Laos delegation to visit city for trade meet on July 2

GUWAHATI: Soon the region's agriculture, hotel and tourism industries will get a major boost as a high-level delegation from Laos will be reaching the city to initiate formal dialogues for various projects. The 28-member delegation, including Laos's industry and commerce minister Nam Viaket, tourism minister Somphong Mongkhonbhilai and invitees from Bangkok, Hong Kong and Thailand will attend the first 'Laos North East India Business Forum Meet' on July 2.

Addressing the media, Assam Chamber of Commerce (ACC)'s convener Rupam Goswami informed that the meet on mutual business exploration between Laos and the northeast will be attended by governor of Meghalaya Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary and chief ministers of all the northeastern states.

"This initiative is to enhance business and development prospects between the countries. Already India has a direct investment of 162 million US dollars in Laos. India has been investing in the energy, mines, irrigation, IT sectors of Laos for a long time. With the geographical location of Assam and the rest of the northeast, the entire region can give a boost to the present business scenario," said Rupam Goswami ACC state convener.

The Laos tourism minister Somphong Mongkhonbhilai has already expressed his willingness to invest in the tourism sector of the region. The ACC has also discussed on cash cropping technologies that can be adopted from Laos and Thailand.

"As part of the 'Look East' policy, ACC is trying to integrate most of the South East Asian countries to have a better business relation. We even demanded opening of road ways between the neighboring countries to the state. Laos is interested in investing in the region's tourism and hotel sectors. Apart from it, the delegation will also discuss possibilities of investing in the region's agriculture sector," he added.

Earlier, in March last year, a five member delegation of Assam Chamber of Commerce visited Loas to exchange views and ideas of business prospects between the two countries.

Land to landless, homeless is top priority, says Assam CM

The Assam government will consider “top priority” the task of providing land to landless families in the state in the next five years, with the prime focus on those affected by floods, erosion and riots.

“The number of landless families in Assam is very high, and there are a large number of families who have lost their homestead and land due to river-bank erosion. There are also people rendered homeless due to riots,” Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

The announcement came three days after Gogoi had said a committee would be formed to frame the policy incorporating issues related to land settlement to landless people, poor marginalised section and those affected by flood and erosion. “The government will take into account every aspect. The committee will go into the gamut of issues relating to the land policy for the entire state,” Gogoi said.

He said that an assessment was on to find out the exact number of homeless and landless families.

The announcement comes close on the heels of a statewide protest against the eviction of several families who had encroached upon government land.

Assam rules at House of Lords

GUWAHATI: On June 13 at the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster - the meeting place of the two houses of the parliament of the UK - the focus was on Assam. In an initiative to showcase the development of tourism in Assam and firmly put the state on the world tourism map, a seminar titled 'Focus on Assam' was held in the world-famous parliamentary house and a video presentation was made as well.

The initiative was taken by the patrons of Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters (Fass) and Rini Kakati, the NRI coordinator for the UK. The seminar was the result of a month-long preparation by Rajen Barua, the chairman of Fass at Houston and Ankur Bora, Fass coordinator from Texas. The occasion was also used to showcase the Fass newsletter 'MITRO' and screen a video presentation on the state's hottest tourist attractions. The seminar discussed how Assam can be promoted in the West.

The programme was attended by Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn, Lord King of West Bromwich, ord Shahid Malik, Lord Sheikh, Lord Paul Yaw Boateng, the first black cabinet minister in the United Kingdom, Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East and chairman of the home affairs select committee, and J K Sarma, first secretary at the Indian High Commission.

Lord Patel recounted his experiences during his visit to Guwahati at the invitation of chief minister Tarun Gogoi for a CII conference in January, 2008. Lord Boateng spoke about Assam tea and promised to promote Assam and organize visits to the state in future. All present appreciated the wealth of cultural diversity, wildlife, flora and fauna in Assam as well as the other seven northeastern states.

Soccer cheer for border row

A moment from the match. Telegraph picture
Jorhat, June 29 : More than 300 villagers from Nagaland today gathered at Geleky Athkhel playground in Sivasagar district of Assam to cheer for Tuli Paper Mill Football Club which clashed with Ratanpur Football Club of Sonari in the inaugural match of the Madhurima Das Memorial Trans-Border Running Football Tournament.
The tournament is being organised for the first time to foster peace between Assam and Nagaland, especially among villagers residing on the either side of the border.
The Tuli team won the match, which was inaugurated by former football star from Assam, Gilbert Sangma, who is now a senior official at the Ligiripukhuri-based 1st Assam Police Battalion, by 1-0.
“The game was played in a friendly atmosphere and there was no feeling of hatred among the players or the crowd,” Temsu Wati Ao, coordinator of the Border Peace Coordinating Committee, told this correspondent.
Altogether 10 teams, five from Assam and five from Nagaland, are taking part in the 10-day tournament.
Ao said only recently, the villagers from Nagaland, specially in the Geleky area, feared to enter Assam territory apprehensive of being attacked by their Assamese counterparts. “The border dispute has built such a feeling of hatred among the people but today it was an altogether different atmosphere,” he added.
The Sivasagar divisional forest officer, Ranjan Das, took a special initiative to organise the tournament, which has been named in the memory of his wife. “Das has donated the trophies for the tournament which will now be held every year,” Ao said.
A senior government official in Sivasagar said there was a feeling of joy and festivity among the people who gathered at the playground.
“The Nagaland team and the villagers were given a warm welcome as soon as they arrived at the playground,” the official said.
In the second match tomorrow, Sivasagar Football Coaching Camp will take on Semtem Club of Anaki Yimsen village.
Ao said a cultural function had been planned on July 7, the final day of the tournament. Artistes from both Nagaland and Assam will participate in it. “We expect some senior Nagaland government officials to attend the concluding function,” he added

Akhil Gogoi linked to ULFA: Assam CM

Guwahati: The Assam government has launched a verbal attack on anti-corruption activist Akhil Gogoi, with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi alleging Akhil is linked to ULFA.
"The faction of ULFA that is against peace talks supports Akhil Gogoi," Tarun Gogoi said.
Akhil Gogoi's supporters have said that they will file a defamation suit against the Chief Minister.

Akhil Gogoi linked to ULFA: Assam CM
Akhil Gogoi was last week arrested in Guwahati, following violent protests led by him that claimed three lives.
The authorities imposed Section 144 CrPC across Guwahati soon after his arrest, to prevent any untoward incident.
A protest rally led by Akhil Gogoi in Dispur turned violent last week, during which at least three people, including a nine-year-old child, died in police action.
The incident happened in Dispur near the state secretariat when activist Akhil Gogoi was leading a protest against the eviction drive by the Assam government.
The police had to resort to tear-gas shells to disperse the crowd. Five journalists, among others were injured in the clashes.

Sachar report may lead to Muslims’ ghettoization, says Salman Khursheed

New Delhi: In an important development, marking a radical shift in the UPA government’s approach, from pre-Sachar to post-Sachar period, the Union Minister of Minorities Affairs Salman Khursheed has questioned, both the credibility of the Sachar report and blind acceptance of its recommendations.
Speaking at a function in Chennai on June 25, Khursheed said that “the recommendations of Sachar Committee Report are not divine like Quran; they can be wrong also and that’s why one must approach them critically.”
Khursheed was delivering a talk on ‘Minorities of India: Issues and Challenges,' at the Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women.
Explaining his point further Khursheed said, by critical approach he meant that the overall impact and benefits of Sachar report on Muslims must be analyzed before accepting the report in letter and spirit.
Cautioning the community from uncritical following of the Sachar report, Khursheed said that it might benefit the community in the short term but it could also lead to its further ghettoization which will be disastrous for the community in the long term as it will prevent the community’s mainstreaming.
The Rajinder Sachar Committee which appointed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in March 2005, was a high level committee for preparation of a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India.

Union Minister of Water Resources and Minorities Affairs, Salman Khurshid, speaking at a function, Moosa Raza, Chairman SIET Trust on extreme left
The Minister also advised the community not to expect and approach only the Minorities Affairs Ministry (MMA) because the MMA was supposed to cater to the needs of other minorities as well. He implied that the MMA can’t provide solution to each and every problem of Muslims. For some problems they need to approach other ministries as well. For instance Muslims, Khursheed said, should approach the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD), which had a budget 10 times bigger than that of his ministry.
“The Minorities Affairs Ministry has only Rs 5,000 crore as its budget. If the community is dependent on only this ministry it will be devoid of funds from other ministries like the Ministry of Human Resources Development which has funds of more than Rs 65,000 crore. Moreover, this ministry doesn’t cater only to Muslims,” he added.
Khursheed wanted the Ministry of Minority Affairs to evolve into Ministry for Equal Opportunities, “Once the Equal Opportunities Commission, which was recommended by Sachar report, is finalized we may actually start thinking of a new structure of the ministry,” he added.
Cautioning the Muslim community of limiting themselves only to the community centered issues, Khursheed also exhorted them to think on larger issues like corruption, human rights and Naxalism.
“Why are Muslims silent on the Lokpal issue or on the issue of freedom for Binayak Sen,” he asked.
Khursheed a politician from the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, praised the works done by the community leaders in South in areas of education. He appealed the Muslims of south India to migrate and bridge the north-south divide by opening up quality institutions in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam.
Talking about the performance of the MMA on pre and post-Matric scholarship, Khursheed said that last year the MMA disbursed 44 lakh scholarships in the pre-matric, five lakh in post-matric categories and 750 PhD scholarships. In the coming year, the MMA will issue 60 lakh matric and post matric and 1,400 PhD scholarships in the coming year.
Importantly the Minister said that, the Central government was contemplating on universalisation of the scholarship with every child qualifying for a scholarship getting it.
[Photo Courtesy The Hindu]

Free two activists held in Assam: Team Anna

New Delhi, June 27 Reformer Anna Hazare's civil society group India Against Corruption (IAC) Sunday demanded the release of two Right to Information (RTI) activists arrested in Assam and demanded an apology from the government.

