01 September 2015

Houses of Manipur Minister, 5 MLAs Torched

Churachandpur, Sep 1 :  Three people have been killed after violence erupted in Churachandpur town last evening over three bills passed in the Manipur assembly yesterday. Indefinite curfew has been imposed in the area.

Five people were injured in burning incident and the houses of Manipur's health minister Phungzathang Tonsing and five other lawmakers were set on fire during the protests.

Groups opposed to the passing of three bills in the assembly -- that seek to regulate the entry of outsiders in the state through a permit system and carry out land reforms in the state -- went on rampage around 6 pm.

The lawmakers were targetted because none of them objected to the bills and allowed them to be passed, sources said. Their houses were set on fire and the mob prevented the police and fire engines from reaching the area. The minister and the lawmakers were reported to be safe.

Reports say the vehicle of Churachandpur Deputy Commissioner and his escort have also been torched.

The main objection, according to groups leading the protest, is to an amendment bill passed called Manipur Land Revenue & Land Reform Act (7th Amendment Bill 2015).

According to the protesters, this amendment will make tribal areas -- currently off limits to non-tribals -- accesible to all and lead to tribals, the Nagas and the Kukis, losing their land.

One of the clauses in the bills passed today is to set 1951 as the base year to identify non-indigenous people, who are regarded as outsiders by a section. The new law decrees that those who settled in Manipur before 1951 can have property rights. The rest will have to give up property and may even be asked to leave.

Protestors say most people living in the hill areas don't have exact records of when they settled in these parts, and hence any cut-off is impractical.

Manipur has been witnessing violent agitations over the last three years for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System.

The agitation is based on a belief that an influx of outsiders into the state has taken away jobs, and land from the indigenous people, unlike in states like neighbouring Nagaland, where the entry of outsiders is strictly regulated.
31 August 2015

Lifting The Liquor Ban in Mizoram: Will it Help The State?

By Ankush Saikia

Aizawl city by night.

The shop (below) is in a building in one of the crowded market areas of Aizawl with nothing to advertise it to the outside world. But a steady stream of people are entering it, clutching what looks like a booklet in their hands. Inside, a policeman keeps an eye as the merchandise is handed over to customers while four cashiers behind two counters write down details of the purchases in the booklets or liquor cards. A customer can buy six bottles of IMFL (750ml) and 10 bottles each of wine and beer every month for their "personal bonafide consumption". Visitors from outside the state can make purchases by producing their Inner Line Permit.

Liquor card holders queue up at a wine shop in Aizawl.

The state assembly passed the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition and Control Act (MLPCA) in 2014 and it came into force from 15 January 2015, replacing the earlier Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act (MLTPA). The first wine shop opened in Aizawl on 16 March 2015 and officials in the Excise & Narcotics Department (END) say they expect huge profits.

Mizoram shares its border with three states in the North East besides Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Three state-owned corporations have been chosen to operate retail outlets. There are private players too, but they face a challenge in finding a building owner willing to allow them to operate in the face of pressure from church bodies opposed to the lifting of prohibition. Picketing of wine shops by church volunteers has forced at least one private operator to shut shop. There are a total of 16 outlets all over the state, and the END has issued more than 52,000 liquor cards (at an annual fee of Rs 500).

A liquor card issued by the Excise and Narcotics Department.

Mizoram attained statehood on 20 February 1987 after the Mizo Accord was signed between the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the GoI in 1986. Pressure from civil society groups to control alcoholism led the government to enforce the MLTPA, 1995, from 20 February 1997, exactly a decade after Mizoram had become the 23rd state in the Indian Union. Amendments to the Act in 2007 and 2011 allowed fruits, especially grapes, to be turned into wine for sale by growers' societies.

All the while, IMFL and hooch continued to be available if you knew where to look, just like in Manipur and Nagaland where prohibition was in force as well. Rangvamual on the outskirts of Aizawl was one such area, with shanty houses populated by migrants from other parts of Mizoram and even Myanmar. Some houses sold hooch, as well as IMFL smuggled in from outside the state, and the trade continues. People still come down from Aizawl in the evenings to "RV", as it is commonly known, to buy hooch and IMFL.

Various brands of liquor being sold at a shop in Khawmawi village in Myanmar, just across the border from Zokhawthar in Mizoram.

