Showing posts with label Assam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Assam. Show all posts
28 February 2014

Curfew in 25 Assam villages following clash

GUWAHATI: Indefinite curfew was clamped on Thursday in 25 villages in Assam's Darrang district after 13 people were injured in a clash between two groups, officials said.

Darrang deputy commissioner MS Manivannan said curfew was imposed in 25 villages to stop any deterioration of the situation.

The curfew would be in force till further orders and till the situation improves, he added.

A group of people attacked another group at Udmari village, after suspecting the second group to be of dacoits. A total of 13 people were injured in the incident, a district administration officer said.

Five of the injured were taken to the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital for treatment.

Additional security has been deployed in and around the area, police said.

The district administration has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.
14 February 2014

Assam becomes the first state to ban smokeless tobacco legally

Guwahati, Feb 14 : The north-east state Assam has become the first state to legally ban consumption and sale of all forms of smokeless tobacco, including pan masala containing tobacco and nicotine.

The Act comes into effect on Thursday. On Wednesday, state health minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma informed the legislative assembly that governor JB Patnaik had given assent to the Assam Health (Prohibition of manufacturing, advertisement, trade, storage, distribution, sale and consumption of zarda, gutkha, pan masala, etc, containing tobacco and/or nicotine) Bill, 2013, on Tuesday. "The notification will be issued on Wednesday, and the law will come into force from Thursday," Sarma said.

The law will come into force from Thursday, said Assam health minister Though several states have imposed similar bans under the food safety regulation, Assam will be the first to impose the ban through legislature. The state government decided to take this step after considering the fact that smokeless tobacco accounts for 90% of oral cancers.

The act also bans the manufacture, advertisement, trade, storage, distribution and sale of the substances. For violating the law, one shall be punished with imprisonment up to seven years and a fine between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh. Consumption or possession of zarda, gutka and pan masala containing tobacco shall be punished with a fine of Rs 1,000 for the first offence and Rs 2,000 for each subsequent offence.

Sale, manufacture and storage of pan masala and gutka containing tobacco and nicotine have been banned for a year with effect from March 8, 2013, under the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulation, 2011.

"Our department can ban the sale of tobacco but the production aspect has to be handled by the agriculture department. We cannot ban production of tobacco. If any farmer produces such products, he has to sell them outside the state," Sarma added.

29 January 2014

Assam Wants A New Time Zone

Assam's chief minister argues that time change will save energy and synchronise the eastern state with the rest of the country.
Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi
The chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi. Photograph: Biju Boro/AFP
Every day residents of Assam, a state in north-east India, see the sun rise and set earlier than their compatriots because, in a country that stretches 3,000km from east to west, the clocks are all set at the same time. To correct this injustice Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, is demanding the creation of a new time zone. "We want offices to start one hour ahead, so that we increase our overall productivity and save on energy," he said.

Technically speaking, it would make sense to create a second time zone. There are almost 28 degrees of longitude between the country's eastern and western extremities, whereas on average a time zone corresponds to 15 degrees. In 2006 India's planning commission recommended two time zones, explaining that it would provide for substantial energy savings. At peak hours electricity demand currently exceeds supply by 17%.

But on two occasions, in 2002 and 2006, the federal government rejected proposals along these lines, for fear of chaos at the time border and rail accidents. The topic is politically sensitive in a country prone to separatist tension. Delhi is afraid a second time zone may distance north-eastern states. Indeed, it was on the grounds of national unity that India decided, shortly after independence, to abolish Mumbai and Kolkata time.

Two researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, Dilip Ahuja and Debi Prasad Sengupta, advocate putting clocks back by half an hour all over India to satisfy the demands of north-eastern states and avoid chaos. In a study carried out in 2012 they calculated that with this arrangement India would save from 0.2% to 0.7% in energy, depending on the state.

Daylight has other virtues too. Drawing on research done in Britain suggesting that crimes and accidents happen more at night, the two scientists emphasised the advantages of stopping work an hour earlier.

But as the regional daily Assam Tribune pointed out this month, "a gain of half an hour for the eastern region may lead to loss of equal numbers of hours in the central and western regions".
India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy says it will examine Gogoi's ideas. But with only four months before a general election, it seems unlikely the government will risk upsetting voters giving Assam more sunlight.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde
13 December 2013

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi orders probe into Assam killings

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi orders probe into Assam killingsGuwahati, Dec 13 :  Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday ordered an inquiry into an alleged staged shootout in Chirang district, where residents said police and army personnel killed two students claiming they were Bodo insurgents.

Mr Gogoi asked state Additional Chief Secretary V.B. Pyarelal to carry out the inquiry and submit the report within 30 days.

The incident took place early on Wednesday at Raijungbari village in Runikhata, about 200 km from Assam's main city Guwahati.

Police and army personnel killed two youths and injured another. They said the two slain youths were cadres of the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) led by I.K. Songbijit.

One AK-46 rifle, one grenade and 15 rounds of live ammunition were recovered from their possession. Police said the injured youth was a linkman of the outfit.

Residents, however, said the three boys were from the same family and that they were innocent. The slain youths - Jiri Narzary and Pranjit Narzary - were students of Class 7 and 10 while the injured Nikedin Narzary is a student of Class 6 in a local school.

Residents on Wednesday came out on the streets to protest the killings, attacked the Runikhata police station and also set fire to some motorcycles.

This forced police to resort to a baton charge and fire blank rounds to disperse the crowd. The Chirang deputy commissioner also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.
04 December 2013

'Brahmaputra Cruises' Among World Top 10 Adventurous Cruises

Wildlife and wilderness are main features of cruises in Assam on vast Brahmaputra river. (AP)Wildlife and wilderness are main features of cruises in Assam on vast Brahmaputra river. (AP)

Guwahati, Dec 4 : Wildlife and wilderness are main features of cruises in Assam on vast Brahmaputra river.