Akhil Gogoi and Mukut of the group Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) were arrested from the Guwahati Press Club premises Friday for allegedly inciting violence earlier in the week in Assam's capital Dispur.

"India Against Corruption, Delhi, strongly condemns such high-handed, brutal and undemocratic actions by the government and requests all citizens to join hands to oppose the government's grave misconduct," said a statement from the IAC.

"Gogoi and Mukut must be immediately released by the government, an apology issued, and the police officers responsible for the arrests disciplined," it said.

"This is an example of the type of criminal behaviour by the government that is alienating the people of the northeast and giving rise to and fuelling armed rebellion by various groups," the IAC said.

Gogoi and and Mukut were arrested for inciting violence during a protest Wednesday. Three people were killed and over 50 others injured in police firing in the incident.

"At the time of arrest, Akhil was explaining to the media how some unknown people in the crowd set vehicles on fire. Instead of arresting the real culprits, the government arrested the very people who raised their voices against state crime, maladministration and corruption in the public distribution system (PDS) in Golaghat district," the statement said.

New land policy for Assam soon: Gogoi

Sushanta Talukdar

People evicted from their land block NH-37 in Guwahati on Saturday during a 12-hour bandh called by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti.
Guwahati: Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Saturday announced that a new committee would soon be formed to frame a land policy for the entire State.
The policy would incorporate various issues relating to land resettlement for the landless, impoverished and marginalised people and those affected by floods and erosion, Mr. Gogoi said.
He said his government would not allow any foreigner to acquire land patta at the expense of the indigenous population, whose interests, he maintained, it always had.
The Chief Minister's announcement came on a day that witnessed a 12-hour bandh called by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), protesting the arrest of the organisation's secretary and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi and demanding his unconditional release.
The bandh affected life in different parts of the State. While offices remained closed, it being a fourth Saturday, long distance private buses were off the roads as KMSS supporters staged a blockade on National Highway 37. Shops and other businesses downed their shutters in most parts of the State.
Akhil Gogoi was arrested on Friday in connection with the outbreak of violence at an anti-eviction rally in Dispur on Wednesday. It demanded a halt to the eviction of the settlers in the city's hill areas. He was remanded in police custody for three days.

Assam CM says no genuine Indian citizen to be harassed

Guwahati, Jun 24 (PTI) Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today asserted that 'no genuine Indian citizen' will be harassed on the pretext of detecting 'D' or doubtful voters.The Chief Minister gave this assurance to a high level delegation of All India Jamiat and the state unit of the Jamiat led by its President Maulana Arshad Madani at a meeting at his official residence here, official sources said.He assured the delegation in unequivocal terms that the government would not tolerate anyone harassing any genuine citizens of this country on the ground of 'D' voters and take stern action against any one found to be involved in such practice.The delegation also submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister on the issue of 'D' voters.

Airtel launches 3G services in Assam

Using Airtel 3G services, customers in the state will now be able to enjoy capsules of a wide range of regional movies on their mobile phones at never experienced before speeds.

Bharti Airtel, leading global telecommunications company with operations in 19 countries across Asia and Africa, today furthered the rollout of its 3G services in the North-East circle by announcing the launch of Airtel 3G services in Assam’s largest city – Guwahati. With this, Airtel’s 33 lakhs plus customers in Assam will now be able to enjoy a host of exciting 3G capabilities including fast mobile internet access, video streaming, video calling, Mobile TV, social networking on-the-go and high definition gaming.
“Having successfully launched Airtel 3G services in 50 plus towns across India, we today have over 3 million customers that are enjoying the Airtel 3G advantage. As we extend the promise of Airtel 3G services to Assam, we invite our mobile customers in the region to experience the power of high speed internet and enjoy a host of innovative application capabilities from their mobile devices – anywhere, anytime. We believe that Airtel 3G will lead the data and internet revolution in Assam, bringing our customers in the state closer to an all new world of possibilities”, said George Mathen, COO – Assam and North East, Mobile Services, Bharti Airtel.

Legal Aid Clinics set up in two Assam jails

Northeast’s first two Legal Aid Clinics have been set up the Central Jails at Guwahati and Jorhat in Assam not only to facilitate inmates of jails to have access to legal aid, but also to grass root level people.

Inaugurating the Legal Aid Clinic at Guwahati Central Jail, Justice Altamas Kabir, Judge Supreme Court of India and the Executive Chairman of National Legal Services Authority said these clinics would extend legal aid services to the needy free of cost.

Highlighting the importance of Legal Aid Clinics, Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court, Madan B. Lokur said that a large number of inmates are being deprived of proper legal aid in Northeastern States and this facility will be extended in phases to various parts in the region. He said educated inmates of jails would act as para legal volunteers in the Legal Aid Clinic programme.

The inauguration of the Legal Aid Clinic at Guwahati Central Jail was graced among others by Justice Amitav Roy of Gauhati High Court who is also the Executive Chairman of State Legal Services Authority, child rights activist Meena Kabir, member secretary of National Legal Services Authority, U. Sarath Chandran and several other judges of Gauhati High Court.

In Jorhat the legal aid clinics have been opened at the central jail as well as in the juvenile observation home adjacent to the jail there.

ASTC slams 'barbaric behaviour' of protesters

GUWAHATI: As Wednesday's anti-eviction demonstration turned violent and Guwahati roads witnessed mayhem, unruly protestors burnt down three Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) buses as well, causing the department a loss of around Rs 1.5 crore. The corporation officials have slammed the "barbaric behaviour" of the protestors and asked the state government to institute an inquiry into the torching of the buses in order to avoid such incidents in future.

The protest, led by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS) on Wednesday demanding land rights for people living in the hills in and around the city, took an ugly turn as protestors clashed with police and destroyed public property. ASTC suffered the maximum casualty for no fault of theirs. Three newly-supplied ASTC buses meant to ply in the city and its neighbouring areas that were parked along the GS Road bore the burnt of the raging crowd, which torched the vehicles.

"What happened yesterday was barbaric and unfortunate. We slam the inhuman activity of the protestors. If they were a part of a democratic movement, they should have behaved that way. By destroying public property, they have displayed their worst side," alleged State Transport Workers' Association general secretary Khurshid Alam, while addressing a press conference on Thursday.

He further said with a single bus costing more than Rs 48 lakh, the department incurred a loss of Rs 1.5 crore within a matter of hours. "How can people attack the vehicles that have been providing service to the people of the state for decades? What was ASTC's fault?" he asked.

He also added that ASTC has been facing such problems since its inception. "We are always at the receiving end. The department has suffered a loss of more than Rs 100 crore in such incidents till today. Two of our drivers lost their vision permanently and three employees suffered critical head injuries," he rued. The general secretary slammed the role of the police and the administration in the incident. "We hold the police and the administration responsible for the burning incident. They should have controlled the mob," he said.

He also held KMSS secretary Akhil Gogoi responsible for the incident. "If their leader Akhil Gogoi cannot control a mob of protestors, he should not lead such activities. What is the justification for destroying public property," Alam said. ASTC's Engineers' Association and Traffic Officials' Association also slammed the incident and rued at the loss of public property.

Forest battalion to protect hills in Guwahati

Guwahati, Jun 24 : The Assam government will soon raise a dedicated armed battalion for protection of forest and hill areas in the states main city Guwahati.

As the government was locked in a dispute with Guwahati denizens over a now-halted eviction drive in hill areas, the Forest department has decided to have a new battalion to protect the areas that are free of encroachment till now.

Talking to reporters here today, state Forest minister Rockybul Hussain said, '' The new battalion will protect the hills and wetlands which have not been encroached yet. Initially, this battalion will be exclusively for Guwahati and later its service may be used for other parts of the state.'' The minister said 16 areas have been identified in Guwahati which are forest hills that have not been occupied yet.

'' We will start with fencing and massive plantation in these areas to ensure that no new encroachment takes place,'' he added.

Mr Hussain said new encroachers will be given exemplary punishment.

Of the nearly 2 lakh households in Guwahati, about 95,000 are in hill areas, of which barely 2,000-3,000 have legal holding over their lands.

The Forest department had started an eviction drive but was met with stiff resistance, forcing it to stop the eviction till a committee formed to look into the eviction and rehabilitation aspects submits its reports.

An anti-eviction rally in Dispur area yesterday had turned unruly, prompting police to open fire in which three people were killed.

Non-bailable cases against RTI activist in Assam

Guwahati, Jun 24: Continuing its tough stand against award-winning RTI activist Akhil Gogoi, the Assam government filed non-bailable cases against Mr Gogoi in connection with an anti-eviction rally in Guwahati on June 22.

Ten cases, including four non-bailable cases, have been registered against him and his Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), which had led the protest rally by thousands of people residing in hill areas of the city who are facing eviction for encroaching forest land.

The cases were registered at the Dispur police station last evening by the government, the Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) and private parties whose vehicles and property were damaged by the protestors.

Mr Gogoi is likely to be arrested later today.

However, three persons were killed and nearly 20 others, including seniorpolice officers and journalists, were injured in clashes between thestone-pelting, vandalizing protestors and police personnel, who resorted to blank firing after baton-charge and tear-gas shells failed to control the mob near Dispur on June 22.

The mob had torched three ASTC buses, besides damaging more than 100 private vehicles.

The state government has already ordered an enquiry into the incident.

