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Guwahati, March 27: Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal today directed the home department to set up a women police battalion to check the rising cases of crime against women and children in the state.

Sonowal gave the directive while reviewing the human trafficking scenario in the state at Janata Bhawan.

Data tabled in the Lok Sabha recently shows that Assam’s performance in tracking its trafficked children and women was dismal in 2016, compared to 2015.

The data shows that 130 children were trafficked from Assam in 2016, of whom only 37 were rescued. The fate of 93 remains unknown. Comparatively, of the 129 children trafficked in 2015, 101 were rescued, a success rate of 78 per cent compared to 28 per cent in 2016.

The trend in terms of rescue of women is similar. The data says 163 women were trafficked from the state in 2016, of whom only 63 were rescued, a success rate of 38 per cent, whereas in 2015, 187 women were trafficked from the state of whom 137 were rescued, a success rate of 73 per cent.

The chief minister also directed his officials to constitute a high-level committee, designating the home department as the nodal agency to collect all relevant information on trafficking and to carry out anti-trafficking drives. Sonowal asked the labour and social welfare department officials to intensify surveillance on trafficking.

He stressed the need to develop an anti-trafficking mechanism from the grassroots level and asked the departments concerned to instruct the village headmen to prepare an extensive database on human resources.

The chief minister asked the officials to ensure adequate monitoring of youths going outside Assam in search of jobs to the deputy commissioner level so that all information regarding a person could be tracked.

He asked the labour department officials to prepare a draft act for giving exemplary punishment to those involved in trafficking.

Expressing grave concern over rise in trafficking, Sonowal advocated a strong and effective law enforcement mechanism to control trafficking. He said there is a need to amend certain portions of the existing act to make it stringent.

Underscoring the need for spreading more awareness at the grassroots level on trafficking, the chief minister said awareness drives should be organised involving village headmen, panchayat officials, public representatives and village defence forces.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma hand over an appointment letter to a teacher in Guwahati on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, March 27: Dispur today appointed 4,823 school teachers in permanent posts for lower primary and upper primary schools.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal ceremonially distributed appointment letters to the teachers at Veterinary College playground at Khanpara here.

The teachers were earlier recruited through Teacher Eligibility Test (TET). Their jobs were made permanent through an examination. Sarba Siksha Abhiyan, Assam, in collaboration with Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University, organised a daylong orientation programme for the newly recruited teachers. The state government on Thursday will again publish an advertisement to fill up vacancies for another 7,000 permanent posts.

Sonowal said teachers have a big responsibility to making good citizens out of students committed to society. He said primary school teachers are the agents of change who can instil good qualities in students.

“For building a society based on equality where all people are empowered to lead a life of dignity and meet modern-day challenges, the education system must produce citizens with high moral values and integrity,” Sonowal said.

Altogether 28,500 TET-cleared teachers are still working on contract under the Sarba Siksha Abhiyan in Assam. Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said their jobs will also be regularised in a phased manner.

Sarma, who is also the state’s finance minister, said the newly appointed teachers will get their salaries according to the Seventh Pay Commission from next month.

Altogether 88,571 candidates have so far cleared TET in Assam since 2012. Of them, 55,000 have been appointed by the government. The rest has not been appointed as they do not have the required BEd and DEd degrees. Sarma said the state government has requested the Centre to relax norms in teacher appointment so that the remaining candidates can be appointed. “We are hopeful that by April we will be able to appoint them,” he said.

Sarma asked the teachers not to seek transfers near home. He said the entire state is like home and the teachers must dedicate themselves to spread knowledge everywhere.

Stating that the state government’s Gunotsav campaign would revolutionise Assam’s education sector, Sarma said the campaign will help the government find loopholes in the system and rectify them.

Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar were also distributed to 10 schools for excellent sanitation and hygiene practices on their campuses.

 
By RAJIV KONWAR

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Bishesh Huirem talks to reporters in Guwahati on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, March 27: Gauhati High Court today issued notices to the Centre and Assam government on a public interest litigation (PIL), which sought implementation of the 2014 Supreme Court directive in the state for welfare of the third gender.

The PIL was filed by All Assam Transgender Association chairperson Swati Bidhan Baruah.

