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Guwahati, May 4: The early commissioning of Guwahati’s first 24×7 drinking water supply scheme has become doubtful owing to the uncertain political climate.

Highly placed sources told The Telegraph that though 95 per cent work of the South Guwahati West Water Supply Project has been completed, execution of the remaining work has now become tardy owing to prevailing uncertain political climate in the state after the Assembly polls last month.

“Funds crunch as well as post-election inertia in Dispur – when ministers and bureaucrats prefer to wait and see who forms the government – have put the brakes on the commissioning of the scheme. The Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority, which is implementing the project, has not yet received Rs 80 crore to complete and commission it,” a source said.

Sources said another important reason for the Congress government not to show a keen interest in completing and commissioning the project might be the party’s remote chance of winning the Gauhati West and Jalukbari seats. Residents of both these Assembly constituencies will be the beneficiaries of the water supply scheme.

“So the Congress government is preferring to wait till May 19, the day of counting for the polls. Moreover, the state government is also offended at the BJP-led NDA government’s refusal to release its share of Rs 25 crore under JNNURM, which has been scrapped, to complete and commission the project,” the source said.

The project, which will cover areas in the western part of the city from Bharalumukh to LGBI Airport, was initially scheduled to be completed in 2011. It has already missed a couple of revised deadlines, the last ones being in April and December 2015.

The GMDA had set a target to commission and hand over the project to Guwahati Jal Board before the onset of monsoon in June.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi had laid foundation of the project with much fanfare in the presence of then Guwahati development department minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (now a BJP leader) on April 7, 2010.

An official of Gammon India Ltd told this correspondent that if the state government had released the rest of the amount (Rs 80 crore) last month, the firm could have completed the project and made it ready for commissioning in June. Gammon India, which is executing the project, has not been able to purchase the equipment to give finishing touches to the project owing to non-receipt of Rs 80 crore. He said going by the present status of the project, the firm is not in a position to cite the probable date when the project would be ready for commissioning.

GMDA chairman Dhiren Barua, who has been consistently pursuing Dispur for commissioning of the project at the earliest, said he was sad about the latest development. Barua, an octogenarian who founded Save Guwahati Build Guwahati, an NGO, said political will would be the key in commissioning the project at the earliest. “At this stage of my life, my only dream is to see Guwahatians getting drinking water round the clock. I have seen over the years how the residents suffer due to the inadequate water supply,” Barua said.

 
By DAULAT RAHMAN

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Dibrugarh, May 4: Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and 25 civil society organisations will hold a protest rally tomorrow against rampant sale of drugs in Dibrugarh.

“Our rally will start from Amolapatty Natya Mandir and pass through the main streets of Dibrugarh town. We will submit a memorandum to Dibrugarh deputy commissioner to take action against the drug mafia,” Dibrugarh KMSS president Pradip Haloi.

“It is a threat to the young generation as it ruins their career and it’s their family which suffers the most,” he added. Today, Dibrugarh police apprehended one drug peddler from Marwari Patty, identified as Raju Ahmed, a resident of Panchali. The police recovered 20gm of brown sugar from him.

On May 16, 2012 drug kingpin Elahi Sheikh was arrested from his residence at Chandmari with 1kg of brown sugar.

Earlier, he was arrested in 2010 under the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act but he got bail.

Dibrugarh superintendent of police Vir Vikram Gogoi told The Telegraph that they were trying to bust the drug racket in the district. “Drugs rackets are not new in Dibrugarh. We are doing everything we to break the cartels,” he said. “Easy availability of drugs has been a concern in Dibrugarh and many youths have ruined their careers,” said Shibdas Bhattacharjee, a schoolteacher. Drugs are easily available in areas like Kalibari, Chanmarighat and Grambazar and new railway station at Banipur.

Yesterday, three persons were arrested for allegedly being involved in gambling from Amlopatty. They were identified as – Jiban Chetry, Sajid Ahmed and Mohammad Ainul Khan. The police recovered Rs 5,680 from their possession.

