing competition on the fisheries sector. It will be attended by experts from the fisheries sector. The idea is to fulfil the dream of a blue revolution in the state.

Barthakur said a fresh prawn hatchery has been established for the first time in the state to popularise prawn farming. A state fishery laboratory has also been established for assessment of quality fish seed and diagnosis of fish diseases, among others.

He said Rs 5 lakh has been proposed for taking up farming of ornamental fish, which has good export value, in 2011-12. Besides, Rs 3,958.30 lakh has been proposed for the fisheries sector in 2011-12 for steps such as developing fish seed farming and restore derelict waterbodies.

No night trains in Assam till Jan 30

Kolkata, Jan 26 (IANS) Night-time movements along the Guwahati-Lumding section of North East Frontier Railway in Assam have been suspended till Jan 30 to prevent any possible subversive activity in view of Republic Day Wednesday, a railway release said.

Intelligence sources said there were inputs about threats from different militant groups, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

In a media release, the railways Tuesday said night running of mail/express trains in the entire Assam portion of North East Frontier Railway has been suspended between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. The restriction implemented on Jan 24 evening will continue till Jan 30. Intelligence Bureau sources said, in the run-up to the 62nd Republic Day, security has been put on maximum alert in view of the threat from the ultra groups.

The list of suspended trains includes most trains running between Guwahati and north Bengal while almost every train linking Guwahati with other Assam towns like Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Nagaon, Dimapur, Tinsukia and Dhubri has been suspended for the next seven days.

Timing of several trains linking Guwahati with New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Puri in Orissa has also been rescheduled, the railway statement said.

NFR spokesperson S. Hazong told IANS: 'The train movement during night has been suspended as a preventive measure ahead of Republic day to thwart any possible subversive activity'.

'As many as 27 trains, including the Guwahati-Dibrugarh stretches of the Rajdhani Express, have been cancelled between Jan 24 and 30 while several long-distance trains linking Dibrugarh and Guwahati with Kolkata, New Jalpaiguri, New Delhi and Alipurduar have been either regulated or cancelled for some stretches,' he said.

Assam Gas Cracker Cost escalates to over Rs 9000 cr

NEW DELHI, Jan 25 – The schedule for completion of the mega Assam gas cracker project has been revised while the project cost has escalated to over Rs 9000 crore from Rs 5460 crore.

Union Minister for Development of the North Eastern Region (DoNER), Bijoy Krishna Handique confirmed this.

Talking to newsmen, Handique revealed that he has received a communication from Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), T K A Nair informing him that the targeted date of completion has been rescheduled for 2013. Nair has been given charge to monitor the implementation of the gas cracker project.

The project cost too has increased to over Rs 9000 crore, Handique added.

As reported, the gas cracker project has slippages and missed its target for the last two consecutive years.

Last year, the project could achieve only 26.4 per cent of the targeted 50 per cent. As on November last year, 26.4 per cent work was achieved, as against the cumulative scheduled target of 50 per cent.

Recently, PMO had sought a detailed status report from the Department of Chemical and Petrochemicals (DCPC) and the Bramaputra Crackers and Polymers Limited (BCPL) to file a latest report with reason for the delay.

Meanwhile, Minister DoNER Handique on Monday chaired a meeting of the officials of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to resolve a couple of outstanding issues.

MSME is involved in providing skill training to workers and entrepreneurs for gas cracker project. The officials of DoNER and MSME would meet to work out an action plan, said the Minister.

Handique said the gas cracker project needs 6000-8000 skilled workers daily. “We shall be deciding on the training soon,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Minister DoNER disclosed that the Sixth North East Business Summit in Mumbai held on January 21-22 saw signing of 45 Expression of Interest (EoIs) between investors and State Governments of the Region covering agro-food processing, infrastructure, manufacturing and services sectors.

“The total investment in to these sectors could be around Rs 1060 crore,” he said.

Nagaland’s N Rio was the lone Chief Minister to attend the Meet, other States were represented by State Ministers and senior officials. Assam was represented by State Industry Minister, Pradyut Bordoloi.

Assam: Three injured critically in police firing

Rangiya (Assam): Three persons were critically injured today and a cop suspended as police fired at a mob, which turned violent after a youth was knocked down by a speeding vehicle in Assam’s Kamrup (rural) district.

Udhab Medhi, 22, was knocked down by a speeding vehicle killing him on the spot early this morning at Dhuparguri area, District Superintendent of Police P S Mahanta told PTI.

Angry residents of the area set ablaze the vehicle and blocked the road demanding immediate arrest of the driver who managed to escape, he said.

The mob burnt tyres and pelted stones following which the police resorted to lathicharge to disperse them.

As the mob turned more violent, the police opened fire in which three persons were critically injured and several others received minor injuries, Mahanta said.

Kuldip Singh, the Officer-in-Charge of Hajo police station, was suspended with immediate effect following the incident.

The situation has now been brought under control, the DSP said.

'Bihar, Assam visitors compound disease threat'

VELLORE/RAMANATHAPURAM/ ERODE/HOSUR: More and more visitors thronging Vellore from North India increase risk of diseases spreading amongst locals, said District Collector C Rajendran enforcing the need for more medical health checks.

During his inaugural address at the free polio vaccination camps in the city, Rajendran said: “Many visitors to the CMC and the Golden Temple are from far away places such as Bihar and Assam.

There is always a risk that they might be carrying the disease and it might spread to residents. This is why the administration has made plans to increase medical camps and administer vaccines, if necessary.” He also said that though the State has been polio-free for the last 16 years, the government has made it mandatory for every child below the age of 5 to receive a dosage of polio vaccination.

It is estimated that 3.9 lakh children will be given the vaccine through 2,243 camps spread across the district.

Meanwhile in Ramanathapuram, District Collector T N Hariharan inaugurated the polio vaccine campaign at the government headquarters hospital. Around 1,28,500 children were administered polio drops in the district. Moreover, 23 polio centres were established in Ramanathapuram municipal limit to give the vaccine to 7,150 children.

Militant threat forces Assam to suspend night trains

Guwahati: Even as security has been put on maximum alert in the run-up to the Republic Day celebrations, the government has suspended night running of trains across Assam for seven days in view of intelligence inputs about threats from different militant groups, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

As many as 27 trains, including the Guwahati-Dibrugarh stretches of the Rajdhani Express, have been cancelled between January 24 and 30 while several long-distance trains linking Dibrugarh and Guwahati with Kolkata, New Jalpaiguri, New Delhi and Alipurduar have been either regulated or cancelled for some stretches.

The list of suspended trains includes most trains running between Guwahati and north Bengal while almost every train linking Guwahati with places like Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Nagaon, Dimapur, Tinsukia and Dhubri has been suspended for the next seven days.

Timing of several trains linking Guwahati with New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Puri has also been rescheduled.

