Assam MLAs repeat the demand for a separate time zone for the northeast

India's expanse justifies many time zones

India is the seventh largest country in the world, boasting a breadth of 2,933 kilometres west to east, covering over 28 degrees of longitude. Despite this vast territory, India has clung on to a single timezone. What some Assam MLAs' submission of a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — seeking a separate time zone for the seven northeastern states — reminds us is that there are strong arguments for multiple time zones in India.

The whole point of having different time zones is that everyone on earth wants it to be noon when the sun climbs to the highest point in the sky. This is what drives other gigantic nations like the US and Russia to adopt multiple time zones. Yet, independent India chose to collapse its vast longitudinal variations into a unified time zone centred on Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, because this was seen as a tool of building the nation at its birth. But now that we are a strong and confident nation, the idea of having multiple time zones to match our vastness no longer smacks of a separatist threat. If we can have new states such as Telangana, why not new time zones to embrace India's diversity?

Time zones should match natural cycles, exhorting citizens to rise at dawn, work through daylight, and seek rest after sunset. But over in the northeast, the Indian Standard Time is forcing citizens to report to work when much of their day is already over, long after neighbours in Myanmar and Bangladesh begin work. The wasting of daylight also means wasting of precious electric power, in short supply across the country. Thanks to a single time zone extending all the way from Dong in Arunachal Pradesh to the westernmost point on the Gujarat coast, economic loss is colossal. It is high time we revisited IST and multiplied it.


Will produce cacophony and chaos

Srijana Mitra Das

The northeast's demand for a separate time zone is totally pointless — and potentially harmful. Going by current state-based political showmanship, the cry for a separate time zone won't stop at the northeast. Who's to say hefty states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the former the size of Germany, the latter of the United Kingdom — won't demand their own time zones? And considering how there's a call to now carve Uttar Pradesh into four states, how many time zones will that mean? Hence, giving into any one separate time zone demand will only produce more.

In practical terms, this will increase the 'delay' coefficient in India, a country already notorious for its highly flexible sense of time. As babus take extended breaks and trains often run days late, 'Indian Standard Time' has become a recognised term for delays. Adding separate time zones will only add chaos, not clarity. In the context of vital government, security or financial information sent from point A to B, but lingering in the ether if the office at the other end has already shut, this is a chilling prospect.

Further, arguments about power or energy being saved with different time zones are also futile. If northeasterners are rising earlier now, they're presumably spending that extra time in productive activity, like office or school. The same electricity and energy would be used during the later hours people worked if the time zone were changed. Between calculating airy-fairy gains and losses dangling nebulously between time zones and daylight savings, we're diverting attention from far more pressing issues, daylight robbery to night-time rapes, surrounding us. We should emulate China — which encompasses four different time zones in width but runs strictly on one — and ensure that our time is uniformly a good one, not split into several cacophonic clocks.

Assam minister to prove 8 people can have food for Rs 20

Guwahati, July 31 : Assam Agriculture Minister Nilomoni Sen Deka today said he would prove that eight people could have a proper meal for just Rs. 20 after his comment triggered widespread protests and strong reactions in the state. All major parties cutting across political ideologies had condemned it. Despite Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi distancing himself from Mr Deka's comments, the minister said, "I will not apologise for the comment - there is no question at all. Within a week I will call a press conference and explain to everyone how it is possible (meal for eight at Rs. 20)." '8 people can have food for Rs 20' Mr Deka, who is also the Horticulture and Food Processing Minister of the state, had earned the ire of the people by saying last week that eight persons can have a proper meal for Rs. 20, which means the cost of a single meal is just Rs. 2.5. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had distanced himself from the comment saying it was Mr Deka's personal view. "I have never said that I will get a meal for Rs. 2.50. I do not know why he (Deka) said it and with what context. This was his personal view," Mr Gogoi had said. With Mr Deka reiterating his comment, various organisations across the state came out on the streets during the day and protested over the minister's meal remark. Many even burnt his effigies.

Vast areas in Dhalai under encroachment

KARIMGANJ, July 29 – During the last few years, a section of miscreants from Mizoram have encroached along border areas in South Assam.

Hundreds of acres of Assam land at Dhalai forest range have been encroached upon by Mizo miscreants.

It may be mentioned that in Hawaithung under Dhalai a total of 29,312 hectares of reserved forest land exists. From Vairentee police gate of Mizoram, Assam land starts.