Protest

Residents of Borgolai in Tinsukia district blocked NH 38 today after the body of Champa Chetri, 20, was discovered near the Dihing river at Lama Gaon in Ledo, writes our Jorhat correspondent. Champa, who had been missing since April 28, is suspected to have been raped and murdered. Following an FIR lodged by her parents, Biswajit Chetri and Moinul Haq were picked up on April 29 by police for questioning.

 
By Avik Chakraborty

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Haflong, May 4: The NSCN (I-M) is allegedly running a parallel government by taking house taxes from households in Dima Hasao district of Assam, violating the truce with the Centre.

The Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim (GPRN) had asked the chairmen of all gaonburas (village heads) and a prominent Zeme Naga member of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (name withheld because of security reasons) to come to its central administrative office in Asalu, Zeliangrong, tomorrow, along with the house tax for the fiscal year 2015-16.

The summons, signed by James Ph, the self-styled secretary of the NSCN/GPRN to Asalu, Zeliangrong region, warned of dire consequences if they failed to attend its office on the due date. The NSCN (I-M) collects Rs 240 per year from every household.

On August 3, 2015, the NSCN (I-M) had signed a framework agreement with the Centre, but the outfit is still active in certain areas of the district bordering Nagaland and running extortion and kidnapping rackets from its temporary camps at Baladhan village, about 87km from here.

Dima Hasao, which shares a 46km border with Nagaland, has a population of 214,102 of which Zeme Nagas constitute 24 per cent#

Though security forces have crushed all terrorist activities in the urban areas of the district, some activities in the border areas still continue.

Dima Hasao superintendent of police Dhananjay Parashuram Ghanawat said, “We will not allow any extremist group to collect extortion money in our district, we have already launched an operation and hopefully we will trace the leaders of this outfit very soon.” Police have beefed up security in the area, he added.

The NSCN (I-M) has been active in Dima Hasao district for more than 25 years.

Arrests: The army on Tuesday arrested six All Adivasi National Liberation Army cadres, including its self-styled chairman Anand Nayak from East Karbi Anglong. The others are Sumon Gaur, Mandeep Gour, Kanak Ram, Uttam Munda and Riten Munda. Six pistols, ammunition and two grenades were recovered from them. In a separate operation in Kokrajhar, an NDFB (S) cadre, Swrwng Narzary, was arrested from Gossaigaon market.

 
By Samsul Alam

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Agartala, May 4: Exorbitant prices of air tickets charged by private air services from passengers of Tripura and the hike in charges for stretcher-borne patients have become a major issue with West Tripura MP Shankar Prasad Dutta raising the issue in the Lok Sabha yesterday.

He said civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju had declared that from April 1 the private air services would not charge exorbitant fees for short-distance travels.

“The ministry, in a notification, had fixed the fare for short-distance air travels at Rs 2,500 only, but the private air services are consistently violating this limit, charging between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 for the 45-minute air travel between Agartala and Calcutta or Agartala and Guwahati. In times of a major rush, the fares go up,” Dutta said while raising the issue in the Lok Sabha yesterday.

He sought a reply from the civil aviation ministry as to why the ministry’s directive was not being implemented on all air routes in the country.

Datta expressed concern over the major hike effected by private air services for stretcher-borne patients, asserting that earlier it was only Rs11,000 but now this has been raised to more than Rs 22,000 per patient.

“From my state Tripura which is backward in many respects for no fault of ours at least 66,000 patients travel to and from Calcutta, Bangalore, Chennai, among others, for the purpose of treatment. The hike in charges for stretcher-borne patients will hit them very hard. The entire matter should be reconsidered,” Dutta said.

He also dwelt on the proposed modernisation of Agartala airport, pointing out that the Tripura government had acquired land according to specifications of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and made other arrangements for modernisation.

“Despite completing all requirements no step has been taken to modernise the airport as well as to connect it with Dhaka or Chittagong in Bangladesh as sought by the state government,” Dutta said.