Meanwhile, the Northeast Frontier Railways has also cancelled all trains on the Lumding-Silchar route in the Hill Section in view of a 100-hour bandh called by several organisations in the Dima Hasao (erstwhile North Cachar Hills) district since Saturday. These include the Lumding-Agartala Express, Lumding-Silchar Express and the Barak Valley Express.

100-hr bandh dampens Dima Hasao festivity

Nagaon, Jan. 23 : Frequent bandhs, called either by militant outfits or other groups, have started taking a toll on Dima Hasao district.

Since the beginning of 2011, educational institutions, government offices and business establishments had to remain closed time and again due to these bandhs.

All offices, markets and educational institutions in the district remained closed for the second consecutive day today because of a 100-hour bandh called by the Indigenous Students Association since Thursday.

The bandh, the third to be called this year, has only compounded the people’s woes, as it comes just five days ahead of Busu Dima, the annual three-day harvest festival of the Dimasas.

The festivities start on January 27 every year. “The bandh will end at 9pm on January 25. We have to think how we will prepare for the festival. Closed markets and shops and paralysed communications might dampen the mood among the people during Busu Dima,” said a local official.

NF Railways had earlier suspended service through the hill track for the bandh.

The Jewel Gorlosa faction of Dima Halam Daogah called the first bandh of the year on January 3, demanding release of the outfit’s leaders — Gorlosa and commander-in-chief Niranjan Hojai.

It was followed by a 36-hour bandh called by the joint action committee for Dimaraji movement from 5am on January 18.

The Indigenous Students Association — a platform of all non-Dimasa student organisations — called the current bandh demanding bifurcation of the district into two, and floating of a new autonomous council for non-Dimasas of the district.

As a result of these frequent bandhs, a silent exodus, at least of students, has begun.

“Frequent bandhs pushed me to shift from Haflong to neighbouring Lanka in Nagaon district, where my children can attend school regularly. I think I have done a wise thing even though I miss Haflong,” said Dijen Naiding.

Like him, thousands of families from Haflong, Maibong, Mahur and Umrangsu have shifted to neighbouring Nagaon, Cachar and Guwahati in search of a bandh-free environment. According to an education department source of bordering Hojai subdivision, more than 20 per cent students enrolled in different educational institutions in Lanka are from Dima Hasao.

“Guardians take rented houses in Lanka and admit their students in schools or colleges. Families having bread-earners who either work or have businesses in Dima Hasao are maintaining two houses — one in Haflong for work, and the other in Lanka for their children’s education,” the source said.

New directorate for tribals soon: Gogoi

UDALGURI, Jan 23 – The State Government wants speedy development of all ethnic tribes of the State and keeping this in view, the government has decided to set up a separate directorate for the tribals of Assam, where all the tribals, including Bodos, will have separate departments for their development.

This was said by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi while inaugurating the open session of 50th annual conference of the Bodo Sahitya Sabha here at Bwigooma Fwthar here.

The Chief Minister observed that literary organisations like the Bodo Sahitya Sabha can help wipe out differences among the various sections of people of the State.

Speaking on the occasion as chief guest, litterateur-cum-journalist Homen Borgohain commented that the Asom Sahitya Sabha should learn discipline from the Bodo Sahitya Sabha.

Rong-Bong Terang, president of the Asom Sahitya Sabha also addressed the congregation as the distinguished guest and said that Bodo language has a bright prospect and it will develop further in the days to come. Terang also praised the beauty of the Bodo language.

The open session, chaired by re-elected president Dr Kameswar Brahma, was also addressed by Hagrama Mohilary, chief of BTC.

He said that the BTC has laid much stress on road communication, agriculture and education and now that a peaceful atmosphere is prevailing in BTC, development is also going on at a faster pace.

The open session was also attended by Transport Minister, Chandan Brahma, Agriculture Minister Promilarani Brahma among others.

Earlier, the last day of the four-day got underway today with the last delegates’ meet which elected Dr Kameswar Brahma and Kamalakanta Mochahary as president and general secretary, respectively for the next three-year term.

Rihon Daimari, PHE Minister, and president of the reception committee flagged off the multi-cultural procession where Bodo, Assamese, Adivashi Nepali, Bengali, Rabha, Hajongs, tea-tribes etc. groups participated.

It is to be noted that the open session of the premier literary organisation was attended by over 40,000 people from all walks of life.

''Rebirth'': A book on Assam''s troubled political history

Guwahati, Jan 22 (PTI) Writer Jahnavi Barua''s new novel "Rebirth" provides glimpses of Assam''s troubled political history while examining contemporary urban life.

Set in Bangalore and Guwahati, "Rebirth" is the story of a young woman Kaberi struggling with an uncertain marriage and is also an intimate portrait of the bond between a mother and her unborn child.

Moving between Bangalore and Guwahati, the novel, published by Penguin, weaves together Kaberi''s inner and outer worlds as she negotiates the treacherous waters of betrayal and loss -- an unfaithful husband, a troubled relationship with her parents and the death of a childhood friend.
With characteristic restraint and disarming honesty, Jahnavi lays bare the disquieting predicaments of contemporary urban life and reveals the timeless and redemptive power of love, friendship and self-renewal.
Though trained as a doctor, Jahnavi instead decided to pursue a career in writing with her passion for the land she comes from (Assam), publishing her first book "Next Door" -- a collection of short stories, in 2008 to critical acclaim.
Besides her short stories being widely anthologised, in 2005 Jahnavi won the Short Fiction contest hosted by Unisun Publishers and the British Council. That was followed by the second prize in the Children''s Fiction category of the same prize the next year.
In 2006, the Bangalore-based author was awarded a Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship to study Creative Writing in the UK.

AASU decries move to amend NRC form

GUWAHATI, Jan 22 – The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) today decried the proposed amendment in the form meant for updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951 in Assam, saying that it would help the illegal intruders to get settled in the State.

Strongly opposing the omission of the clauses requiring the place of birth and related particulars of the applicants that exists in clause 4 of the original form, the students’ body alleged that in the name of simplification, Gogoi government is trying to make it easier for the illegal migrants to get registered in the NRC.

Briefing the press today, AASU advisor Samujjal Kr Bhattachrayya said that all the proposed amendments in the draft form indicate towards a vote bank politics by the Congress government to appease the illegal migrants.

Bhattacharyya also added that the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s announcement of house to house enumeration for collecting of the specified particulars should be reviewed as such an action would violate the Citizenship Act 1955, which has laid down separate parameters to update NRC in Assam.

As per the special provisions for Assam, application should be invited from all the residents for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual residing in State including the citizenship status based on the NRC 1951 and the electoral rolls prior to 1971.

“The special provisions were made for Assam, to tackle with the problem of illegal infiltration. But, the Chief Minister’s announcement indicates that the government machineries would assist the illegal intruders in legalizing their status,” he mentioned.