Following negligence of Cachar police administration and Cachar forest division, Mizo people have uprooted a border pillar in Paglacherra and encroached on vast areas of Assam land. People of Bhaga disclosed that Paglacherra incident is not a single such case. Hundreds of acres of Assam land in Dholakhol, Hawaithung, Lailapur Frenchnagar have been encroached upon by Mizo people. Such incidents have been occurring with the active connivance of Mizoram police. It is learnt that the Mizoram government has set up police outpost, constructed roads, electricity office in Assam land by encroaching on vast areas of Assam land.

Mizo miscreants have also attacked villagers along with the inter-State border and snatched away cows, buffaloes etc. If the villagers protest against such incident, then the Mizoram police allegedly threaten the villagers.

People of Bhaga claim that in 1994, following border dispute, a tripartite meeting was held in New Delhi which was convened by the Central Government. The meeting gave responsibility to the Survey of India to conduct survey to identity the inter-State border and adopted a resolution on maintenance of status quo along the border, though the Mizoram Government has been continuously violating the Central Government instruction and encouraged the Mizo people and miscreants to capture Assam land.

Assamese trader flees abductors' den

SILCHAR: BaharUddinBarbhuiya (28), a betel-leaf planter of Hailakandi district in Assam, who was whisked away by miscreants at gunpoint on July 7, managed to escape from the captivity of his abductors on Tuesday.

Police said Bahar was kept somewhere in the jungles of Mizoram near the Assam border by suspected militants. However, on early Tuesday when Mizoram police were on a hunt for the miscreants in the area, they ran away from their den, leaving Bahar behind.

He then escaped from the place and trekked through jungles for hours to reach the Assam side of the border and called up his family to inform them about his whereabouts. His family members, Assam Police and CRPF started a search in the jungles in and around Ramnathpur in south Hailakandi and found him. They escorted him to Hailakandi police station and later he was admitted to a local civil hospital.

A visibly weak Bahar said he was held captive virtually without any food over the past fortnight. He added the kidnappers would torture him and shift him from one place to another every night in the hills covered by thick forest. He is undergoing treatment at the hospital as per doctors' advice. Family sources said the abductors demanded Rs 40 lakh as ransom for his release, but no money was paid to them. His release came as a big relief to his family, which is fasting during the month of Ramzan. Police said the United Democratic Liberation Army (Udla), a mixed rebel outfit of Bru (Reang) and Bengali Muslims, were suspected to be behind the kidnapping of Bahar, who hails from Betcherra village in south Hailakandi.

Forgotten Assam

by Kishalay Bhattacharjee

Assam violence 2012

“Public memory is short” is a bit of a cliché. As is “the media suffers from selective amnesia”. But clichés don’t necessarily mean they are irrelevant or incorrect. Each year, the Mumbai blasts anniversary is covered with rants from Mumbaikars and Bollywood celebrities. The Uphaar theatre tragedy is remembered every year. Rightly so. Each of these tragedies should be remembered till there is a sense of justice for the victims. But I have never been able to comprehend, leave alone explain, the methodology used to select the “horrific” events.

Let me try and explain where I am coming from? It has been exactly a year since the violence in Assam in which more than 100 people were killed and over 2.5 lakh people were displaced. Some put the figure at five lakh. The violence went on as late as October. Given the skewed coverage of Assam otherwise, it was more than adequately covered by national and international media. But a year later not one publication or television channel I have read or watched, recalls what happened in Kokrajhar and adjoining districts. 3500 people are still living in refugee camps. Three persons are still reported missing. An undocumented but significant number of students were forced to drop out and have failed to get readmission.

The violence erupted on July 19, 2012 – but the simmering tension between the Bengali-speaking Muslims and Bodo tribals was palpable for a long time. Historically, land has been at the heart of this conflict and some of the country’s worst ethnic cleansing riots have been staged in these plains. 2012, however, was different. Social media fuelled by other factors took the tension far beyond the geography of Lower Assam into cities in “mainland” India. Thousands of people studying or working in cities like Pune and Bangalore and Mumbai who looked anything remotely like tribals of northeast India had to flee in fear of a backlash. Doctored videos of torture of Rohingiya Muslims went viral and violent protests were held even in cities like Mumbai.  National leaders claiming to represent Muslims started pouring in, countered equally by self-styled “Hindu nationalists”. The Prime Minister was also there. So was Rahul Gandhi (who allegedly sulked after the pilot of the chopper he was travelling in refused to fly him back due to bad weather).