'Brahmaputra Cruises' by Assam Bengal Navigation Company has been recognised by CNN International as one of the top 10 Most Adventurous Cruises in the World for 2013.

The 'Brahmaputra Cruises (Jungle Book Tour/India)' has been ranked sixth among the cruises including the Amazon, the Antartica, the North Pole, Australia and Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Managing Director of Assam Bengal Navigation Company, Ashish Phookan, told PTI.

Recalling that Assam Bengal Navigation Company, an Indo-British joint venture, had pioneered long-distance river cruising in India in 2003, he said the company completes ten years of cruising on Brahmaputra river on the 'ABN Charaidew' this year.

The Company also has 'Bengal Cruises' with their second boat 'ABN Sukapha' operating on the Hoogli river since 2007 and on the Ganges since 2010, Phookan said, adding, their third boat 'ABN Rajmahal' will commence commercial operation on the Ganges from February next year.

For this pioneering venture, the Assam Bengal Navigation, a sister concern of Jungle Travels India, was conferred the National Tourism Award by the Union Ministry of Tourism for 2004-2005, he said.
'Brahmaputra Cruises' feature visits and attractions such as wildlife viewing, both by jeep and on elephant back, village walks, visits to tea gardens, exploring towns in cycle rickshaws, barbecues on deserted river islands, dance performances and visits to archaeological sites, pilgrimage centres and craft workshops, Phookan said.

Wildlife and wilderness are the main features of the cruises in Assam on the vast Brahmaputra river. The river bed is often 20 or 30 km across - an empty world of sand spits and water with marvelous bird life and the occasional Gangetic Dolphin, he said.

The cruises also give access to a number of National Parks, including rhino habitat Kaziranga in upper Assam and The Project Tiger Reserve, Manas on the Indo-Bhutan border, besides Orang National Park across Darrang and Sonitpur districts, Phookan said.

"Between October and April, we offer a combination of 7-night, 10-night and 4-night cruises named after the Assam Despatch Service, the daily mail-cum-passenger service that once plied from Calcutta up the Brahmaputra to Dibrugarh in Assam," he said.

The Cable News Network in its website describes the 'Jungle Book Tour, India,' as "While the cruise aboard the delightfully anachronistic 24-person Charaidew trundles along from Guwahati to Tezpur, you can sip local tea and enjoy mild Assamese curries onboard. A visit to the UNESCO-listed Kaziranga National Park, for elephant, rhino and (maybe) tiger spotting, is one of the diversions en route".

"The Brahmaputra River begins in the glaciers of Tibet before winding through India and emptying, 2,900 kilometers later, into the Bay of Bengal", the website says.
29 November 2013

Barak Valley Corridor Used For Drug Trafficking To Myanmar, China

Silchar, Nov 29 : The inspector general of BSF Mizoram and the Cachar Frontier, AC Thapliyal, said drug traffickers in the sub-continent have settled on the Barak Valley area of Assam as a corridor for trafficking of illegal substances to Myanmar and China.

Addressing mediapersons here on Sunday on the 49th BSF Day celebrations here, Thapliyal said with increase in the activities of traffickers, the BSF has also tightened its vigil across the valley and the border with Bangladesh and Myanmar. The increased monitoring has helped the force confiscate drugs worth Rs 450 crore till now this year. He said the amount is huge when compared to the drug hauls in previous years. In 2010, for instance, drugs worth Rs 43 lakh were confiscated.

The BSF IG also said that an international drug trafficking network has been operating in this part of the northeast and that the BSF, which is working in tandem with other law-enforcing agencies, is out to curb their activities.

"We have stepped up efforts to curb the menace and our success rate in containing drug trafficking is high. The big jump in the value and quantum of confiscated drugs meant for trafficking to Myanmar and China clearly reflects our success. We are hopeful that the menace will be completely stopped with the sealing of the international border with Bangladesh," said Thapliyal.

He said barring some disputed areas, fencing along the 124-km India-Bangladesh border in Assam's Barak Valley is almost complete. Now, work for setting up floodlights is being carried out by the CPWD; this would help BSF personnel maintain easy vigil during night hours. The IG said the floodlighting programme is equipped with generator sets for uninterrupted supply of power during power cuts.
22 November 2013

India Decries ‘Assam rape festival’ article

Most blame misinformed people for publishing article that maligns the country’s image

By Karuna Madan

New Delhi: A cross-section of the Indian society feels that an American website’s satirical rape article is a “clear Western propaganda” to malign India, its men and its main religion Hinduism, with the author not having even minimum knowledge of Indian culture.

“Worse than the article is the photograph of ‘Sadhus (saints), rushing to take bath in holy river Ganga at the time of auspicious Kumbh Mela,” said Delhi-based journalist Hemender

“This is a direct religious-racial attack on India. Hinduism is the religion where women have been given topmost priority, so much so that they are attributed as source of ‘Shakti’ (power).

“The defamation of Indian culture has been happening since the beginning of time. The people out there who believe that Indian society is regressive need to get their heads examined,” .

Famous corporate trainer Sarandeep Singh believes no culture is perfect and as part of human progress, civilisations must try to remove social man-made flaws and uplift women and the downtrodden.

“Having said this, the article on the purported Assam Rape festival is utterly disgusting. However, learning about the true nature of the article is an even bigger shocker. The writer has shown his disrespect to two groups of people at least. First, insult is brought on India and the Indian people, whose name has been maligned [by being shown as allowing] a gross tradition. Any such association wrongly projected in the name of satire is deep rooted offence and not humour. Secondly, this is a huge disrespect to women in general,” Singh added.

Women’s rights activist Kusum Sehgal said it was one thing to dominate women and keep them downtrodden due to lack of equal education, employment opportunities and social and legal rights, but joking about gang rape was simply outrageous.

“It is shameful and thoroughly offensive journalism,” Sehgal said.

