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May 26: Calcutta High Court judge Justice Malay Marut Banerjee and his family had a scuffle following an altercation with a reporter and the crew of private satellite channel News 18 Asom, at Kaziranga National Park in Upper Assam’s Golaghat district this morning.

Trouble started at 8am when the TV crew was filming the judge and his family taking an elephant ride on the periphery of the national park, to which they objected.

Golaghat additional superintendent of police N. Mahatta said that after preliminary inquiry they found that an altercation broke out when the family of the judge objected to the TV crew recording their elephant ride, which led to a scuffle.

The members of the news channel and Justice Banerjee’s family have lodged separate FIRs at Kohora police outpost, under Bokakhat police station in Golaghat district, accusing each other of verbal abuse and assault.

The News 18 Asom team, including their reporter Chakra Pani Parashar, in the FIR, accused Justice Banerjee’s son and other family members of physical assault.

Justice Banerjee’s daughter Anindita, in their FIR, accused the reporter of threatening and intimidating them, besides using abusive language, physically assaulting her and attempting to outrage her modesty.

“Both sides have accused each other of attacking them. We have registered two cases in this connection and investigating the matter,” Mahatta said.

Divisional forest officer of Kaziranga, Suvasish Das said the incident occurred at Mihimukh, outside the national park.

Das said the national park is closed to visitors from May 1 and since then no visitor was granted permission to enter the park.

He said the judge and his family were staying at a private resort near the park and they were taking joyrides on elephants that belonged to the resort at Dagaon village located along the boundary of the park.

“The park authorities have nothing to do with this incident,” Das said.

 
By OUR BUREAU

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Pradip Barman in Guwahati on Thursday. (PTI)

Guwahati, May 26: The vigilance and anti-corruption wing of Assam police today arrested an executive engineer of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), Pradip Barman, on charges of taking bribe.

Sources said Minarul Islam had lodged a complaint against Barman to the police a few days back complaining that the latter had demanded a bribe of Rs 15,000 to pass Islam’s building plan.

The GMDA enforces the Guwahati Building Construction (Regulation) Bylaws, 2014, that checks the safety of any building in the city and has the power to bring down constructions if they are found flouting any of its bylaws.

“Islam had alleged that Barman was demanding money to clear his building plan from the department and threatened that he will cancel his building plan despite fulfilling all the criteria. We went through the complaint and did some preliminary investigations on Barman and found that he might be up to something like that,” said a senior police official.

“Based on our inputs, we had set a trap to catch Barman red-handed and sent the complainant with the money and hearing devices to record the conversations this afternoon. He was recorded taking the money and based on that proof, we arrested him,” the official said.

Barman was kept in Bhangagarh police station and will be produced before a special court tomorrow.

 
By Avishek Sengupta

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Buddhist monks from Tawang monastery protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)

New Delhi, May 26: The Save Mon Region Federation, a Tawang-based NGO in Arunachal Pradesh, today not only brought its agitation against big dams in the area to New Delhi but also drew attention to the unrest brewing in a place China covets as its own.

The NGO’s members were accompanied by monks from Tawang monastery.

The immediate provocation is the killing of two persons in police firing on May 2 when members of the NGO were protesting against the arrest of their leader Lama Lobsang Gyatso. “Without any warning, the police began firing on the people. The police claim rubber bullets were used but the fact is that AK-47s were used. Instead of using canes, water canons or teargas to disperse the crowd agitated about Gyatso’s arrest, the police used guns,” said Jampa Tsering, president of the group.

The Federation wants the police personnel involved in the firing to be suspended and a judicial inquiry ordered into the events that led to the May 2 violence. Tsering insists that bigger powers are at play as Gyatso had been arrested in the wake of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspending the Rs 6,400-crore hydel project on the Nyamjang Chhu.

The NGT suspended the Union environment ministry’s clearance for the project as it had not taken into account the impact of the mega dam on the habitat of the black-necked crane, a species native to the Tibetan plateau which migrates to Tawang in winter.

“We have come to Delhi to tell the powers that be that Tawang is a critical area. It borders China and Bhutan and given Beijing’s stance vis-à-vis Arunachal Pradesh, what is today a national issue can easily become an international issue,” Tsering said.

