Showing posts with label Assam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Assam. Show all posts
23 March 2021

BJP’s victory in Assam should be a foregone conclusion. Why is it not?

The political chessboard this time is arranged very differently from 2016, and key regions of the diverse state are in unpredictable ferment.

BJP’s victory in Assam should be a foregone conclusion. Why is it not?

Among the states going into assembly elections in the coming days and weeks, only one voted for a BJP government the last time around: Assam.

The BJP in Assam is led by chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his senior cabinet colleague Himanta Biswa Sarma, a man with a reputation as a master of the cloak-and-dagger art of forming governments even when the numbers are stacked against the BJP and its allies. As the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance, Sarma has demonstrated this mastery more than once while propping up minority governments in states such as Manipur.

The only person in the Assam opposition who was viewed as capable of countering Sarma’s political maneuvering, at least within the state, was Tarun Gogoi, a veteran Congress leader, former chief minister of Assam and Sarma’s former boss. Gogoi died last year at the age of 84 after contracting Covid. With the opposition fragmented and lacking any chief ministerial face, and the BJP comfortably ensconced in power both at the state and centre, the results of the Assam poll should have been a foregone conclusion. Oddly enough, that does not appear to be the case.

The Assam legislative assembly has 126 seats. In 2016, the BJP fought the election in alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad, a party with a strongly Assamese identity, and the Bodoland People’s Front, a party with a strongly Bodo tribal identity led by a former militant leader, Hagrama Mohilary. While the BJP won 60 seats, the AGP won 14 and the BPF 12. Thus, although the BJP by itself was short of the halfway mark, the alliance was in an unassailable majority.

This time, things are different. The BPF is no longer in alliance with the BJP, having been dumped in favour of a new Bodoland-based party called the United People’s Party Liberal. More importantly, the opposition Congress and the All India United Democratic Front led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal are in alliance, along with other smaller outfits, including one called the Anchalik Gana Morcha that has a strongly Assamese nativist identity.

In order to understand what this implies, a look at the geography of Assam is necessary.

Most states of India are mini-Indias within themselves, encompassing varieties of language, communities, castes and tribes that typically inhabit distinct areas and regions. Few are as diverse as Assam.

The state has two main river valleys – the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys – surrounded by hills. The Brahmaputra valley is predominantly Assamese in character, with upper Assam (corresponding to the upper reaches of the river) as the Assamese heartland. Lower Assam has a large Muslim population of East Bengal origin whose ancestors were encouraged by British administrators to settle in the Brahmaputra floodplains as cultivators of rice and jute in the early 1900s.

To make it more complicated, the population on the north bank of the Brahmaputra is different from that on the river’s south bank. The north bank is dominated in large part by plains tribal populations such as the Bodo and Mishing, while the south bank is more Ahom and Assamese.

The Barak valley is different from both upper and lower Assam, being dominated by Sylheti-speaking Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim, who have been at odds with one another for many decades. In addition to all this, there’s also a number of hill ranges, each with its own dominant tribe, such as the Dimasa and Karbi.

The politics of Assam is different in each of its sub-regions, which all have their own dominant local communities, leaders, and internal dynamics. This time, the political chessboard shows a situation where the arithmetic of the Congress-AIUDF alliance overwhelmingly favours their candidates in the seats with large Muslim populations. Assam has a 35 percent Muslim population that decides outcomes in at least a third of the state’s 126 seats, mainly in lower Assam and the rural areas of Barak valley. The Congress-AIUDF alliance will be looking at picking up most of these.

The Bodoland region, which has 12 assembly seats, may also slip away from BJP. Last time, the BPF contested 13 seats and won 12. This time, it will be fighting to defend its turf against the UPPL, BJP and allies. It will also support Congress candidates in 28 seats outside Bodoland.

The situation in upper Assam is also not as rosy for the BJP as the last time. Although the Citizenship Amendment Act has receded into the background as an issue, it is still there in the political discussion. The BJP in Assam has consistently tried to wish it away but the party’s political compulsions in neighbouring West Bengal have forced it back into the headlines. The BJP and its ally, the Asom Gana Parishad, face nativist Assamese disenchantment over CAA and aspects of the Assam Accord which has catalysed the formation of two new parties, Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal, led by former All Assam Students’ Union chief Lurinjyoti Gogoi and activist Akhil Gogoi, respectively.

The BJP alliance also has a problem with a community that, after decades of voting for the Congress, backed it solidly last time around: the descendants of plains tribal workers from Central India brought during British rule as tea garden labour, who are now known as the tea tribes of Assam. They number around 65 lakh out of Assam’s three crore population. Since the tea gardens are concentrated in upper Assam, that is where most of them live.

The tea tribes have been agitating for long for better wages and Scheduled Tribe status. They haven’t got either. A recent Gauhati High Court decision putting a stay on a proposed Rs 50 per day hike in wages has further infuriated many of them. The Congress campaign in upper Assam, led by Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and his team, has smartly capitalised on this. It could have an impact on at least 40 seats.

In short, barring a few predictable seats, the situation appears fluid in most sub-regions of the state. This is the case for all parties including the opposition. Issues of angst over ticket distribution have led to bitterness in both the BJP, which is internally divided into two camps, and the Congress-AIUDF alliance. The BJP has been forced to expel 14 leaders who are contesting as independents after being denied tickets. Most of them are from the Barak valley and upper Assam. In Silchar, the principal town of the Barak valley, sitting BJP MLA Dilip Paul, who won by a handsome margin last time defeating Congress leader Sushmita Dev’s mother Bithika Dev, is the rebel now.

For the Congress and AIUDF, the ticket angst is greater in Muslim-dominated areas of lower Assam. The two parties will be contesting against one another in “friendly fights” in at least five seats. The BJP, meanwhile, has given eight tickets to Muslims candidates, some of whom may win because of local factors. In the end, it will be richly ironic if these seats save the day for them.

Finally, there is of, course, the mastery of Himanta Biswa Sarma in propping up minority governments. Should the BJP-AGP alliance wind up short of the required numbers – an increasingly likely scenario – Sarma will be a man much in demand. He will then be well placed to follow Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dictum of turning crisis into opportunity.


Source: newsLaundry

16 March 2021

Assam Election: No Matter Who Wins, AGP Likely to Be a Net Loser

BJP has taken away a number of winnable seats from AGP and given it constituencies where Congress-AIUDF is strong.