In 2011, a Study Group on the MLTPA conducted a survey to find out whether total prohibition was helping the state, considering the easy availability of hooch and IMFL on the black market and the effect of the former on the health of drinkers. Hooch was increasingly being made from ethanol smuggled in from Myanmar. The survey concluded that a controlled environment for the distribution of liquor would work better. Hence limited opening hours (10am to 5pm), liquor cards with quotas, strict supervision from the END, and tighter implementation of laws. However, local newspapers have quoted ruling Congress party members as saying that if the lifting of prohibition doesn't work then they would recall the earlier Act, thus, in effect, hedging their bets.

According to END, between 1997 and 15 September 2014, 57 people died from the consumption of spurious liquor; a figure some say should be much higher. The survey also shows that there was a steep rise in cases of alcohol-related liver disease and psychiatric referrals for alcoholism during total prohibition. Opponents of the lifting of prohibition say it will lead to more money flowing out of Mizoram, while the local hooch sellers ensured that most of the money was kept in circulation within the state. So far, there hasn't been a marked decrease in the sale of hooch, probably because it is still cheaper than most legally-sold IMFL.

Zoramthanga, two-time ex-chief minister and the president of the MNF, says Mizo society is not yet ready for liquor to be sold openly. Vanlalruata, general secretary of the Central YMA (CYMA), makes the same point, adding that the government is not in a position to enforce strict controls on liquor sales. The enormously influential YMA or Young Mizo Association is a state-wide organisation of which every young Mizo is a member and remains one for life. 

According to Professor Margaret Zama of Mizoram University, in the pre-Christian times, zu or rice beer was an integral part of Mizo society and a part of rituals conducted by chieftains. As conversion picked up pace, adherents of the new faith marked out prohibition as a  way of curtailing consumption of zu and along with it the aura of the chieftain.

The Presbyterian Church, the largest denomination in Mizoram, is strongly opposed to the lifting of prohibition. Even if individual church members might support the government's stand, the powerful Church Synod is dead set against it. There are many though, like the school teachers from Aizawl, who say that people, especially the youth, need to have the freedom to make their own choices. "That's why some of our young people can't handle their freedom when they go outside the state, and end up making wrong decisions," he says.

Aizawl city.

Everything in the city of Aizawl revolves around community and the church. The shared Mizo tribal history also ensures there is a high degree of social cohesion. People do have their own opinions but see the wisdom in following a group course of action. However, there are some, especially among the youth, who feel otherwise and the issue of prohibition can be seen in terms of a tussle between individual choice and the diktat of the larger social group.

Porous Border
Nearly 200 km to the east of Aizawl, on a road that winds along the hillsides, lies the sleepy town of Champhai, headquarters of the district of the same name. Champhai shares a 404 km long unfenced border with Myanmar, with the ethnically-related Mizo-Chin people on either side allowed free access for 16 km into either country (but there are those from the Myanmar side who come in further, even up to Aizawl). During the "troubles", the period from 1966 until 1986, many Mizos went across to the Myanmar or Burma side. Thirty km from Champhai town is the scruffy border town of Zokhawthar. The END here has to oversee the district and the porous border with a total staff of about 45 people.

A beer bar on the Myanmar side overlooks the River Tiau that separates that country from India.

Mizoram, with its low population, hilly terrain, and peaceful conditions is, as an END official put it, "a smuggler's paradise". Over-the-counter cold medicines sold in India are smuggled across the border into Myanmar, where the tablets fetch two to three times their actual price. Ephedrine/pseudoephedrine (PE) is extracted from these tablets in makeshift laboratories to manufacture methamphetamine tablets. During the week I was in Mizoram, there were two seizures in Champhai district of heroin trafficked in from Myanmar.

There are reports of traffickers shifting operations to Champhai district from Manipur. An unfenced border and a similar ethnic composition on either side means that people smuggling across PE tablets in bulk or bringing in meth and heroin can be hard to detect. There is talk among people and among the END officials as well of individuals in Champhai who have overnight constructed large houses and bought vehicles. Poverty in the loosely administered Chin State region across the border and a lack of information sharing with Burmese government agencies compounds the problem. The Burmese Army is alleged to let drug smugglers operate in return for a cut. Most bulk seizures take place in Aizawl, where buyers from outside the state arrive to negotiate. An alternative drug route passes through Lunglei in southern Mizoram and into Bangladesh.