However, some people who saw no wrong in the write-up. Delhi University Professor Reena Bhatt said: “On National Report’s website, they clearly state that they produce fake news. They do not hide this important piece of information.

“People saw a sensational story and ran with it. They did not bother to look at the source.”

Bhatt said it was not National Report’s fault that legitimate media sites were lazy in their fact checking.

“Personally, I wish National Report would change their name to something more befitting to them, maybe ‘National Joke Report’ or ‘National Faux News’ because too many of their silly stories keep getting picked up by the world media,” Bhatt added.
20 November 2013

Guwahati’s Cosmetic Development

Police personnel patrolling the banks of Brahmaputra River ahead of Republic Day celebrations in Guwahati, Assam, on Jan. 23, 2009.
Police personnel patrolling the banks of Brahmaputra River ahead of Republic Day celebrations in Guwahati, Assam, on Jan. 23, 2009.
“I come from Guwahati—a small town in the northeastern part of India,” I used to tell my friends in Minnesota, until one person asked me how large is Guwahati. When I answered, he looked at me shocked, “A small town of only 1.4 million people?” I smiled sheepishly because it was partly true, and partly untrue. Untrue because I had grown up believing that my Guwahati is a small town. True because, nowadays even I suspect that during my absence over the years—like a young girl in a large family — Guwahati has as if stealthily grown up without my notice.

I spent most of my childhood in Jalukbari, a lovely area by the National Highway 31, somewhat on the outskirts, occupying a liminal position in the city’s imagination. The royal-poinciana shaded streets, hostels and classrooms of Gauhati University were also situated in Jalukbari. But one day, we had to take the hard decision of leaving Jalukbari. The armed separatist insurgency led by the United Liberation Front of Assam was at its peak. Calls for shutdowns — Assam Bandh — were routine. My parents’ workplaces were far. Not going to work, especially during a bandh, wouldn’t go down well in the high rungs of their offices since both of them were government officers.

Finally, in 1996, we moved to the All India Radio Campus, in Chandmari, a location at the heart of the city, a protected area because it is a central government enterprise. Almost every city bus in Guwahati has to go via Chandmari to go to different parts of the city. Unlike Jalukbari, this part of the city was trampled by history  —  things I discovered later from books; from conversations with nostalgic old neighbors who visited in the evenings. They stayed for long, lamenting about the Assam Movement. The failure of which, in a way, gave rise to extremism in Assam along with identity politics, which has now hopelessly balkanized the state that speaks in many languages, with Assamese as the lingua franca.

Our campus, where fallen laburnum flowers reigned after heavy rains, was established in 1948. When it was inaugurated, Guwahatians protested against playing the National Anthem at the event, because India’s National Anthem, penned by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, made no mention of Assam or Northeast. They didn’t want to let an institution that was to be the center of Assam’s cultural activities play that song on its first day; the song perceived as one of the many images of India’s denial toward Assam.

Now, when I walk out of the house, I reach the main road. During the Oil Blockade Movement of the Assam Movement, an injured protester called Dulal Sharma had written “I will give blood, not oil,” with his own blood. If I cross that road, walk down a little, I come across the Parag Das memorial – for the popular journalist who was fatally shot in front of his son’s school on May 17, 1997, for this robust critique of Delhi’s imperial presence in Assam.

I started liking Chandmari also for the woody wild beauty of the radio campus. When my friends came over for lunch, we walked in our calm, shaded lanes. I hung out with my new friends in the campus at the Anandaram Barua Flyover, popularly known as Chandmari Flyover. We believed it was the most romantic spot in Guwahati. Students from Commerce College and the Engineering Institute of Assam sat there in pairs, discreetly holding hands in the evening and whispering words into each other’s ears. We dreamed of dating like that, when we reached college.

During days I fought with my parents, I would sit on the flyover and wonder how sad and horrible my life was. When we patched up, I would tell my mother how I sat there, looking at the speeding cars below and thinking deeply about my sad and horrible life dominated by disagreeable parents. We would laugh, high-fiving.

Like many of my contemporaries, because of the separatist insurgency I left the state for higher studies in 2004. Years of armed conflict had led to massive underdevelopment. Studious ones couldn’t attend classes because of the frequent bandhs — the same bandhs that forced us to leave our beloved Jalukbari. Sometimes, when bandhs were called during exams by a major outfit, students stayed back with friends at the college hostel so that they could write their tests and not lose an academic year. My parents didn’t want me to have such a life full of uncertainty. From a young age, every relative, every family friend, told me to “get out of Assam and build a career outside.”
This summer, I was told that that trend of leaving Assam is reversing now. Guwahati, as people say, is “developing.” New educational institutions, private and public, have sprung up; some private venture institutions have been nationalized. Jobs are opening in the private and public sector since insurgency has been on the decline (though the reasons behind the insurgencies are very much alive like smolders.)

Because of this “development”, a lot of my contemporaries are returning to Assam from cities they had left years ago in search of better opportunities. But the new Guwahati that I encounter annually when I return from the United States to spend my summers is alien to me. Dappled with tall, glittering giant shopping malls that play terrible songs, Guwahati seems like a city only for the wealthy. In this city of the wealthy, there is no space for someone like our cook, who refuses to use the city bus and walks the one-hour stretch from home to work even after we decided to pay for her bus rides. She would rather save that money. Saving 20 rupees a day added up to 600 rupees, or $10, per month.

Those old neighbors who sensitized me about Chandmari’s history are no more to be found. They have moved out of Chandmari after retirement; some have died. Our campus is less woody now. Several trees have been cut down to make way for new apartment complexes for new employees. The quaintness of the radio campus is a happy nostalgia. I met a new batch of middle-aged men and women. When I was a school-going teenager, they were young and newly married, full of hope and enthusiasm. Like prophets, they lament that the future of Assam is dark, so is theirs because everyone is neck deep in corruption; that these shopping malls are ephemeral like seasons’ flowers. They don’t lament about the Assam Movement. Nor do they say things would have been different if United Liberated Front of Assam would have led an intellectual and cultural movement.