By Aditya Menon
Asom Gana Parishad may be heading for its worst ever performance in Assam elections.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) – a party that was founded in 1985 as a result of the Assam agitation and became synonymous with Assamese pride – is now being seen as the weak link in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which began as a junior partner of the AGP, has now actively sidelined the latter. And this process has happened under the leadership of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who himself used to be in the AGP.

Irrespective of whether the NDA comes out victorious on 2 May or if the Congress-led 10-party Grand Alliance manages to turn the tables, one thing is clear – the AGP could emerge weaker than ever before.

Though the party managed to get 26 seats from the BJP, a closer look at the seats it has been given shows that a majority of these seats are not winnable.

There are four reasons for this.This includes former CM and AGP founder Prafulla Mahanta's seat Barhampur, which he has won six times since 1991. Though Mahanta is not in good health, his supporters believe he would still have been able to win the seat and taking it away was nothing but cussedness on the part of the BJP.

What has hurt Mahanta's supporters even more is that the AGP top brass – such as party president Atul Bora – agreed to the move to give Mahanta's seat to the BJP.

Now, Barhampur may become a tough seat for the NDA, with Congress putting up a strong candidate in Suresh Bora, who had narrowly lost to Mahanta in 2016.

If Mahanta's loyal voters – those who may have been given jobs or other forms of help by the former CM over the past three decades – decide to vote against the NDA, it could spell trouble for the ruling alliance.

The other such seats won by the AGP in 2016 that have been taken away by the BJP are Kamalpur, Lakhimpur, Naharkatia, and Patacharkuchi. In Kamalpur, sitting AGP MLA Satyabrat Kalita has since moved to the Congress.

The case of Patacharkuchi is interesting as Assam BJP President Ranjit Dass has taken the seat from the AGP. Apparently, Dass wanted a safe seat after his own seat Sorbhog became difficult due to the Congress' alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Left, all of whom have a presence in the constituency.

The Sarupathar seat is also important in this context. The AGP lost this seat narrowly last time and may have fancied its chances of winning it this time but now even that seat has been taken by the BJP.

Apparently all these seats were taken by the BJP with the full consent of the AGP leadership, which clearly shows the unequal power equation between the two parties.

This is in complete contrast to the time when the BJP was a junior partner to the AGP.

2. BJP Hands Over 8 of Its Own Tough Seats to AGP

The second category is of eight seats that the BJP had contested in 2016 but which have now become difficult due to the Congress-AIUDF alliance and have now been put in the AGP's quota.

The BJP insiders say this is a tactical decision as these are Muslim-dominated seats and the community may be more open to voting for an AGP candidate than a BJP one. But one can't ignore the fact that these seats may no longer be winnable for the NDA due to the sheer strength of the Congress-AIUDF arithmetic there.

These seats include Mankachar, Senga, Bhabanipur, Karimganj South, Raha, Goalpara East, Goalpara West, and Naobaicha.

Among these, the AGP had a friendly contest with the BJP in Naobaicha and Goalpara West last time, but the BJP did much better than the AGP and yet these seats have been given to the latter.

Raha interestingly has a BJP MLA but the seat has become difficult due to the Congress-AIUDF alliance.

However, from an arithmetic point of view, the AGP may still be in the contest in Raha, Bhabanipur, and Naoboicha, but the other five may be very difficult for it due to a very high combined vote share of the Congress and AIUDF.

3. Nine AGP Seats That Have Become Tough Due to the Congress-AIUDF Alliance

Then there are nine seats which were in the AGP quota even last time but have now become almost unwinnable due to the Congress-AIUDF alliance. These include Algapur, Abhayapuri North, Abhayapuri South, Barpeta, Sarukhetri, Boko, Chaygaon, Dalgaon, and Jamunamukh.

Except Chaygaon, the combined vote share of the Congress and AIUDF based on 2016 figures is 58 percent and above in all the seats, making them almost certain for the alliance.

In Dalgaon, the combined vote share of the two parties exceeds 80 percent.

Interestingly, the AGP had managed to win Barpeta last time due to a split in votes between the Congress and the AIUDF. The Congress polled 35 percent votes and the AIUDF 23, while the AGP emerged victorious with a vote share of 39 percent. With the Congress and AIUDF contesting in alliance, it would be very difficult for AGP to retain this seat, even if there isn't a complete transfer of votes between the two parties.

4. Challenger Within AGP’s Ideological Space

If one factors in the difficulty the AGP is facing in the seats above, it would leave just nine seats where it has a good chance of winning: Bongaigaon, Guwahati West, Tezpur, Kaliabor, Bokakhat, Chabua, Amguri, Teok, and Dergaon.

But even in these seats, it’s easier said than done for the AGP. The party is facing a major challenge from the newly formed Assam Jatiya Parishad and its ally Rajior Dal. Formed by the All Assam Students' Union and Asom Jatiyabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad, the AJP is trying to occupy the same ideological space as the AGP.

With the AGP weakening in strength and compromising on issues like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a need was felt for a new Assamese nationalist outfit and hence the AJP was formed.

Among the AGP's seats, the AJP-RD alliance is likely to give a strong challenge in seats like Chabua, the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests, besides the other Upper Assam seats like Amguri, Degaon, Kaliabor, and Bokakhat.

In Amguri, the AGP is also faced with a strong Congress candidate, Angkita Dutta.

There are structural problems, too, that the AGP is facing. Ground reports suggest that tea garden workers – a crucial vote bank especially in Upper Assam – are slightly less enthusiastic about AGP candidates than BJP candidates. This could prove crucial in closely contested seats between the AGP and Congress, which used to control this vote bank earlier.

The AGP may be heading for one of its worst performances ever in terms of number of seats. In the end, its top leadership like Atul Bora and Keshab Mahanta may have succeeded in securing their own seats, the AGP may end up being a net loser, creating a vacuum that newer parties like the AJP will try to fill.

Source: The Quint

15 March 2021

‘Khela hobe’: Game’s on in Assam too, with a twist – Times of India

  ‘Khela hobe’: Game’s on in Assam too, with a twist |  India News – Times of India

GUWAHATI: Trinamool Congress’s viral election jingle “Khela hobe (the game is on)” is resonating in Assam with some Congress improvisation and BJP gamesmanship.

In the Bengali-majority constituencies, Congress candidates like former minister Rockybul hussain have been treading the fine line between inspiration and copyright violation to own Mamata Banerjee‘s chant.

“Khela, khela, khela hobe, ei bar Congress sarkar hobe (the game is on, this time Congress will form government), ”Hussain declared at a rally in Lumding on Saturday.