Baruah’s counsel Bhaskar Dev Konwar said the division bench of Chief Justice Ajit Singh and Justice Manojit Bhuyan gave four weeks to the respondents to file their response to the PIL.

Konwar said the apex court, in a landmark judgment passed in April 2014, had directed the states and the Centre to devise social welfare schemes for the third gender community.

“Though states like Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Sikkim have implemented the Supreme Court’s directive, the Assam government is yet to do so,” he said.

“The Supreme Court had given six months to implement its directive but even after nearly three years the state government is yet to do it as a result of which the petitioner was left with no other option but to approach the high court,” Konwar said.

The Supreme Court had passed the order on a PIL filed by the National Legal Services Authority, urging the court to give a separate identity to transgenders by recognising them as a third gender.

Baruah rued that they were being denied the rights given to them by the top court. He said the previous Congress government in the state was apathetic to their plight but when the BJP-led government came to power in May last year, they were hopeful about changes but nothing has happened so far.

“We had submitted a memorandum to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal in July last year and he forwarded the same to the state social welfare department. Despite our repeated reminders, the department has not acted upon it,” Baruah said.

In his PIL, Baruah has urged the high court to direct Dispur to frame a welfare scheme for transgenders, declaring them socially and educationally backward and provide reservation for them in government jobs and seats in educational institutions and legal recognition as the third gender.

The All Assam Transgender Association wants creation of a transgender welfare board, sensitisation of police and government departments to check harassment, separate public toilets for the third gender and public awareness campaigns to erase social stigma.

Transgender model from Manipur, Bishesh Huirem, who represented India at the Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand last year, said even today transgenders continue to face discrimination and harassment in society and their economic condition is far from satisfactory.

Huirem was also present in the high court today in connection with the PIL.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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Preparations in progress for the festival in Guwahati on Monday and (below) former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi addresses a news conference. Pictures by UB Photos

Guwahati, March 27: Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi lashed out at the BJP alleging that the Namami Brahmaputra Festival is being held to collect money from the Centre and local businesses.

Gogoi’s allegation came at a time when pictures of letters bearing the logo of Assam tourism asking for money for organising the river festival are making rounds in the social media.

“The government has appointed its employees to raise funds from businessmen to organise this festival. It does not show the commitment of the government towards the river, but another means to earn money from the Centre and locals,” Gogoi said.

“The lack of commitment is evident from the fact that apart from organising a festival, which can only be assumed is a copy of the Namami Gange festival last year, the state government has no other plans to develop the river,” Gogoi said.

He said besides organising a festival, the Namami Gange Yojana – worth Rs 20,000 crore – to clean the river also began. “But where are the funds to develop the Brahmaputra? Instead of organising the festival, the government should have concentrated more on controlling erosion and floods and making embankments. These are the things which directly affect people.”

The former chief minister added that the festival has taken the sheen out of Bohag Bihu.

“All the hype in government offices is around the Namami Brahmaputra Festival, while they have lost focus from Bohag Bihu, which is actually our traditional festival,” Gogoi said.

Besides the festival, Gogoi also talked about delay in the NRC update process and his stand regarding the alliance between the Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

“It is very clear that the BJP government is delaying the NRC update process. I have visited the departments concerned and also met Union home minister Rajnath Singh. They assured me that the delay is on the state’s front,” Gogoi said.

“I don’t visit Assam PCC headquarters at Rajiv Bhawan that often, but I am still a member of the Congress and will stand up if the party needs me on any occasion. Ideologically, our party doesn’t match with the AIUDF. I will go with the party decision, but I, personally, am against any alliance with the AIUDF,” Gogoi said.

Security: The Kamrup (metro) district administration today reviewed the security scenario at a high-level meet in view of the President’s visit to the festival.

 
By Avishek Sengupta

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Itanagar, March 27: Arunachal East Lok Sabha MP Ninong Ering introduced the bill for compulsory teaching of Northeast culture in education institutions in India in Parliament today.

The bill aims to bring awareness about the culture and history of the Northeast in the schools of different parts of the country.

Stating that people from the region, who live in other parts of the country, have to face racial discrimination because of “isolation” of the northeastern states and lack of awareness about their culture, Ering in his speech referred to the Bezbaruah Committee Report, 2014, which highlights the concerns of discrimination faced by the northeastern people.