They allege that the large, new business enterprises – media, malls, coal mining, constructions, multiplexes, restaurants – have investments from surrendered militants and corrupt politicians; that those are ways to turn black money into white. I don’t know if that is true.

A woman carrying her goats on a raft in the flood affected Chandrapur area of Guwahati, Assam, on Sept. 25, 2012.
European Pressphoto Agency
A woman carrying her goats on a raft in the flood affected Chandrapur area of Guwahati, Assam, on Sept. 25, 2012.
Something deep inside tells me — when I see the water-logged streets of this “much developed” city, when I think about our cook, when I hear of a woman called Basanti Devi getting electrocuted after stepping onto a puddle of water on a rainy evening while returning home after buying vegetables for dinner to feed her three fatherless children — that this change of Guwahati is not natural like a snake shedding old skin to get a healthy one. It is like Lakme foundation cream hiding pockmarks for just a few hours; there is something reprehensibly wrong with it.

In my room, I talk to old friends who pat my back, questioning me about my sex life, who ask me if I would carry this or that for them in my next trip. Some of them have found jobs in the new, booming private television media where a lot of journalists I know of are paid less than 10,000 rupees, or $160, per month. In the prime-time programs, they appear looking almost white, sleek and glamorous in attires provided by their channels. But their jobs have no other benefits – no health care, no security, no retirement schemes.

One of my old friends is now a television anchor. When we go out to buy traditional weaves to stitch new shirts for myself from the handloom market, people stare at us. I feel proud. After shopping, when we sit down to eat momos, I ask him what are his plans, because he entered the industry as a stopgap arrangement. I suggest that he take some competitive exams. He changes the topic.
I want to tell him about an Assamese journalist who has worked for more than 20 years for a wealthy print media house but earns just around 20,000 rupees per month, or $320, but I don’t. You don’t talk about exploitation and the future over pork momos.

It is evening. We decide to walk down home because we always did that when we were younger and poorer, dependent on the monthly allowances of our parents.

When we reach the riverbank in Uzan Bazaar, a breeze touches us.

I ask him, Do you remember that urban legend?

What legend? he asks.

Remember, when we were in high school during the late 1990s, some people used to talk about secret treasures? Of large bags of extorted money buried by militants? A lot of them surrendered, got huge stacks of currency from the government to start businesses. But later, they dug up those bags also. According to another version, the militants who buried those bags were killed but they passed on the information to others before dying. After “coming back to the mainstream,” the former militants dug up those treasures and used up the money. (I didn’t tell him that I wonder if that money is used to actually “develop” Guwahati.)

Why are you telling me that? he asks.

Because I don’t think it was an urban legend, I say. It must be true. Remember last summer when I was here, after heavy rains, thousand-rupee notes and five-hundred-rupee notes started floating in a marshland in Guwahati?

Yes, in Chachal, he says. I heard one daily wage laborer collected 50,000 rupees. I think two people drowned in the marsh while money-fishing, no?

I say nothing. He stops an auto-rickshaw.

I think it is going to rain, he says. Even if it rains a little, the city will be flooded and we won’t be able to reach home. Let’s not walk, he suggests.

When we haggle over the fare with the driver, I think about our cook. When it starts raining, I think about Basanti Devi. She had three children. The children seemed as if they were too young to understand what her death meant. When TV cameras zoomed in to show their confused faces, I had found myself wondering if the correspondents were disappointed to find them so stoic, for not crying.

Aruni Kashyap is the author of the novel “The House With a Thousand Stories.”
17 November 2013

Guwahati To Have First Police Commissioner By January 26

GUWAHATI, Nov 16 (Agencies): Five years after chief minister Tarun Gogoi mooted the idea of having a police commissionerate in the city following serial blasts by NDFB that killed more than 65 people in Guwahati alone, the city is likely to have its first police commissioner by January 26. The blasts had killed more than 100 people in the other parts of the state.

Assam DGP Jayanto Narayan Choudhury told TOI, “The chief minister has given us January 26 deadline for setting up the police commissionerate in Guwahati and accordingly we have submitted our proposal to the government.

” The Assam Police Act, 2007, has provisions for appointing a police commissioner in metropolitan areas and major urban areas where the population is more than 10 lakh. According to police records, the population of the city is over 15 lakh.

State commissioner and secretary of home department G D Tripathi told TOI, “The process to have a police commissioner in Guwahati is on. No bill in the assembly is needed to set up the commissionerate.”

Section 7 of the Assam Police Act says, “The state government may, by notification in the official gazette, establish for each urban areas with a population of 10 lakh or more as may be notified for the purpose from time to time, a police system which is capable of handling the typical complex problems of crime, public order and internal security in urban areas, which call for quick and comprehensive response springing from purposeful direction unitary chain of command, professional competence, function specialization and legal authority coupled with accountability.”

The Act states that the police commissioner to be appointed should not be below the rank of an inspector general of police (IGP).

A source said the DGP has proposed appointment of an additional police commissioner, two joint police commissioners, besides deputy police commissioners and assistant deputy police commissioners to assist the police commissioner.
25 October 2013

Assam Lemon Tests Global Market

Dhemaji district plans export to Japan


Nagaon, Oct 25 : The farmers of Dhemaji district are opening up to the concept of a global market. After the success in exporting red rice to the US, they are planning to export lemon (kaji nemu) to Japan.

The district administration will soon sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Kerala-based export firm to export lemon cultivated in Dhemaji to Japan.

Sources in the district administration today said preliminary work like sample collection, field survey, discussions to settle prices and other relevant processes were completed during a recent visit of a team of exporters. They said the entire process would be completed after a proposed visit of a team from Japan within a month.