“It’s ‘khela hobe’ for our candidates Swapan Kar (Lumding) and Debabrata Saha (Hojai),” he said. Not to be left behind, minister and BJP strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma turned around the slogan to project himself as a striker up against a non-existent goalkeeper.

“Khela to hobe, kintu goalkeeper thakbe na. Ami khali shoot korte thakbo. Joto ta shambhab, toto ta goal hoye jaabe (The game will be played, but without a goalkeeper. I will only keep shooting at the goal and it’s more likely than the ball will hit the target). ”

Sarma may have been alluding to the West Bengal CM’s remark at a rally in her state a few days ago. “Khela hobe.” Aami goalkeeper. Dekhi ke jete (The game is on. I will be the goalkeeper. Let us see who wins). ” The slogan has also reverberated in ‘Independent’ territory. Riding the khela hobe wave, former BJP MLA Dilip Paul, contesting Silchar as an Independent, announced at a rally that he was up for the game.

“Ei matite khela hobe, Dilip Paul er joi hobe (The game will be played on this ground and Dilip Paul will win).” The jingle, written by TMC spokesperson Debangshu Bhattacharya, went viral soon after it was uploaded on YouTube. Several variations have been released in Bengal since.

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01 March 2021

After Joining Congress-Led Alliance, Assam 'Kingmaker' Challenges BJP

Over the past three state polls, since the BPF's inception in 2005, the alliance it has sided with has gone on to win the polls.

After Joining Congress-Led Alliance, Assam 'Kingmaker' Challenges BJP

Hagrama Mohillary's BPF switched allegiance to the BJP only before the 2016 Assembly polls.

"How can they (BJP) win when I am not on their side? We will have to see the exit of the BJP in Assam," said Mr Mohilary, addressing a joint press conference with Congress and other Mahajath participants units in Guwahati today.

Over the past three state polls, since the BPF's inception in 2005, the alliance it has sided with has gone on to win the polls. It switched allegiance to the BJP only for the 2016 Assembly election, till then siding with the Congress.

The Congress approached it this time for a pre-poll 'Mahagathbandhan', that also, interestingly, includes once-rival All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Apart from the Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF, this combine includes regional party Anchalik Gana Morcha and the three Left parties, the CPI, CPI(M), and the CPI(ML). The Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD is also keen on joining the alliance.

"Assam's destiny is about to change for the better. Many tributaries join together to make a strong river," Assam Congress chief Ripun Bora said today welcoming Mr Mohilary.

The first fissure in the BJP-BPF alliance emerged in January 2020 when the Centre and the Assam government signed an Accord with the surrendered National Democratic Front of Bodoland. The Accord had provisions for delimitation of the Bodoland Territorial Region boundaries, and the discussions that led to this had bypassed the BPF that was still at the helm of the Bodoland Territorial Council.

The ties soured when the BJP fielded its own candidates against the BPF in the BTR Council elections last December. The BJP then formed a Bodoland Council with the United People's Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Gana Suraksha Party. The BPF, despite emerging as the single-largest party, was left behind by four seats.

"Himanta kidnaps leaders to form governments, you saw what happened in Bodoland polls," Mr Mohillary had said in the run up to polls. He was referring to the BJP key pointsperson for Assam and the northeast, Himanta Biswas.

The BPF has 12 legislators in the Assam Assembly, of which 3 held cabinet positions. The party's Rajya Sabha MP, Biswajit Daimary, later resigned his post and joined the BJP. He was re-elected unopposed last week.
Mr Mohilary to also called upon other regional parties such as Raijor Dal and the Asom Jatiya Parishad, which had spearheaded the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act, to join the Mahajath.

"This time, I am on the side of Assam's people and will oppose CAA along with the Mahajath," he said.

Listen to the latest songs, only on

Assam will see three-phased assembly polls from March 27 to April 6, with results to be declared on May 2.

16 February 2021

Rare Duck in Upper Assam

 Considered the most beautiful duck in the world, the Mandarin duck made an appearance in Assam's Tinsukia last week after more than a century.

By Tora Agarwala

First spotted on February 8 by Madhab Gogoi, a Tinsukia-based birder and tour guide, the duck has since become the star of the wetland — an area affected by a blowout and fire at a natural gas well located close by in May 2020. (Source: Gunjan Gogoi)

Floating in the Maguri-Motapung beel (or wetland) in Assam’s Tinsukia district for over a week is the spectacular and rare Mandarin duck. First spotted on February 8 by Madhab Gogoi, a Tinsukia-based birder and tour guide, the duck has since become the star of the wetland — an area affected by a blowout and fire at a natural gas well located close by in May 2020.

“When I heard that Madhab had spotted the duck, I did not believe him,” said Binanda Hatiboruah, a bird guide, also based in Tinsukia, “But when I saw it myself, I hugged him [Madhab] and almost lifted him up. I was that excited.” The bird was last sighted in this part of Assam more than a century ago, in 1902.

What is the Mandarin duck and why is it exciting?

Considered the most beautiful duck in the world, the Mandarin duck, or the (Aix galericulata) was first identified by Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The eBird website, a platform that documents birds world over, describes it as a “small-exotic looking bird” native to East Asia. “It’s very beautiful, with majestic colours and can be spotted from a distance,” said Deborshee Gogoi, a Digboi-based professor of marketing, and a birder, who also spotted the duck last week, “It was a male — we could tell because in this species, the males are more colourful than the females.”

The eBird website describes the male as “very ornate with big orangey ‘sail fins’ on the back, streaked orangey cheeks, and a small red bill with a whitish tip” and the female with “narrow white spectacles on a shaggy grey head, bold pale dappled spots along flanks, and pale bill tip.”

The migratory duck breeds in Russia, Korea, Japan and northeastern parts of China, explained Gogoi. It now has established populations in Western Europe and America too. In 2018, when a Mandarin duck was spotted in a pond in New York City’s Central Park, it created a flutter among local residents.

The duck, however, rarely visits India as it does not fall in its usual migratory route. There are only a handful of recorded sightings here. “It was recorded in 1902 in Dibru river in the Rongagora area in Tinsukia,” said Hatiboruah, “More recently, it was sighted in Manipur’s Loktak Lake in 2013, and in Saatvoini Beel in Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve in Assam’s Baksa district 2014.”

According to ornithologist Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, a former joint secretary of the forest department, while the duck is not a globally threatened species, spotting one is always considered significant because they only make “rare appearances.” Hatiboruah said it was a “historical sighting, especially because no one can say when we will see it again.”