Peaceniks warned of attack


Arabinda Rajkhowa
Jorhat, June 23: Assam police have warned leaders of pro-talks group of Ulfa to be on guard as they could come under attack from the anti-talks cadres of the outfit.
The deputy inspector-general of police (eastern range), Anurag Tankha, told The Telegraph that there was information about the anti-talks faction of Ulfa trying to regroup in Mon district of Nagaland, bordering Sivasagar district. Cadres of the pro-talks group could be their main target, he added.
A meeting in this regard was held at the Gas Authority of India Ltd’s guesthouse in Sivasagar district a couple of days back which was attended among others by Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, senior police and army officers.
Bhaiti Barua, another leader of the pro-talks group also attended the meeting.
Tankha said the pro-talks leaders staying in Sivasagar district were more vulnerable as the district shares a border with Mon district of Nagaland where cadres of the anti-talks faction were trying to set up a base.
“It will be easy for them to cross the border, strike and return back to Nagaland,” Tankha said. Sivasagar district houses at least six leaders of the pro-talks group of Ulfa, including the outfit’s chairman Rajkhowa who hails from the Lakwa area.
Vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi also belongs to Sivasagar district.
Tankha said the leaders of the 28 battalion of Ulfa — Mrinal Hazarika, Prabal Neog and Jiten Dutta — had also been cautioned as the anti-talk faction is trying to increase its activities in Tinsukia district.
Most of the cadres of the 28 battalion of Ulfa, who have declared a unilateral ceasefire in June, 2008, are currently staying in designated camps in Tinsukia district. There are reports that the anti-talks faction of Ulfa is issuing extortion notices to a few businessmen in Tinsukia district recently.
Two Ulfa cadres of the anti-talks faction were also injured in an encounter with security forces in the Doomdooma area in Tinsukia district recently.
An AK-56 rifle was recovered from the duo who are at present undergoing treatment at Assam Medical College Hospital in Dibrugarh.
Prabal Neog, a leader of the 28 battalion, said he had received a communiqué from the police asking him to be careful as he might come under attack from the anti-talks faction. “I have received such a letter from the Tinsukia superintendent of police recently,” Neog said.
Sources said leaders of the 28 battalion of Ulfa could be the target of the anti-talks faction since the former have been making open statements against Paresh Barua, the commander-in-chief of the outfit. “The anti-talks faction was critical of the leaders of the 28 battalion for their open rebellion in 2008 and after they came overground they have been making open statements against Barua. These leaders of 28 battalion could face the wrath of the anti-talks faction,” an official in the central intelligence wing said.
The deputy inspector-general of police who is in charge of Upper Assam said the police were thinking of providing security to the pro-talks group leaders in the wake of such intelligence reports.
“We are thinking of providing them security in the form of personal security officers,” the official said. He, however, ruled out allowing the pro-talks Ulfa group leaders of carrying arms in self defence. “Allowing them to move around with arms is out of the question,” he said.

ULFA throws challenge to Tarun Gogoi over Assam clashes


Condemning Wednesday’s police firing on protesters in Guwahati, outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) has asked the Tarun Gogoi-led ruling Congress government if it has the guts to evict illegal Bangladeshi migrants who have encroached upon forest land in the state.

“The Tarun Gogoi government indiscriminately fired upon people who launched a democratic movement demanding their right to land. Does the government have the guts to evict the illegal Bangladeshi migrants and tea industrialists who encroa-ched upon huge chunks of forest land?” the anti-talks faction of ULFA, led by its ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Bar-uah, said in an email statement on Thursday.

Officials insist that the illegal settlements in Guwahati were degrading the environment and contributing to flash floods and mudslides which in recent years claimed many lives. Countering this, the ULFA asked if it was so, then how the Gogoi government had allotted over 800 bighas of land to the industrialists on hilltop.

“We appeal to the people to stand up against such terrorism by colonial India,” the outfit added.

Three persons were killed and over fifty others, including journalists, injured when protesters demanding land rights clashed with the police.

BSF seizes medicine and cattle on Karimganj border

SILCHAR: Border Security Force personnel have seized a huge quantity of medicine, acting on a tip-off of the BSF intelligence wing, while the consignment was being smuggled out to Bangladesh on Tuesday night.

The medicines were meant for free supply to the government primary health centers in Assam and they were not for sale. In a separate incident, the customs department and BSF seized 11 cows from a truck in the same border area while the animals were being smuggled to the neighbouring country.

Sources said, acting on a tip-off, personnel of 115 battalion of BSF under Mizoram and Cachar Frontier rushed to the Indo-Bangla border in Lafasail near Karimganj at 11.45 pm on Tuesday and seized 245 bottles of allopathic medicines and a huge quantity of tablets from near the border fencing. The smugglers fled the spot taking advantage of the darkness, sources said.

Although there is a barbed fence in this part of the border, smugglers from both sides of the border smuggle goods, packed in small boxes, by throwing over the fence to the other side.

The sources said the medicines were meant for primary health centers in Assam for free supply to patients. Search is on for culprits involved in the incident with the help of police, said an officer on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, officials of the customs department with the help of the Kathaltoli-based BSF in Karimganj district seized a truck loaded with cattle, which were being smuggled to Bangladesh through Hatikhira Tea Estate, a place near Assam-Tripura border. No arrests have been made in this connection as the smugglers managed to flee from the spot. There's no fence in this part of the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Animals are regularly smuggled to Bangladesh from this part of Assam and Tripura. However, the report of smuggling of government medicines adds a new twist to the ongoing incidents of smuggling along the international border.

Abducted businessman rescued by joint AP-Assam police team

ITANAGAR: A businessman, who was abducted from Assam has been rescued by a joint police team of the state and Arunachal Pradesh from Chongkham area of Lohit district, police said on Thursday.

Joy Narayan Bansal, a businessman from Tinsukia district in Assam was abducted by four persons from Doom Dooma area of the district on June 17 and taken to Arunachal Pradesh.

Last night, the joint police team of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam rescued Bansal from Chongkhan area of Lohit district, they said.

"The four persons after abducting Bansal from Doom Dooma took him to Chongkham and handed him over to two Khampti youths near Tengapani reserve. Three of them were arrested on their return journey to Assam," Namsai Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) S D Gohain told PTI.

The police arrested other three youths involved in the abduction from Chongkham, the SDPO said, adding, they were Kalinga Namchoom, Supata Singkai and Pulin Moran.

"Both Namchoom and Singkai hail from Chongkham while Moran is a resident of Mahadevpur in Assam," Gohain said.

The three arrested by Assam Police include Kamal Sharma, Sanjoy Gupta and Dinesh Dutta, while the main accused Raju Gupta is still absconding, the SDPO added.

CPI condemns police firing on protesters

GUWAHATI, June 23 – The Communist Party of India (CPI), Assam State Council has condemned the police firing on the protesters who had gathered today at Dispur Last Gate responding to the call of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS).

The KMSS had decided to protest against the government's drive to evict people who have been settling on government land in the hills and wetlands amongst others, through its Dispur Gherao programme today.

The party has demanded of the government to give settlement and pattas to the Indian citizens who don’t have land of their own. “If the Indian citizens are occupying land at forest reserve, the landless Indian citizens should be rehabilitated in some other suitable place instead of evicting them haphazardly,” the party said in a statement.

The party on the other hand, has also demanded appropriate compensation for the deceased and the injured in the event of firing.

The police reaction has also been condemned by the All India Kisan Sabha, Assam State Council. Describing the police firing as unwarranted, the Sabha said that the government should do a survey of the landless Indian citizens in the capital city and give them settlement and patta.

“If it is necessary to protect the forests by eviction, then the government should take steps to relocate the Indian citizens to other place,” said the Kisan Sabha adding that the deceased and the injured in today’s incident should be adequately compensated by the government.

Meanwhile he Mahanagar Unnayan Samity, Guwahati said that the government has been ignoring one of the burning issues of the capital city – that is the plight of the landless people. “The government has not taken any sincere step to solve the land problem. The government is entirely responsible for today’s incident,” said the Samity demanding a high level inquiry into the incident.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), Assam State Committee too has condemned the police firing on protesters. In a statement, calling the incident unfortunate, the CPM said that instead of solving the demands of the agitators the government took the help of the police to suppress the protest.

Third party mediation best solution for border row : Tarun Gogoi

Guwahati, Jun 22: Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today advocated third party mediation for resolving the vexed border disputes with the neighbouring state of Nagaland.

Interacting with Supreme Court-appointed mediators on the Assam-Nagaland border dispute at his office chamber here, Mr Gogoi said, ''Third party mediation is the best way to resolve the long standing border dispute between the two states.'' Sriram Panchu, senior advocate of Chennai High Court, and Niranjan Bhatt, senior advocate of Gujarat High Court, have been appointed by the apex court to look into the dispute.

The chief minister said his government wants the settlement of the border row with Nagaland once and for all, taking into confidence the people of the state.

''We have approached the Supreme Court so that the border row is resolved once and for all. The apex court verdict will be binding upon one and all,'' he said.

Lauding the endeavour of the Supreme Court appointed mediators, Mr Gogoi said the steps, initiated to elicit the views and opinions of cross section of people on both sides of the border would, go a long way in arriving at a broad consensus on resolving the dispute.

The chief minister agreed to the views of the mediators that status quo should be maintained till the border row is settled.

''There are occasional instances of disturbance along the inter-state border, but by and large the situation is normal,'' he said.

