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Guwahati, Feb. 20: Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has written to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal expressing his concern for not allocating funds in the budget for three education institutions in Upper Assam.

The three universities are Assam Women’s University in Jorhat, Assam Rajiv Gandhi University of Co-operative Management in Sivasagar and College of Sericulture University at Titabar in Jorhat district.

“The Assam Women’s University is the only women’s university not only in the Northeast but in eastern India. While the NDA government talks about giving emphasis to girls’ education under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign but non-allocation of funds for Assam Women’s University goes against it,” said Gogoi in his letter to Sonowal on Friday.

“Your government is giving a lot of importance to sericulture. In Assam, most women are involved in the silk industry and Assamese weavers produce most valuable fabric. They are earning their livelihood from the handloom industry. In view of this, sericulture at Titabar deserves special consideration for allocation of funds to promote the college,” Gogoi said.

“Assam Rajiv Gandhi University of Co-operative Management at Sivasagar is the only university in the country in the co-operative sector and whole syllabus of the institute was prepared by National Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, which is one of the most prestigious institutes in the country,” Gogoi said.

The Congress leader said he would be grateful if Sonowal took an interest to provide adequate funds for these institutions.

He told Sonowal that even foreigners from Roehampton University in the UK came to the co-operative institute to study about its uniqueness.

“Cooperative movement is very important for all-round development of the state and it will create large number of employment in such a case this co-operative university deserves special consideration from the government,” he said.

 
By A staff reporter

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KHADC chief executive member P.N. Syiem speaks during the budget session in Shillong on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, Feb. 20: Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) chief executive member P.N. Syiem today tabled a vote-on-account budget of over Rs. 76.73 crore meant for spending by the council during the next three months from April.

Tabling the budget on the first day of the council’s three-day session here, which began on a stormy note, Syiem said the vote-on-account would be required for various expenditures of the council.

He said the vote-on-account budget would be utilised for expenditures like paying salary to members of the council, officers, judges of the council’s court and employees in various departments, including retired ones.

Syiem said the executive committee could not present the full budget for 2017-18 since receipts and expenditures for the current fiscal (2016-17) would be accurately calculated only by last week of March this year.

The vote-on-account budget includes Rs 67.27 crore proposed to be spent by the civil works and development department, Rs 4.21 crore by the general administration department, Rs 1.43 crore by the forest department and Rs 1.22 crore by the revenue and finance department, among other expenditure.

Moreover, Syiem told the House that out of Rs 133.12 crore sanctioned as special assistance to the council by the central government during 2015-16, only Rs 123.45 crore was received by the council from the state government.

“After sending proposals for various projects, we expect to receive the remaining amount from the state government,” he said.

Before the budget presentation, the House witnessed heated arguments during question hour with members from the Opposition Congress as well as some members from the United Democratic Party (UDP), which is part of the executive committee, raising a volley of queries in connection with an alleged illegal transfer of the council’s money worth about Rs 2 crore to some private bank accounts.

The Syiem-led executive committee, however, assured that the report of a magisterial inquiry to probe into the alleged illegal transfer of funds would be tabled in the House during this session before making it public.

Syiem, who has been suspended from the Congress, is the leader of the coalition People’s Democratic Forum (PDF) that leads the executive committee in the 29-member council.

The PDF coalition is supported by a majority of Independents, besides the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), UDP, BJP and NCP.

 
By Rining Lyngdoh

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Eastern swamp deer being released at Manas National Park on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Feb. 20: Manas National Park is on cloud nine these days. After the sighting of chital (spotted deer) after nearly two decades last month, the eastern swamp deer population has now hit a century.

“The population of eastern swamp deer ( Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi) is now 100, maybe a bit more. This is good news and has been the result of conservation initiatives taken by the park,” H.K. Sarma, the field director of Manas tiger reserve, told The Telegraph.

Seventeen eastern swamp deer reached Manas from Kaziranga National Park this morning.

“The earlier population was 83, which included the population of the first translocation of 2014 and a population estimation exercise, which was conducted last year,” Sarma said.

As part of the recovery of eastern swamp deer population in the national park, a translocation programme was developed on the recommendation of Unesco by the Assam forest department in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust of India, a wildlife NGO.

The first translocation programme was done in 2014.