Dhemaji deputy commissioner M.S. Manivannan said the initiative was part of the commitment to the farmers who were involved in lemon cultivation under the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme since 2011.

“If everything goes according to plan, the first consignment of lemons could be dispatched this year itself. Like our ongoing red rice export, lemon export could be increased according to need,” he said.

Dhemaji had started export of red rice (organic rice) to the US last year. It has already exported 300 tonnes of red rice till September this year.

“Our farmers have become accustomed to the concept of export. We hope the previous experience will help to make the second mission a success,” said a source in the administration.

Lemon cultivation was launched in five development blocks in the district. “We backed the farmers in floating block-level federations. Now, we will float district-level federations. The exporters will have direct relation with the federation and it will have the authority to fix the minimum support price,” Manivannan said.

The Assam lemon, known for its medicinal use, was traditionally cultivated in the flood-prone Dhemaji district since the soil condition and environment were favourable in the area.

The farmers took up commercial production after the administration assured them that they would be able to get the minimum support price and be provided with a market to sell their produce.

“There was a time when a small lemon orchard in each household was a symbol of prestige. Nowadays, cultivable land is used up for human habitation. The initiative may spur all rural households to take up lemon cultivation again,” said Pranami Taid, a Mising woman in Jonai.

According to the agriculture department records, of the 30,23,700 hectares of cultivated area in Dhemaji, around 25,004 hectares are used for horticulture crops. Of this, around 23,084 hectares were covered under 493 schemes at an estimated expenditure of Rs 670.33 lakh.

“We hope the annual yield will reach 1,65,000kg per hectare and the annual income from lemon is estimated at Rs 230.80 lakh,” said a source in the agriculture department.

Commercial cultivation of lemon is mainly carried out in Nagaon and Morigaon districts and in parts of Sonitpur, Mangaldoi, Barpeta and Nalbari. The Nagaon administration had attempted to export the product to Norway but it did not take off even after signing an agreement with a New Delhi-based export firm.
03 October 2013

Assam: Truck Slams into Minivans; 13 Children Among 28 Killed

Guwahati, Oct 3 : Police say a massive road accident involving a cargo truck and two minivans in Assam has left 28 people dead, including 13 children, and another 20 injured.

Barpeta district police say the 10-wheeler truck slammed into the oncoming minivans just after dawn Thursday about 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of Guwahati.

The minivans had been carrying workers, some with their children, to a local brick kiln. The truck was traveling to West Bengal.

TV channels showed a huge crowd surrounding 28 bodies covered in white sheets and lined up on green grass.

Police have yet to account for the truck driver, though one of two people who were in the truck is believed to be among the dead.
25 September 2013

A Conversation With: Environmental Activist Akhil Gogoi

Akhil Gogoi, general secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, an organization for farmers, at his office in Guwahati, Assam.
Akhil Gogoi, an environmental activist, has been campaigning against the construction of the big dams and highways in the mountainous northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh bordering China. Mr. Gogoi believes that natural disasters like the floods that hit the northern state of Uttarakhand and killed several thousand could also happen in Arunachal Pradesh if dam and road constructions go unchecked.

He first gained national recognition in India for his use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to fight corruption. Mr. Gogoi, whose parents were sharecroppers, has also worked as an activist for peasant land rights. In 2005, he formed the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), an organization of farmers in the northeastern state of Assam with more than a million members.

India Ink spoke to Mr. Gogoi at the KMSS office in Guwahati, the capital of Assam.
Why are you protesting against the construction of large dams in northeastern India?
The rivers have flowed down from the hills from the ancient times to give us life and livelihood. Our farmers are hugely dependent on the river. Dams will destroy this critical relationship between the river and the people. The ecology of Assam is part of the ecology of Arunachal Pradesh. Assam bears the cost of developmental projects in Arunachal Pradesh.
One big dam is enough for all the people in the Northeast. But the dams in Arunachal Pradesh are not being built to supply power for local people. They are being constructed to supply power to corporations. This is corporatization of water. Water should be a community resource.
Before constructing a big dam, we should have a very proper, genuine scientific study on the river and the ecosystem. No such study was conducted.
Your anti-dam campaign has largely focused on the 2,000 megawatt Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which is now roughly 50 percent complete. In 2011, you led a protest movement to block the turbines from reaching the construction site. How did you do that?
KMSS, along with other organizations, succeeded in mobilizing the farmers and middle classes on the dam question. Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in the process. We chopped down huge trees on the road. We dug a trench. We blocked roads with electricity poles. All the roads were blocked. The government accused us of being Maoists, Naxalites, and carrying on an armed struggle. But we are not. Ours is a ferocious resistance and we have put all our energy against this dam.
Recently, there has been an increasing presence of Maoists in upper Assam, especially in the tea garden communities. Your leftist ideology and reverence for Maoist revolutionary ideas is very similar to theirs. How is your struggle different?
Our politics is mass people politics and their politics is based on weapons and violence. We have no weapons. We do not do extortion. We collect money through voluntary donations.
How do you use Right to Information requests to fight corruption and why is this method so important to your movement?
First we get all the information we need for using the RTI and then we start to fight.
The base of our popularity comes from the use of the RTI Act as an instrument of social mobilization and our anti-corruption movement. The anti-corruption movement made KMSS possible. This is why the middle class has accepted us.
Last year, KMSS opened “fair price” vegetable stalls in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. What does this achieve?
We tried to address two questions. The price of vegetables is high for customers, but the farmers get very little for it. A farmer gets only get 1.5 rupees per kilogram for tomatoes but the customer has to buy it for 30 to 40 rupees. The profit goes to the brokers, not to the producers. We wanted to establish a market that directly connects producers and customers.
We understand that this is a temporary experiment. But it shows that price control as well as profits to the producers can be provided by sincere state effort.
You recently announced plans to start a political party in 2015. Will you be contesting elections?
We are going to form a party, but not fight for parliamentary elections. The issue has been continuously debated within the organization. The party is for social and democratic reform and revolution. Till now, KMSS is a mass organization, and no mass organization can bring about serious change. Only a strong political party can achieve this.
The movement you led in 2002 against the forest department’s eviction drive launched you as an activist beyond student politics. What happened?
There was a massive eviction drive by the Forest Department throughout Assam. I was one of the five students from Guwahati University, who went to Tengani area in Nambar Reserve Forest in Golaghat district. We found many houses burned and others demolished by the Forest Department’s elephants. We held a meeting and formed an organization to resist the eviction drive and my real movement was started.
On Aug. 7, 2002, we led a protest from Tengani to the district headquarters in Golaghat 40 kilometers away. We went on foot, 10,000 to 15,000 people, starting at 4 a.m. In Golaghat town we fought against the police. After quarreling for an hour, the deputy commissioner came and he gave an assurance that no eviction drive would happen in Tengani area before discussing it with the people. It was the first time I spoke about land rights.
How was KMSS formed and what issues does it care about the most?
After two years in Tengani, we had an intense confrontation with the government. The police and the ruling Congress party were strongly opposing us. We could not resist the government in such a small area, so we decided that we must spread the democratic mass movement all across Assam.
On June 28, 2005, we began a bicycle procession with 200 people, split into two teams. One went to lower Assam, and the other to upper Assam. We met many flood-affected people and people living in the forests in every district of Assam. This was a big source of learning for us, and we connected with many local organizations and NGOs throughout the state. After one month, we gathered in Tezpur town and formed the KMSS.
We demand land reforms in Assam. Land must be distributed to peasants and farmers. Our second demand is for community rights over natural resources. And third is to find a solution to problems of flooding and erosion. Also, we want 100 percent irrigation in paddy fields.
What’s the hardest part about being a leader?
It is a lot of stress. People think Akhil Gogoi will stop dams. They have such big expectations. KMSS has 300 to 400 full-time workers and 30,000 volunteer workers who are all my responsibility. Recently the police registered a case against one of our workers in Barpeta District. I went to his house and his father said, “My son has been sent to jail and is living in terrible conditions. When will he come home? What are you doing about this?” Now I have to figure out how to get him out of jail. Just today, 30 members of our organization are getting bail.