“Clauses 12 and 13 that are mandatory in the original form have been made optional in the draft form’s clause 11 and 12. The particulars of entry in the NRC 1951 and particulars of entry in electoral rolls up to 1971 have been asked for in the two clauses. There is no valid reason to make these clauses optional,” AASU president Sankar Prasad Ray said.

“Similarly, in case of applicants who have migrated from other States of the country, the reason for shifting and period from which the applicant have been residing in Assam have been omitted from the modified draft form,” he added.

The executive body meet of the AASU would be held in the last week of this month, after which an AASU delegation would go to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister and other Union Government leaders.

50,000 displaced Rabhas and Garos facing discrimination in Assam

The Asian Centre for Human Rights today said that about 50,000 Garos and Rabhas displaced by conflicts since January 1, 2010 are being discriminated in terms of relief and rehabilitation in comparison to assistance being provided to the Kashmiri Pandits and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees by the Government of India.

Addressing media here, Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights said: "In terms of rations at the relief camps, at Jammu and in Delhi, Kashmiri internally displaced person are given Rs.1000/- per head per month subject to maximum of Rs.4000/- per family per month plus dry ration. The Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are provided cash dole of Rs.400 per head of family, Rs.288 for each additional member who is 12 year-old, Rs.180 per first child and Rs.90 to each of additional children per month."

"However, the displaced Rabhas and Garos are not being given any regular assistance," he added.

He said the Rabhas and Garos are being provided only three bundles of tin roof sheet and Rs 10,000, which is highly discriminatory.

He further said that the discrimination against the Rabha and Garo displaced persons would be taken up with the State Governments and the Centre and other appropriate orums/mechanisms. (ANI)

Assamese happy over possible government, ULFA talks

This year's Bhogali Bihu festival has become more special than previous ones, owing to the fact that there is a possibility of the Central Government holding talks with the rebel United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) leadership sooner than later.

No festival is complete without sweets. And, when it comes to the festival of Bhogali Bihu, the sweets seem to be never ending.

'Bhogali', means food in Assamese, and food it is that forms the main part of this festival, which falls in the month of 'Magh' or January.

The Bhogali Bihu or the Magh Bihu marks an end to a successful harvesting season.

Farmers and their family members organize a big feast and pray to the gods for an even better harvest the next year. The women prepare traditional delicacies like 'pithas' 'wah-karai', and sesame sweets for the grand feast, which takes place the night before the main festival.

Naren Deka, a local resident, said: "This Bihu has brought prosperity and happiness to us. With the ULFA leaders coming to the negotiating tables, our wish for peace has been fulfilled."

Pani Ram Ragha, another resident, said: "Our happiness in Bihu this year is due to the fact that ULFA is coming for negotiations. It is a positive sign and it will help in the development of our region and the nation in a positive way."

In Jorhat, a fair was organized where eatables, traditional clothes, jewellery and other items were sold.

Hundreds of visitors thronged the Bihu mela to buy items needed during the festival.

Arpan Sarma, a member of the Bihu Mela organizing committee, said: "We started this mela to promote Self Help Groups and artisans from the region. We aim to bring everything under one roof for the benefit of the customers."

Shopkeeper Deepjyoti Bordoloi, said: "Such fairs should be organized for the benefit of the people."

During the festival, Meji Houses or makeshift temples devoted to the harvest gods are burnt at the break of dawn. It is a symbol of victory of good over the evil.

The devotees also pray for the wellbeing and prosperity of everyone.

Bihu, the soul of Assam, is more than just a festival and merriment. It is intrinsically linked with the culture and ethos of the state. (ANI)

Peace talks with ULFA on right track, says Gogoi

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday said the peace talks with United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is on the right track and will continue even without the separatist group's commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah.

"We know Baruah for his anti-talk stance. But the peace process will continue and we will strive for a permanent solution to the insurgency problem of the state," Gogoi told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.

"With all the leaders, including chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, expressing willingness for talks, the talks process is on right track," he added.

Gogoi on January 10 said the government wants peace talks with the ULFA to start as soon as possible, but added that a final decision in this regard has to be taken by them.

"We want the peace talks with the ULFA to start as soon as possible, but the ultimate decision has to be taken by them and not us. They have to sit for their general council meeting for taking a decision," said Gogoi.

"We have not thought about it now, but can give them safe passage," he added, when asked on the grant of general amnesty to ULFA.

Commenting on reports about the participation of ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah in the discussions, Gogoi said: "It is up to them whether he takes part in the talks. Our doors are always open. Will I not proceed with the talks if Paresh Baruah does not want to come? If he comes he is most welcome. Those who abjure violence can talk with the government within the framework of the constitution."

"I have made it very clear that those indulging in violence will be sternly dealt with and there will be no compromise," he added, when asked about Arabinda Rajkhowa, the recently released ULFA chief, threatening that he might take up arms again if there was no solution after the talks.

Earlier on Saturday, Gogoi said talks with the ULFA leaders would start soon.

Addressing the media in New Delhi, Gogoi said that ULFA leaders wanted to hold their "general council" meeting before conducting peace talks, and added the state government was ready to join in as soon as the meeting was over.

"You see, it is on the tracks, it is moving in the right direction, but how soon, I cannot say, but definitely it would start very soon. No doubt about it because they need some release of two-three colleagues, and release depends on the judiciary also, and it is not in our hands also," Gogoi said.

"Then they have to hold general council meeting so now the ball is in their court. The moment they are ready to hold the general council meeting, definitely talks will start and we are moving in the right direction. That is all I can say," he added.

Arabinda Rajkhowa has been demanding facilitating the participation of other top leaders of the organization, including Anup Chetia, the secretary general of the group, currently behind bars in Bangladesh. (ANI)

CAG detects Rs 20 lakh anomalies in NC Hills

R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, Jan 19 – Though huge sums of money have been spent in Assam over the years for counter-insurgency operations, there is apprehension of misappropriation of a portion of the funds and one such case in North Cachar Hills district has come to light. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), during a test check, found that an amount of Rs 20 lakh earmarked for counter-insurgency operations in the hill district remained unaccounted, which tantamounts to misappropriation.

The CAG, in its latest report, pointed out that as per rules 78 and 79 of the Assam Financial Rules, every payment should be supported by a voucher and actual payee’s receipt. Further, according to Rule 95 of the Assam Financial Rules, every receipt and disbursement should be recorded in the cash book.

However, a test check of the records of the office of the Deputy Commissioner of North Cachar Hills in November , 2009, revealed that Rs 45.62 lakh was drawn in July, 2008 to meet the expenditure for counter-insurgency operations. The amount drawn was credited to the DDO’s bank account. Subsequently, the amount was withdrawn and transferred to the Nazarat branch of the office.

