DISCUSSION : ONCE MORE ON THE ASSAM
Certain aspects of the Assam movement seem to have
been neglected in the Left political and intellectual circles.
Statistics are notoriously vulnerable to empiricist misuse, and this
note, therefore, deliberately refrains from quoting some telling
figures. It rather seeks to raise relevant logical questions and suggest
appropriate historical perspectives. It is believed that a proper
consideration of such questions will help in orienting the Left to
problems of Assamese society.
(1) Present-day Assam roughly covers the area ruled by three 'native'
races of Assam - the Bodos, the Ahoms and the Koches. All three of them,
especially the ruling houses, were more or less Hinduised, and they
consciously identified themselves with historic Kamarupa. They not only
fought each other continually, but interacted with each other. They were
other continually, but interacted with each other. They were patrons of
a culture that has historically developed into Assamese culture, and
under their aegis an Assamese nationality had also developed over the
ages. Another powerful unifying factor had been the great medieval
Vaishnava movement , which created the institutional framework for
assimilating masses of tribal people into the mainstream Assamese
But it has remained a 'weak' nationality, because, apart from tea
plantations, the society remained largely untouched by forces of modern
capitalism down to the 1950's. And plantations notoriously are
enterprises of the 'enclave' type, and do not trigger development.
The different ethnic groups owing allegiance to the overall Assamese way
of life were not welded into a cohesive national group strong enough to
be able to withstand outside pressure. There have been cases of
defection or dissociation, especially in the recent past. It is also a
weak nationality in the sense that it is materially and culturally
backward compared to some other national groups in India. Lately it has
occurred to the Assamese that they are not even in undisputed possession
of the territory which they claims as their own.
Hence there is a sense of insecurity among the Assamese which is
deep-rooted. Their fear of being overwhelmed is a powerful factor, and
the Left circles will to take it seriously.
(2) The fear is compounded by the memory of real peril in the recent
past. The colonial authorities had imposed Bengali as the official language
of the province in schools and law courts. The myth of a Bengali conspiracy
behind that decision has now been effectively demolished by the unearthing
of relevant official documents. But the fact remains that Assamese could be
restored only after decades of struggle by the educated Assamese. The
colonial authorities had also tagged on large chucks of Bengalis and
Assamese, to the chagrin of both Bengalis and Assamese, and encouraged a
vicious valley-politics to keep two communities at each other's throat.
Again, in the early decades of this century the colonial authorities began
to encourage mass migration of poor and land-hungry peasants from the
eastern districts of Bengal (now in Bangladesh) in tens of thousands. Their
idea of course was to have the benefits of agricultural development and
intensive use of the land-resources without spending a single farthing. The
powerful Assamese landed families kept quiet because it also promised a
sizable increase in their income and property. Like the immigrant tea garden
labourers these peasants were also treated by the colonial government like
cattle. Nor did the landed families come to their rescue. Thus the field was
fertile among those distressed peasants for rabid communal propaganda.
Meanwhile, the Civil Disobedience Movement of the 1930's had floundered,
and its growing frustrations strengthened the appeal of communal forces all
over the country. This aroused intense nervousness among the indigenous
peasantry and the middle-class of Assam. In the 1940's the Muslim League
ministry of Assam, aided and abetted by the British government, made a
determined bid to increase the proportion of Muslims in Assam through
immigration under the camouflage of 'Grow More Food' campaign. Now, even
the landed families joined the chorus against the immigrants. Typically, a
section of the British officers also appeared in the role of champions of
the Assamese, and the Census Commissioner for Assam in 1931 permitted
himself flights of encroachers'. The national leadership of the Congress
decided to ignore Assamese fears and anxieties in their anxiety to appear
secular. The movement against 'Grouping' in Assam before independence
was quite strong. Following independence a powerful section of the Calcutta
press carried on a senseless but bitter campaign against the acquisition of
separate High Court and university by Assam. Such facts have generated a
kind of 'siege mentality'.