Champhai is a sleepy town 30km from the unfenced Indo-Myanmar border.

Mizoram with a population of only about 12 lakh has made the most of its limited resources. It has a high literacy rate (over 90 per cent), and a low crime rate. A club from the popular Mizoram Premier League has even made it to the I-League for the 2015-16 season. But, like Vanlalruata of the CYMA, there are many in Mizoram who fear that along with the lifting of prohibition, the trafficking of drugs from across the border if not checked could lead to new problems for this otherwise peaceful north eastern state.

Like other states in the north east, Mizoram is largely dependent on central government funds. This might lessen to some extent if the current oil exploration is successful;  the 60MW Tuirial hydro project is expected to be operational by 2017, thus saving the power-deficit state more money. However, this might also weaken the government's argument of lifting prohibition for the sake of increased revenue. And with assembly elections due in 2018, the state government could well reverse its current stand on prohibition in order to win the approval of influential church bodies.

Ankush Saikia is the author of Dead Meat, a crime novel set in Delhi.

Electoral Rolls of Mizo Refugees Caught in Repatriation Standoff

Agartala, Aug 31 : An 18-year-old logjam on the repatriation of a group of Mizo tribals from relief camps in Tripura has now thrown up a new challenge: whether or not their names should be included in the electoral rolls of their home state.

Around 31,300 Reang tribals, who locally call themselves "Bru", have lived in makeshift camps in northern Tripura since October 1997 when they fled western Mizoram after the killing of a Mizo forest officer triggered ethnic violence.

"The special summary revision of electoral list of Mizoram being undertaken by the state election department would not cover those tribals living in relief camps in Tripura," state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Manisha Saxena told IANS.

"The state election department did not receive any instruction from the Election Commission to cover the tribal refugees in the special summary revision of the photo electoral rolls," she added.

Following the Election Commission's advice, almost all the states in the country are undertaking a special summary revision of photo electoral rolls with January 1, 2016, as qualifying date.

Earlier, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and various political parties of the state had demanded that the Reang tribals, who had refused to return to Mizoram despite a series of attempts to repatriate them, should be excluded from the voters' list.

Refugee leader Bruno Msha said the Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF), the lone organisation of the refugees, has taken up the matter with the Election Commission and urged the poll panel to conduct the special summary revision in seven relief camps as was done earlier.

"If the Reang refugees remained out of the revision process, it would be a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of genuine Indian citizens," Msha told IANS.

"The MBDPF urged the election commission not to fall into the conspiratorial move of the Mizoram state government which is depriving the non-Mizo tribals in numerous ways."

The Tripura election officials are saying that to conduct the summary revision of electoral rolls in the relief camps of northern Tripura is the duty of Mizoram.

"The special summary revision of photo electoral rolls would be done according to the existing voters' list prepared by the Mizoram election department," Tripura's additional chief electoral officer Debashish Modak told IANS.

After the central and Tripura governments' pressure, the Mizoram government had decided to take back the tribal refugees in a phased manner from June 8. Before that, the Mizoram government conducted an identification camp in each of the seven camps from June 2, but none turned up in the identification camp, the last phase of which would be ended this week.

Refugee leader Bruno Msha said that the Mizoram government's plan to rehabilitate the repatriated refugees is faulty, impractical and unilateral.

"We want a written agreement with the Mizoram government before the repatriation. The central government must be involved in the process," Msha, general secretary of the MBDPF, added.

"We have, on a number of occasions, told the central and Mizoram governments that the refugees are willing to return to their homes in Mizoram if their 10-point demands, including security and rehabilitation, were met," he added.

In its six-page memorandum to central government, the MBDPF had accused the Mizoram government of discriminating against the tribals.

According to the Mizoram government's repatriation roadmap, the refugees willing to return to Mizoram will be rehabilitated in Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts. The Mizoram government has offered a Rs.85,000 rehabilitation package for each family along with free rations for one year.

The refugee leaders are demanding higher compensation. They have put forward a charter of demands that includes financial assistance of Rs 150,000 per family, free rations for every repatriated family for two years, cultivable land, a political settlement of the ethnic problem and adequate security, among others.