(This interview has been slightly edited and condensed.)

Brian Orland is a freelance journalist.
19 September 2013

Another Rhino Poached in Kaziranga National Park, Toll Goes To 22

Guwahati, Sep 19 : Another rhino was killed for its one-horn in Kaziranga national park on Tuesday evening. The forest officials fired an attack with the poachers but they were successful in escaping with the animal horn. AK 47 and .303 rifles‘s empty cartridges have been found near the dead rhino.

Divisional Forest Officer of the park, SK Seal Sarma,  said that the officials recovered the carcass of the male rhino from Burhanpur range of Assam during a forest patrol on Wednesday morning. Only the last, poachers had killed a rhino and a rhino calf in the range.

This year, a total of 22 rhinoceroses have already been killed in Kaziranga National Park. The figure is much worse than the previous year when the poachers killed 40 rhinos in the forest areas of Assam.

Assam's Kaziranga National Park is UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

In response to the rising number of poaching incidents in the state of Assam, the Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) was set up by the government. Around 200 AFPF guards are deployed in the park but this has not brought a decrease in the incidents.

In order to protest against the government’s inability to keep a check on rhino killing on Kaziranga, the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) stranded the National Highway near Kohora. They also burnt effigies of government authorities.

Horn and tusk trade

Rhino horn has been poached since time immemorial for its demand as a constituent in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is believed to be effective in reducing high fevers and convulsions and controlling haemorrhage.
18 September 2013

Ministry of Defence Pays Rs.5 Lakh For A Death in Army Custody

Ministry of Defence pays Rs.5 Lakh for a death in army custodyBy Bikash Singh

Ministry of Defence pays Rs.5 Lakh for a death in army custody
Guwahati, Sep 18 : Following National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) recommendations, Ministry of Defence has paid Rs.5 Lakh for a death in the army custody in Assam.

According to NHRC, the Superintendent of Police, Haflong, Dima Hasao, Assam, had sent an intimation to the NHRC, received on March 15, 2011, regarding the death of an accused, Thangben Demprai, aged 23 years, along with a copy of an FIR in the matter lodged by the Army.

It was stated that on March 9, 2011 at about 12:30 p.m. Captain Huska Sema of 16 Dogra, CampThajuwary, handed over Thangben's dead body at Poilice station Diyngmukh.

NHRC stated that according to the FIR, Thangben was inside a house, which was locked from outside. The lock was broken by Army personnel and the deceased was brought out for questioning. The moment he sat in the vehicle parked about 100 yards away he became unconscious. He was taken to the Primary Health Centre, Diyngkukh, where he was declared dead.

However, according to another FIR registered in the matter on a joint complaint by the brother-in-law of the deceased, Thangben was picked up by Army personnel of Thaijuwary Camp in his village and later killed under mysterious circumstances.

The post-mortem report did not reveal any injury on the person of the deceased. On viscera examination, the Additional Commissioner of Dima Hasao, District Haflong, in his magisterial enquiry report concluded that Thangben died in Army custody on way to the Primary Health Centre, Diyngmukh.

After examining the viscera report, the Board of Doctors opined that cause of death was vegal inhibition, which might be due to anger, fright, dread or any other emotional excitement.

The Commission observed that the death of Thangben had taken place while in the custody of Army officials and thus his human rights were violated. It recommended through the Secretary, Ministry of Defence that the Government of India pay Rs.5 Lakh as interim relief to the next of kin of the deceased and also called for the proof of payment.
12 September 2013

Now A Unique Call Centre For Pregnant Women

Now a unique call centre for pregnant womenBy Vinita Chaturvedi 

Here's a piece of good news for the pregnant women of Assam, which will go a long way in the uplift of the women, if adopted by other states too.

