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Bongaigaon, Sept. 26: The Pradip Ray faction of the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union (Akrsu) today called a 24-hour statewide shutdown on October 1 followed by a 36-hour chakka jam on October 3 in protest against the “faulty policy” of the government on the ST issue.

The group demanded that the expert committee formed to submit a report on the matter should prepare a “transparent final modality report” on granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six communities in Assam before its submission on October 15.

Speaking to reporters here Ray, president of the students’ group, said the points to be included in the modality were not discussed in the meeting held with leaders of the six communities in Delhi on September 23 .

“So, if the modality published by the expert committee does not help to include Koch-Rajbongshis the ST list, the government and the leaders present in the meeting will be blamed for it,” he said.

“We were accorded ST status by the President in 1996 through an ordinance, but currently we have to fight for it along with five other ethnic groups. Among the five other ethnic groups (Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, Sutia and Adivasi) some have flimsy base for the ST demand for which we have to suffer and wait for new modalities,” Ray said.

Ray said if the Centre wishes to accord ST status to the state’s six communities, it should freely discuss the matter with all the groups of the six communities and tribal groups who oppose this demand in a joint meeting.

“We hope that the expert committee will make the final modality report public before its submission on October 15, so that we can put forward our opinion for and against the report,” general secretary of the student group Gokul Barman said.

The expert committee (for publishing modality), headed by special secretary (internal security) to the Union ministry of home affairs, Mahesh Kumar Singla, was formed on February 29. It was supposed to have published the report on May 31.

 
By Tejesh Kumar

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Guwahati, Sept. 26: The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has announced six special trains to clear the rush ahead of the festive season.

“We have already notified six special trains to clear the rush ahead of Durga Puja and Diwali. Bookings are open. The New Bongaigaon-Guwahati (train No. 05813) and Guwahati-New Bongaigaon (05814) will have 46 trips each between October 1 and December 31. Train services in this high-demand section might be continued beyond the period,” NFR chief public relations officer P.J. Sharma told The Telegraph today.

The other five sections where the railway has notified special trains are Kamakhya-Bangalore, Kamakhya-Pune, Guwahati-Gorakhpur, Dibrugarh-Calcutta and New Jalpaiguri-Calcutta. Here the number of trips is relatively less given the relatively lower demand. “The Kamakhya-Bangalore and Bangalore-Kamakhya will make four trips each during October 4 and 25 while the Kamakhya-Pune and Pune-Kamakhya trains will make seven trips each during October 3 and November 14,” Sharma said.

The Guwahati-Gorakhpur and Gorakhpur-Guwahati trains will make six trips each between October 7 and November 11, the Dibrugarh-Calcutta and Calcutta-Dibrugarh will make seven trips each between October 2 and November 13 while the New Jalpaiguri-Calcutta and Calcutta-New Jalpaiguri will make seven trips each between October 1 and November 12.

Besides, there will be a superfast Puja special with six trips each in the Sealdah-Kamakhya section (Eastern Railway) between October 7 and November 12. It will comprise one AC first-class coach, four AC two-tier coaches and 11 AC three-tier coaches.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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Kokrajhar, Sept. 26: The All BTC Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU) today said if Hindu Bengalis from Bangla-desh get citizenship rights in India, the same should apply in the case of Muslims too.

Speaking at the union’s office at Bhotgaon here, ABMSU president Lafiqul Islam Ahmed said, “There cannot be separate criteria on the basis of religion as the Constitution does not allow it.

“If the state government wants to identify the foreigners, then the cut-off year should be 25 March, 1971,” he said.

The demand came in the wake of the Centre’s decision to grant citizenship to Hindus (passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016) who migrated from Bangladesh post-1971. The draft bill seeks to help Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to get citizenship after a stay of six years. AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had said on Saturday that the passage of the bill would be a disaster for the identity and culture of the indigenous population in the state.

The parliamentary committee is accepting objections and suggestions from organisations and the public till September 30. The students’ union is organising an intellectual meet in Chirang on October 1 and a mass gathering here on October 15.

 
By Preetam B. Choudhury

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Officials & staff clean the premises of the Titabar SDO (civil) office on Monday. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, Sept. 26: The Titabar sub-divisional administration, in association with the public health department, today launched a week-long programme named Bapu Saptah to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2.