According to a union home ministry report, Rs.246 crore has been released to the Tripura government since 1997-98 for the maintenance of the refugees and around Rs.45 crore has been given to the Mizoram government since 2004-05 for disbursement to migrant families for their rehabilitation in Mizoram.
28 August 2015

Houses Swept Away, Graves Damaged By Rain and Landslide in Mizoram

Aizawl, Aug 29
: Heavy rains and landslides swept away three houses and damaged 70 graves in two cemeteries here, officials said today.

Three houses were swept away by heavy rains and landslides in the capital city of Mizoram, while four vehicles were damaged in landslides last night, District Disaster Management Authority officials said.

At least 50 graves were also damaged at the cemetery of Chaltlang locality, while 20 at the Ramhlun Vengthar cemetery, they said.

Heavy rainfall during the past one week caused severe damage in different parts of the state as many district headquarters, including south Mizoram's Lunglei, Saiha and Lawngtlai districts, central Mizoram's Serchhip district and Mizoram-Myanmar border Champhai district, remained cut-off from Aizawl due to massive landslides on the roads.

Over a hundred families had been rendered homeless as the river Khawthlangtuipui inundated several houses in south Mizoram's Lunglei district bordering Bangladesh in the past one week.

Wet rice cultivation (WRC) area belonging to around 250 families were also inundated by the floods which submerged the road between Tlabung and Borapansury village, the lifeline of eight villages along the Bangladesh border.

Villagers living along the Bangladesh border area were facing hardship as essential commodities could not be sent to the villages for more than a week, they said.

SC-monitored Bru Repatriation Ends

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-OYdA0OjSQBU/VQ_DEkp8QzI/AAAAAAAAgVU/hNJOK6wyHXI/s1600/REANG%2BBRU.jpgNo one willing to return to Mizoram under MHA’s rehab offer.

No one from the more than 11,000 adults enlisted in Mizoram’s electoral rolls and their families who live in these camps has turned up.

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No one from the more than 11,000 adults enlisted in Mizoram’s electoral rolls and their families who live in these camps has turned up.  (file photo)

The Supreme Court-monitored repatriation of Bru tribals who fled Mizoram for Tripura in 1997 ended on Thursday as officials closed the verification counters at Hazacherra, the sixth and last relief camp.

No one from the more than 11,000 adults enlisted in Mizoram’s electoral rolls and their families who live in these camps has turned up to avail of the rehabilitation package offered by the Union Home Ministry (MHA).

The just-concluded repatriation process, which the government has said will be the last time efforts are made to bring back the displaced tribals from Tripura and resettle them in Mizoram, began on June 1.

In line with a roadmap drawn up by the state governments and the MHA (which was submitted to and approved by the SC), officials from Mizoram accompanied by those from Tripura set up verification counters in the six relief camps for several days each.

Anyone willing to return home to Mizoram were to turn up at these counters with necessary documents and officials would then verify if they are bona-fide residents of the state.

They would then be given transport assistance till the villages earmarked for their resettlement and given close to a lakh Rupees per family to help them re-establish their lives, land to build houses on and a year of free rations.

Except for two families who anyway changed their minds a day after they were verified, no one agreed to return under these conditions, in line with the demands of the main body representing the displaced population: the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum has said it wants a bigger rehabilitation package than the one on offer, and that they should be resettled in a cluster of habitations under armed security.

Although the attempt to carry out the repatriation process was largely peaceful in the camps, Tripura Police arrested a security officer accompanying Mizoram officials at Kanchanpur town, near where the camps are located, after a minor road accident resulted in a crowd encircling the team of officials. Several officials were also detained following the incident.

Top Court Stays High Court Order for CBI Probe Against Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister

Top Court Stays High Court Order for CBI Probe Against Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki.
New Delhi, Aug 28 :  In a relief to Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, the Supreme Court today stayed the Gauhati High Court order for a CBI probe into corruption allegations related to his tenure as Public Works Department Minister in 2006.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu also issued notice to the CBI and others on the chief minister's plea against the August 21 order of the high court.

The bench, also comprising justices V Gopala Gowda and Amitava Roy, granted the relief after senior advocate Harish Salve raised the matter.

Mr Tuki is alleged to have influenced the Arunachal Pradesh government to give some contractual works to his relatives as PWD minister in 2006.