After independence Assamese chauvinism also grew at a fast pace, with the
connivance and under the active patronage of the ruling classes in Delhi and
Shillong. Assamese chauvinism tries to get results- the exclusive enjoyment
of financial and other benefits of the State government by a small and
privileged section of the Assamese Hindus- by playing on those fears and
anxieties of the Assamese masses. But it is a mistake to confound those
fears with chauvinism.
(3) Having failed to weld a strong Assamese nationality out of the
heterogeneous ethnic groups, especially the latecomers, and that too mainly
because it refused to share the fruits of development with them following
independence, the Assamese middle-class is seeing everywhere around it signs
of incipient revolt. The revolt is likely to take the form of ethnic
separatism. Hence, it is trying desperately to assert its hegemony by
whipping up traditional fears. For a year or so before the movement, the
Assamese press had been hysterical with reports of huge influx of Bangladesh
is and their assorted crimes. For reasons that merit some investigation, at
about the same time a 'sober' and 'cultured' newspaper in Calcutta
with a readership in Assam published a serious of detailed, 'factual'
reports on how the indigenous people of Tripura and Sikkim had been
overwhelmed by a flood of outsiders. (One may wonder if such dangers have
now appear no more concerned about the fact of the indigenous people of
those two states, The real secret behind such mindless ecstasies was
whispered in the elegant drawing rooms of the well-to-do Assamese families
of towns: if the Muslims and other groups team up and reduced the Assamese
Hindu legislators to a minority in the Assembly, how will it be possible for
the latter to retain the lion's share of the loot from the state? But the
explicit propaganda reiterates the time-honoured call: Assam is in danger.
There is a more sophisticated slogan for the vain intellectual: our cultural
identity has been threatened.
The Left is quite justified in holding in disdain the managers of this
sanguinary farce. But not, I am afraid, in ignoring the sentiments of the
Assamese masses. In the competitive capitalist environment of our country
the Assamese petit bourgeois sees nothing monstrous in the idea that a race
or nation can thrive only at the expense of other races or nations. Even the
peasantry, dependent for bare subsistence on land and land alone, is fearful
at the rate land seems to have passed into the hands of the 'outsiders'.
They cannot be expected to know of the deals that their present leaders had
struck over their own heads with the leaders of those outsiders in the
not-so-recent part. This kind of perception is given an intoxicating quality
by the rhetoric of nationalism. Assam, it is felt deeply and strongly, does
not deserve to be dominated by people bearing an alien culture.
The Left can scarcely agree to a programme of massive deportation or
disfranchisement . But it is not clear how far it can go in allaying
Assamese fears of becoming strangers in their own home. Does it support
assimilation ? If so, to what extent ? Recently a Leftist youth leader from
Delhi argued with me that assimilation should be only to the extent of
command over the Assamese language for practical purpose and no more. That
is a concession that would hardly register with the average Assamese. While
assimilation must not mean a subject status for the immigrants, and while
the process should be made more humane, it certainly needs to be speeded up
with administration measures. Otherwise the Left will be a party to the
silent decision to dissolve Assam and the Assamese. It is not so widely
known outside Assam that the various Congress ministers in Assam had
fostered in the 30 and more years after independence a certain kind of
Muslim separatism. Children of immigrant Muslims in some villages do not
attend High Schools, but High Madrassas, staffed in part by teachers from
outside the state cultivating a separate Islamic identity. Thus under the
banner of secularism the Congress has nurtured Muslim exclusiveness in
Assam, in order to ensure block votes from that community. Should such
divisive policies be allowed to thrive ? (This is by means the same as
denying the right of Muslims to study their religious and cultural heritage
as part of education). If the Left endorses such policies, it will
permanently insulate itself against Assamese sympathies, and push the
Assamese into the arms of the secessionist forces. This policy also ensures
the return of Congress (I) to power on the basis of combined minority votes.
Indeed, certain Congress (I) circles are openly speaking of turning Assam
into a federation of small states, each with its own language. That is the
last straw for many a patient Assamese.