According to the payment register (subsidiary cash book), out of the amount, Rs 25.62 lakh was drawn in cash for counter-insurgency operations and the balance amount was deposit at call receipt in State Bank of India, Haflong branch. Though the amount was converted into deposit at call receipt, the same was not taken into account in the closing balance of the main cash book. Audit scrutiny further revealed that the deposit at call receipt was encashed by the Deputy Commissioner the very next day but the amount was neither recorded in the cash book nor in any voucher. The Deputy Commissioner also did not clarify the whereabouts of the money, the CAG added.

The CAG report said that the amount of Rs 20 lakh meant for counter-insurgency operations remained unaccounted, which tantamounted to misappropriation of Government money.

Interestingly, the matter was reported to the Government in February, 2010 but the office of the Accountant General did not receive any reply till August, 2010.

Interestingly, during the test check of the records of the office of the DC, NC Hills, the CAG found a specific case of misappropriation of Rs 1.26 crore. The CAG report said that the failure of the DC to conduct necessary checks as per the financial rules as the drawing and disbursing officer led to the misappropriation of the amount.

ADB gives $90 m to Assam for power

KOLKATA: Asian Development Bank has extended an $89.7 million loan for the Assam power sector enhancement programme to build two substations, 342 km of transmission lines and augment 11 existing substations. This is part of a $200 million credit-line offered to Assam for the state's power sector development. Under this project, the state plans to build 14 substations and over 600 km of transmission links.

Assam foresters get snaps of poachers

GUWAHATI: It's no longer beating around the bush to trace an unknown identity. Forest department officials in the state have got hold of some photographs of poachers involved in the killing of a rhino at the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park on January 9.

Cameras placed inside the park to track tiger movement have revealed some striking snaps of a gun-toting man looking for animals in the Kacharibeti toop area of the forest where the pachyderm was killed on January 9.

"Some photographs of poachers got captured in cameras placed there to track movement of big cats," said Suresh Chand, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) on Thursday.

He added that the man was wearing a red sweater. In another snap, he is seen accompanying another man inside the forest at night.

Orang National Park DFO Sushil Kumar Daila said he tried his best to protect the rhinos in the area after getting the pictures three days ahead of the poaching on January 6. "But unfortunately, we couldn't save the pachyderm," he added.

The PCCF said the government has declared a cash reward of Rs 25,000 for revealing proper identity of the poacher. Forest officials have already suspended Lila Chamua, a forest guard who was on duty in the Kacharibeti toop area post on the night of January 9.

"Chaumaua may have close links with the poachers. We suspect his involvement in the incident," added Chand. Forest officers have appealed to people to help them in detecting and arresting the culprits.

According to the forest department, rhino poaching was on the wane in the state last year. In 2010, seven rhinos were killed in the state out of which five were killed in Kaziranga and 2 at Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park.

Fuel-carrying train's engine catches fire in Assam

Guwahati, Jan 14 : A major disaster was averted today when a fire that broke out in the engine of a fuel-carrying train was doused in time in upper Assam's Golaghat district.

Official sources said the engine of the train with 51 wagons, which had left Numaligarh Refinery in Golaghat in the morning, caught fire at Adharsatra railway station at around 0930 hours.

The fire was brought under control immediately and authorities ensured that it did not spread to the wagons, which could have led to a major disaster.

The train finally left the station at about 1500 hours when a new engine arrived. A technical fault is suspected to be the cause of the incident, the sources added.

Govt may hand over only 3 more cases to CBI

R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, Jan 14 – Though the Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, had asserted that the State Government would entrust the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with the responsibility of probing into all financial irregularities in North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council, he is yet to keep his word and only three more specific cases are likely to be handed over to the agency soon.

A special audit of the accounts of the Autonomous Council by the office of the Accountant General (AG) unearthed glaring financial mismanagement and irregularities and the Chief Minister asserted that the Government would ask the CBI to probe all the irregularities pointed out by the AG. But that has not yet been done.

Highly placed official sources told The Assam Tribune that the State Government has issued a notification for handing over three more cases to the CBI. Sources said that the Central investigating agency would take over the cases only after a corresponding notification in this regard is issued by the Government of India.

The three specific cases sought to be handed over to the CBI are related to Social Welfare, Health and Rural Development departments of the Autonomous Council. Sources said that the case of the Rural Development Department is related to the implementation of the NREGA scheme in the hill district. The cases in this regard have already been registered by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Assam Police and after the Centre issues the notification, the same will be transferred to the CBI.

The Government had earlier handed over five specific cases of financial irregularities to the CBI and investigation into the cases is now on. A special team of the CBI is camping in Haflong for carrying out the investigation and scrutiny of the relevant documents required for the investigation of the cases is almost complete.

It may be mentioned here that during the process of the special audit, the office of the AG found glaring irregularities in implementation of different schemes by the Autonomous Council and even the role of the then Governor and the Hill Areas Development Department came under scrutiny.

In its report, the office of the AG also revealed that funds in excess of Budget provisions were sent to the NC Hills Council during the two-and-a-half-year period of the audit, while there was discrepancy in the release of funds as claimed by the Hill Areas Development Department and the receipts shown by the Council. In fact, the Council received much more funds than what was reported to have been sent to it by the State Government and the same was not ratified later.

Assam under grip of cold wave

Guwahati, Jan 13 (PTI) Cold wave conditions prevailedin Assam today as the mercury plummeted to a record low ofeight degrees Celsius affecting normal life.

A spokesman for the Regional Meteorology Centre heresaid the cold wave would persist for a couple of days more,which came as dampener for those preparing to celebrate the Magh Bihu harvest festival starting tomorrow.

Cold north-westerly winds from north India haveresulted in the dip in temperature.

The cold wave was persisting in north India andGangetic West Bengal due to Western Disturbance in theHimalayas, he explained.

Normal life was affected in many parts of the statewhich came under a thick blanket of fog as people were seenhuddling around bonfires to keep themselves warm.

Attendance in government offices was also low.

Assam Police arrest Dantewada massacre prime suspect

Guwahati, Jan 13 (ANI): Assam Police arrested a Maoist named Piyush Kranti Acharya, who is a prime suspect in the April 2010 Dantewada massacre in which 76 security personnel were killed, here on Wednesday.

Acharya, however, denied all allegations after his arrest.

In hesitant and slurred tones, he told reporters that he had been suffering various illnesses and had just come to Assam.

"I fell ill in Chhattisgarh; I had suffered from Alzheimer's disease, hallucinations and paedophilia. I have not been well for three days. I just came to Assam," said Acharya.

He further claimed that the police officials were wrongly informed about Maoists.

"Maoists have only one group. You people do not have any knowledge and are all talking rubbish," he said.

The massacre of 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on April 6, 2010, by around 500 Maoists at Dantewada in Bastar region brought into focus the growing influence of Naxals and triggered a debate at the national level on the preparedness of the country's security agencies to deal with them, prompting Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to term Maoism as the gravest internal security threat to the country.

