Governor appeals for more investments on youth

GUWAHATI, Feb 27 – Investment in adolescents should be more than what it is today. By spending more in the welfare and support of adolescents, the fight against poverty, inequity and gender discrimination can be won.

This was underlined by Assam Governor JB Patnaik, while formally releasing the ‘The State of the World’s Children 2011’, a UNICEF publication, at the Raj Bhawan here today.

The Governor while appreciating the existence of many agencies to promote the cause of adolescents, pointed out that proper implementation of many schemes was missing. “There is lack of adequate data regarding the demographic profile, their access to health care, education and other development services,” he further remarked.

In his view, adolescent girls, in particular face serious challenges as a high proportion of them are anaemic and girls from weaker sections are vulnerable due to child marriage, early motherhood, trafficking, HIV/AIDS, abuse and violence.

In Assam, he pointed out, official data reveals that almost 16.8 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years, were already mothers, or were pregnant at the time of the survey. Besides, around 38.6 per cent women aged 20-24 years in Assam were married before 18 years of age.

According to him, addiction to alcohol and drugs among adolescents demand urgent attention and more needs to be done to understand the needs and concerns of young boys and girls. Poverty, disparities and inequities add to the weight of the problem.

The Governor lauded the UNICEF initiative in producing the report, acknowledging its contributions towards the welfare of children and adolescents.

Jeroo Master, chief, field office, UNICEF, Assam, in her address mentioned that this year’s theme – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity, recognizes some key facts such as the existence of a large population between the age of 10 and 19 in countries like India. The country is currently home to more than 243 million adolescents, who account for 20 per cent of the country’s population.

Adolescents, in her opinion, were crucial to break the stranglehold of poverty, inequity and deprivation. This particular phase of life contained both challenges and opportunities and required investments spread across health, education, protection and participation.

Well planned interventions were necessary in several areas for the support and welfare of adolescents in Assam. In schools, it has been seen that separate toilets for boys and girls could help retain girl students, and thus reduce the drop out rate that is higher than their male counterparts.

Master noted that in some areas diffusion of knowledge was yet to take place among adolescents. For instance, knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Assam was low compared to some other parts of the country. She expressed concern that if the situation does not improve there could be a spurt in HIV infections in the times ahead.

Three Avadh-Assam train coaches jump rails, no casualty

Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh) : Passengers on the Avadh-Assam Express had a providential escape after the train's three coaches derailed here Saturday, officials said.

The cause behind the derailment, which subsequently damaged several metres of the railway tracks, is yet to be established.

"All the passengers are safe. We have initiated an enquiry to know the reason behind the derailment," senior divisional security officer (DSO) Janki Prasad told reporters in Moradabad, some 200 km from Lucknow.

"The last three coaches of the train that derailed have been detached from the train and their passengers have been adjusted in other coaches," he added.

Officials said at the time of derailment, the speed of the train was quite slow, otherwise it could have resulted in a major mishap.

The train was heading towards Delhi from Guwahati.

AASU burns copies of rail budget

GUWAHATI, Feb 26 – Members of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) today burnt the copies of the Railway Budget, which was placed in the Parliament by Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, to register their resentment over the alleged deceit of the people of the State by the Union Government.

In a statement here, the students’ body said that the demands for laying double tracks in the State and extending the broad-gauge track to Murkakcheleng on the northern bank, provision for recruiting local youths of the NE region against the C and D category vacancies of the NF Railway have been ignored by the Railway Budget.

Moreover, the demands for revocation of the decision to merge Katihar with the Rangiya Railway Division, providing the new Saraighat Bridge over the Brahmaputra also with the railway facilities, treating the broad-gauge expansion project to the Barak Valley as a Central Project etc have also been ignored by the Railway Minister while preparing the budget, alleged the students’ body.

It has further alleged that the announcements made in the Railway Budget for the benefit of the people of the State are very insignificant.

AASU president Sankar Prasad Roy said that the Union Railway Budget has been virtually turned into the Railway Budget of West Bengal. AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya said that while double-decker trains have been proposed for other areas of the country, Assam has been deprived of the double track facility.

In the city, the members of the All Guwahati Students’ Union burnt the copies of the Railway Budget near the NE Railway headquarters and the Guwahati Railway Station.

However, the State unit of the Trinamool Congress hailed the Railway Budget as a good one for the people of the State.

AGP scouts for partners ahead of coming Assam polls

Guwahati, Feb 25 (IANS) Barely a month for assembly elections in Assam, the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is desperate for alliance partners - to stop the ruling Congress from making a political hat trick.

Elections in Assam for the 126-member legislature are expected in March-April.

AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary made a dramatic announcement Friday saying it would not field candidates against leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) and even the two Left parties.

'Opposition unity is a must to defeat the Congress. Hence we have decided against fielding our candidates in four constituencies where leaders of AUDF, BJP and the Left parties are contesting,' Patowary told journalists.

The AGP in September last year snapped ties with the BJP and has maintained that it would fight the coming election alone with support from smaller regional allies.

The AGP has suffered successive electoral reverses since 2001.

The party also lost the 2006 assembly elections, the local council elections and the Lok Sabha polls of 2009, besides the humiliating defeat in the two by-elections also in 2009.

The AGP and BJP fought the 2009 parliamentary election together. The AGP fared poorly, winning just one of 14 Lok Sabha seats, down by one compared to 2004.

The AGP tied up with the BJP in the 2001 assembly election but was routed by the Congress.

Now, amid fears that a fractured opposition might not be able to dislodge the Congress, the AGP president has dropped a bombshell, shocking his own party workers and leaders.

Said Gonok Das, an ardent AGP supporter in Behali constituency: 'We cannot accept a decision by the party not to field candidates. It would be suicidal and mark the beginning of the end of AGP.'

BJP state president Ranjit Dutta represents Behali - the seat where the AGP president said it would not contest -- as a goodwill gesture to the BJP.

But Dutta is happy: 'I welcome the decision by the AGP.'

But the BJP state president was non-committal if the party would receiprocate by not fielding candidates against the AGP president.

The AUDF and Left parties are yet to react.

But it won't be easy for the AGP to come to terms at the same time with the BJP, AUDF and the Left -- due to ideologically differences.

The only possible combinations could be the AGP-AUDF-Left or AGP-BJP.

'We are ready to work out any alliance with secular parties but never with the BJP,' AUDF president Badruddin Ajmal said.

Rail budget disappoints Assam

Guwahati, Feb 26 : Even in an election year, just one daily express train has been announced for Assam. Apart from this, the weekly Kanniyakumari Express, started to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, will run from Dibrugarh to Thiruvananthapuram. And the Kavi Guru Express is meant to go from Guwahati to Jaipur. The tri-weekly Rajya Rani Express from Silghat to Dhubri will touch Guwahati.

Assam BJP president Ranjit Dutta said: “Mamata Banerjee tabled the railway budget in Parliament keeping in mind the assembly elections in her home state, West Bengal. The budget has disappointed the people of Assam. The minister had announced just three new trains from Assam. This is not a significant proposal. We have many demands before the ministry. We need workshops that can generate employment.”

Dutta is surprised that no proposal in the budget was made for the completion of the Bogibeel railway bridge project on the Brahmaputra in Dibrugarh. The foundation stone for the bridge was laid in 2002 but even half the work has not been completed.

Bani Das, owner of a tea stall at Guwahati railway station, said: “There was no proposal for the development of Guwahati railway station, which is the most important railway communication hub for the entire northeastern region. Banerjee always favours her state and ignores others.”

Gogoi frets over quake safety

If we fail to take steps, we will be held morally & legally responsible, says CM

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi speaks at the conference in Guwahati on Thursday.

Guwahati, Feb. 25 : When a 6.4-intensity earthquake rattled the Northeast on February 4, the question everybody asked was: Is the region prepared to face a bigger quake?

The answer seems to be “No”.
“We are still not prepared to face a big quake,” Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said today, while addressing a two-day national workshop on Earthquake Risk Mitigation Strategy in Northeast.
The Northeast falls under zone five — the highest seismic zone — and the authorities are already taking steps to mitigate the impact of earthquakes and prepare for disaster management by way of making plans, conducting training and creating awareness.
The 6.4-intensity quake that rattled homes in the Northeast, though it did not lead to any casualty, forced the authorities to think afresh about measures that would mitigate the impact of high intensity earthquakes.
Talking about the 8.6 magnitude earthquake of 1950, which changed the face of Assam forever with the Brahmaputra changing its course, Gogoi said times had changed and a lot of RCC buildings had come up, heralding the advent of urbanisation. “There were Assam-type houses then,” he said.
The difference is in the impact. An RCC house crumbling during a quake can cause much more harm than the Assam-type thatched house, which is made of lighter material, mostly bamboo.
On the need to implement laws like constructing earthquake-resistant buildings, Gogoi said the building bylaws in Guwahati would have to be compulsorily implemented. This has been emphasised by experts time and again.
“The time has come to create awareness in urban areas as a big quake can strike at any time,” Gogoi said. “If we fail to take steps, we will be held morally and legally responsible,” he added.
The conference, which began today, was attended by seismic experts from all over the country. It has been organised by the National Institute of Disaster Management in association with the Assam State Disaster Management Authority.
The executive director of the National Institute of Disaster Management, P.G. Dhar Chakrabarty, also said a big quake could strike anytime and the region was still not prepared for it.
Reeling off statistics on the intensity of earthquakes in the region in the last century, he said there have been 210 tremors of 5 to 5.9 intensity, 128 tremors of 6 to 6.9 intensity, 15 tremors of 7 to 7.9 intensity and four tremors with an intensity of 8 and above on the Richter scale.
“Technical experts have informed that many of the houses in the Northeast are unsafe and even minor quakes can lead to damages,” he added.
The conference aims to draw a roadmap for formulating a strategy to prepare the region in the event of a big calamity. Experts from the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), ONGC, OIL, and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will tomorrow present their strategies for dealing with a big quake.
Gogoi also inaugurated a Centre for Excellence for Earthquake Risk Management at the Assam Administrative Staff College where the workshop was held.
A member of the North Eastern Council (NEC), P.P. Shrivastav, said a few years ago, experts had asked the states of the Northeast to implement modern building bylaws but it never happened. He said precursor studies were being undertaken to help predict earthquakes.
Muzzafar Ahmed, a member of the National Institute of Disaster Management, said earthquake risk mitigation measures in the Northeast needed to focus on urban areas. The impact of an earthquake is likely to be more in the cities, which are congested and have a large number of RCC buildings.
The participants today discussed earthquake preparedness, probabilistic scenarios of quakes and its implications for the state’s policies and programmes, and the status of seismic microzonation in the cities of the Northeast.