So what is it doing in Assam?

While birds usually follow a regular route for migration, “it is also common for them to stray from the path,” said Dr Choudhury. This is what possibly happened to the Mandarin duck, which was spotted at Maguri beel.

“It was possibly accidental, could have lost its way or strayed from the flock,” said Hatiboruah. Since February 8, the bird has appeared several times, attracting a number of birders not just from Assam, but different parts of the country, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Pune.

The bird was also spotted by a team from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which was present in the area for a survey of the White-winged wood duck, an extremely rare and endangered duck species found primarily in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Mandarin duck was last seen on Wednesday. “There have been no sightings in the last three days,” said Gogoi, “It could have possibly moved away from Maguri beel.”

What is the Maguri beel, why is it important?

The Maguri Motapung wetland — an Important Bird Area as declared by the Bombay Natural History Society — is located close to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Upper Assam. According to Gogoi, the wetland has a grassland adjacent to it. “The entire ecosystem (grassland and wetland) is very important as it is home to at least 304 bird species, including a number of endemic ones like Black-breasted parrotbill and Marsh babbler.”

In May 2020, the beel was adversely affected by a blowout and fire at an Oil India Limited-owned gas well. The resulting oil spill killed a number of fish, snakes as well as an endangered Gangetic dolphin, and the fire had burnt a large portion of the grassland. Hatiboruah said that there has been considerable recovery due to at least nine waves of floods last year that cleared the oil. Gogoi added that while most migratory season usually begins in September, the birds arrived only in November possibly because of the fire, which was doused only then. “However, the sighting of the duck is undoubtedly a positive sign,” he said.

16 November 2020

4 minors rescued in Assam after allegations of attempted human sacrifice

The police took the four boys into protective custody after learning that the father of one of the boys was preparing to sacrifice them.
The police took the four boys into protective custody after learning that the father of one of the boys was preparing to sacrifice them. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)


Father of one of the 4 children told police he was preparing to do some exorcism ritual.

By Abhinav Sahay

Police in Assam’s Sivasagar district have rescued four minor boys following allegations from local residents that they were about to be sacrificed by the father of one of the boys.

While reports in local news channels claim that the father of one of the boys wanted to sacrifice his own son and the sons of his brother on the advice of a witch doctor with the hope of getting some hidden treasure, police say there is no evidence of an attempted human sacrifice yet, but are investigating.

“A police team was sent to Demowmukh following reports that some human sacrifice was about to take place there. We have taken the four boys into our custody on Saturday night for their safety,” said Amitava Sinha, superintendent of police, Sivasagar.

“The allegations of attempted human sacrifice are yet to be confirmed. Apart from hearsay, there is no concrete evidence about such a crime. According to the locals, the father of one of the boys wanted to sacrifice them. On questioning, the father said they were planning some exorcism ritual,” he added.

An FIR on the incident has been lodged by local residents and police have detained two persons Jamirul Hussain and Shariful Hussain, fathers of the minor boys, for further interrogation.

24 July 2015

New Halfong-Silchar Line Declared Dangerous for Passengers by Commissioner of Railway Safety

New Halfong-Silchar Line Declared Dangerous for Passengers by Commissioner of Railway Safety

New Delhi, Jul 24 : 
In a major blow to passengers in the north-east, the top official of the watchdog for Railways safety has declared the Haflong - Silchar link as dangerous for public travel. The Commissioner of Railway Safety who inspected the crucial rail link last month has warned that the "Line cannot be opened for passenger traffic without danger to travelling public".

The observations are part of a report by the rail safety department, a copy of which is exclusively with NDTV. The report also says that despite existing serious issues with safety, the commissioner of rail safety only relented to conduct the inspection last month following "persistent persuasion by Railways"
What is worrying is that barely 4 months after the line was thrown open for goods trains, there have already been 9 derailments and at least 14 instances where the track has subsided. Rs. 5,500 crores have already been spent on the costly upgrade that has taken almost a decade to complete.

Passenger traffic between the two stations was completely halted last year as the final section of this rail link was being upgraded from meter gauge to broad gauge, and the Railways had said that it would be reopened this year. In March, Railway minister Suresh Prabhu had also flagged off goods trains on this route by remote control.

The report has "recommended that the railway administration engage experts in the field of get technology, structural engineering to critically review the present status and recommend suitable preventive measures".

The Railways has an ambitious plan link all the state capitals of the north-eastern states by 2022, but it appears to be a difficult task. The difficult mountainous terrain is also prone to landslides.

Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had focused on improving connectivity to the North-east region, announcing Rs. 28,000 crore for laying new railway lines.
19 June 2015

2 Elephants in an Assam Court in Cross-Border Custody Battle

2 Elephants in an Assam Court in Cross-Border Custody Battle

Hailakandi, Assam:  An elephant and her calf spent a morning in a court in Assam this week, where a judge was asked to decide on their custody.

The judge had to make a short field trip to the court's lawns to inspect the jumbo duo in Assam's remote Hailakandi district which borders Bangladesh.

They were found on the Indian side of the border by the police on Monday. A local resident claims to be their owner - he says the female elephant was stolen from him eight years ago.

But a Bangladeshi man has made a rival claim. "They went missing a few days ago. I looked everywhere and then went to local cops in Bangladesh. They spoke to the Border Security Force and told me my elephants were in Hailakandi. So I got them to arrange travel and here I am to stake claim," says Mojibul Islam.

For now, custody of the elephants has been granted to a local forest official. The case will be heard next week. "We will take care of them as long as we have to, and ensure they are well fed and looked after," said Gunin Saikia, Divisional Forest Officer of Hailakandi.
07 May 2015

Asom Gana Parishad Calls 10-Hour Assam Bandh Today Over Land Boundary Agreement

Asom Gana Parishad Calls 10-Hour Assam Bandh Today Over Land Boundary Agreement

Guwahati:  Opposition Asom Gana Parishad today called a 10-hour Assam bandh today to protest against inclusion of the state in the Land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh.

Criticising the BJP and the Centre for what it said was "surrendering" to Bangladesh, the AGP called the bandh from 6 am to 4 pm.

The BJP was "cheating" the people of the state, AGP General Secretary Kamalakanta Kalita said in a statement here.

On the other hand, the BJP also took out a protest-march and burnt an effigy of Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi for his opposition to exclusion of Assam from the protocol.

The Union Cabinet yesterday cleared the Bill to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement which includes territories in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya.

