03 March 2015

Vistara to begin operations to Northeast from April 2

Vistara to begin operations to Northeast from April

Vistara, the Tata-Singapore Airlines joint venture carrier, on Tuesday announced plans to launch services from April to Guwahati and Bagdogra in the Northeast, targeting more high-density traffic airports in the country.

The announcement comes close on the heels of the private airline entering south-India with the launch of air services to Hyderabad from the national capital.

 
 
The latest full-service airline, after state-run Air India and private carrier Jet Airways, Vistara currently operates across five domestic airports - New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Goa and Hyderabad, which are all high-density traffic airports for one reason or the other.

Vistara will operate daily services from April 2 connecting Delhi with Guwahati and Bagdogra, the airline said in a release on Tuesday. After a brief stop-over at Guwahati, the flight will proceed to Bagdogra, a gateway airport to several tourist destinations in the Northeast, the airline said.

"The addition of this route reaffirms our commitment to promote regional connectivity. We are very happy to expand our operations to both Guhawati and Bagdogra," the release quoted Vistara chief executive, Phee Teik Yeoh, as saying.

The Tata-Singapore Airlines joint venture launched its services on January 9 2015 with flight services to Mumbai and Ahmedabad from its base in the national capital. The airline currently has five Airbus A320 planes in its fleet and plans to induct one more by April.

Vistara, which has 51 per cent holding of the Tata Group with the rest lying with Singapore Airlines, also plans to fly international. However, the current regulations allow only those domestic carriers to fly abroad which have completed five years of local operations and have a fleet of 20 aircraft.

The government, while proposing to do away with this rule, has sought to link overseas operations with a policy on mandatory operations on regional and remote routes. While Vistara along with new budget airline AirAsia India wants the government to do away with such norms, the established players are opposing any such move on the grounds that domestic connectivity would suffer if the norms were abolished.

If the rules are done away with, an airline, after becoming eligible for flying overseas markets, will deploy a larger part of its capacity on the international and trunk domestic routes, leaving the regional connectivity to suffer, Federation of Indian Airlines had recently said in its submission to the Civil Aviation Ministry.

These (proposed) guideline will have a devastating effect on the growth and development of emerging India, the state governments and the aviation industry, it had said.

Mizoram Students Demand Resignation of Chief Minister

http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTG5_ud-uZfZLp33xzaLZ1j-AGbfZwOKC0IwEzClWOQlrzfyqzYzQAizawl, Mar 3 : Thousands of students took part in a rally at Aizawl on Monday to protest against the Mizoram government’s inability to disburse its share of scholarships that many school and college students across the state are entitled to. They also demanded ouster of the Congress government and resignation of five-time CM Lal Thanhawla.

Student leaders said they have been forced to take to the streets because the state government has been unable to give a specific time-frame in which it will disburse its share of scholarship money — 25% of pre-matric minority scholarships for the 2013-14 period and 10% of post-matric tribal scholarships for the 2014-15 period, which together amount to almost Rs 1,300 lakhs.

The former scholarship is disbursed by the Minority Affairs Ministry, the latter by the Tribal Affairs Ministry.

The state government has, meanwhile, said it was intimated only recently by the Tribal Affairs Ministry that the state has to chip in 10% of the post-matric tribal scholarship (one of two scholarship schemes addressed by the mass rally) as the state’s share even as the it was earlier funded 100% by the Centre. The government admitted it did not immediately have the necessary funds, but that it will disburse its share within the month of March itself.

Leaders of the thousands of lively, mostly undergraduate students who took part in the rally said they were merely demanding what was rightfully theirs, but that they were also peeved at Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, who said at a students’ conference on Saturday that the full scholarship cannot be had through mass rallies and that students are not attending institutes of learning for scholarships.

Lal Thanhawla had also told delegates at the first annual meet of student unions from different Aizawl colleges that students ought to study for their future livelihoods and that he was impressed by many poor students who earn their way through college. He also took a swipe at student leaders saying “there are some who are leaders for future political gain.”