Implementation of Adip Scheme in Assam

Under the Scheme of Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase/Fitting of Aids/Appliances (ADIP Scheme), grants are not released to the State Governments. Grants are released to the Implementing Agencies directly. The Ministry Social Justice & Empowerment has set up eight District Disability Rehabilitation Centres (DDRCs) and one Composite Regional Centre (CRC) in Assam.

Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India (RGI) has informed that as per Census 2001, there were 5,30,300 Persons with Disabilities in the State of Assam. There is no special list of Persons with Disabilities for Assam or North Eastern States. However, a question on disability has been included in the Household Schedule of Census 2011 which is currently being canvassed across the country including the State of Assam as also rest of the States in NE Region.

This information was given by the Minister of State for Social Justice & Empowerment Shri D. Napolean in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha today.

'Aasu for probe into Majuli funds misuse'

JORHAT: The All Assam Students' Union (Aasu) on Wednesday said there are massive irregularities in utilizing Centre's funds meant for Majuli's protection and that the government should conduct an immediate probe into it.

On Monday, members of the students' body discussed the matter with authorities of the Brahmaputra Board headed by chief engineer Dhruba Jyoti Buragohain. Dhruba assured the Aasu members of an investigation into the issue.

Aasu's Jorhat district president Biren Saikia said, "Despite repeated demands to the authorities concerned for conducting a probe into projects meant for Majuli's protection, they have turned a blind eye to us. That's why, we had gheraoed the Brahmaputra Board office in Majuli to put pressure on them."

He added that though the Centre has released cores of rupees for the island's protection in the last few years, the same could not be utilized properly due to the apathy of government officials and contractors. Saikia said, "The chief engineer of Brahmaputra Board assured us of conduct a probe on strengthening embankments and flood fighting schemes taken up during the last season. He also promised to stop the use of bamboo work as an immediate measure during floods to complete the ongoing bolder spar work by March 2012."

Aasu and several other organizations like the Majuli Suraksha Samannya Mancha and Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad have been seeking completion of bolder spar work at the earliest and to include the Lower and South Majuli areas under the jurisdiction of central funds implementing agency. They had also taken up several protest programmes in support of their demands.

The Brahmaputra Board had taken up anti-erosion projects in Majuli since 2004-05. According to the official record of the board, it had spent Rs 56 crore till November 2008 and Rs 115 crore has been sanctioned for another project in September 2009. During the last one year, more than Rs 40 crore has been spent for anti-erosion measures.

Aasaa bandh cripples life in western Assam

KOKRAJHAR/GUWAHATI: A 12-hour bandh called by All Adivasi Students' Association of Assam (Aasaa) in protest against the killing of its acting president Bosco Charmacko paralyzed life in western Assam on Wednesday.

Charmaco was killed by unidentified gunmen at Jacobpur under Gossaigaon police station in Kokrajhar district on Tuesday. His wife Rosabela Tudu was also injured in the attack.

The bandh hit some areas of Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Sonitpur, Darrang, Chirang and Karbi Anglong districts with vehicles remaining off the roads and business establishments downing shutters.

Though some government offices were open, attendance was thin. According to sources, the NH-31 was almost deserted throughout the day and long-distance buses and trucks stranded on the highway. Business establishments, markets, shops, banks and government offices in BTC areas remain closed throughout the day.

Supporters of the Adivasi leader dubbed the killing as a political murder as he was said to be planning to contest the Gossaigaon assembly seat held by the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) in the coming elections.

The students' body has demanded a CBI inquiry into the killing and immediate arrest of the culprits. His body was taken out today in a procession and later buried in his village at Padumbeel amid tight security. Police are yet to identify the culprits involved in the incident.

Over 300 picketers were picked up from different parts of Sonitpur district during the day, sources said. The bandh was supported by Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Adivasi Cobra Militant of Assam (ACMA), Adivasi Seva Samity, Adivasi Mahila Samity, All Santali Students' Union, AKRSU and AGSU. Arthemas Tudu, Chermacko's father-in-law, said, "I don't know who killed my son. I want stringent punishment for the killers."

On the other hand, Bongaigaon Police on Wednesday wielded batons on Aasaa activists in Bongaigaon when they resorted to vandalism while protesting the killing of Chermacko. Police took the step after a group of agitators indulged in closing down shops and damaging vehicles. Some Aasaa activists have also been arrested.

Students seek damages for riot victims in Assam

GUWAHATI: The All Assam Minorities Students' Union (Aamsu) on Monday sought compensation for victims of ethnic riots that broke out in Darrang and Udalguri districts in Assam two years ago. The students' body also submitted a memorandum to governor J B Patnaik, seeking his intervention into the problems that they are facing.

Aamsu alleged that farmers and business establishment owners who were the worst sufferers are yet to get any compensation from the government.

"Though about 50 per cent victims of the riot were compensated but the shop owners and farmers are yet to get any help from the government," said Aamsu general secretary Ainuddin Ahmed, adding that more than 1,500 shops were gutted or looted during that period."The farmers suffered a lot as their crops were looted. They are finding it difficult to stand up again and continue their work after the riot blow. Normally, our farmers are from poor families and they have to depend on loans, but such circumstances ruined everything," Ahmed said.

Criticising chief minister Tarun Gogoi, an Aamsu member said the chief minister has failed to keep his promise and work towards the development of minority communities in the state. "We are seeking a fitting compensation for the victims so that they can lead a normal life again," he said, adding that if their demands were not met, the Congress and BPF would have to face the fury during the fast-approaching assembly elections. Aamsu also criticized education minister Gautam Bora for failing to visit the Kharupetia College which was allegedly burnt down by miscreants last year.

'Political murder' in poll-bound Assam

An Adivasi student leader was killed in western Assam's Kokrajhar district Tuesday morning in what is being termed as a 'political murder', the first linked with the ensuing assembly polls. Unidentified, motorcycle-borne assailants shot Bosco Chermako, 34, point blank at Jacobpur near the Assam-West
Bengal border around 10am as he was driving home from the residence of his in-laws. He was the president of the All Adivasi Students' Association of Assam (Aasaa) and was planning to contest the Gossaigaon assembly seat held by the Bodoland Peoples' Front (BPF).
The BPF is an ally of the ruling Congress in Assam.
"He died on the spot after being shot with automatic rifles from a very close range," said superintendent of police P K Dutta from Kokrajhar town, 250 km west of Guwahati.
"It's too early to say who could be behind his killing."
Bodo and Adivasi tribal militants are active in the area but no militant group has claimed responsibility for the fatal attack on Chermako less than 24 hours after suspected Ulfa rebels targeted a Congress leader in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district.
But Aasaa "has a hunch" that a "political conspiracy" got Chermako.
"His was a political murder. He was spearheading democratic movements for the rights of Adivasis besides preparing to contest the forthcoming polls," the association's leader Rafael Kujur told HT.
The Aasaa has called a 12-hour 'Assam bandh' on Wednesday demanding the arrest of the assailants.
"We will intensify our agitation if the authorities fail to arrest them," Kujur said.
The Adivasis, popularly known as 'tea tribe', comprise 18% of Assam's population and hold the key to 23 of 126 assembly seats. As en block voters, they rank next to Muslims who account for 32% population and decide the fate of 52 seats.
The Congress has traditionally banked on both Muslims and Adivasis to be in power in Assam. The Asom Gana Parishad and BJP have in the past 15 years have made inroads across the tea-growing belts dominated by the Adivasis.

Maoists trying to establish base in Assam, says CRPF

Maoists are attempting to establish their base in Assam and the hard line group of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), headed by commander in chief of the outfit, Paresh Baruah, has launched a recruitment drive, particularly in Upper Assam, according to a senior Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) official.

"There are specific intelligence reports indicating that youth from Assam are veering towards the Naxal philosophy, which is a matter of serious concern," said CRPF IGP (Operations) M P Nathaniel.

"With most insurgent outfits coming forward for talks, Maoists are trying to establish their roots in the State and we are keeping a close watch on these forces and ULFA cadre in the state," he added.

M P Nathaniel, who is in-charge of Upper Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, further said adequate measures are being taken to stop youths from being indoctrinated and the whereabouts of youths, who were reported to be missing when they went outside the state for getting jobs, is also being ascertained.

"As the peace process is on, the ULFA anti-talk faction is keeping a low profile but their recruitment drive, particularly in Upper Assam districts, is on full swing," he said.

Earlier on February 15, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said the first round of talks with the Centre was 'very positive'.

"We had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last evening at his residence in Delhi and we are happy with his approach towards resolving Assam's problems," said Rajkhowa, while expressing satisfaction over the government's response.