Management and Research Institute (HMRI), an initiative under the Ajay G. Piramal Foundation, in association with Assam National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) have set up a formal and organised call centre for pregnant women in Assam under the Central Government's Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS) scheme. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India, formally inaugurated the MCTS Call Centre at HMRI office premises in Guwahati on September 01, 2013.

Other distinguished dignitaries present on the occasion of the launch ceremony were Dr. Partho Jyoti Gogoi , the Regional Director of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India and Smt. Anuradha Gupta, Additional Secretary and Mission Director of NRHM, Govt. of India along with the senior leaders of HMRI and Piramal Foundation.

The call centre pioneers an innovative concept to provide complete services to pregnant women and children in the state of Assam, thereby reducing the Maternity Mortality Rate MMR and Infant Mortality Rate IMR through this initiative. A state-of-the-art application software has been developed by HMRI especially for this project, which will enable the tracking of the progress during the entire pregnancy period of the expecting woman starting from the time a woman conceives up to the time the child is delivered till the immunisation processes are completed.

"The Piramal Foundation supports HMRI in addressing the healthcare needs of the under privileged section of the Indian society. This initiative in Assam further reinforces our endeavor in providing technology enabled mass solutions that can provide health advice and support to the remotest parts of India", said Paresh Parasnis,Head of Piramal Foundation at the inauguration.

As MCTS is a Central Govt. initiative, most of the states in India are in the process of implementing this scheme in cooperation with the respective Central and State Governments.

Other services offered by HMRI in association with NRHM in Assam are the Sarathi 104 Health Helpline, ASHA Helpline, ARSH Helpline and the Complaint Logging System.
27 August 2013

Assam Youth Brings Literacy To 11 Villages

By Prasanta Mazumdar 

Uttam Teron's school provides free education to over 500 students.

Guwahati, Aug 27 : Uttam has set up a school in a Guwahati village to provide free education. His friends laughed at him when Uttam Teron took it upon himself to educate his village. Ten years down the line, his tribal-dominated Pamohi village on the outskirts of Guwahati boasts of achieving a near 100% literacy.

In 2003, Teron (37) started a school Parijat Academy with just four students to realise his dream of 100% literacy for the children of Pamohi. Today, the school has 510 students from Pamohi and 11 neighbouring tribal villages. Parijat Academy is a non-profitable school for the underprivileged.

Its mission has been to provide free and quality education to children through ‘joyful learning’. “The people in my village are battered by poverty. Many of them would sell local brew to eke out a living. I saw children helping out their parents in the trade. So, I thought I should start a learning centre for these underprivileged children,” Teron, a science graduate and son of a retired railway locomotive pilot, said.

Pamohi has a population of around 2,000. Teron says 95% of the people in the village are literate today. In 2006, he launched a drive to educate women but had to give up midway as the women could not attend classes for several reasons.

Teron says his friends jeered at him when he told them about his plan to start a school for the underprivileged while his parents discouraged him fearing he was only spoiling his future. “I started the school in an unused cowshed with just Rs800.

It was a one-room thatched house with a pair of desk and bench and a blackboard. The turnaround, over the last few years, only bewilders me for I have never thought the school will grow to such stature,” he says.

The school, today, has 12 classrooms and classes up to Xth. It is semi-concretised and has a guest room and a dormitory that can house 15 students.

Teron pays Rs2,500 each to the 23 faculty members. He says donations received from well-wishers have kept the academy going.

He seeks donations through Facebook and e-mails.

‘Volunteers’ from Australia, US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Malaysia and the Czech Republic visit the school regularly to impart vocational training in computer, stitching, knitting, weaving etc.
26 August 2013

Silchar Tense After Overnight Violence, 50 Injured

By Alok Pandey
Guwahati, Aug 26 : Fifty people, including 20 policemen, have reportedly been injured after violence near Assam's Silchar town late on Sunday night.

According to the police, the violence broke out in Rangpur town over a local issue. About 2500 people, mostly youth, came out on the street and started obstructing the traffic, cops said, adding that they even tried to set some vehicles on fire.

By the time police arrived at the scene, the flare-up had become ugly. The mob also clashed with the police in which Superintendent of Police Diganta Bora, who was present at the scene, got injured. The police then had to resort to lathi-charge to control the situation.

Twenty people have been detained and the police are monitoring the situation closely. The troops of the Central Reserve Police Force are patrolling the streets and the Army is on standby, but no curfew has been imposed so far.
15 August 2013

Inside Walls That Talk


Aruni Kashyap.

Writer Aruni Kashyap talks about his debut novel, and the burden of representing Assam