The students who rallied in Aizawl on Monday shouted slogans aimed at the CM and his remarks, and also called for the CM’s resignation saying “he looks down upon students” and “addresses us in an uncivil manner.”

The rally was called last Friday by the Mizo Students’ Union, one of two main student unions in Mizoram, with the cooperation of various colleges’ internal student unions.

MSU president P C Lalrinhlua said students “can no longer trust the government” because it’s various statements issued over the weekend made conflicting statements about when the state would disburse its share of the scholarships.

The rally saw several thousand college students converging at Vanapa Hall, located in the heart of Aizawl, from both north and south as they shouted slogans and carried placards.

The protest march was peaceful, but student leaders have threatened more strikes or even a bandh if their demands are not met in the following weeks.

Social media has been rife with arguments for and against the students’ rally as well, with some supporting it and criticising the government for the financial constraints it is currently in, while others allege most students are likely not eligible for the scholarships, which is given based on parents’ incomes.

The government has also said it has to “disburse the scholarships even to students who officials personally know are unlikely to be eligible for it because they all have income certificates issued by Deputy Commissioners’ offices.”
02 March 2015

Deal Signed On Grape Sale From Mizoram

Aizawl, Mar 2 : Mizoram’s Champhai Grape Growers’ Society (CGGS) and Radiant Manufacturers Limited have signed a deal in Guwahati recently in which the Guwahati-based winemaking company agreed to buy 3.6 lakh litres of concentrated grape juice from the CGGS annually.

Lalremsiama, Sub Divisional Horticulture Officer and Managing Director of the CGGS said that the agreement was inked on behalf of the Radiant Manufacturer Limited by its Director Roshan Chand and three representatives of the CGGS.

The Radiant Manufacturers Ltd, which used to procure concentrated grape juice from Goa, would now buy from Champhai.

The grape growers, which established its own winery at Tlangsam village in Champhai district, were worried that their sales would plummet after the new liquor law replacing the stringent dry law was in place in Mizoram for the first time in 17 years.

Thangseia, general secretary of the CGGS opined that disposing around 15,000 quintals of grape expected to be produced this year would be a difficult task after the change of the State Government’s liquor policy and the deal with the Guwahati-based wine-making company was a welcome step.

Shortage of Funds Could Hit India-Bangladesh Rail Project: Tripura Minister

Shortage of Funds Could Hit India-Bangladesh Rail Project: Tripura Minister

Agartala, Mar 2 :  The India-Bangladesh railway project to connect the North East with Bangladesh will be further delayed as no funds were allocated for acquisition of land to extend the tracks in the Railway Budget, a state minister said today.

"We had been long demanding for early completion of the 15-km long railway track to connect Agartala with Akhaura in Bangladesh, so that people of this land locked state can travel through the neighbouring country.

"But, no funds were allocated for acquisition of land in the Rail Budget. The ongoing project will be further delayed," Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey said in his reaction to the budget.

He said the initial project cost was Rs. 271 crore and in addition acquisition was pending for 100 acres of land on both sides, which would require Rs. 302 crore.

Of the 15 km railway line, five km of tracks was in the Indian side and the remaining in Bangladesh, the minister said adding, it was an important connectivity to boost economy of the region and create a passage for the people with the rest of the country.

Agartala is about 1,700 km from Kolkata if travelled through the Chicken's Neck, a narrow strip connecting the northeastern states to the rest of India, which would be reduced to 350 km if travelled through Bangladesh.

Curse Of The Black Gold: How Meghalaya Depends On Coal

By Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, Kupli

The scale of water pollution is evident from the corrosion scene on the bed, banks and the surroundings of the river Kupli which flows into ...