He also raised the issue of abandoned small airports at Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailasahar which are to be revived for use by small aircraft. “These small airports were set up at the time of World War II. These were used a few days a week till the seventies when they were abandoned. These airports can be revived. Land and some infrastructure are still there, but nothing is being done,” Dutta said.

Speaking from Delhi over phone, Dutta said he had requested Raju to look into the issue and was assured that the matter would be considered.

 
By Our Special Correspondent

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The GNLA cadres after their surrender in Shillong on Wednesday

Shillong, May 4: The curtains came down today on the “northern command” of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) with the surrender of its cadres.

Led by “area commander” Philiport D. Shira, 13 GNLA cadres and two Ulfa (Independent) militants surrendered with arms and ammunition before Meghalaya home minister Roshan Warjri at the police headquarters here.

In 2014, the police had offered Rs 10 lakh to any individual who could provide information on the whereabouts of Philiport, alias Rakban, and other GNLA cadres.

Today’s surrender, one of the biggest in recent times, came a week after five GNLA cadres laid down arms here.

The cadres, who were active in the North Garo Hills district and its adjoining areas, were actually waiting for a “ceasefire” offer from the Meghalaya government. When the government did not respond, the cadres decided to surrender.

The other reason for the surrender was the ongoing Operation Hill Storm – III of Meghalaya police while the cadres also expressed dismay over the style of functioning of the GNLA leadership.

Along with Philiport, the other cadres who surrendered included Keding N. Sangma (deputy commander), Chicko A. Sangma (deputy commander), Nikseng Ch. Sangma, Abikpil Ch. Marak, Lando G. Momin, Chandro N. Sangma, Sengrik M. Sangma, Jil C. Marak, Anurag S. Sangma (publicity secretary), Tengrak R. Marak, Lekston A. Sangma, Bairut M. Sangma and Talrik N. Sangma.

The two Ulfa (I) cadres are Oprai Asom, alias Horinath Rabha, and Sengbarth K. Marak.

The surrendered cadres also deposited arms and ammunition, which included four AK-rifles, an Insas rifle, a carbine, six pistols, a grenade and 19 SIM cards among others.

The surrender came after GNLA “area commander” Philiport got in touch with some leaders of NGOs and church elders in the last one week.

Speaking to reporters on behalf of the surrendered cadres, the GNLA’s “publicity secretary” Anurag said: “We want to enter the mainstream as there are no clear objectives and advice from the GNLA leadership.”

Anurag also said the GNLA cadres were waiting for a “ceasefire” with the security forces. When this did not materialise, the cadres chose to come over ground and lay down arms.

The GNLA had earlier expressed willingness to hold peace talks with the government. However, the government made it clear that the outfit should first abjure violence before any peace dialogue can take place.

Trained in guerrilla warfare in the Durama region of Garo hills, the cadres, however, did not have an idea as to where the arms and ammunition came from. They passed the onus on their “commander-in-chief” Sohan D. Shira.

“The arms and ammunition were given by the commander-in-chief, and we do not know the source of the arms,” Anurag said.

He, however, said the GNLA has links with other militant groups like Ulfa (I), NLFT and the NSCN (K).

On how the GNLA has been sustaining itself, Anurag said: “We collected taxes from government employees and businessmen as per the rank and position of such individuals.”

When asked about the killing of havildar Khomraj Bhattarai of the sixth Meghalaya Police Battalion last year, the GNLA publicity secretary said that his outfit was not behind the murder. “None of us were involved. We have no idea who it was, but the blame was put on us,” Anurag claimed.

On the alleged link between militants and politicians, he said: “We were not told about this and we do not have any information until now.”

The director-general of police, Rajiv Mehta, expressed hope that more surrenders would take place. The police, however, will continue with Operation Hillstorm-III to flush out militants from the Garo hills and its adjoining areas.

 
By Andrew W. Lyngdoh

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Guwahati, May 4: A parliamentary panel has told the Tea Board of India that a drastic cut in budgetary allocation would lead to a crisis of confidence in the tea industry.