"The Prime Minister has assured us of an honourable and acceptable solution to the problems of Assam and our talks with him were very cordial," he said. "The prime minister also appreciated our initiative to come forward for peace talks and our resolve to solve the problem through dialogue," he added. (ANI)

AGP colluding with ULFA, says Assam chief minister

Guwahati, Feb 23 (IANS) Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi Tuesday levelled serious charges at the state's main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) by saying that it colluded with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in targeting Congress leaders ahead of the assembly elections.

'Why is the ULFA threatening only Congress leaders and not other politicians? All indications are that the ULFA and the AGP are hand in glove,' the chief minister told journalists.

Opposing the peace talks, the ULFA faction led by the elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, in an e-mailed statement Saturday, threatened to attack Congress leaders and warned people against participating in party rallies in the run-up to the assembly elections.

The ULFA Monday made an abortive attempt to assassinate Congress leader Bhola Shah at Tengapani in the eastern district of Tinsukia and fired indiscriminately outside his house.

Shah was not at home during the attack. The militants also tried to abduct his son but failed.

'Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, senior AGP leader and former chief minister, had gone on record saying Paresh Baruah should not come for talks now. This is another indicator of the nexus between the ULFA and the AGP,' Gogoi said.

The ULFA in the past killed at least a dozen Congress leaders during elections, beginning the 1996 assembly polls.

The ULFA faction statement said the Congress was responsible for dividing the outfit by luring some leaders into holding peace talks with the government.

The first round of ULFA-government peace talks was held Feb 10 in New Delhi, with the outfit's chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa leading the process.

Erosion, staff shortage threat to Assam's national park

Tinsukia (Assam), Feb 21 : Severe paucity of staff and large scale erosion has threatened the very existence of the Dibru Saikhowa national park in upper Assam, the second largest park in the state after Kaziranga and the only one to be declared a biosphere reserve.

The total area of 765 sq km of the park which includes the core and buffer areas comes only second to the over 800 sq km Kaziranga national park a world heritage site which is home to the famed and highly endangered one horned rhinos.

Park officials say severe staff shortage and erosion by the river Guijan which runs through the park has caused a threat to its existence since being declared a national park in 1999.

While there was a requirement of at least 102 forest guards the existing strength was only 30 and in case of foresters there were only seven of them when the required number was 31.

Unfortunately there are no no deputy rangers and no boatman to ferry the guards through the Guijan river to the park.

Apart from the poor staff strength another major threat to the park is the existence of two villages of Laika and Dadhia with the villagers exerting pressure on the core area.

Tinsukia wildlife divisional forest officer Vaibhav Mathur says that the park is totally inundated during monsoon and the terrain being flat wild animals struggle to find high ground.

Water of the rivers Lohit, Dihang, Dibang, Dibru and the mighty Brahmaputra has being constantly eroding the park's core area, he says.

"Moreover the two village, inhabited by the tribal Mising community, exert pressure on the core area in the form of firewood collection, timber felling and occasional poaching", says Mathur.

Fishing which is a way of life of Mising community also poses a severe stress on the habitat which is also pristine bird area, the forest official said.

The fringe villages along the southern boundary take full advantage of the innumerable rivulets to enter the park and engage in fish collection, firewood as well as illegalities as timber felling, he points out.

"Lack of manpower to patrol the forests is a severe systemic inadequacy with which the wildlife manager managing the Dibri Saikhowa park has to constantly deal with", he says.

RTI activist cautions people against 'corrupt' leaders

GUWAHATI: Peasant leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi on Sunday appealed to the people of the state to not be fooled by the lures of some "corrupt politicians" in the run-up to the assembly elections.

"Many corrupt politicians are in the fray. They will try to influence people with their black money. We request people not to be fooled by them," the general secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS) told newspersons here.

Akhil said KMSS would soon approach the Election Commission of India with an appeal to deal firmly with politicians and ministers who were facing corruption charges.

He alleged that some ministers in the state "have been earning huge amount of money illegally during the rule of Congress and they will use the black money to win the elections". He added, "Some ministers have enough wealth to influence people."

The RTI activist accused chief minister Tarun Gogoi of not doing enough to stop corruption in the state.

"The chief minister on various occasions has conceded to corruption in the state. But we have not yet seen him taking stern steps to curb the menace. He also did not take any step against ministers who facing corruption charges," he said.

Vowing to launch a vigorous campaign against corruption, Akhil said the electorate should be aware and not get influenced by the promises of politicians.

Isro advice for Assam gardens

Hi-tech instruments to help planters gauge erratic weather

Silchar, Feb. 21: Sudden showers or an erratic dry spell will no longer be able to catch Assam tea planters off guard.

The industry is enlisting help of the Indian Space Research Organisation, which will advise planters on possible weather fluctuations with the help of remote sensing instruments.
The senior vice-president of the Tea Association of India, Hemant Bangur, revealed the industry’s hi-tech leap during the 40th annual general meeting of its Barak valley branch here yesterday.
He said, “The tea industry in the country in general and Assam in particular is now caught in a twilight zone where the growing demand for tea is in mismatch with its supply. This is because there is a paucity of land in the tea estates at present to ensure growth in the output.”
“There should be a concerted effort on the part of the tea industry captains in Assam, which accounts for nearly half of the country’s total output of this beverage, to turn more scientific while improving the quality of their product,” he said.
Bangur also stressed the need for producers to be conscious about the changing taste profiles of the consumers, both domestic and overseas, to ensure better business.
Otherwise, he warned, the centuries-old tea estates in Assam as well as in the rest of the country “would one day perish”.
He also spoke about the special purpose tea fund, which provides necessary resources for replanting tea bushes.
“With the replanting and rejuvenation chores in place, the output of better quality tea can be ensured,” he said.
Bangur pointed out the need for better marketing, prodding tea companies in Assam particularly those situated in the Cachar tea region, to stress on market research, consumption study, branding, advertisement and attractive packaging.
The Barak zone chairman of the Tea Association of India, P.K. Mishra, on the other hand, deplored the fall in production of tea in the Cachar region in the last calendar year, thanks to excessive rain and little sunlight.
He said shortfall of CTC tea in Cachar region last year is estimated at 3 million kg.

Assam: BPF decides to contest next assembly poll Assam, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) has decided to contest the next Assembly poll in the State in alliance with the ruling Congress. This was stated by the Chief Executive Member of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Mr. Hagrama Mohilary while speaking to media persons at Kokrajhar. He said the BPF-Congress alliance in the State is still strong and will have friendly contest.

Mr. Mohilary said BPF would field its candidates in 22 Assembly seats in the ensuing election. Bodoland People’s Front, with 12 legislators, is at present a Congress ally in the Tarun Gogoi-led Government in the State. The term of the present 126-member Assembly in the State is expiring in May this year.

AIR Guwahati Correspondent reports that hectic parleys are on among different political parties of the State for selection of their suitable candidates in the ensuing election.

The opposition BJP and Asom Gana Parishad have already announced their first lists of contesting candidates for the polls. Most of the political parties, including the ruling Congress have demanded the Election Commission to hold the next Assembly poll in the State before the Rongali Bihu in Mid-April.

Ahead of polls, Assam gets NID, petro institute

Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Less than two months before the Assam Assembly polls, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday gifted a National Institute of Design (NID) and an Institute of Petroleum Technology (IPT), both second in India, describing these as testimony to the UPA’s commitment to development of the Northeast.

The foundation stone for NID was laid at Jorhat, hometown of CM Tarun Gogoi, that of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology was laid in Sivasagar.

“While oil and gas will continue to provide the major portion of our energy requirements for quite some time to come, appropriate utilisation of advanced technologies in exploration and refining will continue to be of great importance. These areas will need qualified and skilled personnel in increasing numbers,” the PM said at Sivasagar.

The IPT at Sivasagar will offer certificate, diploma and degree programmes in various areas of specialisation in the petroleum sector. It will also offer certificate courses specifically designed to enable the local youth to upgrade their skills. The centre will start its first academic session from September.

Laying the foundation stone of the NID, Singh said the aim of good design should be improvement in the quality of life, through products and services which can be accessed by people in general.

“In the Indian context, design should also be a tool for inclusive development. Value addition through innovation in design can play a pivotal role in enhancing the competitiveness of both manufacturing and service industries. Specific to the Northeast, better industrial product design can contribute to the development of micro, small and medium enterprises by enhancing product utility and by helping translate new ideas into new products,” he added.

PM calls for appropriate utilisation of technology in oil exploration, refinery

Emphasising that the UPA Government has an enduring commitment to the development of Assam and the North East, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on Saturday said appropriate utilisation of technology in oil exploration and refinery will be of great importance for the country in the coming years.

Laying the foundation stone of the country's second Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology (RGIPT) here, Dr. Singh said: "All these areas will need qualified and skilled personnel in increasing numbers. The few existing institutes are not in a position to meet this increasing requirement of technical man-power in the petroleum sector. The proposed Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology is intended to reduce this gap between demand and supply of skilled personnel in the future."

The Prime Minister said that the new centre of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology will help the local youth to gain the knowledge and skills to exploit the opportunities created by new projects like the Assam Gas Cracker Project and the resultant downstream industries.

Dr. Singh said: "A long cherished dream of this state in the petrochemical sector is the Assam Gas Cracker Project. The Government of India will make more than Rs. 5500 crore investment in this project. We are making every effort to see that the project is commissioned next year."

"Once completed, it will help a large number of downstream industries in the petrochemicals and plastics sector come up, thereby creating a substantial number of jobs for the local youth." he added.