The BJP in Assam had opposed the exchange of enclaves between Bangladesh and India on Assamese territory considering sensitivities in the state, where the party aspires to come to power in assembly polls due early next year.

Following this, the Assam Chief Minister charged Prime Minister Narendra Modi of practising "double standards for narrow political gain" by proposing to exclude the state from the purview of the land swap deal.

On November 30 last year, Modi had said at a party workers' rally in the state capital that the Centre would go ahead with the LBA with Bangladesh for a permanent solution of infiltration issue keeping in mind the welfare of Assam.

Assam Government has been maintaining that the provisions of the protocol are an integral part of the 1974 agreement between India and Bangladesh.

According to the protocol, the Radcliff Line demarcating India-Bangladesh border in the Assam sector namely,Lathitilla-Dumabari sector in Karimganj district, Kalabari (Boroibari) area in Dhubri district and the Pallathal area in Karimganj district of Assam will be re-drawn as agreed to in the protocol.

As a result of the re-demarcation proposed in the LBA, approximately 714 acres of land in Lathitilla area willformally become part of Assam in India and 193.85 acres of land in Kalabari (Boroibari) and 74.55 acres in Pallathal will formally go to Bangladesh.

Since land measuring 268.40 acres is already under adverse possession of Bangladesh, India (Assam) will effectively get a net land area of 445.6 acres with reference to the Radcliff Line.
23 March 2015

Heavy Duty Force To Combat Rhino Poaching In Assam

A rhino and a forest guard in Assam’s Kaziranga national ParkBy Prasanta Mazumdar

Guwahati, Mar 23 :The Centre will raise a rhino protection force in Assam by roping in youths of villages that surround the rhino habitats in the eastern state.

The decision comes amid an alarming spurt in the poaching of the animal, especially at Kaziranga National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“For the establishment of the central protection force, the selection needs to be facilitated by the state government. The force will mainly consist of a motivated batch of youngsters from the surrounding villages and I am sure that in the next few days,  a lot of youths will join the force,” Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar told reporters here on Saturday.

He was here to take part in a ‘chintan sibir’ (brainstorming camp) of his department, which was attended by delegates from 12 states.

“There in the field, we will have a special programme. Yesterday (Friday) I talked to Chief Minister (Tarun Gogoi) about the ‘chintan sibir’. Definitely, I will call the forest officers, especially those working in Kaziranga, to Delhi to work out the joint action,” Javadekar said.

The minister added that it’s not about a blame game. “Let’s also understand that about 100 years ago when we had started, rhinos were in extinct. The contributions made by all concerned over the years helped raise the number from 30 to 3,000. Last year there were 22 cases of poaching and 22 poachers were also killed. No country in the world is taking such tough actions but there are still loopholes,” Javadekar said.

He said that the Centre would amend the anti-poaching laws to be able to fight poachers more effectively.

In a memorandum submitted to Javadekar, Assam Forest Minister Atuwa Munda insisted on the modernisation of the department.

“The surrounding villages (of rhino habitats) have to be developed. We want the development of the areas through the joint forest management and the joint eco-management committees. We have submitted a memorandum to the minister seeking financial assistance for the purpose,” Munda stated.
12 March 2015

More than 1,000 Killed in Ethnic Clashes, Bomb Blasts in Assam Over 15 years

By Sushanta Talukdar

Assam witnessed eight ethnic clashes over the past nearly 15 years between 2001 and February 24, 2015, which claimed 535 lives. During this period, 810 bomb blasts also occurred in the State in which 471 persons (395 civilians and 76 security personnel) were killed.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rockybul Hussain tabled these statistics on the floor of the Assam Assembly on Monday while replying on behalf of the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, to a question raised by BJP member Monoranjan Das.

The eight ethnic clashes included:
  • The Hmar-Dimasa clashes (between February 26, 2003 and July 12, 2003) which claimed 57 lives in Dima Hasao district
  • The Karbi-Kuki clashes (between October 30, 2003 and April 12, 2004) which claimed 98 lives in Kabri Anglong district
  • The Karbi-Dimasa clashes (between September 26, 2005 and December 28, 2005) which claimed 106 lives in Karbi Anglong district
  • The Bodo-Muslim clashes (between August 14, 2008 and August 20, 2008 and October 3, 2008 and October 17, 2008) which claimed 64 lives in Udalguri and Darrang district
  • The Zeme Naga-Dimasa clashes (between March 19, 2009 and September 9, 2009) which claimed 73 lives in Dima Hasao district
  • The Garo-Rabha clashes (between January 1, 2011 and January 13, 2011) which claimed 12 lives in Goalpara district
  • The Karbi-Rengma Naga clashes (between February 27, 2013 and January 7, 2014) which claimed 16 lives in Karbi Anglong district
  • The Bodo-Muslim clashes (between July 19, 2012 and November 17, 2012) which claimed 109 lives in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Udalguri, Baksa and Dhubri.

The minister also informed that currently eight militant outfits were active in Assam. These include United Liberation Front of Asom (Independen), National Democratic Front of Boroland (Songbijit), Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger, Kamatapur Liberation Organisation, Harkat-ul-Muzahideen, Muslim United Liberation Tiger of Assam, Jamaat’ul Mujahideen of Bangladesh and the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in his budget speech for the fifth financial year of his third consecutive term, presented in the House on Tuesday stated that efforts by his government for maintenance of law and order resulted in signing of record 21 agreements by his government and the Centre for suspension of operations or Memorandum of Settlements with 21 militant outfits.

Strands of Belonging


Malini Bhattacharjee and Nazrul Haque
Malini Bhattacharjee and Nazrul Haque

In a research paper presented at Jamia Millia Islamia, academics Nazrul Haque and Malini Bhattacharjee highlight why Assamese Muslims are now asserting their ethnic identity alongside their religious identity