Pesticide ban call for around India's Kaziranga park

By Subir Bhaumik
Dead elephant in Kaziranga national park Campaigners say pesticides have killed elephants and other animals in Kaziranga (Photo: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)

Forestry officials in the north-east Indian state of Assam have demanded the creation of a no-pesticide zone around the famous Kaziranga game sanctuary.
The call follows the deaths of two pregnant elephants and other animals in tea estates around Kaziranga.
The national park is renowned for its varied wildlife, especially the tiger and the one-horned Indian rhino.
Officials say that mammals and birds were killed after eating grass that was contaminated by pesticides.
The two elephants ventured out of the park in search of food and ate grass which had been sprayed to kill red ants, officials say.
"The death of these elephants has brought the pesticide issue to the limelight, because the chemicals sprayed in tea estates are playing havoc with wildlife in our forests which are surrounded by hundreds of tea estates," said Anurag Singh, a senior forestry official in northern Assam where Kaziranga is located.
The area has the highest concentration of tea estates in India.
"The managements of these estates must turn to organic farming and stop spraying chemicals," Mr Singh said.
'Endangering our wildlife' He added that hundreds of birds have died in the same area as has livestock which has eaten pesticide-laced grass in recent weeks.

“Start Quote

Gossainbarie tea estate owner Binod Saharia
Unless we all go organic, our teas will be under a scanner and we will lose lucrative markets ”
End Quote Gossainbarie tea estate owner Binod Saharia
"The cows died in their dozens and the vultures who fed on them also died in large numbers. So you can imagine the effect on human health when consumers drink these teas," Mr Singh said.
He said the forestry department was contemplating the prosecution of some tea estates if animals - especially those that are endangered - are killed by the pesticides.
Local community groups also support a pesticide ban.
"The tea estates should go organic and stop spraying random pesticides. They are not only endangering our wildlife and aquatic life but also our people," said Moni Manik Gogoi, who heads a "people's committee" near Kaziranga.
Some tea estate owners have also supported the call, especially those who run estates which are fully organic.
"Unless we all go organic, our teas will be under a scanner and we will lose lucrative markets where consumers are very health conscious," said Binod Saharia, owner of the Gossainbarie tea estate near Kaziranga.
But some planters are wary of losing out if they make the transition.
"The tea industry is so used to chemicals because they represent the easy option when combating plant diseases like halepeltis," said HS Siddhu, a veteran tea planter in Northern Assam.
He said the planters should be persuaded rather than being forced to convert to organic farming.

Scant facilities for teachers and children in Assam

Hundreds of street children and teachers of Jyoti Kendra Programme under the Assam Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (ASSA) are demanding proper facilities.

Children said they have not been provided with proper infrastructural facilities and not even proper uniforms.

"Till date, not even a single student has been provided a table or a chair. Some sit on the ground and others sit on their bags. We have not been provided with any facility not even a proper uniform. We have been hearing for the last many days that uniform will come today or tomorrow but till now no uniform has been given to us," said Ranjit Soner, a student.

Meanwhile, the teachers have asked for appointment letters as permanent teachers, and also salary as per the revised pay scale and two-year teachers training.

When the Jyoti Kendra programme was started in 2002, the teachers were paid a salary of Rs 1,000. After a series of protests the salary was hiked to Rs 1,500 in 2007 and at present the teachers draw a meagre salary of Rs 1700.

The teachers also complained that they make their best efforts to teach street children but in return they are not been paid proper salaries.

"We want appointment (letters). We don't want to work on contract basis. We run our house in Rs 1700 and the teachers of other schools receive about Rs 20000-25000. We bring children who work in garage, hotels and are domestic servants and teach them and then they join higher schools," said Anup Biswas, a teacher.

There are at present 825 Jyoti Kendras across the State and such centres have provided primary education to about 12,530 children so far. (ANI)

Rhino killed in Guwahati

Guwahati, Jan 11 (PTI) A rhino was killed and its horn removed allegedly by poachers in Assam''s Orang National Park, officials said today.

The poachers killed the female rhino when the forest guards had returned to their camp office late last night, divisional forest officer S K Daila said.

The horn of the rhino was removed and taken away by the poachers.

A massive search operation has been launched in the area to apprehend the poachers and patrolling by forest guards inside the Park has been intensified to stop such incidents, he added.

ULFA chairman meets Paresh Baruah''s mother

Jeraigaon (Assam), Jan 11 (PTI) ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa today visited the outfit''s elusive ''commander-in-chief'' Paresh Baruah''s mother Miliki Baruah, who insisted that her son and others be brought back for the peace talks.
"As all of you went out together on your struggle 30 years ago, now bring Paresh Baruah, Anup Chetia and others back by any means for the talks for a lasting solution to the Assam problem. Otherwise it will remain unsolved," octogenarian Miliki said.
Baruah is reportedly in China and is still insistent on discussing the outfit''s core issue of sovereignty.
Accompanied by the outfit''s idealogue Bhimkanta Buragohain, Rajkhowa came to Jeraigaon in Dibrugarh district and visited Baruah''s mother for the first time since his release on bail recently.
Rajkhowa''s wife Kaberi Kochari also accompanied him during his visit.
The ULFA leaders also visited the ancestral residence of general secretary Anup Chetia, now in a Dhaka jail, also in the same village.
Rajkhowa later told the media here that when the decision taking general council of the ULFA meets, it will discuss the release of all its jailed leaders and the cadres missing since Operation All Clear in Bhutan in December 2002.

Factory buzz in 200-jumbo frenzy

three killed, 900 homeless in central assaMA house razed by elephants in Nagaon. Telegraph picture