The state of conservation report of Manas National Park, which was submitted to World Heritage Committee, said, “Early colonial hunters and biologists reported ‘hundreds of deer’ in the grasslands of Manas and its nearby areas. However, the civil unrest during 1990s in Manas National Park resulted in a period of unchecked hunting, which caused a severe decline in the park’s deer population with only a few individuals reportedly left in the park. A recent survey in 2009 estimated a population of less than 20 individuals in the park. During the rhino patrolling exercise and tiger estimations through camera trappings, multiple sightings of the deer in various areas of the national park were reported in 2012. It was considered that Manas still contains a small population of eastern swamp deer despite the onslaught of hunters during the period of unrest.”

Rathin Barman, a senior official of the Wildlife Trust of India, said the target set under the translocation programme of 100 has now been reached. “Monitoring will now be the main focus,” he said.

The plan is to monitor the survival, dispersion and ecology of the translocated eastern swamp deer in the national park through various approaches, monitor the wild populations of eastern swamp deer in Kaziranga and Manas national parks and get the support of local communities of Manas National Park by conducting awareness programmes and community-based conservation activities in the Manas landscape.

The eastern swamp deer is a sub-species of the endemic swamp deer in India.

 
By ROOPAK GOSWAMI

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People use the footbridge at Maligaon in Guwahati. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Feb. 20: Deben Dasgupta stopped to catch his breath at least thrice while climbing up the 56 steps of the footbridge over AT Road here at Maligaon. Like several others, the 74-year-old resident of Pandu has no other option.

Since Durga Puja, Guwahati traffic police have barricaded the road divider to force commuters to use the footbridge and prevent them from crossing the road to reduce traffic congestion and prevent accidents.

“It is good that they have barricaded the divider to check accidents but can a person like me climb the bridge?” asked Dasgupta as he climbed down the steps on the other side of the overbridge. He looked a bit relaxed as he finally reached the Pandu side of the road but the very mention that he would again have to cross it to reach his home made him angry.

“Why can’t they (government) have an elevator here, at least for old people like us?” a visibly angry Dasgupta asked.

Senior citizens like him are having a harrowing time at Maligaon Chariali (intersection) as the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) is yet to begin work on its project to construct elevators for convenience of the commuters.

“Senior citizens have no option as the traffic police have barricaded the 1km stretch to prevent people from crossing the road. They should have constructed the elevator first before barricading the road divider,” said another Maligaon resident.

“This overbridge seems to have been constructed without proper study. The bridge witnesses congestion as its width is not enough for such a huge busy area. The elevator should immediately be constructed or GMDA should have another similar bridge here. Till that happens, traffic police should open the barricade in at least two places and help senior citizens cross the road,” said a shopkeeper close to the bridge at Maligaon.

Maligaon intersection witnesses massive congestion as one of the lanes lead to Kamakhya railway station and the Northeast Frontier Railway headquarters is also situated nearby. Similarly, markets in Pandu attract many people resulting in congestion in the area.

Senior citizens face almost similar problems at Lachit Nagar and Dispur on the busy GS Road where two other footbridges were opened by GMDA two years ago. Although the stretch of GS Road under the two bridges has not been fenced like Maligaon, senior citizens continue to be inconvenienced as there are no elevators there as well. Since there is no fencing and elevators, senior citizens and children often cross the road dangerously.

A GMDA official today said the process was on to construct elevators on a public-private partnership mode but it might take at least two more months for construction to begin.

 
By SUMIR KARMAKAR

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Imphal, Feb. 20: The Manipur unit of the BJP has shifted the venue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election rally from the Kangla Fort following objections raised by Irom Sharmila’s party.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Manipur on Saturday to boost the morale of the Manipur BJP workers, who are working overtime to dethrone the Congress.

Manipur goes to the polls on March 4 and 8.

The BJP had chosen the venue of the election rally inside Kangla Fort, Manipur’s ancient seat of power and an important place of worship.

Sharmila’s party, People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, put up an objection in using the fort as a venue for political campaigning.

The party lodged a written complaint with the Election Commission on Thursday saying Kangla Fort is a sacred site for Manipuris, particularly Meiteis, and it is clearly against the election model code of conduct guidelines, which say mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda.