Ibina Sohbar took over the coal business in 2006 after her husband's death. She owns a patch of land used as a coal depot in the market place of the Shallang area of Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills. She rents the patch out to other mine owners who use it as a dump for their extracted coal. Ibina also owns a few mine quarries. The money she has made from this micro coal empire has helped her support her family of 20. No wonder then that she is apprehensive of the consequences of the ban on coal mining in the state.

While Ibina talks to us, at times comically, it is apparent she doesn't trust us. She repeatedly asks us if we are 'NGT', officials from the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

On April 17, 2014, the NGT passed an interim order stopping mining and transportation of coal in the state. Almost a month later, on May 9, the mining ban was formally implemented by the state government. Nearly everyone in the coal belt curses the NGT. "If the ban isn't lifted we won't have anything to eat. Everything here comes from coal," Ibina says. 

Promise of black gold"It was as if a bomb blast had occurred and they shut the entire thing," remembers S Suchiang, village headman of Shangpung village in the West Jaintia Hills district. "They should have given us some time to look for an alternative means of livelihood. Even the transportation of the coal wasn't executed properly when they allowed us to transport the extracted coal."

Shangpung is a small village in the heavily-mined coal belt of the West Jaintia Hills. Almost everyone here owns a concrete house, beautifully constructed and painted in bright colours. It is difficult to miss the biggest building in the village that houses a church and a school. Maruti cars are ubiquitous and seem to be the preferred choice of personal transport. The money that the coal brought infused a new level of prosperity into the lives of locals. "We agree that the mountains have suffered a lot because of mining, but the situation is not as bad as they claim. It has been going on for around a century now. The pollution is more from the Assam side, from the Dimasa area. The dam on the river Kupli is getting affected by their mining. They mine coal right next to the river and dump the waste water directly into the river," says Suchiang.

The NGT's order came after a petition was filed by the All Dimasa Students' Union (ADSU) from the Dima Hasao district in the neighbouring state of Assam. The ADSU petition contested that the mining in the coal belts and the coal stockpiles in the Jaintia Hills area were polluting streams and the rivers flowing into the Dima Hasao district. The student body's claim was based on a study conducted by OP Singh of the North Eastern Hills University (NEHU) in Shillong. The study tested the quality of water in the rivers in the Jaintia hills district to find that the high sulphur content of the coal in the region gets washed into the rivers, making the water acidic. The polluted streams and rivulets merge with the river Kupli which flows from Meghalaya to Assam's Dima Hasao district carrying the acidic water with it. The polluted water not only kills aquatic life, but also renders it unfit for drinking or agricultural use.

Digging it DangerouslyIn its order, the NGT had questioned the manner in which the mining is conducted in the state and termed it unscientific and illegal. Meghalaya's mines, concentrated primarily in the Jaintia Hills, are commonly known as 'rat hole mines'. Large cranes are used to dig pits ranging from 100 to 300 feet into the hill until they hit the layer of coal. Labourers then crawl into the holes to dig out the coal. The pits have make-shift bamboo stairs for the labourers to use. Cranes then  pull up barrows filled with coal from the tunnels. In the more 'traditional' mines, labourers carry the coal out on their backs in conical bamboo baskets. While the open cast mining done in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Odisha destroys the hills entirely, rat hole mines leave the top cover of the hill intact. But conditions here are much more dire. Safety gear is not used and conditions inside the mines are dangerous. "Manmade pillars or payas are built to prevent the mines from caving in but quite often they collapse," says Elisa Manikken, project manager with Impulse, an NGO. The incident which set off the domino effect which led to the ban was the case of 15 coal miners being fatally trapped inside a mine in July 2012 in the South Garo Hills.

Impulse NGO Network is one of the parties that had filed a PIL against illegal coal mining in the state. For the past eight years, they have been demanding an immediate shut down of mining activities which, according to their estimates, employed approximately 70,000 child labourers four years back. The coal seams below the ground vary from 8 inches to 3 ft in height, for which children are used to manually dig out the coal. The burrows are pitch-dark and the ground is slippery with constant water seepage. Stale toxic air makes it difficult to breathe inside.