Nagaon, Jan. 10: A herd of 200-odd elephants has been on the rampage for a week over a large tract of central Assam and has killed three people and destroyed 200 dwellings, but forest officials are clueless how to drive them away.
Over 900 people have fled their villages in the area, which lies at the border between the plains district of Nagaon and hilly Karbi Anglong, and have taken refuge in three relief camps.
Some of them alleged that the herd had stumbled into human settlements after being forced to change its route because a cement factory was being constructed in the elephant corridor.
Forest officials said they wanted to chase the elephants into the nearby Lumding reserve forest with help from the police, but were still waiting because they weren’t sure how that could be done.
The route to the forest from the herd’s current location passes through pockets of human habitation, including the bustling town of Lanka, they said.
“There are more than 40 calves in the herd. We are still unsure how to guide these animals to the reserve forest through a densely populated area,” said Hojai divisional forest officer Pravakar Das.
Das did not mention the cement factory. He said the herd, which had come down from the Lamsakhang reserve forest in Karbi Anglong district, had changed its route after local people obstructed its path near the foothills.
The first death occurred on January 4 evening in Nakhuti near Lumding, a major railway junction. The animals destroyed 26 houses and trampled to death Dilip Marak, 51, who was on his way home to Sarthegaon village.
The same night, Munindra Das of Lanka was seriously injured in another attack. He died the next day at the Lanka community health centre.
On January 5, the elephants killed a 50-year-old woman and injured two others seriously in Pipalpukhuri village.
“We were asleep when the herd arrived. When we heard the sound of houses being crushed, most of us fled the village. Patia Devi, 50, died during the attack,” said Bikash Chauhan, a Pipalpukhuri resident.
“We returned with forest officials and the police, and rescued Santi Devi and Gangajoli Devi from the rubble of their damaged houses. Both were admitted to Nagaon civil hospital in a critical condition.”
Hojai sub-divisional officer (civil) Munindra Sarma said: “The condition of the two injured women is serious but stable.”
The forest department and the local administration have opened three relief camps at Gosaigaon and Pipalpukhuri. Nagaon deputy commissioner M. Angamuthu said that till yesterday, 300 blankets along with rice, dal and salt had been distributed among the camps’ 900-odd inmates.
According to official data, the herd destroyed 64 dwellings in the Karbi Anglong village of Kheroni alone. Most of the people in that area are Hindi speakers.
“A Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council team paid a visit but they washed their hands of us after distributing 2,000kg rice and 200 blankets,” said Sidhinath Jha of Maillo village.
Hamren divisional forest officer Jibanananda Hazarika said forest personnel were patrolling the affected areas along with the police.
He hoped “some concrete measures would be taken to permanently solve” the recurring man-elephant conflicts in the area.
Angamuthu, the deputy commissioner, said the Nagaon and Karbi Anglong administrations were in touch with the forest department to figure out a way of pushing the elephants back to the forests.

Assam CM rubbishes allegation of owning 5 houses in US

Guwahati: Taking strong exception to a rights leader's claim that Tarun Gogoi's wife, daughter and son-in-law owned five houses in the US, the Assam chief minister today said he will file defamation and criminal cases against the activist.

"In forty years of my political career, there has never been such baseless allegation against me. One of the photos is of my son-in-law's hostel building in Massachusetts Institute of Technology in USA where he studied. The rest are photos of houses he had rented there," the chief minister told reporters here.

Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader Akhil Gogoi had alleged on Saturday that Gogoi's wife Dolly, their daughter and son-in-law acquired five houses in the US valued at Rs 17.18 crore with public money.

"My wife and daughter are not in politics. Why is Akhil dragging in their names? My wife can never own a house in the US as Indians are not allowed to buy property there. She will go to jail," he said.

Referring to BJP leaders L K Advani and Nitin Gadkari who had asked him yesterday to protest Akhil's allegations if they were false, Gogoi said, "Even Advani and Gadkari didn't believe in Akhil's claim. Else why will they ask me to file a defamation case against Akhil?"

Noting that his wife would file an an FIR and criminal and civil cases within a day or two, Gogoi said, "Then I will file a defamation case against Gogoi."

He said when the Adarsh Housing scam created such a furore, allegation of him owning five houses in the US would have had unprecedented reaction at the national level.

KMSS rally demands Gogoi’s resignation

GUWAHATI, Jan 11 – Thousands of peasants from across the State assembled in the capital city on Monday, voiced their anger against the scam-tainted Tarun Gogoi government demanding its resignation over the multi-crore-rupee NC Hills fund anomaly and dispersed peacefully after squatting for more than two hours on the Dispur Last Gate Road.

The growing popularity and organisational strength of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS)was once again established when more than ten thousand of its supporters participated in its Hatred Day marching all the way to Dispur Last Gate via Chandmari.

Security was beefed up in and around the site of the protest programme, but the totally disciplined peasants in various age groups, some of whom were as old as 80 plus, did not give any moment of tension to the police force that had put up a couple of barricades on the Dispur Last Gate Road to prevent any untoward incident.

The protesters after reaching Dispur Last Gate, under the leadership of Akhil Gogoi shouted slogans against the government for the rampant corruption in the State, called Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi a thief and pressed for the arrest of Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

They then squatted on the road while several social and RTI activists including Arvind Kejriwal addressed them on issues affecting the socio-political and economic aspects of the State. Kejriwal said that the need of the hour was a law for constituting an independent agency to inquire into all cases of corruption. “The police, the CBI and whatever investigative agencies we have are under the government. Until we get an independent investigative agency, the perpetrators of corruption will not get punishment,” he said challenging Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to order an inquiry into the latest allegations of the KMSS instead of threatening Akhil Gogoi. He criticised the Congress governments both at the Centre and the State for ‘stealing the money of the poor’ and called upon the gathering to fight for their rights.

The Hatred Day was marked by a few distinctive traits as the KMSS chose to register its protest differently. Through songs and dance, the people expressed their hatred for the unbridled corruption of the Tarun Gogoi government and through a mass prayer in traditional Assamese style, they begged of the heavens for the downfall of the Tarun Gogoi government. Typical Assamese chanting filled the air as thousands of people bowed down.

Meanwhile the KMSS has alleged that the government machinery left no stone unturned to stop its supporters from reaching Guwahati. It said that hundreds of its members in Udalguri, Mangaldoi, Rangiya, Baihata Chariali and other places were not allowed to move by the administration.

Gogoi says talks with ULFA leaders will start soon

New Delhi: Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Saturday said that talks with leaders of the rebel outfit United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) would start soon.

Addressing the media in New Delhi, Gogoi said that ULFA leaders wanted to hold their 'general council' meeting before conducting peace talks, and added the state government was ready to join in as soon as the meeting was over.

"You see, it is on the tracks, it is moving in the right direction, but how soon, I cannot say, but definitely it would start very soon. No doubt about it because they need some release of two-three colleagues, and release depends on the judiciary also, and it is not in our hands also," Gogoi said.

"Then they have to hold general council meeting so now the ball is in their court. The moment they are ready to hold the general council meeting, definitely talks will start and we are moving in the right direction. That is all I can say," he added.

Arabinda Rajkhowa, the recently released ULFA chief, has been demanding facilitating the participation of other top leaders of the organization, including Anup Chetia, the secretary general of the group, currently behind bars in Bangladesh.

Talking about the ongoing ethnic clash between the Rabha and Garo tribal communities on the Assam-Meghalaya border, Gogoi said that restoring peace in the state was a major concern, and security forces were trying their best to control the violence.

"Now it is under control. Yes, large numbers of refugees, they have migrated to Assam also and some have gone. Garo mainly have gone in Meghalaya also. We have been in touch with the Meghalaya government and we are using our all the security forces, even the army also. Then we are involving all the communities to restore peace, that is no doubt about it," Gogoi said.

The region has been witnessing tension and clashes over the past five days between Garos and Rabhas after Garos attacked Rabha villages, allegedly in retaliation of an attack on the former.