The big dams, according to Lobsang Chhodup of Tawang monastery, have turned the “hidden paradise” of Tawang into a hell. “We need development but not at the cost of our culture or environment. Tawang is a small area but they are building 3,000MW dams there. We lamas have joined the protest not for any benefit to us but because we are closely linked to the society and villages of Tawang. There are a number of our holy places in the dam area.”

On the role of the political leadership at the Centre and in the state, the Federation said minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju advocated the middle path.

“He talks about the middle path because he does not want a CBI inquiry as it could uncover uncomfortable facts,” Tsering said but did not elaborate.

The Federation pointed out that successive governments in the state have favoured big dams.

 
By Our Special Correspondent

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Guwahati, May 26: On her first day in office today, Assam forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma said curbing rhino poaching will be her topmost priority.

“Rhino poaching is a burning problem of the state and people want an end to it. Showing respect to the sentiments of the people, I have accorded top priority to it,” she said.

The minister said she has asked her officials to suggest measures for protecting the rhinos and removing encroachments from forest land.

Kaziranga and several other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Assam have lost more than 200 rhinos to poachers since 2001, the year the Congress came to power and it has gone against the ruling party in the last Assembly elections as the BJP made it an election issue.

The BJP had frequently accused the Congress government of failing to curb rhino poaching and illegal encroachment of forests in the state.

“I must admit that I alone cannot stop poaching and I would require the wholehearted cooperation of officials and staff of the forest department and people living in the fringe areas of the forests, particularly Kaziranga National Park. I will take everyone into confidence,” Pramila said.

She said she would shortly visit Kaziranga and interact with the frontline forest staff and residents to get a first-hand feel of the problems.

Pramila’s cabinet colleague Ranjit Dutta, minister of handloom and textiles and sericulture, today paid surprise visits to the directorate of handloom and textiles at Ambari and directorate of sericulture at Khanapara and reviewed the functioning of these offices.

He said usually when a new minister takes charge, the officials visit him but he had reversed this trend.

An official source said the first session of new Assembly will begin on June 1 with oath-taking of the MLAs and election of the Speaker.

He said on the second day of the three-day session, there will be the governor’s address and other businesses. The agenda of the last day of the session includes debate on the governor’s address and election of the Deputy Speaker.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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Jorhat, May 26: Seven persons, including three policemen and four civilians, were arrested at Disang Rojabari in Sivasagar district in the wee hours today for allegedly beating up a couple at Rajabari tea estate.

A source said sub-inspector of Sonari police station Nitai Chandra Rai and constables Kuldip Laskar and Khiteswar Das Rabha brandishing AK-47 rifles intimidated Ranjit Nayak and his wife Purnima around 1am, along with the four civilians. The source said the trio were demanding that Nayak reveal where he had hidden a stash of money. When the couple said they did not have any information, they were beaten up. On hearing their screams, garden workers came out and held the attackers captive until the police arrived around 3am.

The police arrested the three policemen and four civilians – Diganta Borgohain, Ramen Borgohain, Dulen Phukan and Abani Phukan – all from Charaideo district, and seized the Bolero pick-up (AS 06T 0912) in which they had arrived. All of them have been booked under Sections 398, 325, and 354B IPC and a case registered against them in Demow police station. The accused have been remanded in judicial custody.

The police said the three cops were on a personal profit-making mission.

Section 398 deals with attempt to commit robbery or dacoity armed with deadly weapons and Section 325 deals with causing grievous hurt voluntarily.

 
By Our Correspondent

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Dhubri, May 26: A senior railway official today inspected all the railway stations of Dhubri district and took stock of security of passengers and railway establishment.

Assistant security commissioner of Alipurduar railway division M.C. Medhi, who was accompanied by assistant personnel officer Sirish Kamble and other security officers, also inspected Gauripur, Golokganj, Monglajhara, Tipkai, Basbari and Sapatgram railway stations and took part in the railway Swachhata Divas programme, which is being observed across the country.

Medhi held a meeting at the conference hall in Dhubri railway station, with a delegation from Dhubri Railway Development and Passengers’ Association, an NGO, led by its secretary Nurul Islam and vice-president Joyprakah Mazumdar.

Members of the delegation raised several issues relating to security, amenities and railway timings and demanded the authorities to address the issues at the earliest.