The parliamentary standing committee on commerce, in its 125th report placed in Parliament, said it was perturbed to note the drastic reduction in the budgetary allocation of the board and failed to understand how it would manage to implement its various development schemes for the overall growth of the tea sector as there was already a large gap between the outlay needed by the Tea Board to implement the approved projects and the provisions actually available in the budget.

“A budgetary allocation of mere Rs 16 crore in 2016-17 is a rude shock. The department has submitted that the Tea Board may not only find it difficult to meet statutory and developmental obligations in 2016-17 but also suffer from a crisis of confidence amongst the stakeholders,” the report says.

In 2015-16, the allocation was Rs 67 crore.

It said it is at a loss to understand the rationale behind the drastic reduction in Plan allocation under general head and has asked that the department approach the ministry of finance and convey the deep concerns of the committee over the farcical allocation made to the board.

Adviser of North Eastern Tea Association Bidyananda Barkakoty told The Telegraph that the development had come as a shock to the industry.

The growers and the industry have taken up irrigation projects, replanting activities and others to improve quality and sustainability.

They have applied to the Tea Board under various schemes and many have also received sanction letters, which now if not supported will go in vain, causing huge financial loss to the industry and putting a question mark on its survival.

“The tea industry is ailing and needs support. However we are confident that the commerce ministry will be able to convince the finance ministry for necessary budgetary support,” he added.

This apart, the committee found that the performance of the Tea Board had also not been measured to utilise the allocated funds completely during 2015-16.

Till March 28 of this year, the Tea Board could utilise only Rs 127 crore out of the total Plan allocation of Rs 137 crore.

Moreover, its achievement of physical targets has also been dismal.

Citing figures, it said till December 31, 2015, under the plantation development component, the achievement was 0.017 per cent, under special purpose tea fund, the achievement was nearly 19 per cent, under quality upgrade and product diversification, the achievement was 32 per cent and under orthodox production subsidy, the achievement was 52.2 per cent.

The committee said it was convinced that the shoddy performance of the board in achieving its physical targets, which otherwise should have been achieved by 70-75 per cent by end of December 2015, must have played heavy on the mind of the finance ministry while considering the budgetary requirements.

 
By ROOPAK GOSWAMI

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Silchar, May 4: Assam University’s Silchar campus impasse was resolved following a tripartite meeting convened by the Cachar district administration this afternoon.

The university was declared shut last evening following a clash between police and students at around 1.30am.

In a bid to resolve the issue, the Cachar district administration convened a meeting with students and the higher authorities of the university today at Bipin Chandra Pal auditorium.

Acting vice-chancellor Ranju Rani Dhamala and register Sanjib Kumar Bhattacharjee spoke on behalf of the administration, while additional deputy commissioner Simanta Kumar Das and additional superintendent of police Abhijit Gaurav were present on behalf of the district administration. Debanjan Sen spoke on behalf of the students in the meeting.

Expressing concern over the decision of the university administration, which declared yesterday that all academic activities of the varsity would remain suspended until further orders, students today demanded the completion of examinations by May 30.

The vice-chancellor, agreeing to this demand, said they would need to start the examinations by May 7 to complete it by May 30.

“All the post-graduate, under-graduate and integrated semester examinations will begin from May 7 and will be held as per the earlier schedule. The respective heads of the departments and deans were requested to fix the dates to conduct the examinations to some papers, that were scheduled to be held from May 3 to May 6,” Dhamala said.

The integrated pre-PhD coursework examinations will be held as per the earlier schedule.

The students who were demanding the postponement of the final even-semester examinations by a week today agreed to appear for the examinations from May 7.

Regarding the students’ demand on the clarification of lathi-charge by police on students who were protesting in front of the varsity main gate, Das said that he would request Cachar deputy commissioner S. Viswanathan to order a magisterial inquiry into the incident. He, however, added that as per the preliminary report that he received, police fired rubber bullets only after stones were hurled at security personnel deployed on campus.

Assam University Non-Teaching Association (AUNTA), however, today demanded that the examinations be conducted between May 15 and May 30 as they would need some time to make arrangements for conducting the examinations.

