No controversy on permission to Anna Hazare rally : Tarun Gogoi

GUWAHATI, Apr 29 : There was no controversy regarding permission given to anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare to address a rally at Judges Field here on May 3, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said today.

"Reports about the controversy are false. He ( Anna Hazare) can have his meeting anywhere. Why should I object," Gogoi told reporters here.

"I welcome him to Assam and we support his crusade against corruption. That is why our (Congress) government at the Centre formed a committee to draft the Lokpal Bill," he said.

Gogoi also wanted the corporate houses to be brought under the Lokpal Bill.

Asked to comment on corruption in the state, he said measures had been taken to check it and out of 37 cases in the state he had recommended 17 of them for CBI inquiry.

On the various mafia syndicates for coal, fish, vegetables and others in the state, the chief minister said he was against it and during his tenure syndicates have decreased though still in existence.

Gogoi wants Bhutan model of Gross National Happiness in Assam

Guwahati, April 29 (IANS) Assam will replicate Bhutan's goal of Gross National Happiness as the index to measure prosperity of the state if the Congress is voted back to power, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

'We shall surely try and follow Bhutan's happiness theory so that we are able to bring in holistic changes in the state and help develop amity, peace, social order, besides accelerating the economic growth if we form the government,' Gogoi told journalists.

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness is a policy decreed by former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to try and reflect the true quality of life in a more holistic manner.

According to the Bhutanese happiness theory, a buoyant economy means rising incomes and employment opportunities. However, GDP (gross domestic product) figures cannot measure the well-being of the country's nationals, as it only accounts for goods and services that pass through the formal markets.

For investors, forecasts of higher GDP growth signify higher corporate earnings and lead investors to bid up share prices. But Gogoi had an altogether different vision for Assam if voted for the third straight term.

'We would be more interested in sectors like education and see if all the kids were going to school and maintaining a good health, whether the forest cover was well protected, or if expectant mothers were getting adequate healthcare facilities,' Gogoi said.

Bhutan's happiness policy seems to be reaping the desired results - 72 percent of the country is still forested, healthcare is free, and a study conducted by the University of Leicester in Britain ranks Bhutan as the planet's eighth happiest place, ahead of the US and Canada.

The chief minister was more than confident of the Congress making a political hat-trick in Assam.

'I am more than 100 percent sure we would form the next government in Assam,' Gogoi said.

The chief minister said the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) suffered from a 'defeat syndrome' and was hence unsure about what combinations would work for them after the results on May 13.

'One day, you hear the AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary talking about aligning with the Left, in the afternoon he talks about forming the government with the BJP and at night he talks about help from the AUDF (Asom United Democratic Front). The AGP is confused,' Gogoi said.

Rape victim kin move rights panel

Kokrajhar, April 29 : Family members of the woman who was gangraped allegedly by personnel of the army’s 15 Dogra Regiment on April 20 have approached the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) for justice.

The Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples has also sought the intervention of the Assam governor into the incident.

The woman’s husband, Ratneswar Goyary, today sent a letter to the chairman, NHRC, New Delhi, seeking justice. “We filed an FIR in Kokrajhar police station on April 21 and the case is registered but so far no action has been taken by the administration against the culprits,” the letter said.

The family sought punishment of the six soldiers involved in the rape and sought protection for the victim from harassment and compensation according to the provision of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention Atrocities Act, 1995. “We will approach the governor tomorrow seeking justice for the rape victim. It is a heinous crime and an insult to the indigenous people. It is sad to see the police are not taking any action against the culprits. It is a gross violation of human rights,” Goyari said.

The district administration must take immediate action against the guilty whether he is a jawan or not, said Jebraram Mushahary, senior member of confederation while addressing a news conference at the Press Club here in Kokrajhar today.

The confederation along with United Peoples’ Federation of Assam and the All Barman Kachari Students’ Union submitted a memorandum to the Kokrajhar deputy commissioner demanding immediate arrest and punishment of the guilty soldiers.

With pressure from various organisations and civil society mounting, the district administration ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident seven days after the rape was committed.

Goyary’s was gangraped in her house around 7.30pm in his absence allegedly by two soldiers while the others held her.

According to the victim, six men in civvies forcefully entered her house while she was feeding her three-year-old son and two of them took turns to rape her.

However, the army has denied the rape charges.

Married man shoots at girl friend and himself

Tinsukia (Assam), Apr 29 (PTI) A newly married man allegedly tried to kill his girl friend before shooting at himself at Makum in Tinsukia district today, police said.

Sanjeev Chakraborty, who got married a few months ago, had a heated exchange with his friend Mrigaya Dey in Makum college premises before he fired at her.

Dey had gone to the college to appear for her first year degree examination, police said. As injured Dey fell on the ground, Chakraborty shot at himself from his unlicensed 7.65 US made pistol.

The relation between Chakraborty, a businessman, and the girl had of late been soured, police said after preliminary investigation.

Both were admitted to Assam Medical College Hospital in Dibrugarh in a critical condition.

Gujarat link in ivory smuggling

Consignment bound for carving centre in Ahmedabad: Sleuth

Guwahati, April 28: The ivory seized by the customs department at Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International airport yesterday is suspected to have been on its way to an ivory carving centre in Gujarat.

The wildlife inspector of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Abhijit Roy Chowdhury, told this correspondent today that they had information that ivory from the Northeast and north Bengal was being smuggled to Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan for being carved into showpieces, ornaments and idols.

“Subsequently, the finished products are smuggled to Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan, where such items have a huge market,” he said.

Ivory is traded in its raw form— as whole tusks and pieces. Products made from it such as bangles, bracelets, idols, carved items and chessboards are also much in demand. Powdered ivory is used in traditional medicine.

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is a statutory body that was set up by the Centre in June 6, 2007, to protect wildlife in the country.

The ivory, weighing 3.45kg, was found by the customs sleuths in an Ahmedabad-bound speed post parcel at the LGBI Airport yesterday.

According to the records of the postal department, the name of the consignee of the parcel, booked from Silapathar in Dhemaji district, is one Mahesh T. Shah of Choksi Bazar at Visnagar in Mehsana district of Gujarat.

He also expressed concern that the smugglers of wildlife products are exploiting loopholes in the existing postal laws to smuggle animal parts and other wildlife items from the Northeast through speed post parcels.

Chowdhury said in the existing postal rules there is no provision to verify the contents of a parcel by the department officials and the smugglers are exploiting this loophole.

Last year also there were five seizures of animal parts — including skull and bones of tigers and scales of pangolin — from speed post parcels by the customs department in Guwahati.

“The postal authorities should also keep identity and address proofs of people who book the parcel, which may act as a deterrent for the smugglers,” Chowdhury said.

According to him, the postal department should either install X-ray screening machines at their booking counters or open and check the parcels manually to confirm that no objectionable item is being sent inside the parcel.

Nearly 20kg tiger skull and bones and around 555kg of pangolin scales were recovered from speed post parcels in LGBI Airport and in Guwahati railway station last year.

CBI vows quick GU scam probe


April 28 : The CBI has assured Gauhati University that it would complete its probe into multicrore-rupee scam that rocked the varsity in a few months.

The investigating agency was asked to probe into misappropriation of funds related to remuneration of teachers for evaluation of answer scripts and other external duties, purchase of books and other library material worth Rs 60 lakh, siphoning off funds during the construction of the Vidhi Vidya Bhavan.University sources said the CBI’s assurance came after Governor J.B. Patnaik, who is also the chancellor of the university, approached the investigating agency to quicken the investigation process. The university had approached the governor urging him to intervene into the matter following repeated pressure from the workers of the university.

A letter, recently sent by CBI to the university, said the investigation process of the financial scam suffered a setback when a senior post of the investigation agency remained vacant for almost six months, the source said.

“In the letter, the CBI has assured us that it would complete the investigation process within a few months. But it has not given us any specific timeframe. It said it could not make much progress in the investigation as one of its senior posts was lying vacant for six months,” said O.K. Medhi, vice-chancellor of the university.

The employees’ association of the university decided to withdraw their agitation scheduled for today following a meeting with Medhi on Monday.

Besides, demand for early completion of the investigation of the multicrore-rupee scam, their other demands included a probe into illegal appointment of around 20 grade III and grade IV posts and probe into the alleged anomaly in purchasing 75 computers two years ago.

Ivory in parcel seized at airport

Guwahati, April 27 : Customs sleuths today confiscated an Ahmedabad-bound parcel containing ivory at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport here.

“Acting on specific intelligence, officers of the anti-smuggling unit of Guwahati customs division seized three pieces of elephant tusk at Guwahati airport this morning,” S.R. Baruah, commissioner of customs (preventive), Northeast, said.

“The consignment was booked under Speed Post parcel from Silapathar in Dhemaji district of Assam and it was destined for Ahmedabad,” he said.

The ivory pieces, weighing 3.450kg, were found concealed under paddy husk inside the Speed Post parcel.

The parcel was seized when it was about to be loaded into an Ahmedabad-bound Spicejet flight. The customs officials made the seizure in the presence of forest and postal officers.

The customs department has registered a case under relevant provisions of the Customs Act and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, but nobody has been arrested in this connection so far.

“The case is under investigation and the main culprits are likely to be apprehended very soon. The value of the tusk is estimated at Rs 10.35 lakh in the domestic market,” Baruah said.

However, its value is likely to run into crores of rupees in the international market.

Superintendent of customs (anti-smuggling) D.C. Bania said in the records of the postal department, the name of the consignee is written as Mahesh T. Shah of Choksi Bazar at Visnagar in Mehsana district of Gujarat.

Bania, however, refused to divulge the name and address of the consignor “in the interest of the investigation”.