Later, Islam said the association has demanded an increase in# railway staff, strengthening of RPF, additional computers for ticket reservation and an evening counter at the station.

“We have demanded the security commissioner to run the Dhubri-Siliguri inter-city on time as the train runs abnormally late. We also asked him to change the present timing of the Dhubri-Kamakhya train,” Mazumdar said.

Islam stressed on demolishing old railway quarters and evicting unauthorised settlements inside railway land as these have become dens of anti-social activities like drugs peddling, sale of country liquor and gambling.

“We also suggested the construction of a railway market on its land so that vendors on the station road are rehabilitated. This will increase the revenue of the railway department and widen the road at the same time,” Islam added.

The members also brought to the notice of the security commissioner the transportation of illegal firewood on Dhubri-Kamakhya and Rajyarani Express trains from Sapatgram, Monglajhara, Basbari and Tipkai reserve forests and demanded a stop to it immediately.

The association also said water supplied from newly installed tank is not potable as it is contaminated by iron and demanded measures to purify the water.

Talking to The Telegraph, Medhi said he had noted down each and every grievance of the association and citizens of the town and place them before the Alipurduar divisional railway manager Sanjeeve Kishore for speedy implementation of the demands.

“As far as firewood transportation by the trains are concerned, I tell you that a number of steps have been taken since last month, including yesterday, but I am hardly getting cooperation from the local forest officials, police or the administration. But still I will carry on with my work,” Medhi said.

 
By Our correspondent

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Tarun Gogoi

Guwahati, May 26: After sitting on the treasury benches for the last 15 years, the Congress in Assam is readying for its role as the Opposition in the Assembly, which will see its first session after a change of guard at Dispur get under way from June 1.

As part of its preparations, a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party will be held at Rajiv Bhawan, the state Congress headquarters, tomorrow to elect the CLP leader. The meeting will be held under the supervision of the AICC top brass Ambika Soni, C.P. Joshi and Avinash Pande.

“Barring last-minute changes, former three-time chief minister Tarun Gogoi is set to become leader of the CLP. Considering his age, experience and political wisdom, Gogoi is the fittest person and there is no second thought about his election,” a source in the PCC said.

The Congress has 26 MLAs in the new 14th Assam Assembly. A party needs one-sixth of the seats in the Assembly – 21 in case of the 126-member Assam Assembly – to officially claim the leadership of the Opposition.

“Once Gogoi is elected leader of the CLP, he will eventually become the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. A leader of Opposition enjoys cabinet status,” a source said.

In the previous Assembly there was no leader of the Opposition as the AIUDF, the second largest party, did not have the requisite numbers to claim this position.

“As the first session of the 14th Assam Assembly will be held from June 1, it is high time for the CLP to elect its leader. The three-day Assembly session will see the new MLAs being administered the oath of office and the election of the Speaker and deputy Speaker,” ? the source added.

Besides electing the leader of the CLP, the Congress will conduct a brainstorming session tomorrow at Rajiv Bhawan to find out the causes behind its election debacle. Sources said the high command has deputed Ambika Soni to know from Assam PCC leaders, newly elected MLAs and MLAs who lost the poll as to what went wrong to have resulted in such a humiliating defeat.

“Soni will have talks separately with every newly elected MLA and some “loyal soldiers” of the party, the source said. The issue of possible change of Assam PCC leadership may also figure in the meeting.

Meanwhile, Congress Rajya Sabha MP P.L. Punia told reporters here this morning that the last two years of the Modi government at the Centre were full of broken promises.

“The BJP has broken all its promises given to the people during 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the last two years,” Punia said.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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Guwahati, May 26: Improving cancer care in the Northeast will figure prominently at the two-day 65th North Eastern Council (NEC) plenary, which began in Shillong today and where member states raised the pitch for more funds for speedy development of the region.

According to sources, during the last few days NEC officials were in touch with health department officials of all northeastern states and gathered data about the status of cancer facilities in the region. The exercise was a part of NEC’s effort to highlight the exact scenario of cancer in the region.

“Since the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) will be present at the meeting, the NEC does not want to miss the opportunity to apprise him about the urgent need to create adequate and quality cancer care facilities in the region,” a source said.