He said the North East region is greatly endowed with hydrocarbon and during the last fiscal year contributed around 15 per cent of the country's crude oil and produced 3.38 billion cubic metre of natural gas.

"In eight rounds of the New Exploration Licencing policy, 25 exploration blocks covering 42,000 sq km have been awarded so far to the North East states and of these 50 are in Assam," he added.

The Prime Minister said RGIPT would be of world class standard and will produce technical personnel serving as leaders and innovators in the fields of petroleum technology, engineering and management.

"Since the few existing institutes are not in a position to meet this increasing requirement of technical manpower, the proposed RGIPT is intended to reduce this gap between demand and supply in the future," he added.

He further said that it was only befitting that the institute is named after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as his contribution to modernisation and development of our country is immense and he believed that application of science and technology was crucial to our development processes.

Govt chalks out new employment policy

GUWAHATI: In an attempt to guide the existing and emerging workforce of the state, the government on Saturday drafted a new policy guideline for employment generation in the state.

The employment policy of Assam has been documented with a view to provide a framework for planning and policy formulations in guiding the emerging workforce in the state.

The new policy is aimed at ensuring that child labour does not exist in hazardous sectors. It also seeks to provide for enhancing employability through services and skill development on a sustainable basis.

After experiments with the existing policy and a few guidelines for improvisation have been suggested. The policy in its agriculture sector (macro-level) has suggested distribution of cultivation rights to farmers.

Moreover, ceiling of surplus land in the tea garden areas was said to be used not only for urbanization but also in innovative ways for employment generation.

In primary-level of the agriculture sector, surplus land in tea garden areas was suggested to be utilized for cash crop productions in the new policy which will generate quality rural employment and government revenue.

The new policy has provisions for retail trade implementation of national policy for hawkers, street vendors and small shopkeepers. It also envelopes fiscal support and incentive marketing facilities for textile products, beverages and food products.

Labour and employment department of Assam government has drafted the employment policy and made it open for constructive suggestions for a feasible improvement within March 31 this year.

Religious leaders in state to join fight against AIDS

GUWAHATI: A two-day convention, organized by the Art of Living, a non-profit educational and humanitarian NGO, in collaboration with the Assam State Aids Control Society (ASACS), began on Saturday where religious leaders from across the state will participate to spread awareness against HIV/AIDS.

Swami Divyananda of Art of Living said on Saturday with active participation of religious leaders, the disease can be thrown out of society."Initially, we started our mission in 2008. Since then gradually we have stepped up our campaign. With participation of all, we will be able to throw away AIDS from society," he said.

The Art of Living believes in spreading the message of love and humanity to deal with people infected with HIV.

"I have met several people who are infected with the virus. They are just human beings like us. They need love and care from us to lead their lives normally," said Richa Chopra who has been involved with various humanitarian activities across the country.

"We can definitely help people by extending our care for them and encourage them to lead a normal life. A word of love could be a vital medicine for some people," she said, adding that the seminar would help the religious leaders to experience the idea and spread the message across to people.

Assam health commissioner and secretary Prateek Hajela who was also present during the inaugural session of the seminar said prevention was the best way to pluck AIDS out of our world.

"The number of people infected with the virus has crossed 25 lakh in India and we need to be more conscious to stop its spread further. Besides, we need to be generous to those who have been infected already. We should not hurt them with our behaviour," he said.

Ashish Bhutani GMDA commissioner and secretary stressed on the role of religious leaders and teachers in the society to prevent spread of AIDS. "People believe more in religious leaders. If they decide to shoulder the responsibility, I think they can bring about a change," said Bhutani.

Religious leaders from various parts of the state actively took part in the session and exchanged their feelings and experiences.

Centre ready to fulfill Assam's special needs

SIVASAGAR/JORHAT: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said the Centre was ready to pay special attention to the development of Assam.

" Our government is always ready towards the special needs for Assam and other northeastern states," he told a a gathering at Industrial Training Institute playground in Jorhat after laying the foundation of the National Institute of Design (NID). He said that his government has taken up a number of development projects for the region. Pointing out some projects taken up in Assam, he said, "I am happy to note that a comprehensive project for the protection of Rohmoria and Majuli island from erosion is at an advance stage of completion. The Bongaigaon thermal power project is likely to be commissioned shortly. The Assam Gas Cracker Project is another significant project that has been taken up for implementation. Project for the preservation of cultural heritage of Natun Kamalabari satra has been taken up."

He added, " We have also initiated several projects for improving connectivity. These include Lumding-Silchar-Jiribam railway line, Bogibeel road cum bridge project, Construction of the Dhola- Sadia and Numaligarh -Gahpur bridges.

The National Institute of design (NID) will be the second of its type in India after the first NID set up in Ahmedabad 50 years ago.

Assam under National Register of Citizens cloud

Minority bodies argue that as the 1951 NRC was not prepared under any specific rule, in contrast to the present NRC which is going to be prepared on the basis of Citizenship (Registration of Citizenship and issue of National Identity Cards) Rule 2003; it has no valid status and it is also not available in several districts of the state. Hence, the 1951 NRC updating would neither be correct nor complete.

By Abdurrahman Aman,

Whether National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam will be prepared on the basis of 1971’s voter list or on the basis of 1961’s and 1971’s voter lists? The minority bodies urged the state government not to update NRC, 1951, but to prepare a fresh NRC on the basis of 1971’s list. On the other hand, All Assam Students Union (AASU) is adamant in its demand for updating the NRC of 1951 with the 1971 voter’s lists as the cut-off date. Completely rejecting the demand for preparing NRC, AASU has said that the NRC of 1951 should be updated on the basis of linkage found in 1971 voter’s list.

Being a party and signatory of Assam Accord, AASU had already accepted March 25, 1971 as the cut off date for detecting Bangladeshis. At midnight of 15th August, 1985, Assam Accord was signed in New Delhi between AASU and the State Government in the presence of the central government representative which brought to an end the so-called Assam Movement run by AASU against illegal foreigners. According to the Assam Accord, those who had entered Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971 should be given Indian citizenship. So the question automatically arises, what are the reasons of their opposing now the preparation of a fresh NRC based on 1971 voter’s list? The answer is simple: being successful in the NRC update, their next move would be to declare the people included in 1951 NRC and their descendents as original people of the state and then to demand for 100 per cent reservation in Assembly and parliamentary seats for these people. They would also demand for 100 per cent job reservation for the original people as they have defined. In this case, they have already raised their voices.

Minority bodies argue that as the 1951 NRC was not prepared under any specific rule, in contrast to the present NRC which is going to be prepared on the basis of Citizenship (Registration of Citizenship and issue of National Identity Cards) Rule 2003; it has no valid status and it is also not available in several districts of the state. Hence, the 1951 NRC updating would neither be correct nor complete. According to the data provided by Barpeta District Administration, Barpeta revenue circle alone has 23 villages where 1951 NRC is not available and Electoral Roll (ER) of 1966 is also not available in 9 villages. According to the 1951 census report, the names of 6 lakh Muslims were not included in 1951’s NRC as they were compelled to take refuge in erstwhile East Pakistan due to the riots that occurred in Assam at that time. After the signing of the Nehru-Liaquat Agreement they returned and hence they could not get their names entered in 1951 NRC. Moreover, the names of many people of remote villages, especially of the riverine areas, were left out as infrastructure of the state was very poor at that time.

As per existing rules/guidelines, people who are original inhabitants of Assam including their children, who are citizens of India, will be included in the updated NRC. But surprisingly, the relevant rule/guideline does not specify the criterion for determination of ‘Original inhabitants’. On November 22, 2010 the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Revenue Minister Bhumidhar Barman assured 23 minority organizations including Abdul Aziz faction of All Assam Minority Student Union (AAMSU), All India Milli Council (AIMC), All Assam Bengali Yuba Chatra Federation (AABYCF) and Citizen Right Preservation Committee (CRPC), of preparing a correct NRC wherein the names of each and every genuine citizen would be included. The other members of GoM are Health Minister, Himanta Bishay Sarma, Food and Supply Minister, Nazrul Islam, Excise Minister, Gautam Roy and Forest Minister, Rackibul Hussain.

To find out a modality of preparing NRC acceptable for all, GoM took stock of the views of the representatives of this minority bodies at Dispur. minority representatives urged the Government to remove the defects of existing application form of NRC preparation and to make it simpler. They also urged the Government to repeal section 4-A of the amended Citizenship Act and said that all India norm of preparing NRC by conducting a house-to-house enumeration should be followed and “D-voters” (Doubtful voters) having valid documents of citizenship should be included in the NRC. As per rule 4-A amended only for Assam, all residents, most of whom are illiterate, would have to apply before the District Registrar along with a large number of supporting documents, appear for hearing and would have to prove their citizenship to the satisfaction of the officers concerned for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC.

This procedure is only stipulated for the state of Assam and not prescribed in other states of India. As such it is extremely discriminatory. Raising question against NRC updating modality, the senior advocate of Guwahati High Court and AIUDF Working President, Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Chowdhary, said that the all India norm for NRC update by conducting a house to house enumeration should be followed. On November 23, 2010, Chief Minister Tarun Gagoi told the journalists that the modality of house-to-house enumeration should be adopted. He also said that the Government wants to update the NRC, but people don’t come forward with NRC forms duly filled up. So, many of them will be left out, leading to more agitation and more trouble. Therefore, there is a need to make an arrangement for sending officials for a door-to-door enumeration. Some of the intellectuals of the state support this view.