“The three pieces were of the same tusk and efforts are on to recover the other tusk of the pair,” he said.

Customs sleuths suspect that the tusk is of an adult Asiatic elephant poached somewhere in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh.

Smugglers of animal parts and wildlife products in the Northeast are now increasingly taking the aerial route.

According to a source, the wildlife products are being smuggled through Speed Post because there is no facility in post offices to screen the parcels in order to find out what it contains.

Students’ bandh to free hostage

Silchar, April 27 : The 12-hour bandh called by Yuba Ayikya Manch, a platform of several student and youth organisations in south Assam’s Hailakandi district, evoked mixed response.

The Manch has demanded more police deployment in the state to secure the release of a kidnapped small shop-owner in the district’s Katlicherra block along the border with Mizoram.

The shop-owner, Jakir Hossain Laskar, 31, was whisked away into the dense jungles from Gallacherra village by an 11-member squad of the gunmen.

The bandh was a success in Katlicherra and Hailakandi town , it could not make any impact in Lala township where many shops were open.

Barring a few minor incidents, the day passed off peacefully. The police had chased away a few goons who wanted to forcefully close down some of the shops in Lala town this morning, the police said today.

At least 10 people, all bandh supporters, were taken into custody in connection with bandh-related incidents, said Hailakandi superintendent of police Hemanta Bhattacharjee, district.

A passenger train was stopped by the bandh supporters in Jamira in southern Hailakandi. The train started from Badarpur railway junction and was on its way to Bhairabi in Mizoram.

The police sources today said the abduction of Laskar was masterminded by the United Democratic Liberation Army (UDLA), a militant outfit in the district.

The outfit’s leader, Sishuram Reang, today said his group was involved in this abduction, the police said

Plea for militancy pitfalls lessons

Guwahati, April 26 : A forum, comprising around 6,000 people directly affected by terrorism, today announced that it would soon approach Dispur to press for inclusion of lessons about the pitfalls of militancy in the state’s primary school curriculum.

The Terror Victim’s Family Forum, Assam, an umbrella organisation of victims of militancy, have decided to press for the unique lessons with an aim to imbibe a sense of hatred for militancy in the minds of the upcoming generations of the state.

“We have been demanding justice for long, but in order to bring about positive change in the minds of the people, we must imbibe a sense of hatred towards militancy in upcoming generations. Hence, we want the primary school curriculum to include lessons about how 30 years of militancy in the state took lives of innocents, devastated hundreds of families and left a deep psychological impact in people’s minds,” the president of the forum, Brojen Hazarika, said today.

“This is just a plea from our side and we will urge the state education department to have consultation with state’s academicians, scholars and experts before incorporating the lessons,” Hazarika added.

The forum also wants the lessons to include the impact of militancy on society and the state’s economy.

It also believes that incorporation of the lessons would help thwart attempts by militant groups to attract the new generation into committing acts of terror or take to the path of violence.

“The process of dialogue with Ulfa, NDFB and few other militant groups are under way, but there is always a possibility of the birth of new militant groups and they will always try to recruit our new generations. So, if we can provide our children with proper lessons in school about militancy, it would definitely have an impact. If they are aware about the pitfalls of militancy, the young generation would think twice before taking to the path of violence,” another member of the forum said.

“The people in Assam have already faced many black phases because of militancy and we don’t want repetition of similar acts of violence. We want our future generations and the society to move ahead positively,” Hazarika said.

The forum was constituted by victims of terror attacks by militant outfits like Ulfa, NDFB, KLNLF and others in August last year.

It had moved Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the state government, demanding judicial inquiry into each killing, and punishment for the killers through a judicial process.

They have also been demanding proper rehabilitation of the terror victims along with better security.

The forum had moved New Delhi last month and met Union joint home secretary Sambhu Singh with a charter of demands, including speedy trial of the pending cases related to militant attacks and inclusion of lessons about militancy in primary schools, among others.

Public outcry against Armed Forces Act

GUWAHATI, April 26 – In what could be termed the biggest rallying cry against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in North East India, members of student bodies from seven NE States today carried out a protest action against the Act that has been controversial since the time of imposition. The protestors had black clothes covering their mouths to register their dissent near Dighali Pukhuri.

For two hours, from four in the afternoon, the student leaders from all the NE states, under the banner of North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), took part in the sit-in protest demanding repeal of the Act, and later spoke out against the law which they condemned in unison. All those who spoke described the AFSPA as an affront to the people of the region, as the Act was in place in no other part of the country except the North East and Jammu and Kashmir. They expressed solidarity with the intrepid campaign being carried out by Irom Sharmila of Manipur against the AFSPA.

Addressing the gathering, Dr Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya, adviser to All Assam Students’ Union lambasted the Union Government for favouring a law that was unjust and unfair to the people of the North East.

He found it utterly strange that the Union Government has failed to take note of a democratic protest carried out by Sharmila against the Act, which is now more than a decade old.

Expressing solidarity with her cause, he said that the AFSPA was a great injustice to the people of the North East, and was contrary to the aspirations of the region’s inhabitants.

President of All Assam Students’ Union, Sankar Prasad Roy condemned the AFSPA as it gave enough scope for innocent people to be attacked and killed by armed personnel. He described the Act as unacceptable, and demanded that the law be withdrawn. Thanking the congregation he said that the people of the North East must stand united against the Act.

The adviser to NESO, Artex Shimre strongly criticized the AFSPA and those who supported its imposition in the North East. Since 1958, when it was introduced for a ‘short time’ the Act has caused great concern in the region, with people believing it as highly discriminatory, he noted.

“Those in power want our resources, but not our people,” Shimre remarked, adding that even though peace talks were taking place, the Act continues to create grave anxiety.

The opposition to the AFSPA was also spelled out clearly by Updendra Dev Barma of Twipra Students’ Federation, who found it offensive that a law was being imposed on the people of North East India and Jammu and Kashmir alone. He censured the response of the Union Government in regard to the Act even after the J Reddy report had made significant remarks against the controversial Act.

Later in the evening, a candle light protest was organised at the venue where the protest took place. Similar protest actions were held in all the capital cities of the North Eastern states, an AASU member stated.

Robberies on the rise in Assam

Dhubri, April 25 : The robbery menace once again raised its head as 15 dacoits with arms from different places of Bongaigaon district were arrested by police in the last couple of days.

Besides targeting business houses and wealthy residents, the robbers also frequently attack night super buses and decamp with valuables.

Passengers travelling from Guwahati to Siliguri by night super bus either via Barpeta or Goalpara are the main victims.

Acting on a tip-off, CRPF and the police nabbed six robbers with a revolver and four rounds of ammunition, roaming in front of a bus stand near Chapaguri of Bongaigaon district on Friday.

On the other hand, the police from Nayagaon near Shivam Dhaba arrested nine robbers by NH 31 under Abhayapuri police station while they were making an attempt to rob the passengers of night super bus on Thursday.

The robbers succeeded in decamping with cash in one recent case at Chenikhowa under Abhayapuri police station.

This spate in robbery forced the Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Barpeta and Goalpara police to deploy mobile patrol units on national highways 31 and 37 from Bhawanipur of Barpeta district to Gouripur of Dhubri district and Agia to Naranarayan setu of Goalpara district to protect passengers travelling on night buses.

Three groups of dacoits operate along this 220km stretch from Bhawanipur of Barpeta to Chagolia of Dhubri district, targeting travellers at regular intervals.

A senior police official said the deployment of mobile patrol units would go a long way in checking highway robberies.

When contacted, Bongaigaon superintendent of police Nitul Gogoi said he was aware of the situation and was maintaining close vigilance.

Call to prosecute ‘witch hunters’

GUWAHATI, April 22 – Expressing deep anguish and concern over the recent killing of four women in Kokrajhar district in the name of witch hunting, Women in Governance-Assam (WinG Assam) and 50 other organisations and individuals have demanded the State Government to prosecute and punish those involved in the gruesome practice.

Asking the Government to provide for immediate rehabilitation and adequate compensation to the victimized women and their families, the organisations also asked for installation of police check posts and immediate arrangement of police patrolling in the sensitive areas.

“We want the Government to take immediate action on our demands. Earlier also, we have given memorandums to the Social Welfare Minister, Women Commission, Assam and Commissioner, Department of Social Welfare, Assam, but adequate positive action was not taken in this regard,” Bondita Acharya, coordinator, Wing-G Assam told The Assam Tribune.

“We are planning to organise various awareness programmes at the village level all over the State to increase awareness on the issue and educate people about it,” she added.

Many civil society organisations and like-minded individuals have comeup to condemn the gruesome incident and support the campaign against witch-hunting in various parts of the State. A total of 51 signatories have asked the Government to act immediately on their memorandum of demands.

“We have observed that the practice of witch hunting is still rampant and going on without any sign of its eradication. When women are attacked they are forced to migrate which leads to their displacement, loss of livelihood, trafficking and sexual abuse. We from the WinG Assam and like-minded civil society organisations and individuals condemn these killings,” she mentioned.

Asking the State Government to ensure adequate healthcare facilities in the rural areas, the signatories stated that illiteracy and superstitions along with weak healthcare services have contributed to this malpractice in the interior areas of Assam.

“In the absence of proper health facilities, villagers in the remote areas depend on local healers who promise to cure diseases by magic. As a result, women become easy prey and their lives are endangered. Crimes against women are evident in relation to land rights and inheritance and they are attacked indiscriminately after being labelled as dangerous witches,” the memorandum mentioned.

The memorandum has also asked the State Government to include witch hunting as a separate programme under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and adopt a policy for eradicating this practice.