(4) While the Left is duty-bound to expose and resist the vile Fascist
plots to tyrannise or enslave the minorities, and the various undemocratic
demands of the movement, it cannot question the legitimacy of the issue that
has been raised. Efforts ought to be made to restrict or control
immigration. Further, no foreigner has a right to settle in a country
without the free consent of the natives of that country. But the apparent
detachment of the Left to such issues creates the misleading impression that
it is unconcerned about those issues themselves, which for reasons stated
above, have agitated the Assamese common people. Since the Left further
views the movement as a CIA inspired campaign confirmed to a small section
of the Assamese, it is led to the verge of support for various draconian
measures taken by the government, and the indiscriminate retaliatory
violence of the C.R.P. While in the early stages the Army and the CRP were
deployed strictly in order marked by a political design. It appears that
when movement becomes weaker, and saner opinion tends to gain ground , the
extend of limited if genuine self-criticism in the Assamese press, the CRP
is suddenly unleashed on innocent people to dispell that mood and provoke a
mood of black anger and irrational hatred among the Assamese. This can
hardly be a mere coincidence.
I think it will not do at all to dismiss the entire movement as a
secessionist conspiracy. The Left should try to play a mediatory role in all
sincerity by going to the people and trying to understand their fears and
grievances. Haughty aloofness irritates and alienates. Even if the efforts
to mediate eventually fail, those will at least deliver the Left from its
present isolation from the vast majority of the Assamese. These might also
have helped to isolate the Fascists among the leadership of the movement.
(5) All acts of violence and sabotage have been branded a as 'secessionist'
by the government. There is not the slightest doubt that these are monstrous
acts of cruelty and outage. But not all of them are calculated to pave the
way for secession. Certain misguided elements in the movement consider them
the only answer to the government's repressive measures. These terrorise
the minorities and democratic people far more than the government, which
remains unshaken. Those groups are actually being treated as hostages by
fanatics within the movement. The government's failure to establish
rapport with the Assamese people, and its reliance on repression as the most
effective method of dealing with the movement is an open secret now. But if
the Left indulges in the same kind of mudslinging it will hardly help to
create a bridge of understanding . Of course this is not to advocate
indulgence to the culprits.
(6) If national forces are in decline in India, as is sometimes
asserted in Left circles, what accounts for the breadth and depth of popular
participation in various movements organised by the Assamese middle-class
around national issues like boundaries of the state, the official
language policy, and regional underdevelopment (e.g. in the Oil Refinery
movement )? Has the Left been able to organise similar mass movements in the
state around issues like high prices? Don't we need to learn a lesson from
that ? Does it necessarily mean a surrender to chauvinism and reaction ?
Though this is the first time that I have spelt out these reservations
openly, this does not mean a fundamental shift in my stand, for such
criticism has been quite implicit in the articles on Assam I have been
writing since 1973. The intention is not so much to discredit the Left , for
the Left rendered a yeoman's services to the cause of democracy and
secularism in the last three years in Assam, as to plead for an orientation
to the concrete realities.
POST_SCRIPT : I do not believe that the present movement can be called a
genuine national movement in the Marxist sense. But it certainly derives its
strength from unresolved national issues.