Stating that the ever growing racial attacks on the northeastern students in metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, of late, is a serious concern, the MP said the bill becomes important to deal with the problem and its root cause.

“It is important to create awareness about the culture of the northeastern states in schools. This will help stop racial discrimination from its roots. It is a way to celebrate cultural differences and at the same time create a safer environment for the people,” Ering said.

Maria cremated

The body of Maria Dimitrova, a 25-year-old Bulgarian, was cremated according to Buddhist rituals near Changbu in Tawang in the presence of her family members.

Dimitrova’s body was kept in the Tawang district hospital after she died in an avalanche while trekking in the hills of RA3, near Sela on March 18.

Officials of the district administration, police, tourism department, health and family welfare department, monks from Tawang monastery and people attended the funeral.

The district administration and tourism department arranged for the funeral with support from volunteers from the town and Tawang Monpa Employees Society.

Dimitrova’s mother, Maria Stoyanova Racheva, and brother Todor Nikolaev, who reached Tawang on Saturday for the last rites, expressed their deepest gratitude to the government and the people of Tawang for their co-operation.

Tawang deputy commissioner Sang Phuntsok ensured that all rituals were performed according to the wishes of Dimitrova’s family.

 
By Damien Lepcha

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Itanagar, March 27: Kajum Bagra, the son of Aalo-West MLA, who is Arunachal Pradesh Deputy Speaker Tumke Bagra, shot dead his friend Kenjum Kamsi at Aalo hamlet in West Siang district last night.

The incident comes as big blow to Bagra, a BJP legislator who was unanimously elected to the post of Deputy Speaker on March 7.

Aalo superintendent of police Meri Riba said the accused surrendered to the police after the crime and is in police custody.

The reason behind the murder is yet to be ascertained.

The incident, which occurred between 10pm and 11pm in the parking lot of Hotel West in Aalo, (the hotel belongs to Bagra), led to a massive protest today. According to CCTV footage, Kamsi, 40, was apparently coming out of the hotel when Kajum, 34, arrived there with his brother in his father’s vehicle and shot him dead. Kamsi’s family and local residents assembled in front of the hotel and demanded justice for the victim.

According to sources, Kamsi’s relatives and family members also demanded that the body of the victim be buried at the site of the killing and even bought an excavator and dug a grave in front of the hotel.

The enraged crowd, however, was later mollified by the police and the body of the victim taken home.

Deputy Speaker Bagra was not available for comment.

Condemning the incident, the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) demanded the immediate resignation of Bagra on moral grounds so that a fair investigation can be initiated into the case.

“The news is shocking. The accused committed such a heinous crime and then used his father’s vehicle (to go and surrender to the police), is condemnable. The tragic incident has also reflected the true colour of the BJP to which the Deputy Speaker belongs. If the saviour turns into a killer, where would the masses go?” PCC general secretary Charu Tuglo said in a statement.

The Galo Students’ Union (GSU) has also condemned the incident and demanded exemplary punishment to the accused.

 
By Damien Lepcha

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Guwahati, March 27: Pankaj Jyoti Hazarika, a human rights activist from Assam, considers himself “very fortunate”.

Hazarika, the president of United Indigenous Council, participated in the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva from March 3 till Friday where he highlighted the rights of indigenous people of Assam through a series of talks and presentations.

The conference began on February 27. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 countries responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

Hazarika took part in the conference with accreditation from Prahar, the only organisation from the state to have a special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.

Hazarika shared his experience at the conference with The Telegraph after he returned today.

“I consider myself to be fortunate enough to convey the plight of the indigenous people of the state on such an international platform. I delivered a series of talks on threats to indigenous populations of the state because of illegal migration, recognition of the Assamese script in Unicode, NRC issue, and other relevant issues.”

He said he spoke on how acts and laws in India were violating the human rights of the indigenous people.

“Recently, the home ministry issued a notification that people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who migrated to India because of religious persecution, would be exempted from the rules under the Passport Act of India 1992 and Foreigners Act 1946 after the expiry of necessary documents. This will affect the demography of the region,” he said.

