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The blockade in Simen Chapori on Monday.

Picture by Vinod Kumar Singh

Dhemaji, Dec. 5 : The Simen Chapori unit of the AASU today blocked NH 52 for three hours demanding an end to encroachment at Simen Chapori reserve forest.

The blockade was organised in the heart of Simen Chapori market, through which the national highway passes, nearly 72km from here.

The general secretary of the Simen Chapori unit of AASU, Sanjiv Das, said despite repeated appeals, the administration has not done anything to remove encroachment.

He said if the administration failed to take steps to evict the settlers, the blockade would be extended for 12 hours. Today’s blockade was lifted after Jonai circle officer Manoranjan Paying assured agitators of immediate action.

 
By Vinod Kumar Singh

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Shillong, Dec. 5: Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma today claimed that fake currency notes of Rs 2,000 were being circulated in the state and lambasted the NDA government over demonetisation, saying it will open up more avenues for corruption.

Speaking to reporters here on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting, Sangma alleged that demonetisation of high value currency notes would open up avenues for “bigger corruption and the country is going to face real challenging circumstances”.

Sangma claimed that last week when he was in Tura, a woman had showed him three fake Rs 2,000 currency notes.

Lambasting the NDA government, the chief minister said, “This exercise is an inefficient way of doing things. This will open up scope for bigger corruption. When the new high-value notes are being circulated, fake notes are also in circulation. There will be manipulation by unscrupulous elements and the people will be vulnerable, especially those who have not seen the newly printed high-value notes.”

He said before implementing the decision, the government should have properly thought of creating deterrent mechanisms to prevent unscrupulous elements from circulating fake notes by taking advantage of the situation.

Accusing the Centre of being bankrupt with ideas to implement such an important policy decision, Sangma said this (demonetisation) was done hurriedly without proper homework and plan, which brought agony to many, including loss of human lives.

“After seeing all these difficulties faced by the public and if it (NDA government) does not realise and chooses to remain thick- skinned, it only shows its arrogance,” the Congress chief minister said.

On people who in the past did not deposit money in banks but parked their savings at home, Sangma said while it has been a practice for many people of the state to keep whatever savings they have at home, it is not also easy for them, especially in rural areas, to get access to banks.

“Where will the people go and deposit their money when there are no banks? Even now, it is still being discussed that a bank branch should operate at least in each community and rural development block for people to have banking access as well as make it easy for MGNREGA workers to open their account and withdraw wages,” he said.

Stating that it would be a challenge for the income tax (IT) department to deal with black money holders and other people depositing huge amounts in their bank accounts, Sangma asked, “How many IT officers are available in the country to deal with the issue? There will be more problems and ultimately it will open up more corruption. Just wait and see.”

 
By Rining Lyngdoh

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Arrested GNLA cadres in Goalpara. File picture

Guwahati, Dec. 5: Meghalaya police have sought the help of space scientists to track rebel camps in inaccessible areas of the hilly state.

Police officials on Friday met scientists of Shillong-based Northeast Space Application Centre (Nesac) seeking their help on how satellite technology could be used in order to bolster their capacity against insurgency.

Sources said the police sought Nesac’s help as they were unable to reach many areas, particularly Garo hills where the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) has kept the state on the boil for years.

“Space or satellite technology can help us identify the camps or hideouts of the militants and based on their inputs we can carry out operations. There are many areas where it is difficult or risky to send our personnel without having the areas surveyed and so we have sought Nesac’s help,” a state police source said.

The development comes at a time when security forces in the Northeast are struggling to counter militant groups who carry out attacks on security forces or on people and escape into the jungles. Police sources said GNLA, having links with Ulfa (Independent) and NDFB (S), has camps in neighbouring Bangladesh that shares a border with the Garo hills.

Director of Nesac, P.L.N. Raju, who was here on Saturday to attend a conference on the use of space technology for development purposes, confirmed this development but refused to divulge details saying it was a subject of security.

“We are ready to help the police or any other security agency to provide visuals or details of anything on the surface through the use of satellite imagery. Before the recent surgical strike against Pakistan, space scientists had carried out a survey of the area for our security forces,” Raju said.

Nesac has been providing data related to weather, disaster risk reduction and some other purposes to government agencies in the Northeast but it would be its first move to join hands with security forces to counter insurgency.

Officials at the centre, however, said it was impossible for satellites to track rebel camps inside the jungles and they could only track those in the open on the hills or areas surrounded by jungles.