Injured jumbo treated

Gibbon wildlife sanctuary
Jorhat, April 21 : The injured elephant of Gibbon wildlife sanctuary along the Assam-Nagaland border under Mariani range of Jorhat forest division was located today by a forest team inside the sanctuary, tranquillised and treated.
The jumbo was spotted by the forest staff last week, limping on its left front leg because of an injury. It might have been injured after its leg hit the iron rail of the tracks while running away from an approaching train.
Divisional forest officer (Jorhat) N.K. Malakar told The Telegraph that following search operations launched by the department since last Saturday, the adult tusker, aged about 12 years, was located at compartment number three of the sanctuary in the morning.
Malakar said a veterinary team from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) at Borguri near Kaziranga reached the site and tranquillised the jumbo in the afternoon.
He said the wound was cleaned up with medicines and about seven shots of injection having antibiotic and vitamins was administered to the elephant, adding that another wound on the rear portion of the head was found and treated.
Malakar said the CWRC team asked the forest staff to monitor the movements of the elephant for two days, after which it would have to be tranquillised again for a check-up.
Meleng forest beat officer Dipak Bordoloi said the elephant, in the last few days, had been moving along with its herd in and around Gibbon. However, because of increase in pain, the jumbo was today seen sitting near a tree.

Assam final home for Mumbai family wiped out in Tawang crash

Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Mumbai-based homoeopathic doctor and religious worker Dr Asif Chunawala had been regularly visiting Assam since 1994 when he apparently fell in love with the Northeastern state during a trip to attend a congregation of Muslims at Hojai. This month though, his wife Reshma, daughters Zahra, 18, and Zainab, 15, and son Zakwan, 11, accompanied him as the children had vacation from school. They also extended their stay and planned a short trip to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

But the trip ended in tragedy as the entire family was wiped out when the Pawan Hans helicopter they took to reach Tawang on Tuesday crashed before landing, killing 17 of the 23 on board. Today, 47-year-old Chunawala’s relatives said they would perform the last rites of the family in Guwahati itself because of Chunawala’s love for the region he had visited 17 times, and also because he would have wanted to rest where Allah finally called him from.

“Asifbhai had become like a family member for us. He has been visiting us almost every year. This time he came along with his family on April 10, went to Shillong, then enjoyed Rongali Bihu in Sivasagar and Jorhat, before returning to Guwahati to fly to Tawang,” said Mohammed Moinuddin, a Guwahati-based businessman.

A popular homoeopath in the Andheri West suburb of Mumbai, Chunawala was also a social worker and religious activist. Friends said he left a mark on the people he came across and treated poor patients without charge and even paid for their medicines and diagnostic costs. “He spent all his earnings every year to come to Assam and visit other holy places.

Although we are Muslims, he loved visiting shrines belonging to all faiths,” said Farooq Chunawala, the eldest brother of the homoeopath, who flew to Guwahati from Mumbai today with seven relatives.

In Mumbai, Chunawala’s nephew Sabeer Khairani said the doctor’s family was so religious that it did not have a TV set at home or allowed pictures of themselves to be taken. “It is very shocking that the family had to die in such a tragedy,” said Khairani, who is the son of Chunawala’s eldest sister, as relatives and friends gathered at the Chunawala residence in Al Noor building on SV Road.

“Since the kids had vacations, they insisted on extending their stay and planning a short vacation to Tawang,” Khairani added. In fact, he said that the Chunawalas were to board the chopper from Guwahati on Monday but due to technical problems, the flight was rescheduled for Tuesday. “Our family members have gone to Guwahati and from there they went Tawang in a helicopter to identify the bodies. Reshma-mami and the kids could be identified but Asif-mamu was completely charred and beyond recognition,” said Khairani.

Assam MLA arrested for assaulting woman

Guwahati, Apr 20 : Assam Legislator Jiten Gogoi was today arrested by Bokakhat police on charges of physically assaulting a woman.

Mr Gogoi, an Independent two-time MLA from Bokakhat constituency, was arrested on the basis of an FIR lodged by a local woman, Jaya Kachari, alleging that the MLA had assaulted her.

He was later released on jail within a few hours.

Mr Gogoi, who had been earlier embroiled in a major controversy for illegally fishing inside Kaziranga National Park and threatening Park guards, was a candidate in the recently concluded Assembly elections.

Anna Hazare Backs Anti-Graft Drive by Assam Ryots

Mumbai, Apr 20 : Social activist Anna Hazare will come to Assam in the first week of May to lend his support to an anti-corruption crusade in the state launched by a farmers’ body.

The farmers’ body, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), said Hazare’s visit was aimed at strengthening its anti-corruption movement.

“He will come either on May 2 or 3 and take part in a procession in Guwahati. He will also address a public rally and leave the state the next day,” KMSS leader Kamal Medhi told DNA.

Hazare will be accompanied by Swami Agnivesh, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi.

“Apart from Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi will also take part in the procession and address the public rally. We believe their participation will help mobilise public opinions against corruption and intensify our crusade,” Medhi said.

The KMSS, he said, would also chalk out its future course of action in consultation with Hazare.

The farmers’ body, led by RTI activist Akhil Gogoi, has launched a crusade against the ruling Congress in the state.

SMS-based monitoring proved useful: CEO

R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, April 19 – Widespread use of modern communication facilities to closely monitor the poll process was one of the major highlights of the recently concluded elections to the Assam Legislative Assembly, while, efforts were also on to get the voters’ lists corrected to prevent proxy voting.

Talking to The Assam Tribune today, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Assam, H Narzary said that SMS based monitoring helped a great deal in smooth conduct of the elections as the senior officers were well versed with all the developments in the polling stations and could take action whenever required. He said that the NIC developed special software and the mobile numbers of all the presiding officers were fed into the system and they were asked to send SMS to a particular number about every stage of the elections right from the poll parties reaching their respective polling stations. He said that the SMS sent by the presiding officers reached the Returning Officers, District Election Officers, office of the Chief Electoral Officer and even the Election Commission and all the developments could be monitored closely.

Narzary pointed out that at a few polling stations, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) had to be changed and because of the introduction of the new system, prompt decisions could be taken to do so without wasting any time and voting was not affected. “There was an instance when a candidate was not satisfied with the decision to change the EVM and I could personally speak to him to re-assure him about the requirements because of the introduction of the new system. Some of the presiding officers expressed apprehension that they might have to spend their own money for sending SMS and to deal with the problem, we decided to sanction Rs 20 to each of the presiding officers,” he added.

With the improvement of the mobile service networks in the State, more than 80 per cent of the polling stations were covered by the new system and the police communication network was extensively used in the interior places to keep close watch on the situation.

Opening of a call centre manned round the clock also helped a great deal as the people could call any time of the day with their complaints and to prevent hoax calls, a system to record the numbers and voices of the callers was also introduced.

The CEO said that the efforts of the Election Commission to encourage the voters to come out to exercise their franchise through multimedia campaigns also helped as the overall poll percentage was more than 76. However, he pointed out that the poll percentage in Guwahati East was only 56.57.

Narzary revealed that providing voters’ slip to the voters was another new concept to help the voter’s. But as it has been introduced for the first time, some difficulties were faced in distribution of the slips in the cities and towns. He also revealed that booth level officers had been appointed all over the state through payment of an honorarium of Rs 3,000 a year and they helped a great deal in identifying the voters in the rural areas. The booth level officers have also been given the task of removing the names of the voters who died or who changed their addresses and this step would help in dealing with the problem of proxy voting. It is suspected that the voters’ lists of Assam contained names of at least four lakh people who have died.

Sangma predicts hung assembly for Assam

Shillong, April 18 (IANS) Predicting a hung assembly following elections in Assam, former Lok Sabha speaker and veteran Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Purno A. Sangma Monday expressed confidence that the Trinamool Congress-led alliance would sweep the polls in West Bengal.

‘Nobody will get the exact number in Assam. The government will be either led by the Congress or the AGP (Asom Gana Parishad),’ Sangma told IANS.

Stating that the ruling Congress will suffer reduced seats in the 126-member Assam house, the veteran NCP leader said: ‘The AGP will improve its position, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will gain, the AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) will maintain its position, the Trinamool will make its entry and the NCP will improve its position.’

Sangma, however, said that there was an internal movement among the non-Congress parties with the BJP extending outside support to an AGP-led government.

Sangma, who returned to Shillong after campaigning with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, said that the TMC-led alliance would sweep the assembly polls in that state.

‘I believe Mamata will get majority on her own and she will decide whether to carry her pre-poll partners along. But I think she will,’ Sangma said.

Assam: The Moment of Peace?

By South Asia Intelligence Review /IBNS

Despite a residual threat of terrorist violence, the two-phase Assembly Elections for 126 seats in Assam were held on April 4 and 11, with little violence. While 62 constituencies went to the polls on April 4, elections for 64 constituencies were held on April 11.

The Chief Election Officer, Hemanta Narzary, told reporters on April 12 that the overall percentage of voting in both the phases was 76.03 per cent – 73.04 per cent in first phase and 78.6 per cent in the second. In the last Assembly Elections in 2006, also held in two phases, the overall percentage of voting stood at 75.77.

The first phase of Elections in 2011 was almost free of violence. Out of 11,264 polling stations, only two were marred by some disturbances. The second phase also passed off relatively peacefully, barring some clashes and Police firing, which injured 22 people. However, two persons were killed and four were injured in stray poll-related – not terrorist – incidents on the eve of the second phase.

The worst incident of the present electoral cycle came in the campaigning phase, on March 14, 2011, when National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) cadres had attacked a convoy of Border Security Force personnel in Kokrajhar District, killing eight and injuring several others.