A series of activities will be undertaken on cleanliness and sanitation, involving school and college students and the public.

Titabar sub-divisional officer (civil) Keerthi Jalli told The Telegraph that the programme will be a “fitting tribute” to Gandhi ji, who led a campaign for individual and community cleanliness throughout his life.

Jalli said since early morning, students, with support from teachers, started cleaning their school and college campuses and also the nearby areas.

She said some of the students, along with teachers and government officials, would visit the rural areas and tea gardens to spread awareness on the need to develop the habitof washing our hands after going to toilet and before eating food.

Jalli said the administration’s ongoing campaign to make Titabar open defecation-free by the end of this year will be intensified during this drive.

From early tomorrow morning, the administration and PHE officials, accompanied by NGO members, will visit localities where people defecate outside, offer them tea and talk to them about the need for having toilets for a healthy living. Poor households will be told about the government scheme where toilets are installed free for families in the below poverty line category.

She said as part of the campaign, bank accounts will be opened for people who have constructed toilets after the open defecation-free campaign was launched last month.

The Assamese gamosa has been made the mascot for the open defecation-free initiative.

Jalli said painting, debate and quiz competitions will be held among students on topics related to sanitation.

On Sunday, a rally to be participated by government officials, students, police, paramilitary personnel and other people will be taken out at 6am from the SDO (civil)’s office to Gandhi park to conclude the week-long campaign.

 
By Our Correspondent

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Agartala, Sept. 26: Four senior women legislators today walked out of the Tripura Assembly to protest against a discussion on sex workers in the state and resultant growing HIV-positive and AIDS cases.

“We cannot attend this distasteful discussion on sex workers. Therefore, we are leaving the House,” said former minister and CPM MLA Vijaylaxmi Sinha. She was followed by MLAs Rita Kar Mazumder, Gouri Das and Tunu Malakar. But the discussion between the treasury bench and the Opposition continued.

The MLAs took the step after veteran Congress MLA Ratanlal Nath raised a special motion on granting monthly allowance to sex workers who are allegedly spreading the HIV virus and AIDS.

In reply, social welfare minister Bijita Nath said there was no identified sex worker in Tripura and hence the question of granting monthly allowance to them did not arise.

Nath said her department had no information about the existence of sex workers in the state. Eight NGOs working in the state had received Rs 56 lakh from the state government in the first quarter of the current financial year for social service, he added.

The Congress MLA said according to the information on the state AIDS control society’s website, there were 5,148 sex workers in Tripura. The website also stated that 90 per cent of the HIV and AIDS cases were being caused by unprotected sex and the remaining 10 per cent by drug-bearing injections. Even before Nath could defend her statement, Ratanlal reeled off statistical data furnished by the official website of the AIDS Control Society. He said of 75,000 blood samples that had been tested in 2013-2014, 225 were found to be HIV-positive. In 2014-2015, 244 blood samples, out of the 82,442 tested, were found to be HIV-positive, while in 2015-2016, testing of 1.2 lakh blood samples yielded 293 HIV-positive cases.

“In the first three months of the current financial year, 39,940 samples were tested and 112 were found to be HIV-positive,” Nath said, adding that the information he had shared in the House was collected from the official website of the AIDS Control Society.

At present there are 1,154 confirmed AIDS patients in Tripura, he said.

Health minister Badal Chowdhury said the state AIDS Control Society functions under the guidelines of the National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) but the functioning of the health or social welfare department is different.

“The health and social welfare departments have no information about sex workers, HIV-positive or AIDS patients. Women suffering from various diseases receive monthly allowances from the state government but it is difficult to say they whether they are sex workers,” said Chowdhury.

However, Nath vouched for the authenticity of the data he had presented in the House.

 
By Our Special Correspondent

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Nagaon, Sept. 26: A section of employees of the NC Hills Autonomous Council today suspended strike till October 7 after the authorities promised to pay their arrears before Durga Puja.

The council has 2,700 normal sector (council-appointed) employees who have arrears pending since 2007, which totals salary of eight months.

More than 600 employees assembled in front of the council secretariat in Haflong on the first day of the strike. However, after chief executive member Debulal Garlosa arrived there and asked them to withdraw their strike as the council was preparing a strategy to clear part of the outstanding arrears before the Puja, a section of them decided to withdraw the strike.