 
By SUMIR KARMAKAR

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Guwahati, Dec. 5: The Assam Cricket Association (ACA) will borrow Rs 2 crore as overdraft from its bank to bail itself out of the acute financial crisis it is facing in view of the Supreme Court’s restrictions on funds release by the BCCI.

A unanimous decision to this effect was taken in a meeting of the ACA governing body here last week.

“It was a single agendum meeting to discuss means to tide over the current crisis and it was a unanimous decision. Nobody objected to it because the ACA’s activities have nearly been paralysed by the financial constraint,” ACA joint secretary and spokesman Muktabul Hussain told The Telegraph.

An overdraft is an extension of credit from a bank or lending institution when an account reaches zero balance.

Unlike most of the state cricket associations, the ACA has exhausted its exchequer spending the deposits in the construction of the cricket stadium at Barsapara ground here.

The ACA’s sole source of income, which transacts up to Rs 80 crore annually, is from BCCI grants and spends in development of infrastructure and grooming of players, apart from holding state tournaments.

“We have not been able to pay dues to our support staff and employees for the past two months which also had its bearing on the teams performance,” said vice-president and spokesman Devajit Saikia.

Sources said the ACA owes Rs 80 lakh to its secretary Pradip Buragohain and few other office-bearers.

Asked if the regular activities of the association would resume after securing the loan, Hussain said, “We will have to continue with all activities. We cannot compromise with the players’ development.”

Despite the financial crisis owing to the Supreme Court’s ban on the release of funds to states refusing to comply with the Justice R.M. Lodha Committee recommendations, Himanta Biswa Sarma-led ACA did a volte-face on its September 28 governing body meeting resolution to comply with the Lodha report and decided not to jump the BCCI ship, which is reluctant to abide by the court verdict.

The Tripura Cricket Association and the Vidarbha Cricket Association (Nagpur, Maharashtra) are the only state associations who have “parted ways” with the Anurag Thakur-led BCCI by pledging compliance with the Lodha recommendations.

 
By Imtiaz Ahmed

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Kokrajhar, Dec. 5: Railway services between the Northeast and rest of the country were affected for over five hours today by the railway blockade called by the Adivasi National Convention Committee (ANCC) on various demands, including Scheduled Tribe status to the community in Assam.

In Kokrajhar, over 5,000 people with placards, banners and shouting slogans staged a protest at Kokrajhar railway station from 6am, affecting the movement of trains along the route.

The group also carried out a similar blockade at Bokajan.

The demands include ST status for communities residing in Assam, expedite peace talks with the rebel groups in ceasefire, allotment of land and rehabilitation of evicted Adivasi people, permanent allotment of land and pattas to the tea garden workers in the state.

The blockade was later reduced to five hours till 11am from the original 11 hours.

Various long-distance trains were stuck, like the Up Rajendra Nagar Express at Alipurduar, Up Saraighat Express at New Alipurduar, Up Lokmanya Tilak Express at New Cooch Behar, Up Brahmaputra Mail at Dhupguri. The Dn Rajdhani and Bangalaore Express trains were stranded in Guwahati and later at New Bongaigaon and Bongaigaon railway stations respectively. Train services resumed around 11.30am.

ANCC general secretary Birsing Munda, who is also the commander in-chief of the Birsa Commando Force, said the blockade was enforced in protest against the government’s attitude towards granting ST status to tea tribes and Adivasis of Assam and stalled of peace talks with the rebel groups, among other important demands.

“The Adivasis of Assam (Oraon, Munda, Santhal, Gond, Kharia, Sawras, Porja, Bhill and Lohras) have met all the criteria, but they are yet to be granted ST status. The de-scheduling has done irreparable damage to the Adivasis community in Assam, comprising around 80 lakh people,” Munda said. He said five Adivasi rebel groups are in ceasefire but talks are totally stalled.

A senior Kokrajhar district administration official said on December 3, the government sent a formal invitation to the groups for talks scheduled on December 23.

Munda threatened a vigorous agitation if the Centre did not fulfil their demands. “We will wait till January and if there is no progress, we will launch a more vigorous movement.”

A memorandum was submitted to the Prime Minister through the Kokrajhar deputy commissioner’s office.

 
By Our Correspondent

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The carcass of one of the female elephants in Hojai on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Nagaon, Dec. 5: Three female elephants, including two pregnant ones, were killed when a Dibrugarh-bound train knocked them down on the tracks in a remote corridor of Assam’s Hojai district last night.

The accident took place after Vivek Express crossed Jugijan station at about 1am amid dense fog.

Forest officials said the two female jumbos were 16 years old and the other was less than three years.

This is the third such accident on railway tracks in the jungle area since August 15.