The ethnic violence in Bodo Territorial Council areas of Assam has been in the news for some years. Particularly bloody and recurring has been the conflict between the Bodos and the largely Bengali-speaking Muslims, leading to many from both the communities living in uncertainty and fear in camps for some time now. The accusations of the Bodos against the Muslims as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who occupied their fallow land — and therefore ‘outsiders’— have been at the core of the conflict.
Not just in the Bodo areas but across Assam, the fight against illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been long, and at times bloody. A porous international border, unfulfilled promises of the Assam Accord and both State and National parties perennially playing vote bank politics, have contributed to the protracted problem. The emergence of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) — on largely religious lines — has added to the complexities.
In this din, a critical voice seems to have gone unheard — that of the Assamese Muslims, locally called Goria, Moria or Desi. Many political and religious groups, time and again, have tried tying them to the Bengali-speaking Muslims highlighting their religious identity. However, lately, the community is seen to be asserting its ethnic identity as equally important as its religious identity, thus situating them in a peculiar position in the politically charged and religiously polarised milieu of the State.
The complexities of the topic got rare attention at a recent conference in New Delhi on the North East. Nazrul Haque and Malini Bhattacharjee, from Bangalore’s Azim Premji University, presented a paper — Identities in Quandary: The Complex Narrative of ‘Assamese Muslims’ — at “Reimagining the North East: Narratives, Networks and Negotiations”, hosted by Jamia Millia Islamia’s Centre for the North East. The research paper stood out for throwing light on an important slice of Assam history, often overlooked.
Haque and Bhattacharjee expounded on the advent of Islam in Assam through the invading Muslim armies since the 13th Century; their defeated soldiers taken captive by the Ahom kings creating, first, the Gorias, and later the Morias in the mid-16th Century. While Desis are people from the Koch and Nath communities converted to Islam, they highlight that many others became Muslims in Assam at the call of the Sufi saint Azan Fakir in mid-17th Century.
The Bengali-speaking Muslims, the paper points out, emigrated from erstwhile East Bengal to Assam during the British rule from 1826 to 1947. It “reached its peak during 1971 with the creation of Bangladesh”, leading the 1971 Census to record a 34.98 per cent increase in Assam’s population from the 1961 Census. However, Assamese language and local culture continued to be the binding force for the rest of the communities across religions.
In this interview, the duo states that language being the defining factor of the 1980s Assam Students’ Movement against illegal immigration, Assamese Muslims took part in it but “later became suspicious in an increasingly communal environment.”
Excerpts from the interview:
What attracted both of you to the topic? How long you have been researching on it?
Haque: We both are from Assam and have grown up witnessing the syncretic nature of our local culture (irrespective of religion and in spite of it) and also the changing narratives of that ethnic bonding. For the last few years, we could also sense a tension among indigenous Muslims of Assam and the various reasons for that — rise of global Islam, increasing religious intolerance in India, demand of democracy and politics, controversy surrounding the issue of ‘immigration’, etc. That made us interested in the topic as this case study speaks to a very important and global phenomenon. We did our first field interviews last November.
What is the size of their population?
Haque: There are no government figures, for obvious reasons. However, organisations like All Assam Goria, Moria, Desi Jatiya Parishad quote a number of around 30 lakhs. Some academics point out that in 1901, there were 2,48,842 Muslims in the Brahmaputra valley. The count, as per 1951 Census, was 19,81,859 (15 lakh were estimated to be of East Bengal origin).
In this identity war of ethnicity versus religion, how much are Assamese Muslims under pressure to side with religion? How much of it is political pressure?
Haque: The force of religion is quite powerful, as almost everyone we interviewed had admitted. There are changes in important social ceremonies, food habits, folk music, literature, the way people dress and conduct their daily life. There are political pressures too and more so because of the rise of the BJP and AIUDF in Assam politics, almost simultaneously.
How representative of the community are organisations like AAGMDJP?
Haque: It seems there are too many contradictions even within organisations ‘representing’ indigenous Muslims of Assam. Who are ‘indigenous’ and who are not? However, one fact is important — of all such bodies, AAGMDJP is the only one well accepted by all other ethnic organisations (Tai Ahom Students Union, Ahom Royal Society, Moran Students Union, Motok Students Union, Dimasa Students Union, Sonowal Kachari Parishad, All Bodo Students Union) and for some years, they are almost working together. That was evident in some public meetings we attended.
How much have Assamese Muslims suffered in the Bodo-Muslim violence? How strong is the tendency to club them with Bengali-speaking Muslims because of religion?
Bhattacharjee: There are many layers to this question and they are complex. One thing is distinct — the Bodoland violence was not (only) because of religion. Even now, the stands taken by various groups (including the BJP, the RSS or Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad) are clear and publicly so — that one can’t club all Muslims in Assam under one religious umbrella. However, interests representing people from East Bengal origin (even Na Asomiyas) definitely try to make it a Hindu-Muslim issue and our sense is that so do intellectuals who don’t have first-hand knowledge of the region.
24 February 2015

Scheduled Tribe Status To More Assam Communities Likely


It is significant that 26 adivasi communities, which are going to be included in the schedule list of Assam, have Scheduled Tribe status in their respective place of origin. (Photo: PTI)
It is significant that 26 adivasi communities, which are going to be included in the schedule list of Assam, have Scheduled Tribe status in their respective place of origin. (Photo: PTI)
Guwahati, Feb 24 : In what may change course of politics in Assam, the ministry of home affairs is set to recommend tribal status for at least 26 communities of adivsis, like Munda, Oraon, Santhal and other tribals of Jaharkhand origin, mostly associated with the tea plantation industry of Assam.

Pointing out that 97 communities are listed as tea tribes in the state, authoritative security sources in the home ministry told this newspaper that most of them are listed as Other Backward Class (OBC) at their respective place of origin so all in the list of tea tribes of Assam can’t be granted ST status.

Disclosing that Cabinet memorandum has already been prepared to include 26 adivsis in the schedule list of Assam, authoritative security sources said that the ministry has also forwarded the report of a parliamentary committee in 2002 to the tribal affairs ministry which proposed to include tribal groups — Tai Ahom, Moran, Motok, Koch-Rajbongshis, and Chutia with adivsis in the schedule list.

It is significant that 26 adivasi communities, which are going to be included in the schedule list of Assam, have Scheduled Tribe status in their respective place of origin. The adivasis, which is known as tea tribes in Assam, comprising present and past plantation workers, have an estimated population of more than 60 lakhs in Assam.

However, due to sizeable presence of OBC workers in the tea-tribe community, the Adivasis of Jharkhand origin were deprived of getting the ST status which they have been accorded at their respective states of origin.

Clarifying that a parliamentary committee in 2002 had recommended the inclusion of these communities in the schedule list of Assam, security sources said that home ministry has already started the process.
04 February 2015

More Than 15,000 Women Raped in Assam in Past 10 Years

By Hemanta Kumar Nath

Guwahati, Feb 4 : Not only Amrita, more than 15,000 women in Assam were raped in past ten years.

Crime against women are on rise in Assam as more than 15,000 women and girls were raped in the state in past ten years.