“Granting of citizenship on religious lines is against the secular ethos of the country. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill tabled in Parliament recently is another issue.”

 
By ALI FAUZ HASSAN

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New tea clones that are to be released by Tocklai on display. Telegraph picture

Guwahati, March 27: Tocklai, the oldest tea research institute in the world, will release four new tea clones, including one for the hills of Darjeeling.

A clone is a vegetatively propagated plant from the stem. These new tea clones are not only drought-tolerant but also have the potential to yield good quality tea that is productive.

The first one will be released in Darjeeling this year. The remaining three will be released over the next couple of years.

“All clones cultivated in the entire Assam and Bengal tea industry, including those by small growers, were released from Tocklai,” Tea Research Association director A.K. Barooah told The Telegraph. He said each clone is tested for 10 to 12 years before it is released to the tea industry.

Tocklai released the first tea clone in 1949. Till now, 33 vegetative clones and 153 garden series have been released by the Jorhat-based tea research institute.

Barooah said some of the recently released clones were showing good results.

TTRI 1 – an Assam hybrid with high yield and quality potential – was released in 2014. It has already given yielded 4,000kg made tea per hectare.

TTRI 2 is another Assam hybrid, which was released the same year. It has been categorised as a quality clone with above-average yield. TTRI 2 has produced upto 3,500kg made tea per hectare.

“This clone (TTRI 2) is suitable for both orthodox and CTC tea manufacture and is moderately tolerant to drought,” he said. “We are trying to give our best service to the tea industry despite being plagued by various problems like financial crunch and shortage of manpower.”

The research association has already informed the Tea Board and the Union ministry of commerce and industry of the financial hardship that Tocklai is facing.

With climate change warning assuming more prominence for the tea industry, a Food and Agriculture Organisation report has called for planting of drought-tolerant clone as an important adaptation measure.

“New/replanting of those stress-tolerant clones in drought-prone areas can be considered as the major adaptation measure to combat the ill effects of climate change,” the report said.

 
By Roopak Goswami

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People gather around the tourist bus that met with an accident on NH2 in Senapati district in Manipur on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Imphal, March 27: At least 22 persons died and scores were injured as three mishaps took place on Manipur’s two national highways today.

The first accident took place on National Highway 2 (Imphal-Dimapur road) when a packed passenger bus plunged into a gorge between Makhan and Maram, about 85km from here, in the wee hours. Twelve passengers were killed and about 20 injured. The bus was coming from Dimapur to Imphal.

The second mishap also took place on NH2 when a freight truck overturned at Lairouching near Senapati, the headquarters of Senapti district, 55km from here, around 10am. Sources said the truck driver died on the spot. He is yet to be identified. The cause of the accident remains unclear.

The third accident took place on NH37 (Imphal-Jiribam road) between Irang and Khongshang, about 140km from here, around 12.45pm when an Imphal-bound cruiser jeep from Jiribam, carrying 15 passengers, fell into a 300-foot gorge. Nine passengers were killed and six injured. Two of the deceased are women. The cause of the accident remains unclear. The injured, who were rescued by security personnel posted near the spot, have been brought to Imphal. A case has been registered with Nungba police station.

A survivor of the first accident, H. Ibomcha Singh, who is admitted to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) here, said the accident took place around 2.45am. He said minutes before the crash, the driver had stopped near Tadubi to receive a phone call. Ibomcha said he heard the driver speaking angrily and arguing with the caller.

“After the call, the driver took the wheel again and the bus started moving towards Imphal. I cannot say what was the exact cause of the accident but I saw the bus suddenly slide off the road. As it started falling into the gorge, I fell unconscious,” Ibomcha said.

When he regained consciousness, he heard screams of injured passengers and found himself lying beneath piles of blood-soaked bodies. There was blood all around. He said he was sitting in the aisle of the bus as it was over-crowded and loaded with goods. Ibomcha was injured in both legs but is said to be out of danger.

The injured passengers were evacuated to RIMS and the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) here. Some critically injured patients have been referred to private hospitals.

Social media users said there were frantic SOS calls by the survivors.

Unofficial sources said 11 passengers were killed on the spot while one succumbed to injuries at JNIMS. Details of the deceased and the injured persons are yet to be ascertained.