"Majority of the said contracts were of Kendriya Vidyalayas of Government of India at Shillong, Kolkata and Rohtak, Haryana and another one was House Keeping in newly constructed Arunachal House in Delhi and two other small contracts in the state capital of Arunachal Pradesh," the petition said while listing out the allegations against Mr Tuki.

The CM has alleged that high court acted in a "hot and haste manner" and got all the PILs transferred from Itanagar bench to principal bench at Guwahati.

"The present SLP raises important questions as to whether the high court without hearing the parties should have passed an order ordering a CBI enquiry into various ten-year-old contracts, which have already been completed," the petition said.

Earlier on August 21, the high court had ordered CBI to register a case in this matter after it found that Mr Tuki had abused his official position as a minister in awarding contracts to his wife, sister-in- law, brother and other relatives without calling tenders years back.

It had directed the probe agency to conduct a probe against Mr Tuki, besides Kendriya Vidyalay Sangathan, New Delhi, and the Director of Sports Council, Arunachal Pradesh, in this regard.

The high court had said that an FIR should be lodged and the final report submitted before the special court at Guwahati.

Naga Hoho Firm On Integration Demand

Kohima, Aug 28 : The Naga Hoho has stood firm on its demand for integration of all Naga inhabited areas."We have told the Centre's interlocutor, RN Ravi, that integration is non-negotiable.

We won't just accept social or cultural integration," said Naga Hoho president P Chuba Ozukum.On Wednesday, a Naga Hoho team met RN Ravi, Centre's interlocutor to the Naga peace talks, at a hotel upon the latter's arrival at Kohima on a three-day visit. He was here to hold consultations with Naga NGOs and state legislators.

The Naga Hoho president maintained that even the Nagaland assembly had passed the resolution on integration five times.Ravi has assured the Hoho team that Centre will not rest with a 'piecemeal solution' but will work towards bringing in a 'comprehensive solution' to the Indo-Naga political issue.It may be mentioned here that on August 3 a framework agreement was signed between NSCN(IM) and the Centre.Ozukum said Ravi had narrated to the Hoho members the salient features of the framework, which had been kept undisclosed to the public. Ravi also told the team that the Centre would not make the same mistake as it did in the past. The interlocutor is learnt to have told the Naga group that the final agreement will address the interests of all groups concerned.

Naga Students' Federation (NSF) president Subenthung Kithan said on Wednesday, meeting with Ravi was encouraging, positive and serious on the Naga issue. He said Ravi had assured the team of working sincerely to usher in solution at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Ravi called on Nagaland governor PB Acharya at Raj Bhavan, Kohima, late on Wednesday. A late night release from Raj Bhavan said Acharya had told Ravi that the state had requested the Centre to hold talks with other Naga political groups with whom the Centre had entered into the peace deal.

Acharya maintained that it was necessary to incorporate the view of the other groups in the framework agreement. He said talks should be inclusive involving all groups. He had spoken to home minister Rajnath Singh even before the peace pact was signed with the NSCN (IM), he added and expressed satisfaction that both the Union home minister and interlocutor had been meeting all groups, including civil societies, NGOs, mothers' association and activists.
27 August 2015

Several Houses Swept Away in Mudslide in the Mizoram Town of Phullen

Consistent rainfall over the past few weeks have caused landslides throughout Mizoram

Aizawl, Aug 27 : At least three houses have been swept away by a mudslide and several others vacated in a north-eastern Mizoram town, an official said Wednesday, the latest in several weather-related incidents that have damaged property and caused hardship in the remote state over the past one week.

Block Development Officer Zorammuana Khiangte said about 50 feet of the town’s main road has also sunk almost a metre and cut off Phullen from the rest of the state following heavy rains over the past two or three days. Fortunately, no casualties have been reported in the town, about 120 kms from state capital Aizawl.

Consistent rainfall over the past few weeks have caused landslides throughout the state, temporarily blocking roads and highways and occassionally leading to mudslides that have buried residences.

A few casualties have been reported, including a driver in his 20s who later died in a hospital after the vehicle he was driving was buried by a landslide near Sailam village, about 75 kms south of Aizawl, this past weekend.

In eastern Mizoram, a Bailey bridge between Khawzawl town and Neihdawn village was damaged by strong currents of the Tuimuk stream on Monday night, cutting off several villages in the vicinity.

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