According to Assam police reports , a total of 15,206 rape cases were registered in different police stations in the state from 2005 to August 2014.

The reports revealed that, rape cases were increased every year in the north eastern Indian state.

After Delhi rape case, the SC had ordered stern action against the culprits but Assam witnessed a shocking reports of risen crimes against women.

The reports revealed that, a total of 1217 rape cases were registered in 2005, while 1203 in 2006, 1310 in 2007, 1419 in 2008, 1269 in 2009, 1721 in 2010, 2011 in 2011, 1716 in 2012, 1937 in 2013 and 1403 cases registered up to August 2014.

"Different laws in place to stop the crimes, but crimes have risen year by year. Now question arise as are women in Assam safe, " Monty Mamu Kashyap, a social worker based in Guwahati said.

Not only rape, more than 23,000 women and girls were kidnapped in the state during period.

According to the Assam police reports, during the period a total of 23,829 women and girls were kidnapped and 15,325 women were molested in the state.

The report revealed that, a total of 1456 kidnapping cases of women and girls were registered in the year 2005, while 1310 in 2006, 1471 in 2007, 1613 in 2008, 1906 in 2009, 2486 in 2010, 2998 in 2011, 3360 in 2012, 4222 in 2013 and 3007 cases up to August 2014.

Recently a women journalist was allegedly physically assaulted by two police officials inside the police station in Guwahati.

Several rape victims are still waiting for justice.
15 January 2015

Forest guards gun down three poachers in Assam's Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga, Jan 15 : Three poachers were today killed in two encounters with forest guards in Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

On a tip off about the entry of a group of poachers into the Park, forest guards launched an operation in Burapahar Range, Divisional Forest Officer SK Sil Sarma said.

Guarding the park. Reuters
Guarding the park. Reuters
On facing the forest guards, the poachers fired at them and in an encounter one poacher was killed around 3 am near Borghat forest camp, Sarma said.

On being chased, the two fleeing poachers engaged in a fierce gun battle with the guards for about 25 minutes before they were killed, he said.

Two 303 rifles fitted with a silencer and one round of ammunition as well as a 9-mm pistol with nine rounds of ammunition were recovered from the slain poachers, the DFO said.

The poachers were suspected to have come from adjacent Karbi Anglong hills side, he said.

Patrolling against poaching in the World Heritage Site had been intensified after one rhino was killed on 1 January this year and two on 4 January, a forest department official said.
24 November 2014

Thousands Rally Against Jihadis, 'Bangladeshi Infiltrators' in Assam


All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has demonstrated across Assam against the presence of jihadi forces and alleged Bangladeshi infiltrators.

Assam Blind School Student Allegedly Beaten Up, Forced To Drink Urine, Almost Strangulated to Death By Roommates

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Guwahati, Nov 24
: A 14-year-old student of a reputed residential blind school in Assam has been forced to quit following alleged torture including forcibly made to drink his own urine. With this incident coming to light two months after it allegedly occurred, state chief minister Tarun Gogoi on Sunday directed institution of magisterial inquiry into it.

The incident allegedly happened on September 26 in the Sreemanta Sankar Mission Barhampur Blind School in Nagaon district in central Assam, with Deba Tati (14) saying six of his roommates accused him of passing urine in the room, following which they beat him up, forced urine into his mouth and then tried to even strangulate him with a bedsheet.

“Six boys first accused me of urinating inside the hostel room, and then beat me, after which they even forced me to drink urine. They also tore my bedsheet and said they will tie a noose around my neck,” Deba Tati told The Indian Express over the telephone from his residence in Tezpur. Barhampur is about about 65 kms from Tezpur, and the blind school – the oldest in the entire Northeast – run by Sreemanta Sankar Mission was set up in 1955.

He said he screamed for help, but nobody came to his rescue. “Luckily, I resisted the noose and managed to save myself. They however continued to threaten me for the next two days and said even the media cannot come to save me,” Deba said. A lady caretaker who looks after the boys’ hostel does not stay in the hostel at night.

While the incident allegedly happened on September 26, Deba left for home two days later when his mother Hema Tati went to bring him home for the Durga puja holidays that began on September 28. “It was only after reaching home that he told us everything and said he won’t go back to school again,” his mother said. The co-educational blind school has about 60 students from Class I to X, with boys and girls lodged in two separate hostels.

Deba’s parents, father Bhairab Tati and mother Hema Tati, are both daily-wage labourers. While Deba had lost his eyesight after a chicken pox infection immediately after birth, his eldest sister Bani got married after dropping out from Class V. His younger sister Pompi, a Class IX drop-out also works as a daily-wage labourer.

The entire episode came to light only on Friday when the family got a telephone call from a teacher of the school asking Deba to return because the annual examination was drawing near. “The family approached me and insisted that I accompany them to drop the boy in the school. When I enquired why, they told me the whole story.

“When I further inquired why they had not revealed this for so long, they said they were not sure what exactly to do,” said Tuntun Borah, a neighbour and an anganwadi worker who finally informed the media about it.

“We came to know about the incident only through the television news yesterday evening,” said Kamakhya Prasad Sarma, secretary of the Sreemanta Sankar Mission, a Nagaon-based organization that had pioneered education for the blind way back in 1950.

“On rushing to the school (which is about 10 kms from Nagaon), one of the teachers admitted to the incident, but could not explain why the matter was not reported to us,” Sarma told The Indian Express from Nagaon today.

A three-member delegation of the Mission led by Sarma went to Tezpur, met Deba and his parents and requested them to send the boy back with assurance that such incidents would not occur again. “But the boy is still scared. We have meanwhile ordered an internal inquiry. One of the six boys Deba mentioned to us in confidence admitted to having assaulted him and forced urine on him,” Sarma said.
20 November 2014

Blockade by Bodo Delays Trains in Assam

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Guwahati, Nov 20 : Several trains including the 12423 Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express were delayed following a sudden blockade of railway tracks by the Bodo People’s Coordination Peace Initiative of Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts at the Kokrajhar railway station today. The agitationists were demanding immediate release of NDFB founder and chairman Ranjan Daimary alias DR Nabla who is currently lodged in a jail here.

Northeast Frontier Railway sources said while the New Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express was delayed by about 40 minutes, three other major trains – 12345 Howrah-Guwahati Saraighat Express, 15909 Tinsukia-Lalgarh Avadh-Assam Express and 15471 Alipurduar-Kamakhya Inter-City Express – were delayed by more than four hours.