UNESCO lauds Manas’ revival story, removes danger tag

The outstanding universal value, for which Manas was inscribed in the World Heritage list, has recovered from damages sustained during ethnic unrest in the site.
Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
The HIndu The outstanding universal value, for which Manas was inscribed in the World Heritage list, has recovered from damages sustained during ethnic unrest in the site. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
Acknowledging the great revival story, UNESCO has removed the ‘danger tag’ imposed on the famous Manas National Park of Assam 19 years ago, following significant improvement in wildlife conservation.
The decision to remove the ‘danger tag’ was announced during the ongoing 35th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Paris.
“Significant improvements in the preservation of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary have allowed for its withdrawal from the World Heritage List in Danger,” the Committee said.
Situated on the foothills of the Himalayas, the Manas sanctuary, home to a great variety of wildlife, including many endangered species, such as tiger, pygmy hog, one-horn rhinoceros and elephant, was inscribed in the List of Danger in 1992, seven years after it had entered UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The Committee noted that the outstanding universal value, for which Manas was inscribed in the World Heritage list, was “recovering from damages sustained during ethnic unrest” in the site.
It had decided to include this site in the danger when the park became a safe haven for militants and there was rampant poaching inside it, with damages estimated over USD two million.
“India scores a winning goal for Manas,” said Jagdish Kishwan, Additional Director General (Wildlife), who led the Indian delegation at the session.
“Inscription of a site in the List of World Heritage in Danger has two sides to it. One, it draws global attention to the problems faced by the site, which is beneficial; the second, it indicates a pending threat that the site could be deleted as a World Heritage completely if appropriate measures are not taken to restore it,” said Vivek Menon, executive director of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and another member of the delegation.
The turnaround in Manas’ fate came about in early 2000s.
The political situation in the area began improving and culminated in the creation of the Autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) under the Bodo Accord (February 2003).
Since then, there have been concerted efforts by the government and locals assisted by committed NGOs and individuals to revive Manas.
Under the ‘Bringing Back Manas’ initiative of the BTC and the Assam forest department in collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and WTI, Greater Manas was declared, tripling its area.
The protection and management of Manas was enhanced through training of front line staff, provision of equipment and facilitating and encouraging involvement of local communities in conservation.
“Assam has been setting examples in wildlife conservation for the entire world to follow.
First, the biggest conservation success story of the century in Kaziranga National Park and now it is the revival of Manas,” said Assam’s Chief Wildlife Warden Suresh Chand who was also a member of the Indian delegation.
The decision on the World Heritage status of Manas was an outcome of voting by 22 member countries to the World Heritage Committee.
An independent review on the status was done by the IUCN to apprise the Committee on the present situation in Manas.
“We have seen Manas change over the past several years, and now the world knows it.
This will get better, but only if the local people actively help authorities in conservation.
Without the continued support of the people, this could not have been possible and without their support this cannot be sustained,” said Kampa Borgoyari, deputy chief of BTC.

20 injured as mob goes on rampage in Assam city

Guwahati, June 22 : At least 20 people were injured and more than a dozen vehicles were set ablaze by a mob Wednesday after police fired shots in the air and teargassed those opposing a government eviction drive in Assam's main city of Guwahati.

Shoot-at-sight orders were issued after the mob attacked pedestrians and vehicles, a police officer said.

At least five government-run city buses and many cars were set on fire as protestors resorted to pelting stones at security forces, he said.

"Rioters indulging in torching of vehicles and destroying public property would be dealt with severely with shoot-on-sight orders issued," Assam Inspector General of Police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said.

More than 5,000 people led by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS), a peasants' group, staged a protest in Guwahati demanding that the authorities put a stop to an eviction drive in the city's hill areas.

"The mob started pelting stones and attacking vehicles that prompted police to act," a police official said.

Police burst teargas canisters and resorted to baton charge, besides firing in the air, to disperse the unruly mobs.

Four killed in Assam, witchcraft suspected

Guwahati, June 21 (IANS) Four members of a tribal family were found killed and their faces and bodies burnt with acid in Assam Tuesday. Police suspect the murders to be linked to black magic and witchcraft practices.

A police spokesperson said the bodies were recovered from under a culvert at the Monabari tea garden in northern Assam, about 200 km from here.

"It seems the victims were first battered with some blunt weapon and then acid was poured on them. The bodies were then dragged out and left under a culvert," a police officer said.

"There is a strong suspicion that the killings were spurred by superstitious beliefs," he added.

The victims include 46-year-old Binanda Gaur, a plantation worker at the Monabari tea garden, his wife, 15-year-old daughter Naina, and another of their relative, a teenaged boy.

Locals told the police that an elderly neighbour of Binanda Gaur fell sick recently and the family held a ritual involving drinking locally brewed moonshine and dancing accompanied by chanting of religious hymns.

"We were told the ritual was carried out to find if the person fell sick due to some influence by supernatural powers or by someone practicing witchcraft," the officer said.

The family that carried the ritual is absconding, leading to doubts that they could have been involved in the crime.

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.

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.

Power tariff hike likely from July 1

GUWAHATI: After the recent hike in petro prices, people in the state may get another blow with discussions for a possible increase in power tariff on. The new rates are likely to be implemented from July 1.

On May 24, Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB) was granted permission by the Assam Electricity Regulatory Commission (AERC) to effect a hike of 25 paisa per unit in power tariff for all categories of consumers, except those belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) category. For people of the BPL segment, the hike will be 15 paisa per unit.

Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB), which is presently having a deficit of 789 MW, is buying 653 MW from the Centre and private power generators at a high cost. "During peak time, the state's total power demand is 1026 MW out of which we produce only 237 MW. We purchase 653 MW from various PSUs and the central government. But the state still has a deficit of 136 MW which is leading to power cuts," said a senior ASEB official.

At present, the ASEB is running three power projects of its own. While the Karbi Lampi project is a hydel facility, the ones at Namrup and Lakwa are thermal. Though the Karbi Lampi project generates 100 MW of power, the thermal ones are only producing 126.02 MW out of the total capacity of 254 MW.

"Inadequate supply of natural gas has forced us to run only two units out of four in these thermal projects. We have to purchase the deficit amount of gas at a high cost which may lead to the power tariff hike. But no decision has yet been taken to hike the tariff as we increased it only last month. This was done after two years," the official added.

It may be mentioned that the ASEB's Chadrapur thermal power project was shut down a few years ago for non-availability of natural gas. Though many civil society groups and even the ASEB urged the state government to revamp the Chandrapur power project, the latter is yet to take any step. The Chandrapur project has a capacity of generating 60 MW.

"It's sad that the Chandrapur project was shut down. Though the ASEB urged the state government to revamp it many times, necessary action is yet to be taken. Had it been made operational, power shortage in the city could have been met," he added.

On the other hand, the Consumers' Legal Protection Forum has asked the ASEB not to hike power tariff as it's going to hit the people badly. "Another hike in the form of fuel and power purchase adjustment charge in the range of 60 paisa to 70 paisa per unit is likely to be effected by ASEB by July 1. The forum strongly opposes the decision," said Ajay Hazarika, the chief coordinator of the organization.

Assam’s Manas National Park wants its ‘danger’ tag removed

Guwahati: In 1992, Unesco suffixed an “in-danger” tag to the World Heritage Site status it had accorded to Assam’s Manas National Park in 1985. India is now making an all-out effort to remove the tag, claiming that the park spread over 950 square kilometres has managed to recover from the time when poaching and destruction were the order of the day.

While the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee of Unesco is meeting in Paris from Sunday, the Indian delegation has already begun hectic lobbying with the 22 voting nations to remove the “in-danger” tag from Manas “because it is no longer so”. The delegation is being led by Additional Director-General (Wildlife) Jagdish Kishwan. Assam Principal Chief Wildlife Warden Suresh Chand is accompanying him.

“Manas is definitely back to its original glory and the health of the animals here is enough to prove this point,” said A Swargiary, director of the park. Manas, which was ravaged by poaching and rampant destruction in the 1980s, has since recovered, with the number of animal population increasing.

Recent studies by independent agencies, too, have said there has been no human disturbance inside the park, while the health of 18 reserved forests located in its vicinity has improved. “While 11 rhinos have been translocated to Manas from Pobitora and other sanctuaries, the number of wild buffaloes has doubled in over a decade,” said an official of the Wildlife Trust of India, whose Executive Director Vivek Menon, too, is in Paris.

“The rush of visitors proves Manas is back in its old form, with no danger either to its animals or to people,” said Swargiary.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature reported last year that Manas had made “good progress”, with “encouraging” recovery of the wildlife population. The number of elephants, for instance, went up from 522 in 2000 to 780 in 2008.

‘Fake’ degree probe begins

Guwahati, June 21 : Assam police have started two investigations into the fake education certificate and marksheet case involving Arunachal Pradesh health and family welfare minister Atum Welly’s son and daughter.

Police officers here said they were scrutinising documents based on two FIRs lodged with Basistha and Bharalumukh police stations in the city by a city-based educational institute, Assam Education and Management Academy (AEMA), alleging that Welly’s son Akung and daughter Annung had used fake certificates in the name of two colleges in Assam — Pragjyotish College and Beltola College — to get government jobs in Arunachal Pradesh.

“We have registered two cases based on the complaints and have begun investigations. We will talk to the authorities of the two colleges to find out if the certificates produced by Akung and Annung were fake. If necessary, we will seek the help of police and investigators in Arunachal Pradesh,” a source in city police said today.

According to the complaint lodged on Wednesday, Akung, who is an inspector in the tax and excise department of Arunachal Pradesh, produced and submitted a degree certificate and marksheet of Pragjyotish College, which is affiliated to Gauhati University, at the time of his appointment.

However, the university authorities informed an Arunachal Pradesh-based NGO, Sango Lamte Foundation, in writing that Akung had never taken admission into the college and no documents were issued to him.

The AEMA also alleged that the minister’s daughter had also submitted a fake certificate in the name of Beltola College for her appointment as socio-cultural organiser in the department of art and culture in Arunachal Pradesh.

AEMA’s legal adviser Sahiba Ahmed said, “We lodged the complaint after Sango Lamte Foundation informed us that both had produced fake documents to get government jobs. We gathered information and accordingly lodged complaints with the police. We suspect that there is a big fake certificate scam in the name of Assam-based educational institutions and we demand a thorough investigation to unearth it.”

“Police officials spoke to us today and discussed the documents we had submitted to them for investigation,” she added.

Welly could not be contacted.

Sources said the case had come as a big embarrassment for newly appointed chief minister Jarbom Gamlin, who replaced Dorjee Khandu after Khandu died in a chopper crash in April.

Sources said the Gamlin government had not ordered any inquiry into the cases.

Neither Gamlin nor APCC president Nabam Tuki could be contacted.