“Fifteen days ago, we moved Dispur with fresh requests as we wanted to end the problem. We hope something might be done at the earliest for the greater interest of the employees,” Garlosa said.

“The council said it would find a solution. If nothing is done within October 6, we will re-launch the strike from October 7,” said a union leader.

Normal sector employees were appointed by the council in its various departments between 1994 and 2004 of which 70 per cent are primary school teachers. The salary of these employees could not be paid during the 2008 administrative crisis in the hill district.

Employees’ union president Prasanna Hasnu was not present during the strike.

“Before the BJP came to power in the council it had promised to pay the outstanding salary of the normal sector employees. The party also reiterated the same before the Assembly elections. But after the polls, it forget everything,” said Sanjib Naiding, a primary school teacher.

 
By Our Correspondent

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Arvind Kejriwal with Irom Sharmila in New Delhi on Monday. Picture courtesy: Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi

New Delhi, Sept. 26: The Delhi chief minister’s office had an unlikely visitor today. Manipur rights crusader Irom Sharmila had a 45-minute meeting with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal here.

The 44-year-old activist recently ended her hunger strike seeking repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and said she would contest against Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi singh in the Assembly polls next year. Sharmila had told reporters in Imphal that she considered the Aam Aadmi Party leader a “great strategist” and would seek his advice on how to “oust Ibobi.”

Sharmila did not speak to the media here today. However, an aide to Kejriwal said, “It is only the first meeting regarding her political endeavours with the chief minister. There was no formal discussion on her joining the AAP. Sharmila had difficulty in expressing herself and took the help of a translator. The Delhi chief minister said if she came forward, everyone would support her.”

The aide clarified that the AAP had no plans of allying with or supporting any other party in Manipur.

AAP sources said Sharmila had been contacted before the Lok Sabha polls but she was not interested in contesting back then. The AAP’s Lok Sabha manifesto called for the “review and reform of laws like AFSPA to make them time-bound and humane.” It had also stressed that “sexual violence against women by armed forces should not be given impunity.”

After a controversial interview by dissident party leader Prashant Bhushan in 2014, the AAP had declared that they are “against any referendum for army deployment in Jammu & Kashmir.”

Besides Kejriwal, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and AAP’s national treasurer Raghav Chadda were present at the meeting. After the meeting, Kejriwal tweeted, “I salute her courage and struggle. My best wishes and full support in her political endeavours.”

Sharmila is scheduled to attend the Global Youth Peace Festival in Chandigarh on Wednesday and address an event to commemorate Manipuri CPI leader Hijam Irabot’s 120th birth anniversary at Delhi University on Friday. A source said she might reveal her future course of action after her speech.

 
By Pheroze L. Vincent

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The programme being telecast at Kisan Mela in Jorhat on Monday.

Telegraph picture

Jorhat, Sept. 26: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched two high-yielding varieties of lemongrass and citronella produced by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-North East Institute of Science and Technology here, at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, on the occasion of the platinum jubilee year of the council, of which the institute is a constituent lab.

After the ceremony, Modi interacted with a few farmers at the Kisan Mela organised by the institute here, the entire programme being beamed live on television.

In his interaction with Biswanath Pandit, a farmer, Modi asked if Assam could not scientifically produce a new brand of tea as people nowadays sought something new in everything. The farmer, who had done his BSc in botany, said a lot of tea in Assam was being organically produced and was fetching a good price abroad.

Farmer Akshay Sharma was asked if the citronella and lemongrass had a good market and Sharma replied that they got nearly Rs 600-Rs 700 for a litre of oil, which was much less than the price obtained outside the state, which was between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500.

Nearly 500 farmers who participated in the fair were given saplings of the two new varieties. The citronella variety was named Jor Lab C-5 and the lemongrass variety was named Jor Lab L-8.

K.M. Bujarbaruah, the vice-chancellor of Assam Agricultural University, who launched the varieties here, said one lab should be set up centrally for aromatic plants to analyse the medicinal and other properties of the oils.

“A lot of work has to be done and setting up a lab would go a long way,” he said.