And then there is the environmental devastation. Toxic mine run-off, which has to be constantly pumped out, flows into the streams and rivers. This becomes a major concern during the monsoons. In December 2014, newspapers reported that two rivers flowing to Bangladesh from Meghalaya had turned blue, an annual occurrence apparently due to the high acid content in the water. The colour of the Lukha river in East Jaintia Hills district and Myntdu river in West Jaintia Hills district had changed to a bright sky blue. In its 2012 report, the Meghalaya State Pollution Control board blamed mine run-off and acidic effluents from the mines for this.

HH Mohrmen, an environmental activist in Jowai, Meghalaya, has been voicing concerns about the deteriorating environment in the state. According to him, the first incidences of fish dying in the mountain streams were reported in late 1980s by locals living downstream of the river Myntdu. This was when commercial mining picked up in the Jaintia Hills district and spread across Meghalaya. Over the years mining increased in leaps and bounds and so did the acid content in water.

The dam on the river Kupli at Umrangso, which gives electricity to Meghalaya and Assam, suffers as well. The water has changed the colour of its surroundings to bright rust, visible with the reduced water level in this season. At the 275MW hydro electric project run by the North East Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO), officials find it tough to counter the acidity in the reservoir. The government of Meghalaya has been informed of the acidic corrosion of metallic parts and the resultant frequent failures of underwater parts - first noticed in 2006 - but no action has been taken.

"If the government is serious about it, all the materials to curb water pollution are available in the state. Limestone is widely used to neutralise the acidic effluent or Acid Mine Discharge from coal mines. Meghalaya is rich in limestone reserves, in a quantity much more than coal," says Mohrmen.

Mining PowerThe lack of political will in implementing the state mining policy to check unregulated mining and environmental degradation can be linked to vested interests. In its order, the NGT says that 'by such illegal mining of coal neither the government nor the people of the country are benefited'. 

The truth is every aspect of life in Meghalaya, including politics, is linked to the coal trade. While declaring his assets ahead of the elections, Mukul Sangma, Meghalaya's chief minister, had mentioned owning several non-agricultural lands including coal mine quarries in West Khasi Hills district, estimatedly worth upwards of Rs 2 crore. His wife and daughter too own several mines.

Mining in the region started with the advent of the British but took off commercially in the late 1980s. According to a mine owner it is easy for anyone to get into the coal business. "Businessman from outside the state, mostly Marwaris, finance you to start mining in return for a certain amount of coal. It's like a loan. So, any Tom, Dick and Harry can start if he can find a mine. All you need is a small investment and a lot of luck," he says.

The money made from coal mining made it possible for coal barons in the state to kick start their political career. The Directorate of Mineral Resources (DMR) earned royalty at the rate of Rs 675 per metric tonne of coal. As per the 2010 DMR reports, 57 lakh metric tonnes of coal were sent out of the state. Of this, 37 lakh metric tonnes were from the Jaintia Hills alone.

In a July 2014 parliamentary session, Vincent Pala, an MP from Meghalaya, mentioned that since the NGT ban on mining, many parents have had to sell their children to survive and that truck drivers and industrialist had stopped work. Pala owns 30 mines in the Sutnga area in the Jaintia Hills. The state faces a severe financial crunch because all along Meghalaya has been dependent on the royalty earned from coal mining. In February, Sangma had said that because the ban on mining, expected revenue generation in the state will go down by Rs 600 crore.

A report in the local daily, The Shillong Times, in December last year, mentioned varied ramifications of the ban. The crime graph had spiked in the coal belt areas. It also reported closure of several privately-run schools, local cement factories were affected and a major paper mill in the Assam, Cachar Paper Mill located in Barak valley faces a threat of closure.