Later, on April 2, Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT) militants killed three Central Reserve Police Force personnel and injured four, in an ambush near Rongshuli village in Karbi Anglong District. Again, on April 4, at least three Sashasthra Seema Bal personnel were killed in an ambush by NDFB militants in Kokrajhar District. Notably, in 2006 too, while the first phase of elections was free of violence, the second phase had ended amid low violence – most notably, a schoolteacher killed, and Security Force (SF) personnel attacked and abducted on the eve of elections.

The people, it is clear, are fed up with violence, and have not been deterred by terrorist threats, or influenced by their rhetoric. Significantly, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which now has two factions, the Anti-Talks Faction (ATF) and Pro-Talks Faction (PTF), had either threatened the people or had remained neutral with regard to the elections.

Though the ATF did not clarify its stand on the elections at large, it had issued a threat to the ruling Congress Party members and grassroot workers, and had warned that it would resort to 'armed struggle' against the ‘arrogant policies’ of the Congress. The ATF called on the people to stay away from meetings organized by party leaders, and for a boycott of ministers of "colonial India" and leaders from any political party who ‘came to’ Assam to "sow the seeds of divisiveness among the indigenous people of the Northeast to continue their domination".

Significantly, ATF militants had triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) blast at Rajiv Bhavan, the State head office of the Congress Party, at Guwahati on March 14, injuring five party members.

On the other hand, Pradip Gogoi, vice chairman of the Arabinda Rajkhowa-led PTF said that his faction would remain neutral during the Assembly Elections. "We will have no role to play in the coming elections. Our organisation has resolved to be completely neutral during the polls… Implementing the peace process we have initiated with the Government is right now more important for us than being involved with the elections."

Similarly, the PTF ‘foreign secretary’ Sasha Choudhury declared, "We will have zero involvement in the Assembly polls… Our topmost priority is now to take the peace process initiated with the Government forward."

By contrast, in 2006, ULFA (there was no division in the outfit then) had openly warned political parties ‘not to encourage the people to join the poll process’ and had called upon the people to strive for their right to self-determination.

Arabinda Rajkhowa had then stated, "The election process is an attempt on the part of the Government of India to expand its colonial rule to Assam and an effort to prove the freedom struggle of ULFA as irrelevant… without a peaceful solution of (the) Indo-Assam political conflict, nothing can bring peace and prosperity to Assam. No political party is working sincerely to find an amicable solution to this problem."

Moreover, media reports indicated that there were apprehensions of attacks by Karbi and Bodo militants during the elections, though there were no specific threats issued by these groups. Instead, the NDFB-Anti Talks Faction led by Ranjan Daimary on February 23, 2011, had claimed that the group had no plans for violence during the elections. An email to the media from the outfit's ‘general secretary’, N. Dinthi Gwra, stated: "The NDFB has no so-called 'blue-print' planning attacks during the forthcoming polls and we warn forces carrying out such misinformation to refrain from doing so."

Despite the dramatic erosion of insurgent capacities in Assam, and the relatively lower levels of threat to the poll process, in order to ensure violence-free elections, the Centre had deployed an additional 350 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs), to strengthen the 96 companies already present in the State. Two helicopters had also been kept ready to meet any emergency.

In the past, when additional election deployments of Force were withdrawn, this has ordinarily signaled a rise in militant violence, targeting those who participated in the elections. It will, consequently, be a challenge to safeguard the security of those who defied the militant diktat, after the additional Forces are withdrawn.

Significantly, one person, identified as Ranendra Borgoyary (35) of Laukriguri, has already been killed in Ballamjhora in Kokrajhar District on April 13, 2011. Police disclosed that Borgoyary, a surrendered NDFB cadre, was the vice- president of the Gossaigaon District Committee of the United Democratic Peoples’ Front (UPDF), but had joined the Bodoland Peoples’ Front before the Assembly election. The UPDF is backed by the NDFB.

Meanwhile, there are apprehensions of electoral politics playing the spoiler again. Both the Government led by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, hoping for a comeback to power and other political parties in the State, including the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), have done their bit to take advantage of the State’s troubled situation in the hope of securing some electoral gain. There have been allegations and counter allegations of covert deals with militant groups.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi argued that the BJP’s ‘silence’ on the ULFA threat (to the Congress) was particularly significant, as they "have information that the outfit [ULFA] will extend support to the saffron party (BJP)". He also denied opposition allegations that his party had requisitioned the services of surrendered ULFA (SULFA) militants, declaring that he was "capable of doing it (winning elections) on the basis of its (his Government’s) performance during the last 10 years".

Interestingly, seven SULFA leaders had filed nominations for the first phase of the Assam elections, one of whom was a Congress candidate against former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta of the AGP. Four SULFA members contested the second phase on Congress tickets.

The election results are due on May 13 and, whatever the outcome, it can only be hoped that the successor Government will seize the moment to reinforce peace, and not squander the momentous gains of the past years.

(The writer-Ajit Kumar Singh-is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)

Pobitora emerging as major tourist spot

GUWAHATI, April 18 – It used to be just a petite piece of wilderness, but now it is among the most popular haunts for nature lovers. Pobitora, the natural refuge of the Indian rhino, has emerged as a major draw for Indian and foreign tourists alike.

Tour operators told The Assam Tribune that visitors to Pobitora have swelled in recent times, the reason being its close proximity to Guwahati. "Tourists who are hard pressed for time say that it is much more convenient to visit Pobitora than Kaziranga," said Kanak Basumatary a guide, who has been taking tourists to the sanctuary for several years.

According to forest personnel, the proximity to Pobitora from Guwahati is a help, but its birdlife is an undeniable advantage. A large number of birders have been visiting the sanctuary in recent times.

"In winter it is a paradise for bird lovers…lots of migratory water fowl arrive from far away places," said Bhupesh Sarma, a local resident. He added that photographers based in Guwahati find it an attractive destination, and some have become regular visitors.

Another reason for Pobitora's popularity is the easy viewing of wildlife. In the morning and in the afternoon, rhinos and wild buffaloes can be viewed from close quarters. The elephant rides are an additional advantage, as visitors get a good view of wildlife in their natural habitat.

Foreigners have taken a liking for the natural landscape, as revealed by many travellers who find its rich biodiversity interesting. Matthew Saunders, a recent visitor from Bristol, took a day out to visit just to see the sanctuary and was impressed by the flora and fauna.

Mukul Tamuly, Forest Range Officer, who has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in Pobitora, said that in recent times the number of visitors has swelled. The revenue earned through tourist footfalls for this season is nearly nineteen lakh rupees, he mentioned.

Visitors from different parts of India have also praised the way the sanctuary spread over 38.81 sq km has been managed, which possesses a very dense concentration of Indian rhinos. It is worth mentioning that the sanctuary has also found space in international television programming helping increase tourist interest.

Another Assam woman killed for suspected witchcraft

Guwahati, April 18 : An elderly tribal woman was found hacked to death and buried by a stream in Assam, the fourth such incident since Friday in what police suspect to be linked to black magic and witchcraft.

A police spokesperson said Monday that the body of Sarla Brahma, 50, was found buried under a mound of sand close to a stream near Samsaibari village in Kokrajhar district, about 220 km from here.

"Some people called out my wife around midnight Sunday and when I came out there was no one around," a shocked Nipon Brahma, the woman's husband, told IANS.

"The woman was hit by some crude objects on her head and face, and then buried," Jadav Pegu, magistrate investigating the incident, said.

Daneswar Goyarai, executive member of the Bodoland Territorial Council, a local administrative body, said: "This is a clear case of black magic and superstitious beliefs."

Three women in their 50s were hacked to death in separate incidents in the same district in the past four days. Two cousins were killed Friday night and another woman was hacked to death Saturday.

Local people said the killings were driven by superstitious beliefs.

According to Goyarai, "There was no personal enmity and the families were very poor with no property."

Black magic, witchcraft and superstitious beliefs have been part of the tribal customs in parts of Assam, Tripura and other northeastern states.

Many tribal communities practice indigenous faiths and resort to such rituals in treating ailments.

At least 200 people have been killed during the past five years for allegedly practising sorcery and witchcraft, mostly in tribal-dominated areas of western and northern Assam.

"Most of these cases are inspired by superstitions and this is indeed a big problem for us," Inspector General of Police Kula Saikia told IANS.

The police have intensified their special drive to curb this phenomenon.

Codenamed Project Prahari (Vigilant), the project includes community policing, besides conducting regular awareness campaigns among tribal chiefs and village elders.

"The battle against witch hunting is a challenging task for the security forces. There should be a concerted campaign by civil society groups, legal fraternity and the law enforcing agencies," said Saikia, who heads Project Prahari.

"Simply enforcing the law and punishing the guilty are inadequate. There has to be an attitudinal change," he added.

Large voter turnout signals decisive verdicts: Analysts

New Delhi, April 17: Large voter turnout in states that have had assembly polls so far is a sign of decisive verdict by the electorate and the outcome would have an impact on internal equations of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), say political analysts.

"These are very important elections. The polls in Tamil Nadu are significant for the UPA as the DMK is a pillar of its government at the centre. It appears the Left will be ousted after nearly three-and-a-half decades in West Bengal," Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst, told IANS.

Rangarajan said the high voter turnout was also an indicator of people's larger engagement with politics. "Whatever they want to say, the message has come through the ballot."

He said the turnout shows that voter apathy among literates in metropolitan areas is not shared by most Indians. "The high turnout reflects vibrancy of political debate and possibly a clear verdict," he said.

Rangarajan said the gap between the ruling Congress and other parties had closed in the last period of Assam polls and the outcome was "much more open now".

He said the assembly elections will also be watched for performance of candidates handpicked by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

The three states that have gone to the hustings witnessed high voter turnout. According to official estimates, Tamil Nadu recorded 78 percent polling, Kerala registered 75.12 percent and Assam polled 76.03 percent votes.