Bihu promotes cultural exchange between Assam, Tripura

Agartala, June 20: Bihu, the national festival of Assam, was recently held in Tripura to spread awareness about different existing cultures in the region.

Jointly organised by the cultural departments of both states, the festival saw artists from Tripura performing the Bihu dance.

They danced to the tunes of pepe, drums, dhols and other instruments normally used in Bihu celebrations.

The festival provided them a platform to come together and know each other that leads to better mutual understanding, which is quite rare in the region.

"We have organised this festival in Tripura because cultural exchange between the states is very necessary to strengthen the ties and very soon we will be organising this festival in Nagaland also," Sankar Prasad Kakati Borah, Director, Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Assam.

"From this program we get to learn about each other's culture. It helps building unity. Through this we get to know more about Tripura and the culture of the region," said Mani, artist.

"The program was really good. I got to see new form of dances and learnt more about different cultures. It was a great experience," said Parina Dev, an audience

Bihu is the main Assamese festival. It is related to agriculture and celebrated to welcome the monsoon season.

Assam Zoo plans to breed highly endangered langurs

Guwahati: A breeding centre for endangered golden langurs may soon come up in the premises of the Assam Zoo.

Only a handful of golden langurs (Trachypithecusgeei) are found in the Manas Tiger reserve in lower Assam and in the Umananda temple on river Brahmaputra near here.
Zoo divisional forest officer Utpal Bora said, "The project is highly ambitious and right now it is at a preliminary stage. We have submitted the initial proposals to the government to set up the breeding centre inside the zoo which is a very suitable location for their breeding."
"This initiative has been approved by the government and a detailed report for forming an expert team and construction of an enclosure are being prepared," Bora said.
The zoo DFO said the conservation of the endangered species will help increase its population and subsequently they can be released in the wild.
Bora said some golden langurs are already in the zoo, but most of them are males and efforts are being made to get some female langurs from Umananda for breeding.

Security beefed up at Assam's Kamakhya temple ahead of 'Ambubachi Mela'

Guwahati, June 19(ANI): Security has been tightened at the Kamakhya temple in Assam, where thousands of pilgrims are going to assemble during the upcoming four-day 'Ambubachi Mela'.

About 1.5 million devotees and tourists from across the globe are expected to visit the state for the festival, which will begin on Wednesday and end on Saturday.

With the recent discovery of a programmable timer device from the Kanchenjunga Express on June 17, police have made elaborate arrangements for the safety of the pilgrims who visit the temple.

The district administration has deployed police and paramilitary forces at the temple premises. 64 CCTV cameras have been installed at strategic points inside and outside the temple precincts.

The cameras would help the police to closely monitor the visitors and ensure their security. The strategically placed CCTV cameras would transmit live feeds, which will be monitored from the control room by the police.

"The Debutter board has installed 64 CCTV cameras and security officials as well as paramilitary forces have been posted in and around the temple premises. Scouts and guides have also agreed to volunteer during the festival, apart from the local volunteers that would be present. So, security arrangements have been beefed up from our side," said Nabapati Sharma, secretary of Kamakhya Debutter Board.

Police patrolling has also been intensified to maintain law and order situation in and around the temple premises.

More than 600 volunteers, including scouts, guides and National Cadet Corps cadets would be deployed to assist temple authorities to maintain order during the Ambubachi festival.

The temple authorities have made adequate arrangement to accommodate the huge conglomeration of devotees, including their food.

Appropriate arrangements have been made for emergency services like fire and health too. Social groups have also stepped in to help in the supplies of food, shelter and management.

"The number of devotees visiting this place is increasing each year. Considering the crowd this time, it seems that more than 1.5 million would be visiting the temple. Last year, around 1.3 million devotees came for the festival," said Deepak Choudhary, SSP, Guwahati.

The festival of Ambubachi, which normally falls on June 22, symbolizes earth or mother Kamakhya attaining fertility as she prepares herself to conceive. (ANI)

Assam: MHA team meets Gogoi on Ulfa talks

A high-level delegation of Union Home ministry is in Assam to prepare the ground for starting political negotiations with various militant outfits including the United Liberation Front of Asom, United People's Democratic Solidarity, Dima Halim Daoga-Jewel which have come forward for dialogue to resolve their problems.

The delegation led by joint secretary (northeast) Shambhu Singh met Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi  on Sunday at his official residence, to discuss a range of issues pertaining to holding formal political talks with the militant groups.

A source in the CM office said that Gogoi advocated for early resolution of differences with the militant groups, if any, so that the process of dialogue can be set in without much delay.

The team informed the chief minister about the latest development in the pace process and the discussions it was going to have in next few days with various militant groups to pave the way for formal talks between the militant groups and the government.

Besides Singh, the other officials in the team included Deputy Decretary (N-E) Ajay Kanojia, and S M Narayan, director, military intelligence.

A formal suspension of operation agreement is likely to be initialed between the pro-talks faction of the outlawed ULFA led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa by the end of this month, following discussion of the outfit leaders with the MHA team.

Meanwhile, the Assam government is taking steps to set up truce-time designated camps to lodge about 400 cadres of the ULFA pro-talks faction for the purpose mainstreaming them.

These former militants are now staying either at rented accommodation or at their homes. However, a peace process requires the militants in truce to stay put in designated camps.

Sources informed that the designated camps that are being set up, will have facilities for training militants on various livelihood options to enable them to make a new life for themselves.
K Anurag in Guwahati

Assam tribe's rice varieties win recognition

By Sushanta Talukdar

Guwahati, June 19 : Cooked Miaotong rice remains fresh for at least three days

Two traditional rice varieties produced by the Singphos — Miaotong and Khawlung, used in making topola bhaat, a delicacy of the tribe and popular with tourists — are set to earn the status of being the first registered farmers' variety from Assam under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority regime.

Pranab Talukdar, Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics of the Assam Agricultural University told The Hindu that the biodiversity management committee of the Singpho community had authorised the university to register Miaotong and Khawlung as the first registered farmers' variety from Assam.

“Once registered, the Singpho community will enjoy an exclusive right for commercial production of these varieties and also a share of the benefit, if anyone outside the community, with its consent, cultivates tem on a commercial scale,” said Dr. Talukdar.

The specialty of Miaotong is that cooked rice remains fresh for at least three days. Miaotong-soaked water is also used as shampoo, according to community elders.

Topola bhaat, aromatic rice cooked in Koupat (broad leaf of a plant variety), is a special Singpho delicacy prepared from purely organic and aromatic glutinous type traditional fine rice varieties like Miaotong and Khawlung.

Akashi Sarma, Principal Scientist, Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, and her student Preeti Rekha Talukdar collected nine accessions of Singpho landraces to study the genetic parameters.

The study revealed that traditional Singpho rice landraces Khawlung, Miaotong, Rongapikhi (lalpikihi) and Kulapikhi could be considered parents in a hybridisation programme with quality grain and selection procedures to exploit both additive and non-additive genes.

Dead man waiting

By Prasanta Mazumdar

Mahendra Nath Das (48) has spent the last 15 years of his life in Guwahati Central Jail. For 12 of those years, he was on death row, waiting to hear whether the President of India wants him to live or die. Last month, the President finally decided that Mahendra must die. His mercy petition, filed in 1999, was rejected, and on May 27, the convict was moved from Guwahati Central Jail to the 100-year-old Central Jail in Jorhat, which is the only jail in Assam with all the ‘facilities’ needed to execute a human being.
Even as the jail authorities began preparations to execute Mahendra, his mother, Kusumbala Das, filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court questioning the delay in deciding on the mercy petition and stating that her son had to endure severe mental trauma and physical agony because of it. So on June 7, the High Court issued an order staying his execution of the death sentence. The court issued notices to the Assam government, Union home ministry and Jorhat’s jail superintendent, asking them to file their responses, explain the 12-year delay, by June 17. The Gauhati High Court further extended the stay on June 17 till July 21. This came after the central government sought time to file affidavit before the court explaining circumstances that led to inordinate delay that had occurred in rejecting the mercy petition of the convict.The state government of Assam, however, filed the affidavit.

Mahendra was sentenced to death by the Sessions Court in 1997. Subsequently, he fought his case in the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court, but both upheld the Sessions Court judgement. Mahendra’s parents visited Delhi in 1999 to meet the then President APJ Abdul Kalam and seek mercy for their son. But after waiting for 10 days, they ran out of money and eventually returned home without meeting the President.

All this raises a critical question: when even life imprisonment entails 14 years in jail, is it fair to inflict the death penalty on a convict who has already served 15 years in jail?

The day he took his head

On April 24, 1996, the people of Guwahati woke up to news of a grisly murder. Mahendra, who was then 33, had beheaded 68-year-old Hara Kanta Das in broad daylight. He then held the severed head by the hair and calmly walked the 100 metres to the nearest police station, where he surrendered.

According to Amal Das, the only son of Hara Kanta, Mahendra was a hardened criminal. “Many in Assam know he had killed one Rajen Das in 1995, a year before he killed my father. But he went scot-free as the police failed to file a charge-sheet against him within the stipulated 90 days,” says Das, a businessman.
Das believes that his father was killed because he stood up to the accused. “My father owned couple of vehicles and was the secretary of the All Assam Truck Owners’ Association. Mahendra held the same position in a transporters’ union. He used to demand exorbitant amounts as fee from truck drivers. My father spoke up against this and was killed.” Adds Amal, “Since he got away with his earlier murder, it encouraged him to commit the murder of my father as well.”

Amal, of course, can never forget that fateful day. His father had stepped out that morning to buy fodder from Guwahati’s Fancy Bazaar. He was about to take a rickshaw home when one of his friends called out to him, inviting him for a cup of tea. Just then, Mahendra materialised out of nowhere and struck him on the neck with a ‘four-five kg’ machete. Hara Kanta died instantly.
“My father died at the first stroke. But Mahendra didn’t stop, he went on striking him over and over again,” says Das.