“The incident occurred in one of the five elephant corridors in Hojai district. The train was not travelling at high speed. The accident occurred because of the dense fog,” said Hojai deputy commissioner S. Lakshanam.

The site, Jigijan bridge, is 15km from the Hojai district headquarters.

Conservator of forests P. Sivkumar rushed to the site after the incident was reported. “Railway authorities have been asked to take adequate measures to avoid such incidents. After the August 15 Hawaipur incident in which a male elephant was killed, there was a meeting with high-level railway officials,” Sivkumar told The Telegraph today.

Sivkumar and Lakshanam jointly held a meeting with senior railway officials in Lumding this evening to find a solution to the issue.

“Post-mortem of the elephants on the site has been done. We will take some measures from our part to stop these incidents,” Sivkumar said.

Hojai district has six reserve forests and migration of elephants from the forests of neighbouring Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao is common.

“Jugijan and its neighbouring areas are an agricultural belt. This is harvest time and elephants come out from jungles in search of food,” said Hojai divisional forest officer Sifiqual Islam.

Aaranyak, an NGO working in the field of wildlife research and conservation, today expressed shock over the killings. “The unabated killing of wild elephants in Assam by speeding trains has been a concern. A few months ago, two elephants were killed by a speeding train near Diphu. Aaranyak appeals to railway minister Rajen Gohain to seriously look into the matter and direct the authorities to take steps to reduce speeding in key elephant passages in Assam to save the lives of these wild elephants,” Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, the secretary general of Aaranyak, said.

 
By Sarat Sarma

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GO DIGITAL

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal lights the ceremonial lamp at the state-level digital banking awareness programme at Gauhati University on Monday

Guwahati, Dec. 5: The Assam government today launched a statewide drive to make people aware of cashless transactions by involving 20,000 National Service Scheme (NSS) cadres.

Inaugurating the scheme, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said digital literacy was required to realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a cashless society.

Each cadet will be assigned the responsibility of sharing the message of digital banking to at least 10 persons in a locality on a day of campaigning. The programme was organised at Gauhati University by State bank of India (SBI).

Sonowal said the state government was taking all measures to make people aware about adopting digital banking as a way of life. All district headquarters will be covered by the campaign in the first week of this month and the remaining centres will be covered in the second week, he added. “All sections of the society have supported the demonetisation drive wholeheartedly. Only some people with vested interests are trying to derail the drive as they are unable to save their ill-gotten money.”

Stating that the NSS volunteers have a big role to play in this endeavour to educate the masses about various benefits of digital banking, Sonowal said the Assam model has been appreciated all over the country for swift implementation in opening of bank accounts for payment of wages to tea garden workers in their bank accounts and also for handling the demonetisation process deftly.

Sonowal said apart from NSS volunteers, nearly 28,000 representatives at the panchayat level will also be included in this campaign to sensitise people about digital banking systems so that the awareness about cashless transactions can trickle down to the grassroots level. Sports and youth affairs minister Naba Kumar Doley was also present at the programme.

United Bank of India (UBI) chief manager Manjit Singh said they were hopeful of making good progress in implementing the government’s programme to open Jan Dhan Yojana accounts of tea garden workers. “The initial deadline of paying wages to tea garden workers through bank accounts in the first half of this month is a tough one to meet. Yet we are hopeful of making good progress. The banks are not equipped to handle such a huge exercise because of manpower crunch. As the customer service provider (CSP) module is in place, we think we will be able to overcome the situation. We will be enrolling more CSPs and they will be selected from among local youths,” said Singh. He was in Golaghat to attend an account opening camp for tea garden wage-earners at Doyang tea estate.

“UBI has opened accounts in 117 tea gardens in Golaghat, Jorhat and Sivasagar districts. It will provide 12 ATMs in these gardens within a week,” said Probin Sonowal, lead district manager of UBI.

Additional reporting by Ritupallab Saikia

 
By Rajiv Konwar

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Tourists at Kaziranga National park. File picture

Guwahati, Dec. 5: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) will slap notices on a luxury resort in Kaziranga National Park and a Guwahati-based businessman for allegedly violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act (Fema) by illegally converting demonetised notes into forex.

An official source told The Telegraph today that the ED conducted raids at multiple locations in Assam last week to bust rackets to convert black money into white post the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. During one such raid at a premium resort in Kaziranga – frequented by high-end tourists, including foreigners – it was found that the resort was trading in forex without having a licence from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in a clear violation of forex laws.

“The resort authorities have produced an authorisation letter, issued by a private bank, but as per Fema guidelines for forex trading the RBI is the sole authority to issue licences,” the source said.