The assembly polls in West Bengal will be held in six phases between April 18 and May 10. Counting of votes in the states and the union territory of Puducherry will take place May 13.

Rangarajan said that of the states going to the polls, dubbed as the biggest test of popularity since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the outcome in West Bengal is most awaited.

The elections are important for the Congress which is the lead party of the UPA. The Congress is contesting as a junior partner of its allies DMK in Tamil Nadu and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, which together contribute 37 MPs to the UPA's kitty.

The Trinamool Congress with 19 MPs is the second biggest party in the UPA followed by the DMK at 18.

Analysts say that performance of the DMK and the Trinamool will affect their bargaining power vis-a-vis the Congress.

They say that the performance of the Congress in Assam, where it is ruling for the past 10 years, and Kerala where it is seeking to dislodge the Left Front government in alliance with its partners, will have an impact on the morale of its workers and the party's own position within the UPA.

N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman, Centre for Media Studies, said that elections had been marked by a high voter turnout and steps taken by the Election Commission to check use of money power and paid news.

He however added that new methods, including cash transfer through ambulances and bank accounts, had been used in Tamil Nadu to influence voters.

DMK leader T.K.S. Elangovan admitted that there had been accusations about use of money power, but said that "propaganda" had been directed against his party.

"The arrests are on both the sides," he said.

Asked if the high turnout indicated that the state's electorate had voted for change, Elangovan said there was nothing to indicate that voters were angry.

"Wherever our leaders went, there were huge crowds. Our alliance will win 150-160 seats," he said.

Rao said corruption was one of the issues in the polls but not the deciding issue and its impact may be more visible in Tamil Nadu.

"The high turnout is a reflection of deepening of democracy. It is more likely to result in a decisive verdict," he added.

He said that the outcome in West Bengal is crucial in terms of future synergy between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress and the Tamil Nadu verdict in terms of possible political re-alignments.

"It will also show how the DMK had been impacted by the 2G spectrum controversy," he said.

Assam voters pitch for development

Guwahati, Apr 17: The voters, who exercised their franchise in the second phase of assembly polls in Assam called for development in the region and reduction of unemployment.

"We have exercised our vote because we want a strong social system. It is with this hope that we have cast our vote. We have many problems in our state that we want to be eradicated. We want a strong government," said Gopal Rajbonshi, a voter.

"The problems related to road, electricity and other basic amenities should be solved. We hope for the best and whichever party comes to power should solve these problems. Our state faces a big problem of unemployment and it needs to be solved," added Pushpalata Deori, another voter.

Brisk polling was recorded on April 11 in the second and final phase of elections for 64 assembly constituencies in Assam, with a voter turnout of 70.35 per cent.

The fate of 496 candidates, including 47 women, was sealed in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). 12,589 polling stations were set up in 7910 locations. Many areas were declared hypersensitive zones and massive security arrangements were made.

Elaborate security arrangements were made to ensure free and fair polls Even in the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) dominated areas; the voters' turnout was impressive. This was a rather unique election for Assam.

Anti-disaster tips for cops


Guwahati, Apr 17 : The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) will train police on ways to provide pre-hospital treatment to disaster victims to stabilise their condition and sustain lives till they are admitted to a hospital.

As part of it, the trainers of the Guwahati-based 1st battalion of the NDRF will provide a five-day training to the policemen and the new recruits of the northeastern states at the North Eastern Police Academy at Umsaw in Shillong from April 25.

The pre-hospital treatment to victims becomes crucial because it has been observed that 60 to 70 per cent of the victims die on their way to hospitals.

A spokesperson for the NDRF’s 1st battalion, Manoj Tiwari, said around 100 policemen of different ranks — from inspectors to constables — would participate in the training programme.

He said the participants would be imparted various skills to stabilise the patient till he/she is taken to hospitals.

“They will be taught how to provide basic treatment and first aid to victims suffering from musculoskeletal injuries, burn injuries, use of impaled objects and manual cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, among others,” Tiwari said.

“The most important factor in an emergency is the amount of time lost before a patient is admitted to hospital. It is not just how quickly a patient is shifted, but the manner in which the victim is transported which often makes a difference between life and death.”

The trainees will also be taught how to resuscitate the victims in shock by segregating them from the spot and offering psychological counselling.

“Shock is a life-threatening condition with severe effects on the cardiovascular system. A child when bitten by a non-venomous snake may die of shock. In such a situation, by giving some basic treatment, we can save lives,” Tiwari said.

“They will be trained to rescue people trapped under collapsed buildings and other structures,” he said.

The NDRF, which was raised by the Centre in 2005, is a multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled and high-tech force capable of effectively responding to all types of disasters.

200 films to be screened in first Guwahati International Short Film Festival

NEW DELHI: About 200 films from countries like Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States, and Australia apart from India will be screened during the First Guwahati International Short Film Festival (GISFF) to be held next month.

Twelve short films will compete for the top award at the Festival on 2 and 3 May at Assam State Museum Auditorium, Guwahati.

Other sections include World Kaleidoscope, Indian Kaleidoscope, and North-East Shorts.

The World Kaleidoscope section will see screening of award winning short films from Cannes International Festival. Apart from that, seven award winning short films from Spain will also be screened in the World Kaleidoscope section, out of which Porque Hay Cosas Que Nunca Se Ol Vidan (Because There Are Things We Never forget) by award winning director Lucas Figueroa will open the festival.

Festival Director and National Award-winning film critic Utpal Borpujari said a major highlight of the festival will be a special screening of the highly-acclaimed Malayalam anthology film titled 'Kerala Cafe' directed by a team of ten directors - Lal Jose, Shaji Kailas, Anwar Rasheed, Shyamaprasad, B. Unnikrishnan, Revathy, Anjali Menon, M. Padmakumar, Shankar Ramakrishnan, and Uday Ananthan.

For the first time in the history of Malayalam cinema, this film was conceived by a team of 10 directors, 10 cinematographers, musicians, editors, art directors and almost all the top Malayalam film actors. The cast includes Mammootty, Suresh Gopi, Dileep, Jayasurya, Prithviraj, Sreenivasan, Siddique, Sreenath, Rahman, Thilakan, Jagathy Sreekumar, Salim Kumar, Anoop Menon, Navya Nair, Shwetha Menon, Jyothirmayi, Rima Kallingal, Nithya Menon and Dhanya Mary Varghese.

The festival is an initiative of Creovaent Productions in association with Shamiana, the acclaimed short film club from Mumbai.

The jury that will judge the films in competition will be headed by eminent filmmaker Shyamaprasad from Kerala (director of award-winning Malayalam box office hits like Agnisakshi, Ore Kadal and Elektra). The other jury members will be Assamese actor Adil Hussain, this year’s Aravindan Puraskaram winning director Nila Madhab Panda and internationally-acclaimed Manipuri filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar.

Hussain is acting in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, Sridhar Raghavan’s ‘Agent Vinod’ and several other important films in various languages, after having received acclaim in films like 'Gangor' by Italian director Italo Spinelli, 'For Real' by Sona Jain and 'Ishqiya' by Abhishek Choubey. Panda’s feature debut ‘I Am Kalam’ has won 11 international awards till now, and Kumar’s documentaries ‘AFSPA’ and ‘Mr India’ have earned global acclaim.

The competition films were selected from a large number of entries received from all over North-East India by a preview jury comprising noted theatre and film personality Nayan Prasad, eminent film editor Kaju, film critic Chandan Sharma and acclaimed director Bidyut Chakravarty.

The films in competition are: Savages (Tarunabh Dutta), Serendipity (Suraj Duwarah), Dwita (Dipankar Das), Windows 4:3 (Angshuman Barkakoty), I Am a Poet (Shashanka Das & Deep Choudhury), Lemon Brothers Fall (Utpal Choudhury), The Silent Darkness (Jhulan Krishna Mahanta), IF (Khanjan Kishore Nath), Being Jobless (Shrutismita Changkakoti), 19/87 (Wanphrang K Diengdoh & Dondor E Lyngdoh), Bond (Anubhav Mahanta) and The 4th Law of Motion (Deepkamal Gogoi)

The festival will have a special tribute to young filmmaker Anghsuman Borkotoky by screening his film “Doctor, Nurse and Patient”, while another film by him - Windows 4:3 - will be in competition.

The prizes that will be given away in the competition section are for the Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. The winners will be awarded with Golden and Silver Rhino along with certificates.

"The GISFF is an important initiative to create a platform to discuss, disseminate and in future market short fiction films, a genre that is finding more and more popularity all over the world in recent times. Young Assamese film entrepreneur Prithish Chakraborty of Creovaent Productions has developed the concept of the festival and I am sure in the coming years it will emerge as an important and exciting event in the film festival calendar of India," Borpujari said.

Numaligarh Refinery Ltd to build 100-km pipeline from India to Bangladesh for Rs 150 Crore

GUWAHATI: Assam-based Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) will construct a 100-km long pipeline from India to Bangladesh for exporting high speed diesel (HSD). The pipeline will connect Siliguri in West Bengal to Parbatipur in Bangladesh and will entail an investment of Rs 150 crore. It will connect an existing pipeline in Siliguri which extends till Numaligarh. NRL is in talk with Bangladesh for exporting 10,000 million tonnes (MT) of HSD through waterways.

NRL Managing Director Dipak Chakravarty told ET: "We are in talk with Bangladesh for export of 10,000 MT of HSD. The value of this will be around Rs 35 crore." Adding he said: "A team from the company has visited Bangladesh. We are waiting for response from the Bangladesh side." Sources added, "A proposal has already been made to the Bangladesh government. As India-Bangladesh relationship has witnessed significant improvement under the new regime of prime minister Sheikh Hasina we are hopeful that this project will see light of the day."