Das’ family was relieved to hear about the President’s rejection of Mahendra’s mercy petition. “Now we will finally get justice.”
While many in Assam hold the opinion that Mahendra should be imprisoned for life and not hanged as he has already spent 15 years in jail, the victim’s family wants law to take its own course. “We are neither in favour nor against his execution. We want the law to take its own course. We’ll honour whatever happens in the long run,” says Das.

Says Das’ wife Sarada Das, “We feel sorry for Mahendra’s mother. We’ve seen her (ailing) condition on television. But we also went through a difficult phase when my father-in-law was murdered.”
‘Why kill him twice?’
The scene at Mahendra’s village Kumarpara in Barpeta district is grim. Everyone understands the gravity of Mahendra’s crime. But what they do not understand is, why kill the convict when he has already spent 15 years in jail?

Even Mahendra’s sisters Bijuli, Pratima and Latuki ask the same question. “He has died once by already spending 15 years in jail. So why kill him again?” They add, “If there is God, our brother will surely returnhome someday.”

Mahendra’s mother, Kusumbala, is sick and bed-ridden. She cannot move without assistance. “I want to see his face once before I die,” says the 78-year-old said, breaking down,
eyes brimming.

Deepak Saloi, 32, a small businessman, first met Mahendra at the Central Jail in Guwahati in 2005, when he was serving a seven-month prison term in another case. “I found him to be a thorough gentleman. Maybe he had reformed himself in jail as it often happens with some people,” Saloi says. “It is sad that his mercy petition has been rejected. When my father died, it was Mahendra who helped me in performing the last rites in jail.”
Saloi says that in 2005, Mahendra had staged a fast-unto-death for five months inside the jail premises in protest against his death sentence. “He always behaved well with all of us. We don’t know what provoked him to commit the decapitation murder,” says Ram Kalita,who worked with Mahendra at the transporters’ union.

In search of a hangman

The inmates of Jorhat prison have jointly petitioned the Assam Human Rights Commission to take up the case of commuting Mahendra’s death sentence. “Two Mumbai-based lawyers and human right activists are planning to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court to commute his death sentence. We have already filed two petitions with the governor and the chief minister, requesting them to ensure that the convict is not hanged till
the apex court delivers its verdict,” says advocate Nekibur Zaman, who is assisting Mahendra’s family.

“Our logic is based on a 1989 case in which a convict’s death sentence was commuted to life term because the President took eight years to reject the mercy petition,” Zaman says. “A convict, if sentenced to life imprisonment, can come out of jail after 14 years. So, if Mahendra is hanged now, how will his agonies be compensated given that he has already spent such a long time in jail?”

Public opinion, too, seems largely in favour of commuting Mahendra’s death sentence. “The convict has already spent 15 years behind bar and so, if he is to be hanged now, then why aren’t those involved in the Godhra carnage and the Kashmiri jihadis hanged? Mahendra killed one but they committed mass murders,” a blogger argued.

“We understand the magnitude of the crime Mahendra committed. But it will be cruel to hang him now given that he has already spent a life term in jail. If he was to be executed, why wasn’t it done earlier? Why did the President take such a long time to reject his mercy petition?” asked an academician.

Meanwhile, in Jorhat Jail, Mahendra himself seems to be taking it all calmly, if Brojen Das, the jailor, is to be believed. “Mahendra doesn’t seem frightened. He is behaving normally,” he assures you. “He doesn’t speak much. He spends the day reading newspapers and the Bhagavad Gita.”

The convict has been kept in solitary confinement in a cell similar to the one occupied by freedom fighter Kushal Konwar before he was hanged by the British in 1943. Former President Fakruddin Ali Ahmed was also incarcerated in the same jail during the freedom struggle. The last hanging here took place on July 27, 1990, and was of a man named Kanpai Buragohain, for multiple murder.
Though the date of Mahendra’s execution hasn’t been fixed yet, the authorities are scrambling to find a hangman. But so far, they’ve had no luck. “He will be hanged,” says S Thakuria, IG (prisons), but does specify when. Asked if they’ve found a hangman, he says, “We’ll get one…We’re bringing one from UP. You will get to know soon.”

Assam takes up Green Coverage campaign

Tezpur (Assam), Jun 18 (PTI) The forest department of Assam has undertaken a massive programme for a Green Coverage campaign across the state, Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said here today.Inaugurating the first Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) campaign in the state, Hussain said Rs three crore would be spent for the Green Coverage campaign this year.Rs 10 lakh each would be provided to nurseries for growing saplings for afforestation in the state which has a forest cover of 37.33 per cent against the all India 33 per cent, he said.The minister assured the people living in the char (riverine) forest areas prior to December 13, 2005, that they would not be disturbed during eviction drives provided they preserve and and protect forest areas.However, they would not be provided with land settlement papers by the government.The minister also instructed forest department officials to immediately seal all illegal wood saw mills except those obtaining permission from the Gauhati High Court to operate.

Solve Brahmaputra issue through diplomatic channels: BJP to PM

Expressing his concern on reports about China's plans to divert Brahmaputra waters, senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address the sensitive issue through diplomatic channels.

"India has already a water sharing treaty with Pakistan. Therefore, being a riparian country, India needs to engage China alongwith other effected nation- Bangladesh for a tripartite water treaty at the earliest," Mr Singh said in a letter written to the Prime Minister yesterday.

A party statement today said the former BJP president apprehended that if China succeeds in diverting Brahmaputra's course, it will have devastating effect on millions of people living in Assam and other north eastern states.

He said Brahmaputra is an international river and according to the International Water Treaty, its water can not be diverted in an arbitrary manner.

"China has been building nine such dams on the Brahmaputra river. These reports were creating an outrage and anger in India's northeastern part and the people want immediate action from the Central government to stop this diversion of the Brahmaputra's flow," Mr Singh added.

He also demanded that a team of experts be sent to China for a first hand account of the construction site.

Mr Singh said when the matter was raised by the media before External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, he said India would independently inquire about the dam construction reports. The BJP leader added that China has been denying the existence of any such projects for the past couple of years during its formal discourse with India through diplomatic channels.

"Now they openly admit its existence and even advise the people of the north east India to use their available water resources judiciously. Ironically, our Foreign Minister continues to believe that the project will not do any harm to India's interest," Mr Singh said.

He said it was a question of livelihood for the people of north east including Assam.

The BJP leader said his party has raised the issue of China diverting the flow of the Brahmaputra river towards its southern part on several occasions but the government seems to be oblivious of these facts.

"I hope that the government will not ignore these developments in China this time. The BJP will extend its full support to any concrete action taken to stop the diversion of the Brahmaputra in China," he added.

It is a fact that China has dammed the main flow of Brahmaputra river at Zangmu but it has created two channels to let the water flow, so that was not going to affect the river in states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, according to the government sources.

Comprehensive satellite pictures show that the river was being obstructed by works on a hydroelectric project at Zangmu, but this obstruction was not significant to affect the flow of the river in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, or even in Bangladesh.

China not diverting course of Bramhaputra: Krishna to Gogoi

NEW DELHI: The government has assured Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi that China was not diverting the course of the Bramhaputra. Concerned over the reports that China was building a dam on the bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo (as the Bramhaputra is known in Tibet), a worried Gogoi met with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna in the Capital on Thursday, requesting New Delhi's intervention in the matter.

For Assam, the diversion of the Brahmaputra - which is the state's lifeline - poses a serious problem as it would have an adverse ecological impact on the state. The external affairs minister cited assurances by Beijing and New Delhi's own "verification" to reassure the Assam chief minister that the course of Brahmaputra was not being diverted. Krishna said that activities across the border are being monitored. After the meeting, Gogoi said Krishna told him that China's hydro project "would not have any impact on Assam, either economically or otherwise" . Krishna stressed that there was no cause for worry.

"I have said earlier and would like to repeat it again that we have been monitoring the developments both through our satellite pictures as well as our interactions with the Chinese authorities. The Chinese authorities have conveyed to us that it is going to be a run of the river power project. There is not going to be any reservoir. As a result of that, the question of any diversion or any storage of water does not arise," Krishna said. The minister said the India has independently verified the matter. "We have been monitoring through our satellite pictures as well as in our interaction with Chinese authorities. We have also made verification on our own. It is a fact that China is creating a run of the river power project and the question of any water being impounded is not there," he said.

Krishna asked both Assam and Arunachal Governments to plan projects to properly utilise the Brahmaputra waters. "The question of any water being impounded is not there. So, when this is the case, my earnest suggestion to the governments of Assam as also Arunachal Pradesh is they should go ahead and prepare the necessary project reports in order to utilise the Brahmaputra water for the maximum benefit of the people of the two states," Krishna said.

'Does CRPF have prior sanction cover?'

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Thursday asked the Assam government to clarify if it needed New Delhi's green signal to prosecute paramilitary personnel accused of human rights violations.

The observation came while hearing a petition by the central government challenging the Gauhati High Court after it upheld a trial court decision to proceed with the recording of evidence against two CRPF officers.

The two courts had ruled that action could be taken against deputy director A K Singh (now retired) and commandant V S Yadav of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) without prior sanction. The issues concern the killing of seven alleged insurgents in Panka village in Assam in April 1983. The CRPF maintained that the Assam Police should take the sanction of the central government before proceeding against its men.

Bamboo artisans to teach skills in Africa

Training for bamboo craftsmen
Roopak Goswami

Guwahati, June 18 : Africa has been learning bamboo skills from the Northeast.

Trainers from Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre (CBTC) will be helping bamboo artisans in Ethiopia and Uganda to polish their skills and upgrade them in tune with the market demands and also enable them to make better products.

“This training will focus on product design, development and quality improvement, in line with the market demands. The programme will provide necessary knowledge, skills and attitude,” Kamesh Salam, director, CBTC told The Telegraph.

The training is being done under the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) project on — One Village, Industrial Cluster.

“The artisan skills in these countries is not good and hence our expertise was wanted,” Salam said.