Opposing the idea of house-to-house distribution of NRC forms, AASU Adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said, this proposal could not be accepted as there is no mechanism to distinguish Bangladeshis who entered after the cut off date of March 25, 1971 from the ones who had entered Assam prior to that date. But there is no base for this argument as the name of those applicants would only be included in the new NRC who could furnish valid documents. Moreover, minority bodies demanded the repeal of the sub-section 3 of section 4-A of the Citizenship Act. They rejected the proposal of updating 1951’s NRC and demanded the preparation of the NRC on the basis of 1971’s voter list. In the meantime, the GoM issued written proposals of accepting 13 specied documents to the minority representatives for their consent.

the decision to update the NRC and to give identity cards to Indian citizens on the basis of the same was taken in a tripartite meeting involving the Central and state Governments and AASU on May 5, 2005. Afterwards, the Home Ministry had prepared the updating modality discussing it with AASU while completely ignoring the opinion of the minority community which is the worst sufferer in the name of “Bangladeshis”. Now it is a known fact that members of minority community of Assam are becoming soft targets and victims in the name of “Bangladeshis” only because of their ethnic similarities with people on the other side of the international border.

The Government launched a pilot project for updating the NRC in two revenue circles, Barpeta and Chaygaon in early 2010, but the process was stopped after the death of four people belonging to the Muslim community in an unprovoked police firing on a protest rally against the defective NRC modality. After this, the state government constituted five members’ Group of Ministers.

the AASU and 25 other organizations allying with it are strongly opposing any change in the existing modality and format of the NRC form. On November 23, 2010 they met GoM and asked the state government to start updating the NRC simultaneously in all the parts of the state. They also strongly opposed the proposal for house-to-house enumeration for updating NRC. The proposal was tabled for discussion by the state government at the meeting of the organizations with the state’s GoM. AASU Adviser Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya said, the NRC form is free from any anomalies and as such government should make the people know this. The state government has accepted that there is some complexity in the existing modality and it needs to be made simpler. Still AASU is adamant in its stand. Samujjal Bhattacharya said that simplifying the form further would serve the interests of the foreigners illegally staying in Assam.

It is found that thousands and thousands of genuine voters of the religious and linguistic minorities are deprived of their citizenship through writing “D” (Doubtful Voter) against their name in the voter list. According to the latest information, there are 1.5 lakh people on the list of “D” voters. In case of creating D-voter, the Election Commission did not follow any rule. The voters covered under “D” were randomly selected and in this matter government could not give any satisfactory answer. The reports of mental and physical harassment are not rare.

In the meantime, AAMSU along with other minority bodies accused AASU of playing politics in the name of NRC. They are unnecessarily complicating the issue by insisting on unrealistic terms and conditions. On the other hand, BJP is communalizing the matter by openly advocating offering Indian citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis who have arrived even today. They are lobbying for treating Hindu Bangladeshis as “refugees” which is against the secular character of our constitution. But unfortunately AASU along with their allies did not show strong protest against BJP and its Hindutvadi allies’ open anti-national and anti-Assamese stand on the foreigner issue except simply saying foreigners are foreigners, whether they are Hindus or Muslims, they must go. Even the so-called liberal and secular intellectuals of the state have not objected to this communal line.

In the meantime, Asamar Pragjotishpuria khilinjia Muslim Unnayan Parishad (an association of indigenous Muslim of Assam who are the descendents of inhabitants of ancient Pragjotishpur State which was extent from Koliabar of Assam to Maimansing District of Bangladesh) claimed themselves to be the sons of the soil. The president of the Parishad, Mr. Esahak Dewan, has said that so-called immigrant Muslims of Assam are actually the sons of this soil. They inhabited the valley of Brahmaputra for more than 5 thousands years. Moreover, they are residing in Assam since before independence. Today there is a conspiracy against them to deprive them of their political rights and to make them landless. He warns to carry the issue to the international forums if the government ignores them.

Abdurrahman Aman may be contacted at rahmana138[@]gmail[.]com

Don't vote for candidates with crime records: AEW

GUWAHATI: Assam Election Watch (AEW), a non-government poll watchdog campaigning for electoral reforms in the state, has appealed to voters not to cast their ballots for candidates with criminal antecedents.

On Thursday, the organization released a report on the 2006 assembly elections which stated that of the 126 candidates who had won, seven had criminal cases pending against their names.

"Besides, there were other candidates with criminal cases ranging from murder to kidnapping and dacoity who contested the 2006 assembly elections, but could not win," AEW coordinator Tasaduk Ariful Hussain said.

Of the seven MLAs who were charged with criminal cases, two belonged to AIUDF, one each to Congress and AGP and three were Independents, he said. "Our main demand is that anybody facing criminal cases in the court of law should not get a ticket to contest polls. Besides, all those candidates who had fought the 2006 elections despite facing criminal charges should not get another chance to be in the poll fray this time," Hussain said.

The purpose of releasing the report on the 2006 assembly elections was, he claimed, to make the voters aware about candidates with criminal cases who contested the last assembly elections.

AEW, which is part of a nationwide campaign called National Election Watch advocating reforms in democracy and governance, also sought inclusion of a button of provision "none of the above" in EVMs which will allow voters to have a choice of not casting their ballot in favour of candidates in the fray.

"We want the Election Commission of India include a button with a label none of the above' so that a voter can press it if the candidates in the fray do not suit their choice. This will allow a voter to exercise his or her voting rights. Moreover, candidates with criminal background or non-performing MLAs contesting election will be prevented from winning," Hussain said. Reacting to the recent declaration of assets by state ministers on a government website, AEW said without it (declaration of assets) was not enough without disclosing the sources of income in upholding transparency of the elected representatives.

Aasu holds govt responsible

GUWAHATI: The fact that just 17,780 students out of the 2,25,634 appearing for the higher secondary (HS) examination this year are from the science stream is a serious cause for concern and it exposes the poor education scenario in Assam, said All Assam Students' Union (AASU), alleging the state government was responsible for the deplorable condition of education in the state.

"It is because of the utter negligence of the state government that students don't want to take up science. Forget about facilities such as a well-equipped laboratory, our higher secondary schools do not even have adequate classrooms and teachers. So, under such circumstances, we cannot expect a large number of students to opt for science," Aasu advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya said.

"Though the decision to remove the HS section from colleges and include it in schools has been postponed for a year, the state government does not seem to be taking any measures to address the problems of the students," he said, adding Aasu is not opposed to the idea of removal of higher secondary from colleges, but it demands reformation in all high schools across the state. The UGC has already directed all colleges in Assam to remove the higher secondary section and concentrate on degree courses. But, there aren't enough schools with adequate infrastructure that can absorb the huge number of students in Class Eleven in the event of colleges discontinuing the HS section. Though there is an urgent need to upgrade the existing high schools to higher secondary level by building adequate infrastructure to absorb the students who have passed the matriculation examination, nothing much has been done by the government.

Aasu said that unless the government takes some serious steps towards the development of the overall education scenario, its condition would only deteriorate.

"First of all, qualified teachers should be appointed at all the HS schools besides ensuring there are sufficient classrooms and well-equipped laboratories. School in rural areas should not be any different or lag behind in infrastructure from those in the city. Only then can we really hope for an increase in the number of science students at the HS level," Bhattacharyya said, adding if more top institutes of the country like IITs are established in the state, students may feel more motivated to take up science. "Moreover, we believe that educational programmes in schools and colleges should be devised according to the needs of students, but we have not seen any such thing happening here," he added. The Aasu leader urged the government to remove all politicians occupying positions in the education department for the smooth management and growth of the sector. "I think all politicians should be removed from the system and a new board should be constituted with noted educationists. Only then will the problems affecting education in Assam be addressed properly," Bhattacharyya said. "Moreover, we demand effective restructuring of the entire examination system along with student-friendly evaluation in order to ensure the student community gets optimum benefits. An atmosphere of healthy competition should be created to encourage students to excel in studies. There should not be any difference between a school in which a minister's children study and one in which a common man's kids study," he said.

Ulfa leaders return home with high hopes

GUWAHATI: Ulfa central executive committee members, who returned to the city on Tuesday after holding "familiarisation" meetings with PM Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram in New Delhi, said it's now the Centre's turn to reciprocate and fulfill its pledge of giving an "honourable solution" to the decades-long insurgency in Assam.

Without making any reference to the word "sovereignty", Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who had led the team, said, "On May 25, 2005, the Prime Minister had written a letter to Ulfa that the government was ready to discuss all core issues it. Based on this letter of assurance, the outfit decided to sit for a peaceful political dialogue. We hope that the leadership of the world's greatest democracy will not just keep its assurance on paper and discussion but also make it a reality." The Union ministry of home affairs invited the Ulfa leadership to New Delhi for introductory meetings after the latter dropped the main pre-condition of discussions only on "sovereignty" and agreed for unconditional talks.

On arrival at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in the afternoon, Rajkhowa said the team has come back with a lot of assurances and hope. He said, "The home minister has assured us of making all efforts to find an honourable solution which will be acceptable to the people of the state." Describing the meetings with Singh and Chidambaram as "highly satisfactory and cordial," Rajkhowa appealed to political parties to refrain from taking political mileage out of the peace process that has just started.

"We appeal to all political parties to unite on our agenda for dialogue. They should play a constructive rather than politicizing the issue," added the Ulfa chairman.

The outfit will soon submit its charter of demands, which is being drafted by the Sanmilita Jatiya Abhibartan (SJA), a citizens' group. The SJA, however, is of the opinion that Ulfa's sovereignty demand is not feasible. It wants the Ulfa leadership to bargain for more autonomy instead when the formal talks start. Rajkhowa heaped praises on Manmohan Singh saying that the Prime Minister has thanked Ulfa for agreeing to hold peaceful political dialogue with the government. Rajkhowa, however, declined to reply if "commander-in-chief" Paresh Baruah's rejection of the proposed peace talks was ever discussed at the introductory meetings.