NRL produces around 1.6 MT of HSD annually out of which 20% is consumed in Northeast and rest sent to other parts of the country. In 2007, NRL has exported 4,800 MT of diesel to neighbouring country using the waterways. The consignment was sent from Silghat port in Naogaon District of Assam to Baghabari in Northern Bangladesh. The value of the export was around Rs 15 crore. Bangladesh has shortfall of 1.5 MT of petroleum product.

Sources in NRL added, "Last year, we did not pursue for the exports as many refineries in the country were on up gradation mode for Euro-IV HSD. However now we can comfortably export." Bharat Petroleum Corporation holds a 61.65% stake in the NRL, while Oil India Limited (OIL) has a 26%stake. The Government of Assam has 12.35% stake in the refinery. NRL has marketing terminal at Siliguri. NRL which was set up as a result of historic Assam Accord is looking to augment its capacity from 3 MMTPA to 4 MMTPA. Chakravarty added, "Feasibility study for the capacity augmentation is already done, it will require an investment of Rs 2,000 crore. At present, we have zero debt. Our product includes LPG, Naphtha, Motor Spirit (MS), Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) Superior Kerosene Oil (SKO), HSD, Raw Petroleum Coke ( RPC )) Calcined Petroleum Coke and Sulphur."

Prafulla Kumar Mahanta not convinced of govt-ULFA peace process

GUWAHATI: Former Assam chief minister and senior AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today said he was not not convinced by the tall claims made by chief minister Tarun Gogoi of achieving significant breakthrough in the process of peace talks with the ULFA.

"Gogoi has said he hopes Paresh Baruah (ULFA commander-in-chief and leader of the anti-talk faction) will come to the peace process which indicates that there is some understanding between them", Mahanta said in an informal chat with reporters his residence to celebrate Rongali Bihu, Assam's national festival here.

"Arabinda Rajkhowa has already gifted him a Kahi Bati (brass bowl, a traditional gift) and Gogoi hopes Paresh, as he calls him, will do the same. I wonder what prompted him to say that", he said in a lighter vein.

Gogoi on the contrary had accused Mahanta of having links with Paresh Baruah after his statement that the peace process will not be meaningful if the elusive ULFA leader was not included in the peace process.

3 labourers dead as tower collapses in Assam

Apr 14, 8:49 PM
In Assam, three labourers of a construction company died on-the-spot following collapse of a tower they were working at Jatinga under Haflong police station in Dima Hasao district this afternoon.

The victims were from Bihar. They have been identified as Sarban Shah, Mohammad Jabbar and Dharmendra Shah.

Meanwhile, an enquiry has been ordered by the district authorities to ascertain the cause behind the collapse of the tower.

Northeast India celebrate "Bihu" to mark new harvest season

Jorhat, Apr 14: Locals celebrated Bihu, the annual harvest festival with great zeal in Assam's Jorhat town on Thursday.

Ecstatic people were seen dancing on folk songs while performing traditional rituals with divine exuberance. Many people also bathed their cattle in streams to mark the commencement of the seven-day long festival.

Highlighting the significance of the rituals, Dipen Hazarika said: "It is one of the biggest festivals of Assam which is celebrated for seven days. Today is the beginning in which we worship our cattle so that our farming business prospers. We bathe the cows and perform traditional rituals on them."

Hazarika also revealed the other rituals performed during the festival.

"We go to our elders and take their blessings so that we have a great year ahead and our agriculture prospers," said Hazarika.

Bihu or Makar Sankranti signifies the day when the sun begins its ascendancy and enters into the Northern Hemisphere.

Bihu is the most important festival in Assam and occurs thrice a year. In April, it is called Rongali or Bohag Bihu, in October November Kati Bihu, and in January, coinciding with Makara Sankranti, it is called Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

Bhogali Bihu is celebrated immediately after the winter harvest. The word "bhogali" comes from bhoga, which translates to "feast", and the festival is essentially one of thanks giving and merry making after a good harvest.

ONGC's 3 fields surpass targets in Assam

Dehradun, Apr 14: Oil and Natural Gas Corporation's three major fields under Assam Asset--Geleki, Jorhat and Lakhamani--have surpassed their respective targets for FY10.

It was more than two decades ago that Assam Asset achieved the pre-decided annual targets.

What makes it further praiseworthy is that the targets were accomplished despite several constraints in the region including monsoon, the company said.

The oil production targets for Geleki, Lakhmani and Jorhat fields had been kept at 3,78,574 MT, 1,48,855 MT and 1,25,269 MT respectively.

Out of the above, Jorhat has the distinction of reaching the targets before the end of the fiscal for the third time in a row.

Assam has the oldest oil fields of India. Historically speaking, it was in 1957 that ONGC started its quest for oil in Assam and the first wild cat well was drilled at Disangmukh in 1959.

Under Geleki sector, there are Geleki, Namti, Makeypore and North Geleky blocks while under Lakhmani, the fields are Lakhmani, Laiplingaon, Demualgaon and Kuargaon.

Under Jorhat, the Asset has Borholla, Mekrang, Kalyanpur, East Lakhibari, Khoraghat, Nambar, Uriumghat and Babeja.

Oil installations in Jorhat are in hostile terrains in far flung areas, the company said.

Presently, Assam Asset has 20 owned drilling rigs, 5 hired rigs, 17 work-over rigs, 50 major production installations besides the largest workshop in the eastern India known as Central Workshop, Sivasagar, the company said.

Cancer rages in Assam

- Betel nut, tobacco culprits

Guwahati, April 13 : Assam has the highest number of patients with cancer of the oesophagus, pharynx (or throat), larynx and gallbladder in the country with betel nut and tobacco chewing being the major contributors.
According to the latest data available with the population-based cancer registries, Kamrup (metro) has the highest number of patients suffering from cancer of the oesophagus, pharynx and gall bladder against per lakh population while Cachar tops the nationwide list for laryngeal cancer.
Jaganath Dev Sharma, the principal investigator of the population-based cancer registry in Kamrup (metro), told The Telegraph that Assam also had the highest number of women suffering from oesophagus cancer in the country. Kamrup (metro) tops this list in the country followed by Dibrugarh and Cachar. Kamrup (metro) has 14.8 females (that is 14 to 15 persons) in per lakh population suffering from cancer of the oesophagus.
“In case of male patients, Kamrup (metro) is second on the list with 27.2 persons against per lakh population suffering from oesophagus cancer in the country,” Sharma said. Aizawl in Mizoram tops this list.
Sharma said the number of cancer cases detected between 2006 and 2008, which was complied and published by the population-based cancer registries in November last year, also found that 15.7 persons per lakh of the population suffer from pharynx or throat cancer in Kamrup (metro). Dibrugarh and Cachar are the third and fourth highest districts respectively in the country in this case while Aizawl ranks second.
Kamrup (metro) was also found to have the highest cases of gall bladder cancer in the country with 10.8 persons in every lakh of the population suffering from the scourge.
Sharma said cancer cases are not only rising in the Brahmaputra Valley but are also alarming in Barak Valley with Cachar having the highest cases of laryngeal cancer in the country — 13.9 persons in per lakh population. Delhi recorded the second highest cases of laryngeal cancer.
Sharma said the population-based cancer registries monitor the frequency of new cancer cases in well defined populations.
There are 23 registries in the country, three of which function in Assam.
“While the next exercise of compilation of data of cancer cases is expected to be carried out between 2013 and 2014, there is a strong apprehension that the frequency of cancer cases in Assam would double within the next couple of years,” he said.
Sharma, who is the chief consultant pathologist of B. Borooah Cancer Institute, said the causes for high cancer cases in Assam were under investigation but chewing betel nut and consumption of tobacco was a major contributing factor, particularly for oesophagus cancer.
BBCI director Amal Chandra Kataki expressed an urgent need to spread awareness about the causes and early detection of cancer for effective treatment.
“Due to lack of awareness about the disease, many patients come to us late when the chances of survival are very less. The BBCI is carrying out awareness programmes but it cannot cover the entire populace as it is the lone institute for cancer care in Assam,” he said.
Kataki said his institute was conducting research with the help of the Indian Council of Medical Research to find out the cause for such an alarming rise in cancer in Assam. He said the state government must enact a law to ban sale and consumption of tobacco, gutka and cigarettes.
A health department official said the government was trying to tackle the situation, including offering free treatment for cancer.

Tiger dies in Kaziranga National Park

GOLAGHAT: A tiger was found dead in Assam's Kaziranga National Park on Tuesday, park officials said.

The tiger was found dead in Kachpara area of Kohora range of the park by forest guards this morning, Park director Surajit Dutta said.

The cause of death appeared to be natural and was due to old age, he said.