Mohan Lal, a breeder in the medicinal, aromatics and economic plants division, said the lemongrass produced 30 per cent more oil than the earlier variety, while the citronella variety produced 40 per cent more oil than the earlier one.

Siddhartha Saikia, scientist and group head of the division, said both the varieties had been registered with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

Pinaki Sengupta, a scientist at the institute, spoke of the different technologies and products in which lemon grass and citronella oil were used.

D. Ramaiah, the institute’s director, told The Telegraph over phone from New Delhi that it was a proud moment for the institute.

“Our institute has done a lot of good work and these two varieties are part of the process,” Ramaiah said.

 
By Smita Bhattacharyya

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Guwahati, Sept. 26: Former chief minister Tarun Gogoi today demanded that the Assam government publish a white paper on encroachment to maintain transparency in its eviction drives.

Accusing Dispur of targeting a particular minority community in eviction drives, particularly at Kaziranga National Park, Gogoi said once a white paper was published, the people would know about the actual status of encroachments in the state.

He said it would also help the government regarding whom to evict from government land, national parks, reserve forests and other sites in a fair and transparent manner.

“There are many poor and homeless people taking shelter on government land and the government needs to be humane during an eviction drive against these people. Many rich, influential people, including tea garden owners, are encroaching upon land and the government must be ruthless against such encroachers. The government needs to publish a white paper instead of targeting a particular community,” Gogoi told reporters. The BJP government has vowed to carry out similar drives in other parts of the state.

Gogoi also criticised BJP’s national president Amit Shah for praising Sarbananda Sonowal. “Shah praised Sonowal during the BJP’s national council meeting in Kerala yesterday. Shah, who talked about encroachment, forgot about the woes of people who have lost their land and home in annual floods and erosion in the state,” he said.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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AASU activists march in Guwahati. File picture

Guwahati, Sept. 26: The Congress has joined indigenous organisations in Assam and stepped up its opposition to the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Hindu and other non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh.

The opposition comes close on the heels of introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the Parliament by the Narendra Modi government on August 11. The issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh has been dominating political and social life in Assam for more than three decades. A six-year anti-foreigners movement (1979-1984) led by the All Assam Students Union had resulted in the signing of the Assam Accord.

The bill, if passed, will pave the way for granting citizenship to Hindus and other non-Muslims who migrated to India from Bangladesh after facing religious persecution in the neighbouring country.

Former chief minister Tarun Gogoi told reporters here this afternoon that the Congress in Assam had always favoured granting refugee status (not citizenship) to such migrants from Bangladesh. “My government last year took a cabinet decision favouring only refugee status to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. I will continue to stick to the decision irrespective of whether the Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed or not,” he said.

Assam PCC president Ripun Bora told The Telegraph that though the party high command would take the final decision on whether to support or oppose the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the Congress in Assam would oppose such a bill if it does not have the provision to safeguard all clauses and provisions of the Assam Accord.

“The Congress has been favouring refugee status for all migrants who left Bangladesh after being victims of religious persecution. But the refugee status should not be for an indefinite period. At the same time, the Congress respects the Assam Accord and will not favour taking any more burden of Bangladeshi nationals who entered Assam after March 24, 1971. So we demand that the BJP-led government at the Centre should make adequate provisions in the draft bill to safeguard the Assam Accord. Assam can’t afford to take any more burden of migrants from Bangladesh,” Bora said.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to help migrant Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to get citizenship after a stay of six years.

Former Assam chief minister and AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta on Saturday said the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, would be a disaster for the identity and culture of the indigenous population in the state. Mahanta is the chief adviser to the Asom Andolan Sangrami Aikya Mancha, an umbrella body of political and non-political organisations opposed to the bill.

The Mancha on Saturday submitted a memorandum to the select parliamentary committee constituted by the Centre last month after Opposition parties demanded the bill’s withdrawal. The parliamentary committee is accepting objections and suggestions from organisations and the public till Friday.

The Asam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad has warned of a statewide agitation if Parliament passes the bill. The Parishad said once Hindu migrants from Bangladesh start getting citizenship, Bengali would be the first language in the state.

The All Assam Students’ Union and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti have also threatened an agitation if Hindu migrants are given citizenship.

 
By Daulat Rahman