After the complaint to the Election Commission, PRJA leaders met state electoral officials as well as poll observers pressing them against organising election rally inside the fort.

A BJP leader today confirmed that the Modi rally venue had been shifted from the Kangla Fort to Langjing Achouba in Patsoi constituency of Imphal West, about 5km from the town.

It is the same venue where Modi addressed a rally, drawing a huge crowd before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“We have shifted the venue to Langjing Achouba. It is not because of any directive from any authority. We decided to change the venue in honour of the sentiments of the people,” the BJP leader told The Telegraph.

“After our complaint, the BJP was forced to shift the rally to Langjing Achouba ground. We feel humbled to have done our part in protecting our sacred Kangla from political profanity,” PRJA convener Erendro Leichombam said.

 
By Khelen Thokchom

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Rangoon director Vishal Bhardwaj (centre) and his team are felicitated by the Adi Baane Kabang at Pasighat.

Tezpur, Feb. 20: This has been a wait like never before for Pasighat town in Arunachal Pradesh for Friday’s release of Bollywood movie Rangoon.

The film, starring Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut, is set against the backdrop of World War II where Indian soldiers fought for the British army against Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army in Rangoon, Myanmar (formerly Burma). It was shot in the East Siang district headquarters and the adjoining Murkong Selek across the inter-state border in Assam.

For Tabung Ering, secretary of Adi Bane Kebang, the apex organisation of the Adi community, it will be an unprecedented exposure for residents of this town.

“It is undoubtedly a rare exposure our place and community will get on the big screen. The people here are eagerly waiting for the film’s release on Friday. The movie has generated enthusiasm among the local residents as it shows our culture and tradition to the rest of the world. Besides, some local people are also involved in the movie,” Ering told The Telegraph. Nalong Mize, a local resident, played a character called Miri, the leader of Ponung Party.

Yeh Ishq Hai, a song in the film composed by Vishal Bharadwaj, written by Gulzar and sung by Arijit Singh, has been a hit in East Siang since it was released on January 19. The song features Kangana Ranaut dancing ponung (an Adi folk dance) with local Adi women from Pasighat along the bank of the Siang.

Tabung Ering with two British actors from the film

A major portion of the film was shot in Komsing, Rottung and Kebang villages and Partung and Komlighat areas of East Siang district. Although there was no direct impact of World War II in East Siang, the filmmaker chose the district as it fell in the zone of the war.

The film was shot for 22 days in East Siang and for four days in Assam’s Murkong Selek railway station. Apart from the involvement of people from Pasighat, Rottung, Kebang and a Ponung troupe from Rottung village, NCC cadets from J.N. College were cast as Japanese soldiers in the film.

Army commandos also feature in the film. The local residents believe that tourism sector of the district will get a boost after the film’s release as very few people are aware of the naturally endowed eastern part of Arunachal.

This is not the first time that Arunachal Pradesh was chosen as the location for a Bollywood film. In 1997, Koyla, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, was the first Hindi movie to be shot in the state. The film gave a boost to the tourism potential of Shungetser, a sacred lake for the Monpa tribe of Tawang.

 
By PRANAB KUMAR DAS

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Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh at the function to release the Congress manifesto in Imphal on Monday. Telegraph picture

Imphal, Feb. 20: Constitutional safeguards for the state’s territorial integrity tops the promises made by Manipur PCC in its election manifesto released by AICC general secretary in-charge of the Northeast C.P. Joshi here today.

“The Congress party will urge the Centre to provide constitutional safeguards for the territorial integrity of Manipur,” the manifesto, which contains 19 promises, said.

Manipur goes to the polls on March 4 and 8.

The AICC manifesto with the territorial issue came out a day after Union home minister Rajnath Singh assured yesterday that the Centre and the BJP would not at any cost harm Manipur’s territorial integrity.

“We don’t want to be outdone by the BJP on the issue of safeguarding territory. We are committed to it,” a Congress leader said.

Both the parties took the pledge in view of an ongoing agitation spearheaded by the All Manipur Students Union (Amsu) seeking details of the framework agreement signed between the Centre and NSCN (I-M) in 2015.

The Centre’s reluctance to disclose details of the agreement raised suspicions in the minds of the people that the state’s integrity may be compromised while making a final agreement with the NSCN (I-M), which is demanding integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast.