Talks with Centre positive: Rajkhowa

Guwahati: ULFA 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa on Tuesday said that the first round of talks with the Centre was "very positive" and it was "quite satisfied" with the response of the government.

"We had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last evening at his residence in Delhi and we are happy with his approach towards resolving Assam's problems," Rajkhowa told reporters here after his arrival from the national capital.

"The prime minister has assured us of an honourable and acceptable solution to the problems of Assam and our talks with him were very cordial," he said.

"The prime minister also appreciated our initiative to come forward for peace talks and our resolve to solve the problem through dialogue," he said.

The ULFA was considering to come forward for talks after receiving the prime minister's letter dated May 25, 2005 where he had wrote about holding talks on all issues, Rajkhowa pointed out.

The ULFA leadership had also met Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on February 10 prior to their detailed talks with Union Home Secretary G K Pillai and both the consultations were "very positive".

Besides Rajkhowa, the other leaders of the group who attended the meetings in New Delhi were 'vice chairman' Pradip Gogoi, 'political advisor' Bhimakanta Buragohain, 'foreign secretary' Sasha Choudhury, 'finance secretary' Chitrabon Hazarika, 'cultural secretary' Pranati Deka, 'publicity secretary' Mithinga Daimary and 'deputy commander-in-chief' Raju Barua.

Volkswagen inaugurates its first dealership in Assam

Volkswagen today inaugurated Volkswagen Guwahati as its first authorized dealer in Assam. Volkswagen Guwahati will retail all Volkswagen passenger car models currently available in the country. Volkswagen Guwahati has a capacity to display 6 cars in its showroom and a 10 bay workshop including state of art accidental repair, body paint workshop. While gracing the inauguration Mr. Neeraj Garg, Member of Board, Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Volkswagen Group Sales India Pvt. Ltd. said "We are proud to welcome Volkswagen Guwahati into the Volkswagen network. To ensure Volkswagen is in a strong position, we continue to invest our resources on areas like efficient supplier structure and local sales network in the country."
Guwahati, Assam -- Volkswagen today inaugurated Volkswagen Guwahati as its first authorized dealer in Assam. Volkswagen Guwahati will retail all Volkswagen passenger car models currently available in the country. Volkswagen Guwahati has a capacity to display 6 cars in its showroom and a 10 bay workshop including state of art accidental repair, body paint workshop.
While gracing the inauguration Mr. Neeraj Garg, Member of Board, Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Volkswagen Group Sales India Pvt. Ltd. said "We are proud to welcome Volkswagen Guwahati into the Volkswagen network. To ensure Volkswagen is in a strong position, we continue to invest our resources on areas like efficient supplier structure and local sales network in the country."
With 70 dealerships, Volkswagen has already established its presence in major cities and towns in India and expects to continue expanding its reach in order to connect with more customers.
According to Mr. Manish Agarwal, Dealer Principal, Volkswagen Guwahati "We are pleased to partner with Volkswagen and look forward to building strong relationships with our premium customers here. We are confident of providing Volkswagen's global standards of experience to our customers as all other Volkswagen international dealership.
As with every other Volkswagen dealership, Volkswagen Guwahati has been provided intense training in management of sales, service, spare parts and business systems to assure customers of the best-in-class pre and post sales ownership experience. Volkswagen sold over 5601 vehicles across the country in January 2011.

Assam to moot railway corridor in budget

Kolkata/ Guwahati February 15: With movement of goods heavily dependent on railway network in Assam, the state has demanded a railway transport corridor along the south bank of the river Brahmaputra in the forthcoming railway budget.

In a letter to railway minister Mamata Banerjee, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi urged her to consider the demand of the railway corridor in a bid to boost economic activity in the state.

Besides, he also urged the railway minister to lay new line from Tirap to Lekhapani for efficient movement of coal from Lekhapani coal mines to feed the upcoming 740 MW Boangaigaon Thermal Power Station, being developed by NTPC in Salakati, in Kokrajhar district in Lower Assam.

Assam has also demanded a new railway line from Silghat to Tezpur with a railway bridge over Brahmaputra for strategic reasons, in addition to gauge conversion of the meter gauge stretch between Baraigram and Durlabcherra.

Gogoi asked for strengthening of railway infrastructure in the region and Assam, including laying of a new line from Salona to Kumtaiand, and Jorhat to Sivasagar.

To decongest the present railway line, double tracking of railway line stretch between New Bongaigaon and Kamakhya via Goalpara has also been demanded by Assam.

Gogoi requested Banerjee to declare these infrastructure projects as 'national projects' for ensuring smooth fund flow.

The state has also asked for decongestion of the present goods terminal at New Guwahati by expanding the freight terminal at Azara and opening up of a new terminal at Amingaon for attracting more volume of good traffic to the Changsari goods terminal.

Plight of garden workers might create ground for Maoist activities'

GUWAHATI: Barely two days after the arrest of two suspected Maoists in Orissa, belonging to the tea tribe community of Assam, the state unit of BJP has raised concerns about the plight of tea garden labourers. It alleged that the government's neglect towards the tribe has led to the creation of a "fertile ground" for Maoist activities in the state.

According to the saffron party, the labourers remained one of the most deprived sections of society in the state, despite various development schemes initiated by the government. The party leaders observed that Maoist activity was on the rise in some of the tribal-dominated underdeveloped parts of Jharkand, Chattisgarh, West Bengal and Orissa. As tea garden labourers in Assam have ethnic connection with the tribes in Maoist-hit states, the saffron party warned that it was only a matter of time before red-terror' is unleashed in the region.

"The threat of Maoist influence on the tea garden workers is very much present in Assam. Prolonged deprivation along with ethnic connection with tribes in states like Jharkand, Chattisharh and Orissa have made the community to Maoist terror," BJP vice-president, Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, said.

The tea garden labourer community, collectively called Adivasi in the state, comprises tribes from central and eastern India states, who migrated to Assam during the British rule.

Although security forces have significantly been able to contain activities of various armed outfits floated by the tea garden labourer community in recent past, the arrest of two suspected Maoists from the community in Orissa, only brought to the fore the fact that Maoist activity might be on the rise in the region.Thingamajig Orang and Asik Sabar, who belonged to tea garden community in Dibrugarh were arrested along with Aditya Bora in Orissa on charges of links with Maoists.

Brahmaputra riverfront to be beautified

Guwahati, Feb 14 : The mighty Brahmaputra that flows through Guwahati will soon be the main tourist draw in the city as the state goes ahead to revamp and beautify the riverfront with a slew of projects.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi yesterday laid the foundation stone of Brahmaputra Riverfront Development Project and inaugurated a memorial in the city.

Speaking on the occasion, the Chief Minister said the riverfront development of the Brahmaputra has been a dream project for him.

''It has been my pet project since long. Things have fallen into place and people have realised the importance of open free space in which they can have sufficient breathing space and enjoy the beauty of the majestic river at its very best,'' he said.

The Chief Minister said the river front development project would not only add beauty and grandeur to the premier capital city of Assam and the gateway to the North East region but also provide the denizens of the city communion with nature.

''Opening up of the river front to the masses would in a way change the outlook towards life and make them feel in complete communion with nature,'' he added.

Minister for Guwahati Development Department Himanta Biswa Sharma said the ambitious project of developing the riverfront has taken off with everyone realising that they need breathing space and a healthy life amid the din and bustle of a city life.

Sharma said the 20-km stretch from Kamakhya to Uzanbazar would be done in a phased manner.

He thanked the DGP and DC, Kamrup (Metro) for vacating their official bungalows, the Chief Judicial Magistrate for agreeing to shift the CJM court, the Forest Department and others for the purpose of developing the riverfront.

''At one point of time, I have had doubts whether the dream project of our Chief Minister would ever be translated into reality.

But things have become hassle-free, thanks to everyone’s cooperation. Today, I can say without any doubt that this project commencing from today from the premises of old DC’s bungalow would give an entirely new look to Guwahati, for which every Guwahatian would be proud of,'' he said.

The project to be carried out in phases would be completed in the next three years and the estimated cost would be to the tune of Rs 300-400 crore. Godowns located in the main Fancy Bazar area would be relocated elsewhere.

Earlier, the Chief Minister inaugurated a memorial for freedom fighters Kanaklata Baruah, Kushal Konwar, Gomadhar Konwar, Maniram Dewan, Piyali Baruah, Piyali Phukan, Kamala Miri and Bhogeswari Phukanani at Bharalumukh on the banks of the Brahmaputra.

Assam makes determined effort to preserve lone rain forest

Dibrugarh (Assam), Feb 13 (PTI) In a bid to conserve India's easternmost rain forest here, home to seven wild cat species, authorities are trying to promote the wildlife preserve as an eco-tourism destination by involving the local populace.

The first Rain forest Festival is being held on the banks of the Burhidihing at Jeypore in this district since Friday and tourists, including foreigners, have thronged in large numbers.

The Jeypore rain forest is home to a number of wildlife species, including many endangered ones. So far, 46 species of mammals, 283 species of birds, 276 varieties of butterflies,102 species of orchids, 71 species of reptiles and amphibians,70 species of fishes and nearly 40 species of dragonflies and damselflies have been recorded there.

Recently, seven wildcat species were captured on came rain the Jeypore rain forest by a wildlife biologist during a survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Various species of valuable trees like are also found in the forest.

DFO Anurag Singh says the primary aim of the festival is to highlight the importance of rain forests.