He said the ED would register a case under Fema against the resort.

The source said that after demonetisation, black money hoarders had converted banned notes worth crores of rupees into forex with the US dollar being the most sought after currency. This is why the ED is on the trail of forex traders who might have exchanged foreign currency at premium prices using demonetised high-denomination notes. “A dollar costs between Rs 120 and Rs 140 in old demonetised notes,” the source said.

He said there were also reports of people sending their black money abroad through hawala dealers, who were charging a high premium to park it in foreign currency abroad.

“During a search by ED officials last Wednesday at the A.T. Road office of a city-based businessman, who is suspected to be a hawala operator, unaccounted money to the tune of Rs 5.2 lakh in demonetised notes was recovered from locked drawers,” the source said.

“It is very unusual to keep so much money in drawers instead of a cash box. It is suspected that the businessman was into hawala trade and was involved in illegal transfer of black money abroad,” said the source, adding that legal proceedings would be initiated against him under Fema.

 
By Pankaj Sarma

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Imphal, Dec. 4: Environmental experts and reporters today visited Loktak lake in Bishnupur district and Fayeng village in Imphal West district as part of a three-day media workshop on climate change.

During the visit on the second day, the team interacted with the people living on the outskirts of the lake and the villagers of Fayeng over the climate change in the areas.

The workshop aims to sensitise the media in the Northeast to promote accurate reporting of climate change and adaptation measures in the Himalayas.

It was jointly launched by the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, department of science and technology and the Centre for Media Studies. Manipur governor Najma Heptulla inaugurated the workshop yesterday.

“While scientists have been working on different aspects of climate change and the state governments are preparing plans for adaptation, the media has a powerful role in generating awareness and motivating communities at the local level,” she said.?

Expressing concern over degradation of the Loktak lake, Heptulla announced that she would launch a programme to involve children in regeneration of the wetland. She also released a manual titled – Himalayas, Climate Change and the Media.

State environment minister I. Hemochandra said Manipur had taken a lead in the country to meet the challenge of climate change.

Experts believe the Indian Himalayan Region is one of the most vulnerable mountain systems in the world and if effective measures are taken in time, it may be possible to prevent further degradation of the ecosystem.

“Through this programme, we are trying to trigger interest in climate change, its impacts on sustainability, livelihood issues and adaptation stories among journalists, editors and media houses in the region and thereby among the masses,” said Shirish Sinha, the deputy director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The director general of the centre, P.N. Vasanti, said, “The challenge before journalists reporting on climate change is to connect changes occurring at the local level with larger global climate science and policies. We need to build this capacity among interested journalists.”

Under the programme, a series of media workshops will be held in all the northeastern states over the next three years. Senior thematic experts, scientists and policymakers will participate in these workshops and interact with journalists from different media outlets in the Himalayan states.

Fellowships will also be awarded to journalists from the region to write field-based stories. Best stories written by state-level journalists will be awarded at the end of the programme.

 
By Ngangbam Indrakanta Singh

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Shillong, Dec. 4: Any election in Meghalaya brings forth “unusual” names of candidates in the battle of the ballot. The byelections to six seats in the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council and a lone seat in the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council on December 13 will be no different.

To start off, “Losing” Lakuna will compete against “Firstborn” Manner from War-East constituency under West Jaintia Hills. The bypolls were necessitated after seven legislators resigned from their membership last year.

If electioneering is about preaching with tall promises, there is a candidate called “Hispreaching Son” Shylla from Nongkrem constituency in East Khasi Hills. If he wins, Hispreaching Son might demoralise Hubert Ford Riang, who has received “ardent” support from legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit.

Although the elections are being held in winter, a constituency under West Khasi Hills may not experience the extreme cold thanks to “Equator” L. Nongrang, from Mairang-Nongkhlaw constituency, along with his rivals Counsellor Sing Wahlang and Alexander Kharsyntiew.

“Blandingstar” Warjri and “Thandar” Sing Warjri are fighting hard to get elected from Pariong-Mawthadraishan constituency under the Khasi council.

In Rambrai-Jyrngam constituency, “World Champion” Paliar is putting all efforts to overcome his rival “Morning” Tympuin and others.

Just as 32 nations will compete in Russia in 2018 to become FIFA World Cup champions, there is no guarantee that World Champion and other contenders would not compete in the 2018 Assembly polls, if they get elected as council members. The fate of 33 contenders, including the lone woman Mamiry Nongkhlaw, will be sealed on December 13. But the “lucky 7″ will be known only on counting day – December 16.

 
By Rining Lyngdoh