According to reports, at least eight people were killed and several houses of members of both communities were burnt in the ethnic clashes. (ANI)

Thousands launch protest against Chinese bid

GUWAHATI, Jan 7 – Raising serious concern over the alleged Chinese design to divert the course of the Brahmaputra, thousands of people took to the street today under the banner of Jana Jagriti, an NGO that has claimed that the neignbouring country has a diabolic design that would leave North East India parched. China has planned diversion of almost 70-80 per cent of the Brahmaputra water, alleged the NGO.

A procession taken out by several thousand people converged near the Raj Bhawan. The NGO submitted a memorandum to the Governor demanding that the Government of India must take immediate action to stop construction of dams, water reservoirs, power projects etc. in the Chinese part of the mighty river.

January 26 has been set as the deadline for the government to take action on this issue, failing which the NGO would start a vigorous movement to save the Brahmaputra, in all parts of the State.

President of the NGO, Ashokanand Singhal also submitted the data which claim that China has already constructed two reservoirs of 42 million cubic meters at Great Bend area, which is 60-70 kilometers away from Gorging village of Arunachal Pradesh – the point from where Brahmaputra enters India. The data available with him also claims that this water storage facility is a part of a huge power project.

“For the people of Assam, Brahmaputra is not just a river but it is a strong uniting force, based on which our economy, society and culture have developed. People of the State would never tolerate Brahmaputra’s degeneration,” he said.

“Till date, the government has not reacted to any of our demands. The issue was not raised during the Chinese Premier’s visit to the country. The Government of Assam has also not yet made public the data related to water received at the Brahmaputra’s entry point,” he added.

“I did not expect such a huge turn out in today’s rally. But this is a warning to both the Union and the State Governments that if immediate steps are not taken to save the Brahmaputra, the entire State would join us in our movement,” he added.

Dialogue with ULFA outfit may begin soon, says interlocutor

Hopes of holding peace talks between the Central Government and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) have brightened with the government's interlocutor indicating that the dialogue process may begin soon.

The Centre's interlocutor, P.C. Haldar said the government and the ULFA leadership were inching closer to start parleys for bringing lasting peace to Assam.

"The government is interested in having peace talks. So far, the indications are that the ULFA is also interested in the peace talks. The nitty-gritty that who is coming and who is not coming will be clear later," he added.

Haldar refused to give the exact time frame when the talks could begin.

"I do not give a time frame. I try and expedite the process but I do not give time frame primarily because many factors are involved. So, I only hope that it will start soon enough," he said.

Top leaders of the outfit, including its chief Arabinda Rajkhowa, were released from jail recently to facilitate their participation in peace talks.

Five more ULFA leaders including its Vice-Chairman Pradip Gogoi, Deputy Commander in Chief Raju Barua, Central Publicity Secretary Mithinga Daimari, Cultural Secretary Pranati Deka and Adviser Bhimkanta Buragohain have already been released on bail.

General Secretary' Chitraban Hazarika and self-styled Foreign Secretary Sasha Choudhary are still in a jail after their arrest along with Rajkhowa in Meghalaya in December 2009.

However, the ULFA's elusive commander-in-chief, Paresh Baruah, is still opposed to holding talks with the government. (ANI)

Elephant corridor being considered for upper Assam

JORHAT, Jan 5 – A herd of wild elephants roaming over the chaporis of river Brahamaputra has lost one of its males inside the Panidihing Birds’ Sanctuary a few days ago. It was a rather premature death for the 20-year-old pachyderm. The forest department suspects that the elephant died due to poisoning, but the real cause will come to the light only after the forensic report is received.

When contacted, JM Kuli, Conservator of Forests, Upper Assam Division, told this correspondent that as many as 587 wild elephants have been dwelling in the upper Assam districts. More than 30 elephants died in various incidents during the last three years in the greater area. As the number of elephants increased gradually, their natural habitat was not enough to shelter all of them, he said.

He further said that it was a rare case in which an elephant died of poisoning in the sanctuary. The wild elephants in upper Assam districts die mostly in incidents like man-elephant conflict, train accident, infighting, slipping into ditches and such other accidents.

“The changing food habit of elephants taking shelter in the chaporis of Brahamaputra has also increased man-elephant conflicts,” said another forest department official. “The elephant which died in the Panidihing Bird Sanctuary might have consumed poison or pesticide after eating rice stored in the granaries of the neighbouring villages,” he observed.

It is pertinent to mention here that the forest department has been undertaking various schemes to reduce man-elephant conflicts in the State. The department, in association with district administrations, provides compensations to the victims of the wild-elephants.

Conservator of Forests Kuli further said, “We are trying to generate awareness among the people through various programmes, eco-development camps, workshops and seminars about the situation in the affected areas”.

On the possibility of a permanent solution to the problems created by the wild elephants living in the area, he said the forest department has undertaken various schemes in the upper Assam districts for improvement of elephant habitats. The department has also identified a corridor in upper Assam through which elephants move, but it will take time to create a complete elephant corridor through afforestation, he said.

“It will indeed be a Herculean task to create the corridor through the human-inhabited land,” the Conservator of Forest told this correspondent. The department is still experimenting with the idea of an elephant corridor to find a permanent solution to the problem, he said. The department is mulling conducting an elephant census in Assam during the month of February this year, he informed.

Cheer to anger - Mood changes over ULFA chairman's release

Guwahati, Jan 4 (IANS) It's no longer 'ULFA zindabad' slogans renting the air in Assam's countryside, but pure expression of revulsion and anger against the euphoria and jubilation after the release on bail of Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

Beginning Saturday until late Sunday after Rajkhowa was released on bail from the Guwahati Central Jail, crowds numbering 500 to 5,000 in several places accorded a rousing reception to the separatist leader with throaty slogans like 'ULFA zindabad' (Long live ULFA) and 'Arabinda Rajkhowa zindabad'.

But just a couple of days down the line, people have raised a voice of dissent - some of them, mostly families of those killed by the ULFA, questioning the justification of glorifying ULFA, still a banned outfit.

'Is there any valid reason to glorify ULFA which was responsible for the killing of so many innocent lives in the past 30 years,' questioned Akashitora, a well known TV anchor.

Akashitora lost her father Kamala Saikia, a journalist, in 1991. He was gunned down by ULFA in his ancestral home near Amguri in eastern Assam's Sibsagar district.

Scores of families spread across Assam whose dear ones were killed by ULFA during the past three decades were peeved with television images of Rajkhowa being accorded a hero's welcome and pro-ULFA slogans renting the air.

'We first want an explanation from Rajkhowa as to why ULFA triggered a bomb blast at the Independence Day parade in 2004 that killed 14 innocent people, many of them children,' an angry Lolita Saikia, the mother of two of the victims, told IANS.

She lost her two daughters, 14-year-old Rupa and 10-year-old Aruna, during the 2004 blast.