The highlight of tomorrow’s proceedings would be what new Modi has to say about the sustained demand for more fund allocation for the region. Assam’s new chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, sources said, will be pushing for increased allocation for the state as its development will also help the neighbouring states.

Constituted in 1971 by an act of Parliament, the NEC is the nodal agency for economic and social development of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.

Sources told The Telegraph that a PowerPoint presentation will be made on few of the top priority projects of the region, including adequate and quality cancer care facilities. “The presentation will highlight the role of B. Borooah Cancer Institute in tackling cancer over the years and the urgent need to develop the institute as the centre of excellence to effectively treat patients in future,” one of the sources said.

The Telegraph had recently highlighted how the Northeast lacked machines and manpower to tackle cancer despite having the highest number of cases in the country.

For instance, Arunachal Pradesh, which has the highest number of liver cancer patients in the country and second highest stomach cancer cases in the world after China, does not have any cancer treatment facility.

The scenario is more or less similar in the other states, including Mizoram, which has the highest number of cancer cases in the country.

According to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), one tele-therapy machine is required per 10 lakh people. Going by this guideline, the Northeast requires at least 45 such machines to adhere to the WHO guidelines. The region has a combined population of 4,57,72,188 as per the 2011 census. There are only 15 tele-therapy machines in the region, out of which Assam alone accounts for nine.

Way back in 2014, then Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal had taken up the matter with the Prime Minister to transfer B. Borooah Cancer Institute to India’s department of atomic energy and to develop it into a centre of excellence for cancer treatment, education and research.

Sonawal, as the new chief minister of Assam, will get an opportunity to remind Modi about Assam’s proposal and also moot increased allocation of funds to the state. The NEC plenary will be his first official meeting outside the state after taking over as chief minister on April 24 at a grand swearing-in in Guwahati.

“Assam will be asking for funds from NEC to the state for taking up big projects like connecting every household with Internet, improving inter-state roads which will expedite development not only in the state but also in neighbouring states,” a source said.

Seeking increased funding has also become a necessity because the state’s coffers (see chart) are insufficient to take up development projects under the state plan.

“The precarious financial condition of the state government and ways to improve it were also discussed threadbare at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. It was decided to publish a white paper on the state’s financial health within 10 days,” a source said.

Apart from seeking funds, Assam is also exploring possibilities of augmenting its revenue base by around Rs 3,000 crore to fund its own projects.

Assam had last received around Rs 140 crore from the NEC which, sources said, was not enough.

But they were hopeful of improved funding now that BJP is ruling both at the Centre and the state.

Fiscal state of affairs

EXPENDITURE: Assam annually needs Rs 24000 crore for salary and pension

  • Rs 5,000 crore for loan repayment
  • Rs 3500 crore for Sixth Schedule areas
  • Rs 500 crore for power subsidy

REVENUE: Last year, the state received Rs 16600 crore from the central pool of resources for centrally funded projects

  • Rs 12200 crore from internal taxes like VAT, royalty and excise
  • Rs 4000 crore from loans and market borrowings
  • For the time being, it is just about enough to “make ends meet”

POTENTIAL: It has the potential to generate additional revenue of Rs 3000 crore from internal resources such as forests, excise and transport

WHITE PAPER: Published by Tarun Gogoi earlier this year said Assam and other special category states were facing severe financial hardships due to the winding up of the Planning Commission. The new Sarbananda Sonowal government has said it will publish a white paper on the state’s financial health, which a senior minister said was precarious

 
By DAULAT RAHMAN and UMANAND JAISWAL

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One of the team members issues a challan during the drive in Jorhat on Thursday while Jorhat assistant commissioner Laxmi Priya (right) looks on. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, May 26: If you’re in Jorhat, think twice before you light a cigarette in public.

An all-women team, constituted by the Jorhat District Tobacco Control Cell (JDTCC), today launched a drive against tobacco users and sellers violating norms.

The drive, the first of its kind in the state, was formally launched by Jorhat superintendent of police Amanjeet Kaur. The team included Jorhat assistant commissioner Laxmi Priya, college and schoolteachers and women members of the local unit of the Asam Sahitya Sabha.

A police party, led by Jorhat additional superintendent of police (headquarters) Gunendra Deka, and JDTCC officials accompanied the team.