Suresh Chandra Das and Subrata Chakraborty, who have been engaged by CBTC as trainers, will be there for one month from July 1 in both these countries to provide the skills.

Das has been awarded as the best craftsman by Tripura in 1998 and has been working in the bamboo sector since 1973 and also trained artisans in Tripura and Assam.

Chakraborty has been working consistently in the bamboo sector since 1996 and has developed many bamboo products.

In Ethiopia, CBTC trainers will impart bamboo-processing skills in Awassa cluster and similarly in Kisoro, Uganda.

A training course will be designed to improve the participant’s bamboo processing skills and the course will be developed considering the prevailing market for the particular products.

The trainees will be provided technical training through practical sessions.

One-to-one technical inputs will be provided for in-depth transfer of technical knowledge to the trainees depending on their needs and aptitudes. Product developments on basketry, tablemats, wall hangings, various types of decorative items, utility items, bamboo jewellery, clips, souvenirs and gift items for tourist markets are in the course module.

Trainees will be provided with knowledge and skills to perform treatment, preservation and storage of bamboo.

It will enable trainees to describe harvesting procedures of bamboo and select bamboo materials for a specified product application.

The trained artisans will be provided distant exchange through e-communications and provide follow-up in the immediate aftermath of the training.

Salan said the outcome of the training programme would be documented and submitted to the Unido headquarters along with a follow-up plan.

CBTC has trained bamboo farmers in Timor Leste for bamboo plantation and propagation and also trained the officials and trainers from the Centre for Bamboo Timor Leste, a Unido-implemented and funded project.

The CBTC was established in Guwahati in 2000 as a centre and secretariat for implementation of Cane and Bamboo Technological Upgradation and Networking Project, under the Unido country programme for India.

CBTC is also the bamboo technical support group of the National Bamboo Mission for the Northeast, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal.

ONGC gas well leak affects four villages

An unused natural gas well

Agartala, June 18 : A major gas leak from one of ONGC’s unused natural gas wells at Konaban area of West Tripura since Wednesday has emerged as a major hazard for residents of four villages around the site.
The corporation’s corporate communications chief, Anil Raja, today said though a team of engineers and gas safety specialists had arrived yesterday from Ahmedabad to plug the leak and douse the fire, they had not been successful yet.
Raja said the team was trying hard to douse the fire and control the leakage with chemical mud and water using a machine brought from Sivasagar in Assam.
“If the leakage and fire are not brought under control at the earliest, a high level crisis-management team of ONGC will arrive here,” he said, adding that the loss for ONGC would be huge, though it had not been quantified yet.
He said over the past two decades, ONGC had drilled 19 wells in the Konaban area for supplying natural gas to nearby thermal power plants at Rookhia and Barmura in Sadar subdivision.
“Seven of the wells were capped while others are being still used to supply gas to the power plants. But on Wednesday, the capped well number six had erupted, leading to leakage of a large quantity natural gas, creating panic in the area.
“According to our rule, abandoned wells are to be kept under routine watch and well number six erupted suddenly, possibly because of massive pressure from within,” he said.
“An investigation will be carried out into the incident and then everything will be clear. The corporation’s headquarters in Dehradun is being kept up-to-date with what is happening here,” Raja said.
Right after the eruption, ONGC had informed the state government and put the residents of four peripheral villages — Harihardola, Shakuntala, Sitakhola and Gopal Nagar — on high alert.
The 3,475 residents of the villages have stopped cooking, because lighting a fire could lead to a major disaster with all the natural gas floating around. They have been surviving on dry food and milk.
The sub-divisional officer, Bishalgarh, Prashant Kumar, who had rushed to the spot immediately after being informed about the leakage on Wednesday, said four companies of Tripura State Rifles (TSR) had been stationed in and around the site and in the villages.
“We have kept fire brigade vehicles, ambulances and a team of doctors on standby to deal with emergencies. The real problem was created after the well caught fire yesterday. There was no fire on Wednesday,” Kumar said.
He added that unless the fire and leakage was brought under control, all residents of the four villages would have to be evacuated to safer locations.

'Most people are still not aware of their basic rights'

GUWAHATI: Assam Human Rights Commission secretary Ahmed Shahnawaz on Wednesday said people were still not aware of their basic human rights and it was necessary to conduct rights awareness programmes in small towns of the state to open the eyes of people. Addressing a programme on human rights at Doom Dooma College in Tinsukia district, he discussed the structure of the Assam Human Rights Commission and said it was set up in 1996 to look after the rights of people.

Faculty members, college principal, students and senior district officials attended the event.

Speaking on the occasion, Shahnawaz said, "A person is born with certain rights which are inseparable from him under any circumstances. No individual should be deprived of his basic human rights on basis of sex, religion, caste or creed." Shahnawaz spoke on a wide range of human rights violation that take place everywhere in the form of child labour, treatment meted out to prisoners, labourers, mental patients, witch hunting, sexual harassment on women at working places and domestic violence. He also urged people present at the programme to spread the message of human rights to make the social awareness event a success.

Several other resource persons also shared their views on human rights. They included Bina Devi Bordoloi, who spoke about the different forms of human rights violation right from the days of Mahabharata and World Wars, to the modern day evil cases of human rights violation in the form of human trafficking for organ transplantation and prostitution.

Birendra Hazarika, another resource person spoke on the history, development and several forms of human rights and how they were related to the Fundamental Rights of citizens. He said NGOs have a greater responsibility towards generating awareness on human rights.

An interactive session between the participants and Shahnawaz was also organized where participants placed their queries before him and other representatives of the district administration.

Two from Assam held for rape, murder of K'mal girl

BERHAMPUR: Two persons from Assam were arrested in Kandhamal on Wednesday for allegedly raping and murdering a 22-year-old daily wage labourer in the district a fortnight ago.

The accused Jharil Islam (23) alias Raja and Akash Ali (19) belong to Assam's Darrang district. The duo was caught by Chennai police because they had fled to the metro city after committing the crime, SP (Kandhamal) J N Pankaj said.

The duo came to know the victim, Kabita Behera of Rujangi village, while working at the construction site of the Central school on the outskirts of Phulbani within Khajuripada police limits. They committed the crime on May 31.

Gogoi to ask EAM to take up Brahmaputra river issue with China

New Delhi, June 15 (PTI) Worried that any diversion of Brahmaputra river by China could impact his state, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi will meet External Affairs Minister S M Krishna tomorrow to ask him to take up the issue with the neighbouring country.

Gogoi, who raised the issue during a meeting with the Planning Commission yesterday, said he was "very concerned" about reports of the Chinese plan as any diversion in the course of the river will affect Assam''s agricultural economy.

"We are very concerned as any diversion of the river may affect my state. I will meet the External Affairs Minister tomorrow as Government of India has to take up the issue with China," Gogoi said addressing a press conference here.

The Chief Minister said the issue had come up earlier also and he had taken up the issue then with the Prime Minister.

"It is not a new issue. I had taken up the issue with the Prime Minister and Water Resources Minister earlier also.
Chinese side had said that it will not affect downstream areas of Assam...But situation keep changing and we have to be careful," Gogoi said.

Termining it as a major issue for his state, he said "I am confident that Government of India will take appropriate step to safeguard the interest of the country as well as Assam."

Krishna on Monday had said his Ministry was seeking more details from China on these reports.

The Brahmaputra, which enters India from Tibet, is considered the lifeline of Assam.

Militants abduct ONGC official's son, seek 20L ransom

JORHAT/IMPHAL: Suspected Naga militants on Tuesday kidnapped Murtaj Ali (24), an MCA student of the Guwahati-based Central IT College, and demanded Rs 20 lakh as ransom from his family to free him.

Murtaj, whose father works at the ONGC's Sivasagar unit, is a resident of the Arjunguri area in Sivasagar town. According to sources, the youth had gone out of his home in the family car on Monday evening and did not return.

Police found the car near the campus of Jorhat Medical College and Hospital on Tuesday morning and launched an investigation. Murtaj's father, Mahmmad Ali, said, "My son went out of home around 6.30 pm on Monday for some shopping. He called up his mother around 7 pm, saying he would return by 8 pm after meeting one of his friends."

He added, "When he did not return home by 9 pm, my wife called him up. Murtaj told her he will be back soon. But he did not return and we spent a tensed night. We fear that some militant outfits have picked him up for ransom." On Tuesday morning, he came to Jorhat after police informed him about his car being abandoned in the town.

Jorhat (Sadar) police station officer-in-charge Bakul Gogoi said, "We found a car near JMCH campus and identified its owner as Mahmmad Ali. Some militant outfits have kidnapped his son. We are yet to identify the group. But its members have called up a relative of Mahammad and demanded Rs 20 lakh as ransom." He added, "The kidnappers spoke in Nagamese. We suspect some Naga rebels are involved in the abduction. We are investigating."

Sivasagar (Sadar) police station officer in-charge Devaranjan Sarma said, "We have registered a case of kidnapping and extortion. We have also launched an operation along with our Jorhat counterparts to free the abducted youth."

In recent past, Naga militants have become active in three upper Assam districts of Jorhat, Golaghat and Sivasagar. On January, Naga militants kidnapped a businessman from Sarupathar Golapani Tiniali in Golaghat. A few months ago, another trader was abducted by NSCN(IM) militants in the Halowating area of Sivasagar district for Rs 2 lakh.

In the meantime, a report from Dimapur said the NSCN (IM) on Tuesday said it will undertake prompt initiatives involving "all non-Naga immigrants residing in Nagalim in the age group of 16 years and above" to contain the menace of unregulated immigration there. The circular said registration of shops and business establishments will continue with some minor reviews.

Project Prahari revived to curb witch hunting

KOKRAJHAR: Concerned over witch-hunting in the Bodo heartland, which has already claimed eight lives since January this year, the Kokrajhar police, in collaboration with the Assam State Commission for Women (ASCW), revived Project Prahari, which aims to educate people about the menace and introduce community policing.