'It is a shame that some people are felicitating Rajkhowa with gamosas (traditional Assamese towel given as a mark of respect) when our tears and wounds are still fresh,' Lolita said as tears welled up in her eyes.

'If Rajkhowa has the guts, let him come to the blast site here and seek a public apology or agree to face public punishment,' she added.

Similar views were echoed by various groups and organisations - utterly shocked and dismayed at the way Rajkhowa was being accorded a red carpet welcome by some of his supporters.

'Let the ULFA chairman explain as to why they killed our leader Dimbeswar Gogoi in 1989,' said Pranjal Rajkonwar, president of the All Tai Ahom Students' Union, an organisation representing the Tai Ahom ethnic group.

'We shall not allow Rajkhowa to hold a meeting or pay tribute at the memorial of Dimbeswar Gogoi.'

And going by the public mood, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Tuesday said the government would not tolerate pro-ULFA slogans or ULFA flag being displayed in public.

'We have decided to ban all such things and have already intimated to the ULFA leadership who are out on bail not to indulge in slogan shouting or displaying ULFA flags in public,' the chief minister told reporters.

(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at

No important ULFA leader in Bangla

GUWAHATI, Jan 4 – No important member of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is active in Bangladesh any more as hardcore militant Drishti Rajkhowa also returned to India recently, highly placed security sources said.

Sources told The Assam Tribune that Drishti Rajkhowa recently entered India and he is reportedly in the Garo Hills areas of Meghalaya. The hardcore militant is now in touch with the pro-talk group members of the militant outfit and there are possibilities that he, along with his followers in the outfit will join the peace process.

After the recent arrest of dreaded militant Antu Chowdang and return of Drishti Rajkhowa, no important member of the ULFA is active in Bangladesh. ULFA does not have any camp in the neighbouring country at present and though the possibility of some lower level cadres hiding in the Sherpur area cannot be ruled out, they are not in a position to create any disturbance in India from such hiding places, sources added.

Security sources said that the Rapid Action Battalion of Bangladesh launched a number of operations in the Sherpur area in search of ULFA members, forcing the militants to flee to other places and several suspects were also picked up in recent times.

However, the ULFA camps in Myanmar are still active and at least 150 cadres are still staying in the camps including the headquarter of the 28 battalion of the outfit and Naga camp, which is run along with the NSCN(K). Sources said that the 28 battalion is still the strongest wing of the outfit but the pro-talk group leaders are now in touch with the hardcore members staying in Myanmar to persuade them to join the peace process.

Sources said that according to intelligence inputs, the lower level cadres of the outfit in Myanmar would come back once the peace process starts. Though the Government of Myanmar assured India that it would launch offensive against the militants camping in that country, no sustained operation has yet been launched and “it is also a fact that the Government of Myanmar has very little control over the Kachin area,” sources added.

Domesticated cattle grazing in sanctuary pose threat to rhinos in Assam

Marigaon (Assam), Jan.2: The one-horned rhinoceros of Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam's Marigaon district are under constant threat of fatal diseases from the huge number of domesticated cattle grazing in the fields of the sanctuary.

Biblab Talukdar, a wildlife activist, said apart from feeding on the grass, the cows could possibly transmit complex of bovine diseases to the rhinos.

"Definitely yes, Pabitora is regarded as (one having) the highest density of the rhinos, so, 3000 to 5000 cattle also grazing along with rhinos are definitely posing some sort of threat to the rhinos. Not only with regards to food but also in disseminating or the possible spread of the diseases from the domestic cattle to wild rhinos," said Talukdar.

"So, I think that needs to be controlled as soon as possible. And I think this should be the highest priority for the (sanctuary) management (and concerned) authorities," he added.

Another problem faced by the forest officials is that due to shortage of grasslands in the sanctuary, often the rhinos are forced to move towards villages on the outskirts of their habitat.

Such straying off their usual habitat not only expose them to diseases from domesticated cattle but also become easy targets for poachers.

Mukul Tamuli, a ranger, Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, did not blame the villagers for these developments since there are no grazing grounds for their cattle.

"There is no grazing reserve here and since villagers also have the cows and then they also need food for them, so where will they keep them as there is no grazing reserve available here for them. Only this sanctuary is there, which was earlier a grazing reserve before 1971," said Tamuli.

"So, that is why when villagers leave their cattle for grazing they automatically come here in the sanctuary. So, this is the big problem here, now we are installing power fencing," he added.

Looking at the seriousness of the problem, forest officials are now installing electric fencing around the sanctuary.

Pobitara Wildlife Sanctuary with over 85 rhinos has the highest density of the one horned rhino in the world, all within an area of just 38.81 square kilometres. By Peter Alex Todd

ULFA ready for peace talks without preconditions: Rajkhowa

SIBSAGAR: ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said his outfit was ready to sit for peace talks without any preconditions for an "honourable" solution to relieve the people of Assam of their suffering.

"A new chapter begins in our long struggle. As per the wishes of the National Convention, we will sit for peace talks with the government without preconditions," the 54-year-old ULFA leader, who was released from jail yesterday, told a massive gathering in front of the historic Ranghar where the ULFA was formed by him and five others on April 7, 1979.

He did not mention the outfit's core demand of sovereignty.

"We will definitely try for an honourable solution to the conflict. If not, then we will again come to the people of the state and proceed on our next step as per their advice as to whether take up arms again, join politics (rajpath) or what else. Whatever direction they give us we will follow", Rajkhowa said. The ULFA leader was released from Guwahati Central jail yesterday after he was granted bail by the designated TADA court.

Rajkhowa assured the people that this time "bari sukot lukai ami kaam nakoru (we will not hide in our backyard and operate subversively). We will openly discuss with the people and on their opinion our decision will be taken."
Addressing another public rally at Boarding Filed here, he appreciated the role of the National Convention of the state's intellectuals in initiating the peace dialogue.

"We also want to sit for the discussions without preconditions.... but the final decision will be taken only after the arrival of our general secretary Anup Chetia".

Chetia is now imprisoned in Bangladesh. Rajkhowa said the Indian government should take an initiative for his return to Assam.

Rajkhowa said "since the inception of ULFA, the people of Assam have suffered for long and lead a miserable life either due to our arms struggle or the retaliatory anti-insurgency operations by the government and security forces".

"Considering the consensus among the people in the state and their miserable condition, we want to relieve them of their suffering. So we have decided to come forward for the peace parleys," the ULFA chief, who was flanked by vice chairman Pradip Gogoi by his side, said in the meeting.

After the meeting, he proceeded to his native place Lakhwa in the district that he had left 32 years ago to go underground.

In an emotionally charged atmosphere, Rakhowa met his bed-ridden 98-year-old mother Damayanti Rajkumari in his ancestral home and then paid homage at the samadhi of his freedom fighter father Uma Kanta Rajkonwar.