Non-teaching employees will hold a daylong ceasework tomorrow in protest against the harassment they faced on Monday evening when students allegedly closed the main gate.

 
By Nilotpal Bhattacharjee

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Dolly Das at a recording studio and (below) the miniplex at Milan Nagar in Dibrugarh. Telegraph pictures

Guwahati, May 4: The residence of folk singer Dolly Das at Milan Nagar in Dibrugarh will be turned into a cultural miniplex to promote folk music.

The miniplex will contain a multi-purpose auditorium – with a capacity to seat 50 people – a folk museum, shop for folk music and traditional ornaments and a namghar (traditional prayer hall).

The singer said the miniplex would be ready next month. A portion of the singer’s residence will be converted into the miniplex.

“We wish to create a platform for rural folk artistes to perform with modern equipment without any protocol or red tape. Anyone can come and visit the folk culture museum for an idea of the rich cultural heritage of the state,” said Shankar, the singer’s son.

“The new generation has been kept in mind while constructing the miniplex. We always blame them for a lack of knowledge of our indigenous folk culture. They can come and view folk music instruments and dress materials here. They can shop from rural entrepreneurs at a marginal cost. This is not a business hub but a place to interact with manufacturers and buyers,” he said.

“Anyone can perform a folk-based musical programme in the mini auditorium or rehearse or hold meetings for the uplift of the folk culture of the state. This is open to all with a purpose to give a good platform for the uplift of folk culture,” he added.

The singer told The Telegraph that she would teach folk songs to people at the miniplex. “The core attraction of this miniplex will be the namghar, which will be air-conditioned and equipped with an LCD screen, audio set-up and morning and evening prayer broadcast of naam-kirtan with pre-programme facilities,” said Shankar.

He said the project was conceptualised by the singer herself and will be funded by the family.

“This miniplex is going to be a public domain and will be run by a trust in the name of the singer,” he added.

She has been performing Assamese folk songs for the past five decades and is associated with many folk culture development organisations from the Northeast.

She has imparted training in lokgeet, borgeet and dihanaam to over 10,000 students.

Das has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the World Record University, Vietnam. She has five books on folk songs to her credit and has lent her voice to almost 75 audio and video cassettes, records and CDs and video CDs.

 
By Rajiv Konwar

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Lobsang Gyatso. Telegraph picture

Itanagar, May 4: A helicopter crash in 2011 that killed 17 people had acted as a catalyst in the life of a Buddhist monk in Tawang, turning him into a social activist. Today he is an acclaimed anti-dam wall in Mon and allegedly a thorn in the sides of politicians.

Monk Lobsang Gyatso and the hydropower issue were thrust into the limelight following Monday’s police firing at Tawang that killed two.

Trouble began after an audio clip surfaced where Gyatso was heard telling the abbot of Tawang monastery, Guru Tulku Rinpoche, to stay out of hydropower issues in the Mon region. The panchayat leaders of Tawang met on April 28 on the issue and an FIR was filed against Gyatso for “defaming” the abbot. Gyatso also claims in the audio clip that the abbot was from Bhutan and did not understand the region’s sentiments.

In his defence, Gyatso said the abbot had allegedly told people not to participate in a protest rally organised by his organisation. He also claimed that he did not use abusive language.

Gyatso was arrested on April 28 and kept in police custody until May 2, when his followers gathered outside the police station where he was held, demanding his release.

The son of a former armyman from Namet village, Gyatso was born in 1980 and studied in a government school in Tawang for the first eight years of his life. In 1988, he was sent to Sera Je monastery at Bylakuppe in Karnataka to study Buddha’s teachings. He returned to Tawang in 2003 and joined the Jamyang Choekhorling monastery.

On April 19, 2011, a helicopter crash near Tawang changed the course of his life. “The state mechanism was unprepared to conduct effective rescue operations. I got into an argument with the then chief minister, late Dorjee Khandu, at the time of rescue operations,” he said over phone. That’s when he started working for social issues. “I thought it would be best to leave the gompa (monastery) to focus on social work,” he said.