Other important trains that were disrupted included the Gaya-Kamakhya Express, Dibrugarh-Kolkata Express, Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express, Guwahati-Trivandrum Express and Kamrup Express, NF Railway sources said. The blockade that began suddenly at 5 M today was however withdrawn at 9:45 AM.

This was the second consecutive day that trains were disrupted in Assam. As many as five trains were disrupted and delayed yesterday after the All Assam Tea Tribes Association resorted to a railway blockade for nearly three hours at Sarupathar station in Golaghat district.

The agitators were demanding adequate security for people living on the Assam-Nagaland border. Trains that were delayed included Dibrugarh-Rangiya Express, Jorhat-Guwahati Jan-Shatabdi Express and Lumding-Tinsukia Express.
11 November 2014

Visitors To Assam Zoo Can Soon View Endangered Pygmy Hogs

By Sushanta Talukdar

An adult pygmy hog. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
An adult pygmy hog. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Will be the only one in the world to have the endangered wild pig

The Assam State Zoo is set to welcome a few pygmy hogs this week, making it the only zoo in the world to have the critically endangered pig.
The pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) is the smallest and rarest of wild pigs. The Pygmy Hog Research and Breeding Centre at Basistha will provide the pigs to the Assam zoo.
Chandan Kumar Bora, divisional forest officer, Assam State Zoo, told The Hindu that a simulated habitat has been created in an enclosure by growing Barenga grass collected from Orang National Park and staff have received training in care for the hogs. Mr. Bora said that the zoo had some pygmy hogs for public viewing from around 1970 till around 1990. Now, after a gap of almost 25 years, visitors would be able to see the pigs beginning November 15.
“It will be only zoo across the world to have pygmy hogs. As sighting of pygmy hogs in the wild is rare, the zoo will provide an opportunity for public viewing of this critically endangered mammal. Gradually, the zoo will also serve as a captive breeding centre,” added Mr. Bora.
Goutam Narayan, project director of the pygmy hog conservation programme (PHCP), said “The pygmy hog is at the brink of extinction, as it has been exterminated from most of its original range in India and Nepal.
“In the past, it was found in a narrow strip of tall and wet grassland plains in the area south of the Himalayan foothills from Uttar Pradesh to Assam, through Nepal terai and Bengal duars. Currently, it is restricted to a single viable population in the wild in Manas Tiger Reserve and a couple of reintroduced populations in Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary and Orang National Park, all in northwestern Assam.”

19th Century Railway Section in Assam Hills Yearns For Heritage Status

assamhilltrain02 A 47-km portion encircling the picturesque hill station of Haflong has remained untouched, including its century-old buildings mostly made of stones and timber. (Source: Samudra Gupta Kashyap)

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Guwahati, Nov 11 : Even as the railways are currently engaged in replacing the 111-year old metre-gauge Lumding-Badarpur Hill Section into a broad-gauge track, a 47-km stretch of the historic line, literally forming a garland around Haflong, Assam’s only hill station, is waiting to be conferred heritage status. The Assam government meanwhile has written to the railways asking them not to dismantle it, so that it could be promoted as a tourist attraction.

While the 225-km Lumding-Badarpur Hill Section – often described as the “most spectacular mountain line of Indian Railways” –  is currently in its last phase of gauge conversion – to be completed by April 2015 – a 47-km portion encircling the picturesque hill station of Haflong has remained untouched, including its century-old buildings mostly made of stones and timber. The 47-km portion has nine stations – Mahur, Migrendisa, Lower Haflong, Bagetar, Haflong Hill, Jatinga, Longrangjao, Mailongdisa and Harangajao – each one a heritage in its own right.

As a group of citizens of Haflong, highly concerned about preserving that 47-km stretch has asked the government to declare it a heritage track and promote it as a tourist attraction, the state government on its part has written to the Railways saying it was serious about retaining and promoting this 47-km stretch as a heritage track. The Hill Section that was considered as a “magnificent engineering feat” of the 19th century, the world’s steepest section (Harangajao-Jatinga) with a minimum gradient of 1:37 will continue to live once a final decision to preserve it is inked.
Officials at the Northeast Frontier Railway headquarters in Guwahati said they were waiting for a “concrete proposal” from the Assam government on how it wants to utilize the 47-km stretch that will be otherwise abandoned and dismantled. “While the Railway Board had recommended dismantling of the Mahur-Haragajao portion because it is not on the new BG alignment, we at NF Railways decided to ask the state government whether it wants us to retain it. The chief secretary replied in the affirmative. Now we are waiting for a concrete proposal from the Assam government,” NF Railway CPRO Sugato Lahiri said.

“The government has already asked the railways not to dismantle the 47-km stretch and the stations on it. We are drawing up a plan to preserve, maintain and promote this portion as a heritage track complete with steam engines and vintage salons,” Dhrubajyoti Hazarika, secretary, tourism, government of Assam told The Indian Express today.

Hazarika said while Jatinga, the village where birds mysteriously flock to commit suicide, has been a global attraction, all the other places along the track including Haflong town together would be promoted as a new package soon. While Haflong has an elevation of about 1685 feet, Jatinga is the tallest station in the Northeast, standing at 2156 feet above sea level.

The NF Railway had in May 2001 made an attempt to introduce what it called the Jatinga Steam Safari from Lower Haflong to Maibong, but that did not continue for long. With the Assam government willing to take it up, a journey on a vintage mountain train will once again become a reality. “Given the beauty of the Barail mountain, an imaginative planning can attract thrill-seeking and nature-loving tourists to this railway, especially because of the mystique associated with places like Jatinga,” said well-known writer Arup Kumar Dutta, whose “Indian Railways:The Final Frontier” is considered an authorative history of railways in the Northeast.

“We are happy that the broad-guage conversion of the Lumding-Badarpur Hill Section is nearing completion. But since the conversion does not affect the 47-km Mahur-Harangajao portion of it that also encircles Haflong town, it will be only too wise for the government to declare it as a heritage and use it for promoting tourism as early as possible,” said a memorandum signed by representatives of 14 organizations of Dima Hasao district.

The signatories also pointed out that the construction of this hill section that was opened in 1903 is inseparable from the story of development of the tribal communities of the district. “Wherever the railway track traversed, development was inevitable. Several small hamlets turned into towns here, while tribal communities moved closer to the railway track and sustained themselves. Now that the broad-guage track is coming up away from this 47-km stretch, the best thing to do is to preserve it, declare it as a heritage track and use it as a tourist attraction. This way the backward district will see a lot of economic activity,” the memorandum said.