Rajnath’s clarification that the framework agreement did not mention Manipur failed to alley the fear of the people.

“Our movement will continue. Though Rajnath made some commitments, he failed to disclose the details of the agreement, which is our main demand,” Amsu spokesperson Wangkheimayum Rimakant said today.

The Congress took up the issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act as the second priority in the next five years.

“Further improvement of law and order will be a major priority. With the law and order situation being significantly improved, the Congress government will strive for removal of AFSPA from the remaining part of the state,” the manifesto said.

Following an intense public movement after the Assam Rifles killed Thangjam Manorama after an alleged rape in 2004, the then Okram Ibobi Singh government withdrew the army act from seven Assembly constituencies within Imphal municipal limit.

Territorial integrity and the army act are sentimental issues for the people of Manipur. Other promises include employment for three lakh educated youths through skill development in the next five years, drinking water for all households by 2022, 100 per cent power connection by 2018, better connectivity, one higher secondary school in each of the 60 constituencies and free Wi-Fi connection within the Imphal Municipal Corporation area.

 
By Our special correspondent

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Students hold the photocopied question papers at Barimakha in Baksa district on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Feb. 20: The High School Leaving Certificate (matric) examination invigilators today allegedly distributed Assamese and social science question papers instead of mathematics in at least two examination centres across Assam, leading to widespread protests by various organisations.

Officials of the Board of Secondary Education, Assam (Seba) which conducts the examination, however, denied the leakage of question papers. It said though packets of Assamese and social science question papers were taken to the two examination centres, these were not distributed.

The board said the remaining examinations would be held as scheduled.

In a meeting held late this evening, Seba decided to postpone its social sciences examinations from Thursday to March 8.

Sources from central Assam’s Hojai district told The Telegraph that social science question papers were distributed among the candidates in Murajhar Higher Secondary School.

“The incident took place because social science question papers were inside a packet labelled mathematics. The matter came to light as soon as the question papers were distributed among the students and withdrawn immediately. But it led to a shortage of mathematics papers,” the source said.

“Seba was immediately informed about the matter. It asked the school to make photocopies of the mathematics question papers to meet the shortage. But the quality of the photocopied papers was very poor and the students had a tough time reading them. Their misery was compounded by darkness inside the examination hall caused by gloomy weather and load-shedding. The incident also delayed the examination by two-and-a-half hours,” said the source.

The other incident took place at Barimakha High School centre in lower Assam’s Baksa district where a packet of Assamese question papers had been taken, along with three packets of mathematics question papers. “The matter came to notice before the packets were opened,” Baksa deputy commissioner Sanjeeb Kumar Gogoi told The Telegraph.

All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) activists burn an effigy of Assam education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Guwahati on Monday. (PTI)

The All Assam Students’ Union burnt effigies of state education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Seba in protest. They demanded that the board hold the remaining examination and announce its results glitch-free.

“The board had promised us that it would hold the examination properly. Sarma also promised the same in public. But all those promises have turned futile,” said Dipanka Nath, the president of AASU.

On the other hand, three fake students were detected in Hailakandi district in Barak Valley and two invigilators were suspended in lower Assam’s South Salmara-Mancachar district for carrying mobile phones into the examination hall.

Many students in Upper Assam’s Lakhimpur district also had to write their answers by candlelight because of load-shedding.

AASU demanded action against those who had wrongly distributed the question papers and those responsible for loadshedding.

The Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti, the student wing of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, also burnt an effigy of the education minister here.

The Class XII (HS) examinations began today, with 2,49,317 students appearing for the examination at 820 centres across the state.

 
By RAJIV KONWAR

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A level crossing in Bongaigaon. File picture

Guwahati, Feb. 20: The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has identified 550 unauthorised level crossings, including 139 in Assam, as it plans to eliminate 404 unmanned crossings by 2018-19.

NFR chief public relations officer Pranav Jyoti Sarma told The Telegraph today that they were targeting to remove 122 unmanned level crossings in the current fiscal while work is already under way at 41 such crossings. The rest will be eliminated gradually.

“As per our plan, lightweight subways will be constructed in at least 20 places. Work is under way at four places. In 97 others, gatemen will be deployed,” he said.