Why the Bodo vote matters


Bodo women wait to cast their votes during the second Bodoland Territorial Council poll in 2010 in Assam's Baska district.
In 2006, the Bodos, the largest plains tribe in Assam, played kingmakers in Dispur. The Congress, which failed to secure the majority in a House of 126 members, formed a coalition government with the support of 11 Bodo legislators, who were elected as Independents supported by the erstwhile Bodoland People's Progressive Front (Hagrama), later renamed the Bodoland People's Front (BPF).
Although the All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) — contesting as the Assam United Democratic Front in its debut electoral performance in 2006 — secured 10 seats, only one less than the BPF, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi chose not to depend on the party, which represents the Muslim population, for government formation. He believed that a hard line against the AIUDF would help the Congress strengthen its position among indigenous and tribal voters, who perceive the AIUDF as a party championing the cause of immigrant settlers.
After winning 11 out of 12 Assembly constituencies that fall within the Bodoland Territorial Council in 2006, the participation of the BPF in the government added to the hopes and aspirations of the Bodo people. This helped the BPF retain its support base and win the election to the BTC in 2010.
Apart from the 12 constituencies it contested in 2006, the BPF has fielded candidates in 17 other constituencies outside BTC areas. However, the power tussle within the Congress over choosing between the BPF and the AIUDF as a post-poll ally has put the BPF in a tight spot.
Mr. Gogoi is keen on continuing the alliance with the BPF. He has maintained that although the Congress has put up candidates against the Bodo party, the contest is “friendly” and his party would form the government with the BPF.
Mr. Gogoi started cultivating the BPF as a potential ally ever since the signing of the second Bodo Accord in 2003, which paved the way for the creation of the BTC. The accord brought the curtains down on a revived Statehood movement, and turned Hagrama Mahilary, chief of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), into the head of the BPF and a key man in Assam's power politics.
However, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Bhubaneswar Kalita, a strong contender for the post of Chief Minister, launched an aggressive campaign against the BPF in a bid to reduce the party's numbers and the Congress' dependence on it for government formation.
If the Congress manages to wrest a couple of seats from the BPF and the BPF's strength falls, Mr. Kalita's chances will brighten as the AIUDF, of which the Congress may seek support, could impose the condition that Mr. Gogoi is not made the Chief Minister.
Mr. Mahilary and other BPF leaders have campaigned for Congress candidates in upper Assam. They hoped the Congress would reciprocate by not indulging in serious campaigning in the seats held by the BPF, and have hit out at Mr. Kalita for running an aggressive Congress campaign in BTC areas. The BPF declared that it would not extend support to the Congress for government formation if Mr. Kalita becomes Chief Minister.
AIUDF President Badruddin Ajmal, however, has maintained that his party is open to joining a government of any combination, except with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Congress is counting on the AIUDF if its current alliance with the BPF falls short of the majority, but the BPF has mounted pressure by saying it is averse to joining a coalition with the AIUDF as a partner.
The BPF also faces a tough campaign from the Bodoland People's Progressive Front (BPPF), the Asom Gana Parishad, and the BJP — parties that are using the alleged corruption issue in BTC areas during BPF rule as a weapon to woo voters.
Bodo voters are still haunted by memories of the fratricidal clashes in 2008 and 2009 between former militants of the BLT and the insurgent National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
Mr. Mahilary, in a bid to prevent the BPPF from wooing Bodo voters, revived the Statehood demand and took the initiative of bringing all Bodo groups, including the NDFB, on a common platform.
Promode Boro, president of the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) — which is urging Bodo voters “not to sell their valuable votes to anyone” — says the electorate cannot be expected to vote in a free and fair manner in view of the gun culture prevailing in BTC areas. He predicts that the poll outcome may not be a true reflection of the ground situation.

A chance for peace in Assam

For the first time in recent history, the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was quiescent, neither supporting nor opposing the electoral process

The peaceful conclusion of polling in Assam on Monday marks the end of an era of secessionism in the state. The second phase of voting witnessed an impressive turnout of more than 70%. For the first time in recent history, the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was quiescent, neither supporting nor opposing the electoral process.

This is both a matter of satisfaction and is also a challenge. The history of various insurgency hit states—from Jammu and Kashmir to Nagaland—bears little comparison with each other. But each province that has been pacified has had a powerful demonstrator effect on other such states. Mizoram, Punjab, and, to an extent Nagaland, have traced a trajectory of peace one after another. Now, finally, Assam, too, has bid goodbye to separatism. There is no doubt that Paresh Barua, the leader of ULFA’s armed wing remains recalcitrant to the idea of peace; but one person alone matters little: almost the entire leadership of the outfit—from chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa downwards—have been reconciled.

The challenges ahead are, however, of a very different order. Leaving aside the so-called ‘BIMARU’ states, Assam is one of the more poor Indian states. In per capita income terms, it is much behind the national average. So too in terms of human development indicators (life expectancy at birth and infant mortality rates per 1,000 births, to give two examples). Much of the population of the state continues to eke out its existence from agriculture. Industrial development is non-existent.

This cannot be changed overnight. While the Tarun Gogoi government may claim some success for turning the corner on the insurgency problem, that is only a partial success. In fact insurgency was already on its way out: the people of Assam had concluded that separatism doesn’t pay. It is on the development front that Gogoi’s reign has been lacklustre. True, attracting investment in states that have been through insurgency is difficult, the issue is about the serious inadequacy of the government’s efforts. The failure on this count is for all to see. How future governments tackle the development question will determine how fruitful the return of peace has been in Assam.

Manmohan Singh’s ‘no show’ dejects Assam voters

By Prasanta Mazumdar

GUWAHATI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dejected voters in Guwahati when he did not show up to cast his vote on Monday for the second and final phase of the Assam assembly polls.

Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur were the 720th and the 721st voters ofpolling centre number 156 of Dispur assembly segment in Guwahati.

An estimated 70.35% of 96.77 lakh voters exercised their franchise on Monday.

Returning officer of Kamrup (Metro) district K Balaji said no application was received from the prime minister seeking a postal ballot.

“There was no request from him within the stipulated time. Therefore, there is no question of his exercising postal ballot,” Balaji said.

Singh has been representing Assam in the Rajya Sabha since 1991. He is officially a tenant of Hemoprava Saikia, widow of former Assam chief minister Hiteswar Saikia. However, he never stayed in the house.

The opposition has criticised the prime minister for giving a miss to his voting right.

“If he as the prime minister doesn’t cast his vote, his faith in democracy is questionable,” Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader Lachit Bordoloi said.

“His Rajya Sabha membership is based on a lie that he is a natural resident of Assam. Hence his prime ministership is also based on a lie,” BJP spokesman Pradyut Bora said.

Some voters of the polling centre where the PM was to have cast his vote said they were dejected to learn that Singh would not turn up.

The second phase of the polls was held in 64 constituencies spread across 14 districts in central and lower Assam. A total of 496 candidates, including 47 females, were in the fray. The first phase sealed the fate of 485 candidates, including 38 females.

Meanwhile, at least 22 people were injured and one of them hospitalised, as security forces baton-charged voters and fired in air twice to scare away a rampaging mob which torched a police vehicle in Rangiya constituency.

Incidents of violence were also reported from Mazbat, Sipajhar, Dhubri, Jagiroad and Samoguri.

Assam elections end, over 70 percent voting

Guwahati, April 11: Voting ended Monday in Assam's second and final phase of elections in 64 of 126 assembly seats, with 70.35 percent polling recorded, officials said.

At the end of the exercise, both the ruling Congress and the opposition both exuded confidence of forming the next government.

"The final polling percentage could be high as we are still compiling figures from remote areas. In about 15 percent of polling stations voting went on well past 3 p.m. as the voters had lined up before the closure time," the official said.

"We are confident of coming back to power for the third straight term as people voted us for good governance, stability and peace," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

The opposition too was optimistic.

"We are confident of winning the polls," said Chandra Mohan Patowary, president of Assam's main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

Repolling was ordered in five polling stations. A total of 496 candidates were in the fray Monday.

The first phase of polling April 11 involved 485 candidates and it saw an estimated 73 percent polling -- for 62 assembly seats.

The Assam result will be declared on May 13 along with the states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Puducherry.

The month-long electioneering was marked by a bitter slanging match between the Congress and the opposition.

Although no one has emerged as frontrunner, the Congress is seen to be having an edge because of disunity in opposition ranks.

The AGP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) fought the polls on their own, without any pre-poll alliance.

The Bodoland People's Front (BPF) with 11 legislators in the outgoing assembly has a formal pre-poll alliance with the Congress.

"We would get the numbers and if required we can take the help of others. But such a situation would not arise," the chief minister said.

In the numbers game, the AGP and the BJP could team up but the AUDF would not support any combination if BJP was part of it.

Said AUDF president Badruddin Ajmal: "The AUDF will be the kingmaker after the results are known."

Tension at polling station in Assam's Udalaguri district

Mazbat: Alleged manhandling of a voter by police while trying to maintain order at a polling station during the final phase of voting sparked tension in Mazbat area in lower Assam's Udalaguri district today.

District Superintendent of Police Debajit Deuri told reporters that policemen had "accidentally touched" a woman while attempting to maintain order among voters at the polling station.

The police were trying to ensure that the voters stood in a proper queue as the area near the polling station was narrow, Deuri said.

The voters immediately protested and had a heated exchange of words with the policemen who allegedly manhandled them, according to the Assam Minorities Students Union. Deuri said voting continued uninterrupted. He admitted that there was "aggression" on the part of the police. However, after the policemen apologised to the people, the situation was brought under control.

RTI activist detained in Assam

Guwahati, April 11 (IANS) Ahead of the second and last phase of assembly elections in Assam Monday, Akhil Gogoi, a farmers' leader and a Right to Information (RTI) award winner, was detained during a press conference here Sunday. He was later released and the district administration apologised to him.

Gogoi, leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), an apolitical body, was detained by the police from the middle of the press conference at the Guwahati Press Club as he was speaking about what he called the rampant corruption in the Congress-led government.

According to the Kamrup Metro district administration, Gogoi's press conference after the official conclusion of campaigning for the second phase of elections Saturday was a violation of the Election Commission's model code of conduct.

'Akhil Gogoi was detained under the RP (Representation of People's) Act 126,' Kamal Medhi, publicity secretary of KMSS told IANS over phone.

According to Section 126 of the RP Act, no person should convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting in any polling area during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll.

'If that is the case, then (Assam Chief Minister) Tarun Gogoi should have been arrested for holding a press conference in Jorhat April 3, a day ahead of the first phase of polls (April 4), after the conclusion of official campaigning April 2,' Medhi said.