When he visited Bodh Gaya in Bihar in 2012, some fellow monks advised him to focus on social issues in Mon. Back home, together with some friends and like-minded people, he formed the Save Mon Committee, which was later renamed Save Mon Region Forum. In April that year, the committee organised a rally against plans to construct mega hydropower projects in the region.

Gyatso has been extremely vocal in his opposition to such projects. In 2012, the Forum filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal against the Nyamjang Chhu hydel project in Zemithang which led to suspension of its environmental clearance in April this year.

It was argued that the project would disrupt the habitat of the black-necked cranes which flock to the area from November to February. Buddhists consider the bird to be an embodiment of the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, who was born in Tawang in the 17th century.

Gyatso’s supporters claim that the tribunal’s decision and his growing popularity resulted in some politicians from the area viewing him as a threat. “They do view me as a political threat,” Gyatso admitted. He said he had considered contesting elections in 2014 until his friends convinced him otherwise. Now, he says, he is not interested in politics. “Elections have become expensive in Tawang. You need at least Rs 10 crore to run elections nowadays. It’s better to work for society instead,” he said.

Considered a “bright student” in school, Gyatso stands firm in his resolve against plans to build dams that can adversely affect the fragile eco-system of the place.

“Politicians do not care what happens to the land of the poor people because they have their own houses at Gurgaon and Noida,” he added.

 
By Ranju Dodum

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SECTION 144 CRPC STILL IN PLACE IN TOWNSHIP

Residents organise a candlelight vigil in Itanagar on Wednesday. Telegraph picture

Itanagar, May 4: Tawang was calm today after Monday’s police firing that left two persons dead but shops remained shut.

The police had opened fired to disperse protesters who had gathered outside Tawang police station, demanding release of a Buddhist monk, Lobsang Gyatso.

Tawang deputy commissioner Duly Kamduk said the situation in Tawang town was “under control” and the post-mortem on the victims’ bodies had been done. He said there was a delay in conducting the post-mortem because the forensic expert had to travel from Itanagar by road, a distance of 500km. The final rites of the deceased will be performed tomorrow.

Section 144 of the CrPC is still in place in the “township” areas of Tawang. A resident said shops in the town were still shut because of the prohibitory order.

The deputy commissioner said six people critically injured in the firing were referred to the military hospital in Tenga Valley, 200km from Tawang, and to Tezpur. He said two of the six had been taken to Guwahati. Sources said one man, who suffered a bullet wound in his head, has been taken to Shillong for further treatment.

The administration and the police have come under criticism from civil society and the public.

Kamduk said the incident was “unfortunate” but did not wish to comment on the events that led to the firing. He said a magisterial inquiry, headed by Dilip Kumar Chutia, additional deputy commissioner of Jang subdivision of Tawang district, had been ordered into the incident and statements were being recorded.

An additional one-man committee of divisional commissioner (West), Hage Kojeen, has also been formed as directed by the chief minister’s office.

In solidarity with the victims, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) organised a candlelight vigil here this evening. Some members of the union left for Tawang yesterday while others stayed back for the vigil.

Unhappy with the state government’s decision to investigate the matter through judicial inquiries, the union has demanded a more powerful agency or authority to probe the firing.

AAPSU general secretary Biru Nasi said judicial inquiries in the past have never yielded any concrete result and sought a CBI inquiry. The union gave a seven-day ultimatum to the state government to seek a CBI inquiry after which it would decide on further steps.

Condemnation of the firing continued to pour in from all quarters.

The National Alliance of People’s Movements condemned the “brutal police action on peacefully protesting communities” and demanded immediate action against the officials responsible for the incident.

It criticised the state government for “remaining apathetic”, citing chief minister Kalikho Pul’s attendance yesterday at the Assocham conference where he batted for developing hydropower in the state. It dubbed Pul’s statements advocating fast-tracking environmental clearances for hydropower projects in the state “insensitive”. “This only shows complete contempt for the suffering of the people and environmental destruction and concern for corporate profiteering,” it said.

 
By Ranju Dodum