“Unmanned level crossings are those where traffic is less. Since there is no gatemen at such crossings, we have signage warning people to be careful while crossing the tracks. Accidents at such crossings are probed by the commissioner of railway safety and action is taken and victims are compensated accordingly,” he said.

There are nearly 1,200 manned railway crossings under NFR that cover the Northeast, Bengal and Bihar.

NFR has reported 22 accidents involving unmanned crossings since 2007 while three such mishaps took place at manned level crossings during the same period.

On the accidents reported at unauthorised level crossings, Sharma said such crossings are illegal and the railways own no responsibility for any mishap on such crossings.

“Accidents at such illegal crossings are considered trespassing and no compensation is given as we always request people not to cross tracks in such a way,” he said.

Railway officials said of the 550 identified unauthorised level crossings under NFR, 380 have been found in Assam, three in Arunachal Pradesh and 139 each in Bengal and Bihar.

Between Amingaon and New Guwahati, a 20-km stretch, accidents are common as people dangerously cross the tracks. The problem on the stretch, however, is likely to be solved as NFR recently announced that it would construct a four-lane elevated track between Kamakhya and New Guwahati stations.

Similar accidents have occurred in other parts of Assam, especially between Dibrugarh and Tinsukia, where the main rail track and the national highway run parallel.

 
By SUMIR KARMAKAR

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A video grab of Mukul Hazarika alias Abhizeet Asom. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Feb. 20: An alleged confession made by Ulfa (I) cadre Gagan Hazarika alias Joydeep Cheleng has helped the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to corroborate that the rebel outfit’s chairman Abhizeet Asom is UK-based doctor Mukul Hazarika.

An official source today said Gagan had told the NIA during interrogation that he had served as the bodyguard of Abhizeet Asom during his visit to Ulfa (I) camp in Myanmar after he became the outfit’s chairman in 2012.

“Since Gagan was the personal bodyguard of Abhizeet Asom, he was closely associated with him during his stay at the outfit’s Myanmar camps and, therefore, his revelation that Mukul Hazarika is Abhizeet Asom will be useful evidence for the NIA to establish the real identity of Ulfa (I) chairman and push for his extradition,” the source said.

The anti-terror agency has also collected photographs of Dr Hazarika visiting Ulfa (I) camps in Myanmar and meetings senior leaders of other militant groups.

The source said the NIA would soon move the court for issuing an arrest warrant against Dr Hazarika as a prelude to requesting the UK for his extradition.

Gagan, who joined Ulfa in 2008, was arrested from Charaipung police station area in Upper Assam’s Charaideo district last month. He was arrested by the NIA in connection with case number 4/2013 registered at its Guwahati office regarding illegal and anti-national activities of Ulfa (I).

Ulfa (I) has denied that Mukul Hazarika and Abhizeet Asom alias Abhizeet Barman are the same person.

The source said apart from being a practising doctor in the UK, Hazarika was associated with the UK-based human rights group, Assam Watch, which used to raise alleged incidents of human rights violation by security forces in the state.

He said Assam Watch is an alleged front of Ulfa, which had arranged the travel of then Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and general secretary Anup Chetia to Geneva to attend a meeting of the UN Sub-Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous People in July 1997.

He said Dr Hazarika, who is in his late sixties, hails from Kaxori gaon in the Puranigudam area under Samaguri police station in central Assam’s Nagaon district, about 120km from here. He studied at Radha Kanta Baruah Higher Secondary School in Puranigudam from 1955 to 1962 where his father, late Kameswar Hazarika, was the headmaster.

“He completed his MBBS from Gauhati Medical College in 1970 and left for the UK around 30 years ago. His relatives in his ancestral village said the last time he came to Assam was for a few days in 1983 when his father expired and after that they had neither seen him nor had any contact with him,” the source said.

He added that the school had come under the NIA scanner in 2015, after Dr Hazarika sent two table-tennis platforms to his alma mater, as the agency had information that Dr Hazarika could be Abhizeet Asom.

A British site on the country’s doctors, http://www.doctoralia.co.uk/consultant, lists Mukul Hazarika as a general practitioner at Billingham town in Durham.

 
By Pankaj Sarma