Akhil Gogoi, on his part, said his was an apolitical organization and was not liable to the model code of conduct.

An Anna Hazare-supporter in the fight against corruption, Akhil Gogoi went on an indefinite fast at the Panbazar police station in Guwahati.

The state government acted swiftly with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordering the release of the RTI activist with immediate effect.

Kamrup Metro deputy commissioner J. Balaji apologised to Akhil Gogoi in the presence of the media and the public in front of the Panbazar police station.

After his release, a huge number of Akhil Gogoi supporters went on a footmarch from Panbazar to Chandmari in the heart of the city.

At the time of filing of this report, a massive public rally was being held by Gogoi on the GNB-Maniram Dewan Road in Chandmari.

Akhil Gogoi is a recipient of the 2008 Shanmugam Manjuanth Intregity Award and the 2010 national RTI Award from the Public Cause Research Foundation.

STR steps up anti poaching to preven-tribals mass hunting

Baripada,Apr 6: The Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) encompassing a total area of 2750 sq km, has stepped up anti-poaching surveillance to prevent the tribals' ''Mass hunting Excursion'', better known as ''Akhand Shikar''.

According to age-old customs, large groups of tribals armed with bows and arrows, hunting axes, and spears sneak into the animal-rich areas of the reserve through untrodden paths and unleash a hunting spree on ''Chaitra Sankranti'' day on April 14.

Just prior to setting out for the annual hunt, the ''Dehuris'' (tribal priests} perform some ''Puja rituals'' invoking the blessings of the ''Marang Buru'' (Supreme mountain god) for a successful hunting voyage.

Society for Research and Development of Tribal Culture(SRDTC) Secretary Gurva Soren said the STR authority should first win the hearts of the ''Dehuris'' and seek their co-operation to stop this Mass Hunting Excursion.

Geographically, Simlipal is the fourth biggest reserve, next only to Nagarjunasagar with an area of 3560 sq kms in Andhra Pradesh, Manas with an area of 2840 sq kms in Assam, and Indravati with an area of 2799 sq kms in Madhya Pradesh.

STR Field Director H S Upadhaya said a three-pronged strategy has been chalked out and implemented to prevent the ''Akhand Shikar'' ritual.

At least ninetythree strategic camps has been established in all its 226 forest compartments with seven Range Officers, 23 Foresters, 58 beat Forest Guards and 450 casual labourers manning these camps.

''The strength of the camps will be further reinforced and reorganised if the situation so demands,'' the Field Director said adding that some of the anti-poaching camps have been set up on tree-tops and covered with green foliage to keep a distant view on the poachers' movement.

The personnel guarding the camps have been asked to keep a round-the-clock vigil to intercept any new person entering into the ''Core Area'' and detain him for interrogation if necessary.

An intensive awareness campaign has been launched with a special emphasis on announcements in the ''Haats'' (weekly village markets) to persuade the fringe area villagers to refrain from participating in the shikar rituals or any type of poaching.

Mr Upadhaya said if the ''preventive'' and ''persuasive'' efforts failed to yield results, the STR would resort to the combative strategy as the last option to prevent the illegal poaching and killing of the mute animals.

Mahanta takes on Congress heavyweight

AGP leader and former Chief Minister of Assam P.K. Mahanta comes out after filing his nomination in Nagaon district. A file photo: Ritu Raj Konwar.
The Hindu AGP leader and former Chief Minister of Assam P.K. Mahanta comes out after filing his nomination in Nagaon district. A file photo: Ritu Raj Konwar.
Nagaon, April 6 : Two-time former Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, who is pitted against influential Congress minister Rockybul Hussain in Samarguri constituency in Nagaon district, is confident of emerging victorious.
Mr. Mahanta, who created political history in 1985 by becoming the country’s youngest Chief Minister, is also hopeful of the AGP emerging as the single largest party in the April 11 election and eventually forming a non-Congress government in the State.
AGP’s most prominent face, Mr. Mahanta, who spearheaded the anti-foreigners stir in Assam in the early 80s, is contesting from two seats - his native place Bahrampur and Samurguri. But it is the latter which has attracted most attention and for a good reason.
Mr. Mahanta’s opponent Mr. Hussian, whom he is fighting for the first time, is not only a Congress heavyweight, but is perceived very close to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi along with another senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Mr. Mahanta claims, “I stand a good chance of defeating Rockybul Hussain, the forest minister, who has unleashed a reign of terror in the constituency.”
His prognosis is seconded by many people in the constituency. Among them is Promod Bora, a college teacher, who said, “Mr. Mahanta’s courteous nature has brought him close to people which can very well be reflected in the poll outcome.”
The AGP has flooded the Election Commission with complaints of Mr. Hussain masterminding attacks on its supporters by Congress workers, alleging at least 10 partymen had been injured in the assaults.
In the other seat, where he is being challenged by Congress nominee Suraj Bora, a surrendered ULFA cadre, who allegedly has a criminal background, is expecting a cakewalk winning from there since 1991.
Mr. Hussain has won twice from the seat which has a predominant Muslim population constituting more than 50 per cent of the 1,28,642 voters. But this time he is facing an uncertain outcome up against a formidable candidate like Mr. Mahanta.
Mr. Hussain, who owns private T V ‘Nagaon Talks’, has been barred by the EC for airing programmes in the two constituencies after Mr. Mahanta filed a complaint that the channel was manifestly supporting the Congress nominee.
Mr. Hussain is banking on his performance, claiming, “I have worked tirelessly for the people of the constituency during the last 10 years of our regime.”
Denying any attempt on his part to harm AGP supporters, the minister called Mr. Mahanta an “outsider” and one “who is bound to be shown the door”.
The other constituency in the district Nagaon will witness a multi-cornered contest between the sitting AGP MLA Girin Baruah and his Congress nominee Durlav Chamua, All India United Democratic Front contestant Nurul Amin Choudhury and BJP’s Deva Kumar Saikia.
AGP nominee Mr. Baruah, a former minister in the Prafulla Mahanta cabinet, has won from Nagaon since 1996 which is traditionally regarded as an AGP bastion.
With more than 70 per cent of the electorate being Muslims, Mr. Baruah will face a stiff opposition from Mr. Choudhury, a Muslim, apart from Mr. Chamua and Mr. Saikia.
Mr. Chamua, a member of the Koch Rajbonshi community, who has been nominated by the Congress for the first time, feels that the developmental schemes launched by the government will help him win.
“There is a noticeable change in Nagaon with better roads and other facilities,” he claimed.
The Congress has received a shot in the arm when star campaigner and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a huge election rally in the district where people participated in large numbers despite a bandh called by the ULFA.

In pursuit of dreams

Villagers at a rally in Chirang.

Bodoland first emerged on the nation’s radar when Bodofa Upendra Nath Brahma steered the All Bodo Students’ Union on the path of political activism and galvanised the community into a mass force.
The Bodo movement became “a must” to assert our linguistic, literary and cultural aspirations because in a drastically changed demography and political situation of the region after Independence, the Bodo community was pushed to the brink of becoming a non-entity.
It took a six-year-long students’ movement to get the Bodoland Autonomous Council in 1993, but it failed to deliver prompting the second movement in 1996.

The second was more vigorous and with a difference — the democratic agitation by the students’ union was accompanied by the rise of armed conflict by the Bodo Liberation Tigers.
The fresh effort to settle the Bodo issue culminated in the signing of the Bodo Accord on February 10, 2003 between the Centre, the state government and the BLT. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was formed and Bodo language was enlisted in the Eighth Schedule along with the promise of a Rs 500-crore special development package.
“Bodoland”, comprising Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri and Kokrajhar districts, was finally on the path of a long-awaited democratic system of self-governance that would understand and address the problems of its 30-lakh people living in 87,595 square km area.
The last few years have witnessed considerable development of infrastructure — be it roads, education, health or agriculture. Kokrajhar, which was a creepy and scary town during the movement, has transformed into a bustling one.
Today, Bodoland is proud to have several institutes of higher education, including a university. A medical college at Besargaon, on the outskirts of Kokrajhar, and an agriculture college will soon be coming up at Udalguri.
However, what it needs at present is the expertise of resource persons, technical and non-technical, to run these institutions. Hospital and dispensaries are without doctors, schools are running without teachers and the dropout rate has not come down as much as it should.
Much remains to be done yet. Bodos, known for their weaving, could have developed the handloom and sericulture sector into a strong women-oriented cottage industry, generating rural employment.
But indigenous weaving is facing a crisis today because of strong competition from products from Bengal and Varanasi of not only dokhona and chador but aronai as well.
Land, our biggest resource, has been occupied by illegal migrants and encroachers but our land reforms policy is yet to be amended.
Our forests and other rich traditional resources are diminishing rapidly. Water resources are not being tapped properly. Even the headquarters town of Kokrajhar has not been able to get water supply after six years of local government.
We have Manas and Orang national parks and Chakrasila wildlife sanctuary with a vast scope for tourism. But this has not been able to create enough employment. Bodo language is in the Eighth Schedule but students don’t even get Bodo-medium books on time.
When three of our MLAs got important portfolios in the ministry, we had hoped to build the BTC into a strong administrative set-up.
But there isn’t much to show for even after five years. Maybe we can hope for all these reforms in the second phase of our development as I still have faith in our local governance. After all six years is not a very long time for the fledgling BTC to achieve the target of “Model BTC” as envisioned by its chief Hagrama Mohilary.
Indeed, it is still a long way to go. To quote from Raju K. Narzary’s My People: My Homeland: “In a way the glorious struggle for self determination remained unachieved. The fight for uprooting oppressor from the society has lost its momentum. The dream to make the Bodo community a master race still remains a dream.”
The writer is a social activist and columnist