Official sources said the death toll in the accidents may rise as the condition of some of the injured is critical.

“It is unfortunate that so many human lives have been lost in a single day. We have registered cases and are investigating into the accidents. Right now, our focus is on giving proper treatment to the injured persons,” a senior police official said.

Chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh, who is in Delhi, expressed shock at the deaths and sent his condolences to the victims’ families.

 
By Khelen Thokchom

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Arun Sarma. Picture by Utpal Datta

Guwahati, March 27: Assam’s eminent theatre personality Arun Sarma passed away today, World Theatre Day. He was 86.

The thespian died at a private hospital in New Delhi at 5.30am. He was undergoing lung cancer treatment there since the third week of January.

His body was brought to Guwahati this evening. Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal announced that Sarma would be cremated with full state honours here tomorrow.

Sarma was the only Assamese to be honoured with both the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Sahitya Akademi awards. In 2010, he was houred with the Padma Shri.

He is survived by his wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law and three grandchildren.

Sarma stepped into the world of drama through the play Urukha Poja in 1952. The play was based on class division in the post-Independence era. Through decades-long untiring efforts since then, Sarma brought about a revolution to Assamese drama.

He has written 20 plays for the stage and 45 for the All India Radio (AIR).

Sri Nibaron Bhattacharjya, Agnigarh, Aditir Atmokotha, Parashuram, Siyor, Buranji Path, Onya Ek Odhyay and Urukha Poja are some of his celebrated stage plays.

Dhumuha Jetiya Ahe was the first play by Sarma to be aired by the Guwahati centre of AIR in 1953. Kokhyasuto, Sthawor, Fill Up The Gaps, Dutye Eke Dui and Trisanku are some of his prominent radio plays.

Of his five novels, Axirbador Rong was the most popular and he got the Sahitya Akademi award for it n 1998. The novel knits communal tension, love, life of migrant families and also points out the lacuna in Hinduism.

Its protagonist, Gajen, remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of readers. Gajen was a Hindu youth who loved a girl from a migrant Muslim family and gave her shelter when communal violence wiped out her entire village. When he learnt that there was no ceremony to convert people from other religions to Hinduism, Gajen converted to Islam to marry the helpless girl. The play was given a film adaptation by director Jahnu Barua as Ajeyo in 2013.

Sarma was born on November 3, 1931 in Dibrugarh. He studied in Tezpur High School and Cotton College here. He worked for a few months as a teacher in Chaiduar High School and then joined The Assam Tribune as a proof-reader before joining the Guwahati centre of AIR as a producer in 1960. He retired as its station director in 1986.

He was honoured with the Asam Sahitya Sabha (drama) Award (1967), Asom Natya Sanmilan Award (2001), Assam Valley Literary Award (2005), Sankaracharyya Avatar Award Literature (2010), Japan Prize International (1980), Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Award (1982), Prix Futura Berlin Commendation Certificate (1983) and Akashvani Award.

Drama personality Baharul Islam said a few months ago Sarma had expressed a desire to watch his play Sri Nibaron Bhattacharjya on stage again. “We prepared to stage the play but before that he passed away and his wish remains unfulfilled,” said Islam, who runs the drama school Srigal.

As the news of his death broke, condolences poured in. Asam Sahitya Sabha also lamented his demise.

“Till the last days of his life Sarma was actively associated with the drama movement in Assam. His demise is a great loss to the state,” said Lakhinandan Bora, former Sabha president.

“Sarma was a great dramatist like Girish Karnad and Mohan Rakesh but unfortunately we did not try to patronise his creation outside the state to give him proper recognition in his lifetime,” said Dulal Roy.

“Srimanta Xankardeb, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala and Arun Sarma – these three dramatists created a new genre in Assamese drama. As someone from the field of drama I had a close relationship with him. Even our drama group BAA was started with his drama Agnigarh,” said director Anup Hazarika.

Writer Ratna Oja said Sarma always encouraged newcomers. All Assam Students’ Union, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and state industries and commerce minister Chandra Mohan Patowary also condoled Sarma’s demise.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MANAS PRATIM DUTTA

 
By RAJIV KONWAR