"Our aim is to develop an exemplary eco-tourism roadmap for Jeypore. And for this purpose, community-based eco-tourism is the best option," Singh told PTI.

According to him, this kind of festivals also gives lotof opportunities to the local people.

"The local people have taken an active part in the festival. They have put up over 100 stalls of handicrafts,artifacts, bamboo products, pickles and ethnic food. Festivals like these help in a long way in generating employment at the local level," he says.

To promote the rain forest and attract tourists, Singh says, some long-term measures will be adopted like more accommodation units, involvement of locals and awareness programmes.

Over these days, the festival has seen the participation of myriad of ethnic groups showcasing their ethnic culture,dresses and food habits. Elephant safaris, trekking, seminars were also a hit.

The other highlights of the festival were display of customary dresses, display of cultural heritage of the local people living in and around these areas, tools, ornaments used by different tribal groups and display of the history of forest, wildlife and their association with local people in their lives.

The rain forest and Dilli reserve forest combine to be the only rain forest area in the state spread across the three upper Assam''s districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar comprising a total area of 575 sq km. The forest is listed to be the last lowland forests under the Assam valley wet evergreen forest area in the region.

Gogoi demands more railway projects for Assam in Rail budget

Guwahati, Feb 13 (PTI) Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today requested Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee to include several projects for the state in the forth coming rail budget for the year 2011-12.

Gogoi sent a letter to Banerjee for new lines for strengthening the railway infrastructure in the North Eastern region and Assam, including a new line from Salona to Kumtai and Jorhat to Sivasagar.

He also urged for a transport corridor along the south bank of the Brahmaputra, building of the six km Tirap-Lekhapani railway line for efficient and economical access to the Lekhapani coal mines to feed the upcoming 750 MW Bongaigaon Thermal Power Station (BTPS) of NTPC at Salakati in Kokrajhar district and double tracking of railway line stretch between New Bongaigaon and Kamakhya via Goalpara to decongest the present railway line.

The chief minister also demanded a new railway line from Silghat to Tezpur with a railway bridge for strategic reasons and gauge conversion of the only meter gauge stretch between Baraigram and Durlabcherra.

Gogoi requested Banerjee to declare these infrastructure as ''national projects'' for ensuring smooth fund flow.

Central committee member of Ulfa and associates arrested

Rourkela, Feb 12 (PTI) Aditya Bora, Assam cadre central committee member of ULFA and two of his associates, were today arrestd by security forces during joint combing operation in Saranda forest bordering Orissa-Jharkhand, police said.Huge quantity of explosives, Maoist literature and posters were seized from their possesion, they said.Joint combing operation has been intensified after an encounter with the Maoists near Saranda forests yesterday in which three hardcore Maoists, including Area Commander Mohammed Musleem, were gunned down.The combing operation continued in the dense Saranda forests and three ULFA militants were arrested, they said.Initial reports said Bora and his associates were giving arms training to the local Maoists. All three were taken to an undisclosed place for interrogation.Three ultras who were gunned down yesterday, besides Musleem of Jareikela under Bisra police station, were identified as Susanta Mahanto of Jharbeda under Bisra police station and Nepali Bhumi of Makanda under Manoharpur police station of Jharkhand.All the three bodies were handed over to their family after postmortem.Meanwhile, the body of surrendered woman maoist Kanduri Lohar and her four-year old son, who were killed by the Maoists earlier in the day, were brought to Bisra for post-mortem.

CAG highlights govt failure in submitting reports timely

GUWAHATI: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on Friday highlighted the state government's failure to submit last year's financial report of many departments within March 31.

The Assam Power Distribution Company, along with planning, health, social service and education department besides the district commissioner's office of NC Hills, have topped the list of departments having financial anomalies.

Addressing the media in the city, principal account general Mukesh P Singh pointed out Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd's (APDC) failure to take appropriate action which resulted in accumulation of arrears of Rs 4.07 crore which remained unrealized.

"Non-deployment of adequate staff by the APDC led to non-utilization of power lines and sub-stations for over a period of two and half years as well as blockade of funds of Rs 1.97 crore. Moreover, irregular implementation of single-point power supply scheme by APDC led to non-realization of Rs 87.24 lakh," said Singh.

The CAG also recommended the public distribution system here to run a proper survey to ascertain the actual number of households/beneficiaries in the state. "Foodgrain was provided to APL beneficiaries in the state even without ration cards. The department should streamline the issue of ration cards, including retrieving of unauthorized ration cards, to check diversion of commodities to open market," he added.

On the NC Hills financial scam, the CAG cited that the DC, NC Hills drew Rs 20 lakh by reconverting deposits at call receipts but did not take it into government account, resulting in misappropriation of funds.

Failure to conduct necessary checks in accordance with the financial rules as drawing and disbursing officer led to an anomaly of Rs. 1.26 crore in NC Hills, added Singh. On Karbi Anglong, the CAG said the District Rural Development Agency made payment for materials against fictitious certificates of receipt of materials, which resulted in fraudulent payment of Rs 26.29 lakh. "The project Director incurred unauthorized expenditure of Rs 93.43 lakh," he added. According to the CAG, 15 departments in the state have huge financial anomalies, including health and education department, where the anomalies were higher.

Over one lakh teachers needed for Right to Education implementation in Assam

Guwahati, Feb 12 : Assam will have to spend over Rs 1100 crore and recruit nearly 1.10 lakh teachers if it wants to implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act in true spirit at the primary education level.

Hitting out at the state government’s alleged apathy towards the education sector, particularly the primary section, teachers’ and students’ bodies today pointed to a myriad of hurdles that have to be negotiated before the RTE Act can actually benefit the students.

The decision to rearrange classes by including class five in Lower Primary and class eight in Middle School category came under severe criticism.

Addressing a press meet a day after a meeting of teachers’ bodies and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), AASU president Shankar Ray said the decision to rearrange the classes was passed on December 31 last and had to be implemented from January 1, without the ground work being done.

''When the RTE Act was signed, it was promised that all infrastructure would be ready in six months. But almost a year on, nothing is ready,'' he said.

The teachers’ bodies informed that the state has at least 7,425 single-teacher schools and an additional 4600 two-teacher schools.

Considering that a primary school must have at least six teachers, the state education sector has requirement of additional 1,10,219 teachers.

The cost towards building of extra class-rooms and procurement of desk-benches and blackboards would amount to about Rs 1161 crore.

The joint forum of teachers and students announced of staging a demonstration in front of the Raj Bhawan on February 15 pressing for their demands of resolution of problems facing the education sector.

The resolutions of yesterday’s meeting will also be forwarded to the Chief Minister and education minister today.

Seeing the light in Assam

One of the most violent separatist movements in the country has been persuaded to call it a day, and the credit for this has to be shared widely. A preliminary round of discussions has been held between the United Liberation Front of Asom and the central government after the militant group agreed to unconditional talks. Previously, ULFA held firm to the condition that talks must include its demand of sovereignty for Assam. Over the last year, it has evolved politically to realise that this pre-condition was unrealistic. Its own military and political position had been rendered precarious by a combination of factors. Not only did it suffer reverses in operations by Indian security forces, Bangladesh and Bhutan made it clear that ULFA leaders and cadres could no longer seek safe haven on their soil. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has to be thanked for handing over a clutch of ULFA leaders hiding in her country. For their part, the people of Assam made known that they were put off by the group's violent methods that led to the death of hundreds of civilians. All this was instrumental in helping ULFA see the futility of its war against India. A statement issued by the group following the first round of talks in New Delhi suggests it has given up the idea of secession. ULFA now believes it is possible to find ways for the “protection and enrichment of the sovereignty of the people of Assam” within the Indian Constitution. The leaders of the group have also apologised for killing civilians, describing as “mistakes” the 1997 murder of social activist Sanjay Ghose and the 2004 bomb blast in which several children lost their lives.

The central government must be commended for the firm but open-minded way in which it has dealt with the Assam militancy in recent times. The agenda for the talks, which should take place in the next few months, is yet to be settled. Clearly, the two sides will talk about rehabilitation of ULFA cadres, as also lifting the ban on the group. After giving up its demand for independence, ULFA needs some time to reformulate its political goals and enter the democratic mainstream. The people of Assam have long-held grievances — the State's economic underdevelopment, the presence of large numbers of illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, and the feeling of being done out of a just share of revenue from tea and oil. Indeed, had the Centre paid timely attention to these issues, ULFA might never have come up. They will need to be addressed for a permanent peace in the State. The continued hold-out by ULFA's military wing leader Paresh Barua, who is still on the run and has pledged his opposition to the talks, poses a challenge. It is to be hoped that the force of public opinion in favour of talks will compel him to change his mind.

Tribal rebel outfits pressure Assam for leaders' release

Guwahati, Feb 12:Tribal insurgent outfits have stepped up pressure on the Assam government for their leaders' release from jail, peeved over the perceived priority being accorded to freeing leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) for facilitating peace talks. Pointing out that there is more to militancy in the state than the Ulfa, the rebel outfits are unwilling to wait.

The Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel) group (better known as the 'Black Widow') for instance, has threatened a return to the "bad old days" from February 15 if its chairman Jewel Garlossa and commander-in-chief Niranjan Hojai are not freed. The outfit had laid down arms in October 2009.

"We want our leaders released or Dima Hasao (formerly North Cachar Hills) will burn from the morning of February 15. For starters, we will not allow trains to run besides disrupting work on the East-West Corridor," DHD-J vice-chairman Peipring Dimasa said on Thursday. "The government should learn not to be partial to any group."

The DHD-J had shot to notoriety by blowing up trains and carrying out an ethnic cleansing in which more than 350 people were killed, prior to Garlossa's arrest from Bangalore in June 2009.