The project was revived with a public awareness meeting at U N Brahma Vocational Girls' High School, Habrubari, Serfanguri in Kokrajhar district on Tuesday.

Habrubari is the place where the witch-hunting began on January 1 this year, with the killing of an elderly couple, Sarat Bindu Hazowary (65) and his wife Toposhree Hazowary (60), on suspicion of practising black magic.

The Bodo-dominated Kokrajhar is particularly vulnerable to witch murders, social analysts say. The high incidence of witch-hunting murders here had prompted the state police to launch Project 'Prahari' a decade ago on August 1, 2001 to spread awareness among people.

The chairperson of the ASCW, Mridula Saharia, said at the meeting here on Tuesday said that the killing of people on the basis of mere suspicion was unfortunate and that they would pressurize the government to take an effective measure in this regard.

BTC Executive Member Reo Reoa Narzihary urged people to not indulge in superstitious beliefs that lead to such crimes.

SP Kokrajhar P K Dutta said as many as 61 people, including 39 Bodos and 22 adivasis, have been killed in the name of witch-hunting since 2001.

He added a total of 50 villages have been identified as vulnerable and the new Project Prahari would cover all of them.

Assam CM worried over Chinese plans to divert Brahmaputra

New Delhi, June 14 (PTI) Concerned over reports about China planning to divert the Brahmaputra river, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today said he will approach the External Affairs Ministry so that the matter is taken up with China. "We are concerned about it. Everybody is concerned about it," he told reporters here when asked about the reports that China is considering diversion of the river. Gogoi said he will be meeting External Affairs Minister S M Krishna over the issue. "We, as a state, cannot take any steps directly. But we have already raised it here... and definitely we will take up with External Affairs Minister. I will meet him (Krishna) also," he said after a meeting with Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. "Definitely the govermment of India will take it up (with China)," the Chief Minister said. He said the matter also figured during his meeting with Ahluwalia to fix Assam's Plan allocation for 2011-12. "We did raise it (the matter of China's plan to divert the Brahmaputra)," Gogoi noted. Krishna had yesterday said his Ministry was seeking more details from China on these reports. The Brahmaputra, which enters India from Tibet, is considered the lifeline of Assam.

Seven killed in Assam road mishap

Guwahati, Jun 14 (PTI) Seven persons, including three children have been killed and 12 others injured in two different mishaps in Assam today, police said.Four persons were killed on the spot while 12 others injured, most of them critically, when a speeding truck collided with a Tata Magic vehicle at Nayagaon in Bongaigaon district.The truck was on its way from Bongaigaon to Goalpara while the other vehicle was coming from the opposite direction.The dead are yet to be identified while the injured have been admitted to Abhayapuri Civil Hospital.In another incident, three children, all brothers, were crushed to death by a speeding truck in Goalpara district today, police said. The three brothers, riding a bicycle, were crushed to death by a speeding sand-laden truck at Balodmari Char area under Goalpara Sadar police station. The trio have been identified as eight year Khalilur Rahman, six year old Hazrat Ali and four-year old Hasan Ali--all sons of one Mukram Ali. The driver and the helper of the truck are absconding and the police have launched a massive search operation to nab them, police added.

Planning Comm approve Rs 9,000 crore plan outlay for Assam

Guwahati, Jun 14 (PTI) The Planning Commission today approved a Rs 9,000 crore plan outlay for Assam for the financial year 2011-12. The plan outlay of the state was finalized after a meeting between Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi at New Delhi today, official sources said here. The last annual plan for the state was fixed at Rs 7,645 crore. Gogoi said the state government has given major thrust to education, human resource development, capacity building and skill development to generate more employment opportunities, strengthening of health care facilities, rural development, rural marketing, power generation and transmission during 2010-11. Special focus would be given to the agriculture sector and that new schemes were being introduced to popularise better technologies in farming, he said. Ahluwalia lauded the state's performance in the agriculture sector and the improvement in the health and education sectors. He urged the state government to put in more efforts to reduce infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.

ASEB incurring monthly deficit of Rs 45 cr

Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, June 14 – Without speedy measures on the part of the Government to bail them out, the Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB) and its successor companies are sure to face a serious situation in the immediate future.

For, the ASEB and its successor companies have been incurring a deficit of nearly Rs 45 crore every month for purchasing power from the open markets, meeting the hiked fuel prices and clearing the enhanced salary bills etc of their employees, among others, ASEB sources said.

Moreover, despite its procuring around 120 to 150 MW of power during the peak-load-hours from the open markets at the rate of Rs 3.50 per unit, the State is facing these days a shortfall of around 120 MW to 150 MW of power during the peak-load hours. Instances are there when this shortfall touched 200 MW.

Again, the State is now facing a short supply of around 50 MW of power during the off-peak-load-hours. It is procuring around 50 MW of power during the off-peak-load-hours at the rate of around Rs 4 per unit, say the sources.

On June 10, the peak-load-hour power demand of the State was over 1,050 MW, while its off-peak-load–hour power demand that day was 714 MW. Against these demands, the power availability of the State that day was 950 MW and 660 MW during peak-load-hours and off-peak-load-hours respectively.

On June 6, the peak-load-hour power demand of the State was 1,049 MW and the shortfall during the period that day was around 177 MW, said the sources.

Hike in the prices of gas has burdened the ASEB and its successor companies with an additional expenditure of Rs 22 crore per month, while for additional power purchase they are spending an additional amount of around Rs 10 crore.

They are spending an additional amount of around Rs 10 crore to clear the enhanced salary bills and Rs 5 crore to clear the enhanced pension bills of their employees

During the lean season, the ASEB and its successor power companies have to depend more on the gas-based thermal power and their prayers for adjustment of the recent hikes in the prices of fuel with the power bills have been pending with the Assam Electricity Regulatory Commission (AERC).

The ASEB and the successor companies had to pay even at the rate of around Rs 6 per unit for the purchase of power they made from the open market, said the sources.

The present situation demands that the ASEB and its successor companies should be allowed to realize, as fuel price, between 55 paisa and 60 paisa against each unit of power, from their power consumers, said the sources.

Land erosion hurdle in Majuli’s claim

GUWAHATI, June 14 – The world’s biggest human-inhabited river island Majuli within Jorhat sub-division, despite being a repository of the unique Vaishnavite culture and tradition, may indeed find the going uphill in getting UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site even as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has mounted a fresh initiative to get it listed, disclosed Prof Christopher Young, an e-mail received here from London said.

Prof Young, who is a UNESCO expert on world heritage sites and Head of the World Heritage and International Policy, Department of English Heritage, was speaking at the Nehru Centre in London on Saturday night while releasing the international edition of coffee table book Assam published by Nanda Talukdar Foundation of East Sarania, Guwahati.

The book, which has been well received in the domestic market, is presently making steady inroads in the international arena. The Nehru Centre of UK along with the Assamese community had taken upon themselves to get the book released in London where Prof Christopher Young, Lord Anit Dholakia and renowned poet Elizabeth Dercy Zones, among others, took part.

Prof Young, though a self-professed Assam lover, nevertheless sheepishly admitted that he had never visited Assam so far, but had fallen in love with the State, specially after getting involved with the Majuli project. “I am really excited about Majuli, and this book has made my effort to get the World Heritage Site tag even easier for me,” admitted Prof Young.

Prof Young is consulted by the UNESCO every year before including any new place as World Heritage Site and most of the Asian sites are listed only after his recommendation. “The problem with Majuli is that it is beyond preservation. World heritage sites obviously need to be preserved and the tag helps in better preservation. But Majuli is beyond that. That is the real problem for UNESCO. Going by other yardsticks of culture and tradition, it would have been much easier,” he reasoned.

River island Majuli is being constantly eroded by the mighty Brahmaputra and this has made its case more difficult while trying to make its way into the World Heritage Site list. There has been a growing campaign back in Assam for almost a decade, but concerted and organised efforts by the authorities concerned have been under way with the help of Prof Young only since 2008. The first such effort was launched in 2004, when it was kept in the Tentative List.

Majuli is home to a number of Vaishnavite sattras (monasteries) which are run by a complex tradition with a 500-year-old lineage.

“The ASI is once again building up the case this year and I am surely going to back it up. In this connection I believe coffee table book Assam will be immensely helpful in clearing that hurdle. So I am confident,” opined Prof Young.

The Central Government has once again renominated Majuli river island for inscription in the World Heritage Site list under the ‘Cultural Landscape’ category. After losing the battle in 2006, Majuli returned and gave a stiff fight in 2008 and 2010, and now again in 2011.

“Hopefully, Majuli will be successful this time” he said, a sentiment echoed by Lord Dholakia, whose love for the State took him to Assam. “It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is simply a paradise on earth. The time is ripe to promote tourism and the book has come out at the most opportune moment, especially for the non-Assamese audience,” he said, adding that on Monday there will be a full scale seminar on Assam at the House of Lords.

Another Assam lover, Elizabeth Darcy Zones, who is a poet, attended the function which was followed by a lively Bihu dance presented by Ranjit Gogoi’s troupe. As per her own confession, poet Zones finds the lush tea gardens of Assam very inspiring. She plans to visit Assam next year to pen a potful of poems about tea growers and the ‘cuppa that cheers’.

“I am thinking of visiting Assam in 2012 as my next volume of poems will have a section devoted to Assam tea. Given Assam’s importance in tea culture and production and the whole ritual of tea drinking, I need to step into the landscape and meet some of Assam’s tea people,” Elizabeth said while thanking the book for helping her to understand Assam tea better.

Prominent London-based journalist of The Telegraph Amit Roy and Managing Editor of Assam, Mrinal Talukdar then took the floor for an interactive session with the jam-packed audience at the Nehru Centre in a bid to change the negative perception about Assam.

The evening was organised by the Nehru Centre of the UK-based Indian Embassy along with Rini Kakati on behalf of the Assamese community of London.