Money from the coal trade not only gave power to the 'mafia', but also emboldened militants. Once a year before Christmas, mine owners have to pay protection money. For every truck of coal that went from the mine, militants would ask for Rs 15,000. They charged  Rs 5000 for every entry door inside the mines. "Now, they have increased it to Rs 25,000 per truck and a flat Rs 50,000 for every mine dug. They charge  Rs 3 lakh if machines are used. But you can negotiate with them," says the mine owner. He fears that if the ban continues more people might take up arms or get involved in smuggling coal. Considering the plea of the miners to allow the sale of already extracted coal, the NGT had ruled that all royalties from mining would go to the government which, in turn, would use this money for the rehabilitation of people and restoration of the environment. 

As indicated in the report, nearly 6.3 million tonnes of extracted coal valued at Rs 3078 crores is lying out in the open in Meghalaya. The royalty payable to the state in reference to the extracted coal would be approximately Rs 400 crores. Locals contest the survey done by the officials to reach the figures mentioned by the NGT. "A lot of money was expected but it hasn't reached the government because they [mine owners] keep asking for more time. So we gave them the option that in case they are not able to sell the extracted coal which is lying out in the open should be put back into the mines," says Makinen.

The cost of prosperityHenry Lamin, in his book Pnar Economy and Society in Meghalaya (1995), observed that unlike tribals in other parts of India, the tribals of Meghalaya - the Jaintias in particular - didn't suffer from land alienation and exploitation from outsiders. While that may be true, trends reveal that poor people here too have lost their lands to rich local coal merchants or, as the NGT call them, the coal mafia. Any resource beneath the ground is considered public property but locals people believe that, because of the sixth schedule status of the state, they have exclusive access to these. The schedule also gives the community a right to distribute land to landless tribals. But the lure of coal has led to incidents of land grabbing in many parts of the state.

Coal mining and the easy disposable income it brings has also hiked prices of essential commodities. "Children are sent to Delhi or Bangalore to study. Some even go to China and Russia to become doctors. Gambling, alcoholism and prostitution had increased in coal-trade towns like Lad Rymbai," says Dr JN Shullai who runs an organisation called Mih Myntdu Community Social Welfare Association in Jowai. The organisation runs a programs of targeted intervention among sex workers and community monitoring. "There has been a rise in domestic violence in the state. The number of single mothers is going up in the Jaintia communities. For every 1000 sex workers we work with, around 600 turn out to be single mothers," she says. Meghalaya follows a matrilineal system where family property is inherited from the mother by the youngest daughter. However, most of the coal businesses are owned and run by male members. Coal barons spend heavily on consumer goods, automobiles and also on property. All of this is at stake.

At Phramer, on the road to Lad Rymbai from Jowai in Jaintia Hills district, people have stockpiles of coal in the depots, lying open on the roadside. The depot had workers, mostly women and children, who separated slate from coal, grinding it and mixing it with coal before the trucks take them away for sale. The labourers are all gone now. The local market which once was swarmed by people holds a deserted look. Shankar Sanuwar who has been working in the coal mines in Jaintia Hills since early 80s as a child labour laments the loss of livelihood. "We don't even have enough money to afford the fare back to our place. It's been around eight months since we received any payment," he says.

The loss of livelihood is a major concern for the migrant population in the state which entirely depended on the mines. Now with the mines shut most have gone back but some still remain working in the illegally operated mines. Mine owners protest that similar unscientific mining goes on the Assam's side but the NGT didn't take an action against them. While others fear that once the scientific mining policy is imposed it'll weed out thousands of small players, only the rich politicians and businessmen will be able to tap the reserves left. "There is no doubt that people have lost their livelihoods but we might have also saved many lives," says Rosanna Lyngdoh, board director, Impulse. "People should see this ban as a wakeup call. There are alternatives to livelihood but not life. There is no alternative to the environmental damage. And what happens when the coal reserves finish?"

Coal files: Estimates suggest that around 70,000 child labourers were employed in the 'rat hole' mines in the Jaintia Hills.