In a Ted Talk delivered in 2009, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie talked about “the danger of a single story”. “Show a people as only one thing over and over again, and that is what they become,” she said. Everyone is susceptible to the single story. The mainland understanding of Assam and the rest of North-East, ridden with stereotypes, is reflective of this. If there is a corrective to the danger of a single story, it lies in narrating many more stories. Aruni Kashyap’s debut novel “The House with a Thousand Stories” takes its name from the experience of joint families, where one is constantly surrounded by stories. But it is tempting to read it in light of Adichie’s statement.
The novel, set in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is narrated by its protagonist Pablo over two visits, first for a funeral and then a wedding, to his ancestral family house in Mayong in rural Assam. The shadow of insurgency hangs over these rituals like a lurid rumour. On these visits he discovers many things, about his forbidding aunt, secretive cousin and himself. Excerpts from an e-mail interview:
Can you talk about the origins of your novel? It seems to have been anticipated in a poem you wrote earlier, which also talks about an L-shaped house with a thousand novels.
Actually, The House With a Thousand Stories was born from a short story. I wanted to write a story about a seventeen-year-old boy called Pablo who would visit his ancestral village to attend his aunt’s wedding and fall in love; I'd titled the story 'Country Wedding', a horrible title, if you ask me now...
After I wrote about 10,000 words, I realised it deserved to be a novel, not a short story, not a novella. This decision created a new challenge for me because I had a different ending in mind for the purpose of a short story and since I can’t write fiction without knowing the closure, I had to halt the writing for many weeks until the closure arrived. After that it was very easy because everything sort of happened on its own. I just had to turn up at my desk every morning. As if Pablo stood by me and dictated the whole book to me. I am just Pablo’s stenographer.
How did you go about creating the character of Pablo? Why did you call him that and why was it necessary for him to belong to urban Assam?
I wish I could explain why Pablo is called ‘Pablo’ and why he belongs to Guwahati, not Jokaisuk. When I ‘saw’ this young, seventeen-year-old Lee Cooper jeans-clad boy standing in front of me, eager to tell me about his doomed first love, he started telling me the story only after I called him by the right name. I called him Dhonti, he didn’t turn back. I called him Noyonmoni, he remained quite. But when I called him Pablo, he turned to face me with a smile on his face. There are many things in writing that are beyond your control. All you need to do is turn up at your desk and let it happen. Also, Pablo’s parents are west-facing. They speak in English at home, his mother wants him to enroll for his undergraduate in the United States, so on. It was natural that they wouldn’t name him Pitambor or Tonkeshwor.
You have talked about how in the past your writing tended to carry footnotes and glossaries. When and why did you decide to do away with them?
Since I write in English also, and come from a state that finds little representation in the rest of India, I am expected to take up the burden of ‘representing’ various things in my fiction. Recently, some people told me that I should have provided more details about the history of the Assam-India conflict in my book so that people who read the book learn about it. It charmed me, but at the same time, I am very sure that I don’t want my fiction to be Assam History 101. I tried to educate people through my fiction and poetry when I was younger and very immature but I have learnt that the purpose of fiction is not to teach history, politics, geography.
Which writers have you been influenced by?
Toni Morrison is the writer I have learnt the most from. I read Beloved again and again before writing this novel to learn its structure, and whenever I reached a block, I would open any page of Song of Solomon, Jazz or Sula. Indira Goswami, Amitav Ghosh, Nadine Gordimer, Garcia Marquez, William Faulkner, Ashapurna Devi are some other writers who taught me many things.
12 August 2013

CCTV Surveillance for Guwahati

Guwahati, Aug 12 : More than 90 sensitive locations here in Assam's main city will be put under CCTV surveillance soon, police said Sunday.

L.R. Bishnoi, inspector general (Central Western Range) of Assam Police, said these locations will be monitored round-the-clock.

"While close to 200 cameras have already been installed in 90 locations, the remaining one location will be have CCTV cameras soon. We are now waiting for the server to come so that electronic surveillance becomes operational," he said.

A total of 36 officials in three shifts -- 12 personnel in each shift -- will monitor the live CCTV footage in 27 monitors in the control room. This will be a permanent arrangement to secure the city from militant attacks, the police official said.

The project to cover the city under CCTV surveillance was initiated in 2009. However, the project got delayed for many years.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, while reviewing the security of Guwahati with top police officials after the recent blast in Paltan Bazar July 28, had asked the force to speed up the process of installation of CCTVs.

Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent of Police (City) A.P. Tiwari said security in and around the city has been intensified, particularly after a boycott call given by militant outfits.

"It's a regular boycott call given by militants every year. However, we cannot take risks as they triggered three blasts last month across the state including one in Paltan Bazar," said Tiwari.

The ground where the Independence Day function will take place has already been secured, and entry and exit routes in the city have also been put under surveillance.
07 August 2013

In Bodoland We Burn

A photographer’s memories of seven months in troubled Lower Assam that has seen bloodshed and multiple rounds of ethnic violence over the last year.

The announcement to create a new state of Telangana has rejuvenated the long-term agitation for a separate state of Bodoland in Assam.

The violence-ravaged foothills of Lower Assam have stood testimony to years of bloodshed. A brief period of relative peace and tranquillity was restored here in 2003 when the area witnessed some development. This reprieve ended in 2012 when the monsoons seemed to have brought as much fire as rain.

Ethnic riots, attacks and counter-attacks between Bodo people and Bengali Muslims resulted in widespread arson and rioting. Lakhs were displaced in Lower Assam, bringing back memories of a dead insurgency. Curfews were imposed and the security beefed up. 

The ethnic animosity that almost destroyed the area in the 1990s had returned.

I reached Kokrajhar, the epicentre of the hostilities, in January of 2013. An acute sense of fear still loomed large. The air was uneasy and every few months brought fresh news of violence. I started to look for images that spoke of what lay under the current situation of mistrust, what lay beyond all the arson and rioting that had once again brought the area and its people to their knees.

Ethnic conflict, displacement and migration in Lower Assam are not a new phenomenon. These have been used for political gains by, both, State and non-State actors. These machinations have ended sometimes in the mass exodus of whole communities, amounting to a sort of ethnic cleansing.

The tribal nature of the conflict in most parts of western Assam adds to the complications.

Assam has been divided thrice -- Nagaland in 1963, Meghalaya in 1971 and Mizoram in 1985. The Bodo people comprise about 5 percent of Assam’s population, while Bengali Muslim settlers make up about 33 percent.

Today, the area hunkers down into a 72-hour bandh enforced by the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU). The signs of an unfinished democratic process are everywhere. By Arkadripta Chakraborty
Arkadripta Chakraborty is a freelance photographer who divides his time between Guwahati, Assam and Agartala, Tripura. His work focuses on people living on the margins of the Indian society. For the last year he has focused on covering the ethnic conflict in northeast India, with particular focus on western Assam. His work is regularly featured in both national and international publications and websites.