Analytically the conflict may have been because of assimilation, identity, language, territory and autonomy but the core problem has been and continues to be the denial of justice to victims and a flawed policy of the Indian government regarding surrender of armed militants. The availability of weapons and blanket amnesty to people who have murdered hundreds have allowed a culture of lawlessness in which even law enforcing agencies find it difficult to operate. In one year this stretch of land has witnessed more tension than reconciliation. One of the armed underground leaders was released from jail like several of his colleagues, one of whom was responsible for the worst terrorist attack in Assam which killed 100 people and injured 700 in one day. This attack was just 20 days before Mumbai was attacked in 2008.

While more actors have been added to the narrative, mistrust has only deepened and the undercurrent of discontent runs strong. But for most of the media this is a non-story which doesn’t merit coverage. In postscript I am reminded of a prophetic dispatch by journalist M S Prabhakara in 1974 in The Economic and Political Weekly where he said that “suspension of agitation by Bodo Sahitya Sabha in November 1974 relaxed some tension but this may not mean an end to the continuing assertion of sub regional nationalisms in Assam”. Such a dispatch would fail to meet the standards set by today’s news requirements.

Centre turns down Assam plea on sugar buying

GUWAHATI: It's the end of the road for Northeastern states which were seeking special dispensation in case of central government's directive of buying sugar from open market and selling the same in public distribution system.

Centre has rejected Assam's plea and asked it to take to new system. Following this, Assam has decided to go for tendering for procuring sugar from private mill owners. Union ministry of food and agriculture has turned down Assam government's request for more time for implementation of new system of buying sugar from the open market and selling at subsidised price.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi on Friday said: "Centre has informed us couple of days back that there cannot be special dispensation for North East India." The chief minister who has taken up the matter with Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh added: "In this situation we have no other option but to issue tender for procuring sugar from private mill owners ."

Union ministry of food and agriculture has directed that the supply of subsidised sugar through ration shops has been withdrawn, the ministry would allow Rs 18.50 subsidy to state government that will allow sugar through rationing system at Rs 13.50 per Kg.

Centre agrees to pro-talks Ulfa demand on ST status for five Assam tribes

NEW DELHI: In keeping with a demand of the United Liberation Front of Asom, which is in the middle of peace talks with the Centre and the Assam government, the Union home ministry has agreed to grant Scheduled Tribe status to five communities with the greater objective of keeping illegally settled Bangladeshi immigrants at bay.

Although the tripartite agreement is yet to be formally inked, the decision to grant ST status to the five tribes-Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch-Rajbongshi and Tai-Ahom-was finalised during a meeting between representatives of the Centre, the Assam government and the pro-talks Ulfa faction led by the outfit's chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa in Delhi recently.

The meeting, chaired by the then home secretary R K Singh, was attended by the Centre's interlocutor P C Haldar, Assam's additional director general of police (special branch) Khagen Sarma and Rajkhowa who led a team of 26 pro-peace Ulfa members.

Government sources involved in the peace talks, which began once the Rajkhowa-led faction signed the suspension of operation pact with the Centre on September 3, 2011, told TOI, "Agreeing to the demand for ST status for the five tribes will help save Assam."

According to sources, ST status will ensure land rights for the tribes, prevent alienation of land and there will be greater number of reserved seats for them in the Assam assembly.

The home ministry, the Assam government as well as the peace interlocutor agreed that according to ST status to the tribes would thwart a "take over" of territory in Assam by Bangladeshi immigrants (read Muslim immigrants) who have settled in the state. "It is a genuine problem in Assam where recently several people died in communal clashes between indigenous communities and suspected Bangladeshi immigrants," a senior official said on the condition of anonymity.

In line with a related demand of the Ulfa's pro-talks faction, the Centre is likely to take step to issue work permits for Bangladeshi immigrants settled in Assam and effect an amendment to the 1955 Citizenship Act so that children born to the immigrants are not accorded citizenship by birth.

The home ministry will now impress upon the ministry of tribal affairs the importance of the specific point agreed to before the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes issues a notification. Once the notification comes through, after the tripartite agreement is signed and a cabinet nod, upper Assam will become a tribal dominated area. Kokrajhar, Karbi-Anglong and North Cachar are three other districts with tribal dominance.