Government of Meghalaya estimates that coal reserves in the state are around 576 million tonnes.

Over 57 million tonnes of coal were dispatched from the state in 2009-2010, according to the last updated figure by the Directorate of Mineral Resources in Meghalaya.

Last month, CM Mukul Sangma had said that the expected revenue realisation of the state has gone down substantially by Rs 600 crores.

Northeast Studies Find Space in DU Curriculum Map

By Shreya Roy Chowdhury

New Delhi, Mar 2 : A Northeast Studies Programme (NEISP) has been approved by the council of the department of sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.

The proposal for a full-fledged course is yet to be placed before DU's academic council but an initial project - a "think tank" bringing together academics, administrators and police - will be launched on March 12.

"Since 2011, I have been conducting surveys on certain key issues in Delhi," Kamei Aphun of department of sociology said. "Some of these are that the academic curriculum doesn't talk about the northeast, inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the law and order apparatus in the face of discrimination and hate, improper guidelines and policies of the government and the role of the media. Then I figured out that it is best to bring all the representatives on one forum."

NEISP will first exist as a "think tank" featuring academics from JNU, JMI, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Guwahati), media professionals, Delhi Police and representatives from the DONER (Development of North Eastern Region) ministry and NEC (North Eastern Council).

"I have prepared a vision statement with seven points," Aphun said. "These include "northeast India today", "state, ethnicity and tribes", "dams, movements and violence", "education, church and civil society", "insurgency, counter-insurgency and gun-culture", "social problems such as youth unrest, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, alcoholism and development", "environment, culture and polity" and "government policies/programmes and problems of implementation".
26 February 2015

Mizoram Shut Down By Two Parallel Bandhs


Aizawl, Feb 26
Most of the areas of Mizoram was shut down by two parallel total bandhs on Wednesday as the opposition Mizo National Front enforced a 12-hour shut down to protest against rising prices of government services such as electricity and water supply charges.

The MNF is demanding roll back of hikes in electricity, water and government-supplied rice prices as well as a re-imposition of total prohibition (a demand echoed by Mizoram’s powerful Church and community organisations).

The Young Lai Association, a community organisation in the state’s southern Lai tribe-dominated area, also enforced day two of its indefinite bandh to demand better roads in Lawngtlai district.
The indefinite bandh is also being carried out at night, and YLA leaders have said they will not stop until the government assures them their demands will be met.

No bandh was enforced in the Chakma Autonomous District Council area, however, as residents voted in rural body polls to 81 Village Councils.

Thirty-two Congress candidates were declared elected unopposed in six Village Councils Tuesday after no other party fielded candidates in these areas.

J Hmingthanmawia, the Returning Officer at district headquarters Lawngtlai however said neither the overall turn-out nor results (votes began being counted after 4 pm) were available yet due to communication problems between polling stations and his office by the time of filing this report, but added there has been no reports of poll violence.

Pic Source: Vanglaini

Mizoram Eye 3rd Consecutive National Gold at Santosh Trophy

Mizoram, Santosh Trophy, Santosh Trophy Football, Football Santosh Trophy, Football News, Football Mizoram keeps its fingers crossed for the the third consecutive national gold.

Aizawl, Feb 26 : Defending champions Mizoram left from state capital Aizawl on Wednesday to take part at the Santosh Trophy to be played in Punjab. The state keeps its fingers crossed for the the third consecutive national gold – Mizoram won last year’s Santosh Trophy and bagged gold in the just-concluded National Games.

Mizoram beat both Meghalaya (3-0) and Tripura (2-0) in the qualifiers held at Assam to proceed to the Santosh Trophy’s final round, where the team will face Railways, Goa, Kerala and Delhi in the group matches.

The team features five fresh faces but all hopes are pinned on captain Zico Zoremsanga (who scored 9 goals last year) and F. Lalrinpuia alias Valpuia (who scored 5 goals).

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