The group's nexus with politicians and bureaucrats leading to diversion of development funds was the first assignment of the National Investigation Agency. The National Democratic Front of Boroland has also demanded the release of its chairman Ranjan Daimary, a prime accused in the October 30, 2008, serial blasts that killed 92 persons. To show intent, the outfit abducted six World Wide Fund for Nature volunteers last Sunday. It freed three of them — all women — on Tuesday.

A senior home department officer denied being partial to the Ulfa. "We are accommodative and looking into everything case by case," he said.

Assam witnessed best days in my second term: Gogoi

GUWAHATI: Chief minister Tarun Gogoi has described his second term as the best days the state has seen in terms of development since Independence. He also dubbed the two terms of AGP under the leadership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta as the "darkest chapter" in Assam's history.

"The last five years of our government is the best period in the history of Assam as far as development is concerned. And this has been possible be-cause of unstinted help and support from all sections of people," he said here on Thursday. The chief minister added that various scams plagued the state during Mahanta's two terms in office.

Gogoi said the present government would leave behind a whopping amount for the next government to carry out development in contrast to the empty government coffer he had inherited from the previous AGP government when he took over in 2001. He claimed that Congress will once again form the next government in May after the assembly elections.

He described his first term form 2001 to 2006 as "difficult". "That period was challenging. There was financial deficit and law and order was bad. No one wanted to buy land here. Nobody wanted to invest here. By 2003, the situation slightly improved and today the financial position is strong and there is great improvement in law and order," he said.

The chief minister added that when he started his first term, he had received the 11th Finance Commission Award of Rs13,280 crore finalized by the previous AGP government. "The next government will get a staggering Rs 57,832.70 crore from the 13th Finance Commission," Gogoi said.

He said chaos and mayhem reigned supreme when Congress took over the reins prior to May 2001. "There was total lawlessness with the militants calling the shots. There was huge flight of capital. The economy of the state was in the red. The government exchequer was almost empty and there was a deficit of Rs 500 crore. We had to bear a loan amount of a whopping Rs 2000 crore. The situation prior to 2001 is no longer there because our government has initiated a slew of schemes and projects on all fronts, which have had brought about a remarkable economic turn-around and hastened the process of development which had come to a grinding halt prior to May 2001," Gogoi added.

He said there was despair and despondency all around during AGP regime and a sense of insecurity had gripped the people. "But today, there has been a sea change in development. The state is witnessing an upsurge on the economic front with investors flocking to Assam," he added.

Assam CM urges Centre to take up review of SC judgement

Guwahati, Feb 11 (PTI) Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today requested the Centre to take steps to review the recent Supreme Court''s judgement that supporters of any banned organisation are not punishable by law.

"The judgement will have serious consequences and encourage anti-Indian and secessionist forces in the days to come," Gogoi told reporters here.

In such a case, it will be very difficult to maintain the law-and-order situation and "I think this verdict by the apex court calls for a review", he said.

The Supreme Court had recently passed an order stating that being merely a member of a banned organisation is not punishable unless there is clinching evidence of the person's direct involvement in any violent incident.

Gogoi's remarks comes in the backdrop of banned ULFA's unconditional talks with the Centre. Assam has been hit by decades of insurgency before the ULFA could be brought to the negotiating table.

The chief minister criticised the Opposition parties in the state for disrupting the proceedings in the just-concluded session terming it as "unfortunate and uncalled for".

"The opposition got ample opportunity to pin down the government on the issue of North Cachar Hills funds diversion scam but they adopted an escapist attitude which cannot be understood by the people of Assam," Gogoi said.

Taking a dig at Leader of Opposition Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, he said the former chief minister has no right to criticise the government.

"Mahanta is the only chief minister to be issued charge sheet by CBI in the history of Assam. He as the Leader of the Opposition has actually hatched a conspiracy to safeguard himself on the floor of the house by not allowing a debate on the NC Hills scam," Gogoi said.

Assam-Nagaland meet on encroachment

Jorhat: The Assam and Nagaland governments have held a district-level meet at Singibeel border outpost in Sivasagar district to discuss encroachment issues in the Geleki Reserve Forest for maintaining peace and harmony in the inter-state boundary areas.

Officials from Assam's Sivasagar and Nagaland's Lungleng districts took part in the meeting that was held on Tuesday.

Deputy commissioner (Sivasagar) J Lahkar said, "We discussed the issue of Naga encroachment in the Geleki forest with officials from Nagaland's Lungleng district. We have asked the officials to take steps for sorting out the issue at the earliest."

"Though the team from Nagaland has requested us to allow cultivation in boundary areas we have refused," he said adding that several amicable decisions were taken up at the meet by both the governments to maintain peace and harmony in the area.

Naga encroachment in the Geleki forest has been on the rise since the last few decades. A group of Naga encroachers, comprising more than 40 armed persons, had taken up an encroachment bid in the forest in December which falls under Nazira sub-division of Sivasagar district.

The group had been cutting down trees in large number in the Singibeel, Mugapara, Borhola and Charaisagia areas under the reserve forest near the police battalion camp in Nazira sub-division. They also destroyed tea gardens along the border and occupied a large part of the forest land.

A senior forest official of the district said, "According to official records, the Geleki Reserve Forest spreads over 6,000 hectare. Out of the total land, the Naga encroachers have already occupied more 4,000 hectare forest lands by various means."

"The encroachment in the reserve forest was started in 1972 and it continued for the last four decades. Recently, the state revenue department and the forest department has jointly started a survey in the reserve forest," he added.

A two-member mediation team, constituted by the Supreme Court, visited the disputed areas along the Assam-Nagaland boundary in Sivasagar, Jorhat and Golaghat district to take stock of the situation in these places on November 17.

On August 20, the apex court had directed the authorities concerned to resolve the decade-old issue through mediation and a two-judge bench of the court ordered constitution of a penal comprising the two mediators.

Earlier, Assam home commissioner Jishnu Boruah also visited the trouble-torn border areas in Sivasagar district on September 9. Boruah, who was accompanied by border director Bhuban Chandra Bora, visited Namtola, Avoyapur forest, Charaideu, Bihubar and the Geleki Reserve Forest and submitted reports to the government.

Assam farmers in city to learn food processing

Ludhiana: A seven-day training programme on ‘Post Harvest Technology on Rural Catchments’ for participants from SIRD Assam was inaugurated at Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET) in Ludhiana on Wednesday. As many as 15 farmers are taking part in the training programme.

“At present, while consumers are paying high price for processed food, farmers are not able to increase their income. Farmers income could only increased when they would be getting share from consumers expenditure on processed food sold at higher prices in supermarkets,” said CIPHET Director Dr R T Patil and added that shifting of food processing to rural catchments would immensely benefit both farmers as well as consumers.

ULFA leaders meet Gogoi, seek help for peace talks

GUWAHATI: Top ULFA leaders led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa today met Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and sought his cooperation to take forward the peace process with the Centre.

Rajkhowa and seven other leaders met the Chief Minister at his official residence on the eve of talks with a central team led by Union Home Secretary G K Pillai on Thursday.

Gogoi told reporters after the meeting that this was the first time a Chief Minister had met the ULFA leadership "officially and face-to-face".

"I hope talks with the Centre is successful and they discussed with me how to take the peace process forward", Gogoi said.

Asked whether the ULFA leaders had presented their demands before him, Gogoi said, "They will tell the Centre about their demands".

Rajkhowa told reporters their meeting with the Chief Minister was "primarily a courtesy call before the talks".

"We urged the Chief Minister to speed up the process in New Delhi and sought his cooperation to take the peace process to the next phase. The modalities for the talks have not been worked out so far and will come later", he said.

Besides Rajkhowa, the other leaders of the outfit present in the meeting were Vice Chairman Pradip Gogoi, political advisor Bhimakanta Buragohain, Foreign Secretary Sasha Choudhury, Finance Secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, Cultural Secretary Pranati Deka, Publicity Secretary Mithinga Daimary and Deputy Commander-in Raju Barua.

The ULFA leaders were likely to call upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram though the dates were yet to be fixed.

The ULFA leaders released from jail recently have decided to hold unconditional talks with the government but the faction led by outfit's Commander-in-chief Paresh Barua was opposed to it.

'Assam Matsya Mahotsav' fish festival in Guwahati

Assam, which is one of the largest consumers of fish in the country and is trying hard to become self sufficient in fish production, recently organised fifth Assam Matsya Mahotsav to promote fish production in the State.

The fish festival was held from January 27-29 at Shilpgram in Guwahati.

The festival brought together national-level institutions, scientists and farmers who are working for a Blue Revolution in Assam.

It promoted fish farming among the youth and aimed at disseminating latest information regarding fish production among farmers.

The main feature of the event was the inauguration of "ANGLING PARK" at the historic NAK-KATA pond in Guwahati. It will also serve as a breeding ground for ornamental fish, which has a growing market in Assam.

Nurjamal Sarkar, Minister Fisheries Department said: "This pond will be beneficial for the people of Guwahati as they can come here and relax. I feel that such kind of facility should be started in every city.

"Our government is helping the youth by providing them loans to start their won fishery business. At this festival people can come learn more about fish farming," said Pulak Banerjee, a resident.

Many seminars and competitions were also organized that were addressed by experts who provided details about latest fish farming technologies.

During the event various stalls selling traditional fish catching equipment were set up for the visitors.

During 2009-10, 2.18 lakh tonnes of fish was produced against the 2.06-lakh tonnes produced during 2008-09.

With a gradual increase in the production of fish, Assam hopes to become self-sufficient in producing fish in the next couple of years. (ANI)