The Ulfa is constituted by men from Moran and Motok tribes, but the leadership is largely Ahom. The Morans and Motoks are ethnic communities based primarily in the upper Assam districts of Sibsagar, Tinsukia and Dibrugarh. There are about four lakh Moran-Motoks in the state.

Floods hit northeast India, washing away over 300 villages

NEW DELHI, July 5 : Monsoon floods have now hit the northeastern Indian state of Assam, washing away more than 300 villages, just days after the natural calamity devastated the northern state of Uttarakhand, killing thousands, a senior government official said Thursday.

"Heavy rains have triggered flash floods which swept away 300 villages across eight districts of the state, located on the banks of overflowing Brahmaputra river, displacing thousands and destroying crops. There have been no reports of any casualty yet," he said.

The state government has started rescue and rehabilitation operations, the official said.

Heavy rainfall triggered flash floods and landslides, sweeping away towns and roads, in Uttarakhand last month. Some 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the floods.

Assam floods: 250 villages affected, 75,000 people displaced

Guwahati: The flood situation in Assam continued to remain critical today with nearly 250 villages under water, affecting over 75,000 people across nine districts.
The data of Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) showed that the Brahmaputra was flowing over danger mark at Nematighat in Jorhat district.

Flood affected people row a banana raft to move to safe place at Bongaon village in Nagaon, Assam on Monday. PTI
Flood affected people row a banana raft to move to safe place at Bongaon village in Nagaon, Assam on Monday. PTI
Two of its tributaries—Dhansiri and Jia Bharali—were also flowing over the danger mark at Numaligarh in Golaghat and NT Road crossing in Sonitpur, respectively.
In nine districts, 248 villages have been submerged, ASDMA said.
As per official sources, over 75,000 people have been affected in this spate of flood. A 12-year-old boy has died at Jengpuri in Morigaon district.
Flood and erosion have devastated human habitation and crop fields in Morigaon’s Bhuragaon and Mayong revenue circles.
Around 5,000 hectares of agricultural land with standing crops, including rice, have been damaged, it said.
The Brahmaputra has left 100 families homeless at Jengpuri, Nathgaon and Boralimari under Bhuragaon revenue circles of Morigaon district.
Three relief camps have been set up in Dhemaji district, where nearly 1,000 people are taking shelter.
Six roads, one bridge and three culverts have been damaged in Golaghat district and an embankment each breached at Madanpur and Chandpur in Karimganj district, the Authority said.
In Dhemaji, erosion has been noticed on Khalihamari Butikur Road. Temporary restoration work has been carried out at the affected stretches.

NHRC Terms 2010 Encounter by Assam Police as Fake

Holding a 2010 encounter by Assam Police as "fake," NHRC today asked the state government why compensation should not be recommended to the next of kin of two persons who were killed in it.

In a statement, the Commission said it has found "several loopholes" in the police theory of a genuine encounter in Karbi Anglong district in 2010 and has held the incident as a grave violation of human rights.

"The National Human Rights Commission has held an encounter of two persons by Assam Police on 19th May, 2010 as fake," it said.

The NHRC issued a show cause notice to Assam government as to why the Commission should not recommend monetary relief to the next of kin of victims Chandra Tokbi and Ananda Teron. The state government has been given six weeks time to respond without fail, it said.

As per the intimation received in the Commission from Additional DGP, two "extremists" Chandra Tokbi and Ananda Teron were killed in an encounter with the police in Bokulia area of Karbi Anglong.

"The Commission has found that the police version showing bullets to have been fired during the encounter from the weapons recovered from their person was not corroborated by an independent report from the ballistic expert.

"There was no report from the finger print expert to indicate that the weapons recovered had fingerprints of the victims or gun shot residue was taken from victims' hands to indicate that they fired the weapons," it said.

The fact that the weapons had not been properly and individually sealed after the incident meant that their value as evidence was "dubious", it said, adding there was no proof that either Tokbi or Teron had handled or fired from the weapons because the police did not conduct the essential tests.

"The timings of the encounter in the early morning at 03:30 a.m. In the darkness also raised doubts about the genuineness of the encounter as no night vision devices were recovered from the dead bodies, nor the police reported that their team carried any.

"The autopsy report of Teron established that his left leg had a fracture with the dislocation of the femur. It is unlikely that a man of this sort of injury would have been on a hill engaged in an encounter with the police," it said.