Kaur was also scheduled to accompany the team but could not do so because she had an urgent meeting to attend. She hoped to join in such a drive in future.

The Jorhat deputy commissioner is the chairman of the tobacco cell, which has been functioning since the last eight years. It had declared Charaibahi Higher Secondary School, on the outskirts here, as the first tobacco-free school in the state in September 2009.

In 2011, Jorhat became the first district in Assam to impose a fine on smoking in public places, under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products, Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution Act, 2003 (COTPA).

Bhaktimoy Bhattacharjee, the nodal officer of the tobacco cell and a senior district medical officer, told The Telegraph that the initiative was planned to create more awareness on the subject by involving women.

“A women’s team is expected to generate more awareness and facilitate easy compliance for imposing fines and (convincing people) not to violate the law again, as violators generally feel embarrassed before women,” Bhattacharjee said.

Smoking in public places, selling of tobacco products within 100 yards of an educational institute and selling tobacco products to minors are offences under the anti-tobacco law and offenders could face a fine of up to Rs 200 for each violation.

Bhattacharjee said Rs 1,650 was collected as fines today from 10 offenders, which included two persons smoking in public places. He said the tobacco cell plans to organise such drives every month and the move was part of a series of activities to be carried out in the run-up to World No Tobacco Day, May 31.

So far, the Jorhat cell has declared seven villages, a xatra (Vaishnavite monastery), a madarsa (Islamic learning centre) and 100 educational institutes in the district as tobacco-free.

Advocate Sudipta Nayan Goswami of the Jorhat Bar Association, who is associated with several social and cultural organisations, has welcomed the initiative. He said such initiatives should be undertaken in other districts too.

 
By Wasim Rahman

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Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal at the NEC plenary in Shillong on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, May 26: The governors and chief ministers of the eight northeastern states today appealed for a higher budget allocation for the development of the region through the North Eastern Council (NEC) while stressing on the need to properly utilise funds earmarked by the Centre.

The views, aired during the 65th plenary of the NEC, which got under way here, were endorsed by DoNER minister and NEC chairman Jitendra Singh.

Giving an example, Singh said if the NEC’s annual allocation was over Rs 700 crore, it may not be enough for even one state, leave alone eight.

Assam and Nagaland governor P.B. Acharya, while echoing the suggestion to increase the allocation, stressed the need to focus on crucial issues such as road connectivity, skill education, and power.

He said northeastern states should plan and utilise funds according to the amount sanctioned by the Centre through the NEC.

The plenary session also discussed the proposal to make the Northeast the “organic capital of India” to boost organic farming in the region.

Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling shared the steps taken by his government to encourage farmers in the state to take up organic farming.

Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma, who first initiated the discussion to increase the budget allocation for the NEC, urged all the council members to adopt a consensus decision to urge the Centre to revise the allocation.

Stating that sufficient funds should be earmarked for the NEC, Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang suggested that officials from the finance ministry as well as those from the Niti Aayog should participate in NEC meetings to understand the ground realities and difficulties.

The session also approved the amendment of NEC guidelines on implementation of schemes, necessitated by replacement of the Planning Commission by Niti Aayog.

Considering the region’s tourism potential, the meeting recommended constitution of Northeast Tourism Development Council to identify and promote tourist circuits in the region.

The session also adopted the proposal to set up an Act East secretariat in the NEC in collaboration with the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, to implement the Act East policy and ensure that its benefits accrue to the northeastern states. To this purpose, the secretariat will support studies, holding of summits and seminars and enable implementation of required intervention.

Earlier in the day, technical sessions on livelihood issues, including agriculture, rural development, food processing and textiles were thrashed out.

There was also a discussion on issues relating to entrepreneurship, where areas like skills, tribal affairs, Ayush, MSME (micro small and medium enterprises) and commerce were discussed.

Officials from central ministries made presentations.

Tomorrow morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to deliver his address where governors and chief ministers will also make presentations.

Modi will also release a special cover and stamp brought out on the occasion by the department of posts.

A documentary on DoNER’s progress in the past two years will also be screened.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar could not attend the plenary but deputed state education minister Tapan Chakraborty to do so.

 
By Rining Lyngdoh