Dr. Hiren Gohain
'I won't bow down before any political
J P Saikia took over as chairman-cum-managing
director of the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi)
only four-month back. He has a brilliant track record in banking sector
and his chequered carrier includes a distinguished stint in the State
Bank of India (SBI). When Dr Jayanta Madhab, the founding chairman of
NEDFi, stepped down, he was the automatic choice to head it. He assumed
charge of this premier path-lender financial institution at a time when
the clamour for lifting the region from the pitfall of underdevelopment
is getting louder and louder. But, reality imposes limitation. As
against the backdrops of-poor infrastructure, acute power shortage,
transportation bottleneck, continued militancy and steady decline in
industrial production-striking a balance between economic viability
and social responsibility is not less than a tight-rope-walk. However,
Mr Saikia is optimistic about the North-east's economic growth
prospect and hopes everything will be brighter, better and vibrant. In
an exclusive face-off with The Economic Daily Mr Saikia outlines his
views on various issues confronting the future of NEDFi and economic
growth of the North-east. Excerpts: Question: How do you enjoy your new
assignment in NEDFi after playing a long innings in SBI? Answer: Of
course, my new job is a challenging one. It has added more
responsibility on my shoulder. NEDFi has a paramount task in economic
resurgence of the north-eastern region in coming days when the
people's expectations are high. Q: Could you brief a little on the two
main projects initiated by NEDFi last year- Patchouli and information
technology (IT)? A: As regard Patchouli programme, we are hopeful of
resuming exports from the next year. Patchouli cultivation has a very
bright prospect in this region particularly in Assam and Arunachal
Pradesh. We have already acquired 500 bigas of land for this purpose and
implementation is on full scale. Besides, keeping an eyes on rich forest
resources of the region, we have also taken thirty bigas of land from
the Assam government for setting up of a herbal garden to encourage
production of medicinal plants. On information technology side, the DSA
Group has already set up a call centre of 240-seat capacity at our IT
park in the city. The call centre will be fully operational by March and
trial will begin from the first week of February. It will create direct
job avenues for 600 youths in phase wise and will be the largest call
centre in the eastern India. Another IT park will come up in Agartala by
next year at a cost of Rs 1 crore initially and a memorandum of
understanding has been signed with the Tripura government for this. We
are also considering the possibility of setting up of more such parks in
other north-eastern States. Q: What would be the major thrust areas of
NEDFi in coming years? A: Our priority will be to cater to the needs of
three sectors - harnessing information technology to create better job
opportunities, more stress on industrial growth centres and enhancement
of micro financing scheme. Realizing the huge requirement of small size
loan in villages and small towns of the region, the NEDFi has, so far,
disbursed Rs 2 crore to 300 self-help groups under micro credit
programme. The mechanism involves delivery of loans through established
NGOs, village development councils and philanthropic organizations. Q:
What sort of favours do you need from the Central and the State
governments for better functioning of NEDFi? A: Recently, I have
submitted a business proposal of Rs 750 crore for the next five year to
the Centre. Of which, the Centre is supposed to give Rs 200 crore and
the rest amount will be mobilized and generated from our own
resource-base. I am hopeful of getting a fair deal from the Central
government. We also require supports from the State governments for
better transportation and road connectivity facilities. In many cases,
the locations, where industrial units are to be set up, lack approach
roads and such obstacles raise cost of production besides causing cost
and time overrun. Power situation in this region also presents a dismal
picture not to mention of our experience with frequent power-cuts.
Uninterrupted electricity supply is an utmost necessity as it is a
pre-requisite to stimulate industrialization. Poor infrastructural
facilities coupled with communication bottleneck make private investors
feel shy in investing in the region. Q: Are you facing any financial
constraints in implementing the projects? A: So far, there is no
problem. As I have already told you, I have sent a business proposal to
the Union finance ministry, the result of which is awaited. After that
only I would be able to visualize if any crisis is ahead or not.
Moreover, NEDFi, has set a record of achieving 100 per cent annual
target over the last six years of its existence and the Centre has never
hesitated to release funds for it. The Prime Minister has given a target
of disbursing Rs 50 crore loan annually to this region. The target was
fulfilled in the last year and we are hopeful of achieving the goal in
the current year too. Q: In which way you want to lead NEDFi in coming
days? A: See, NEDFi's one-point task is to inject fresh life into
staggering economy of the north-eastern region. NEDFi sees for itself
the responsibility of regional development while catering to the
financial needs of various projects in the region. Because of its image
and credibility the Union government needs NEDFi to play a dynamic role
in development of the whole North-east. The NEDFi has made a total
investment of Rs 450 crore in the past six years, which includes 204
projects sanctioned in seven States of the region. We have also
initiated a number of studies identifying sectors for national and
international funding under the Techno-Economic Feasibility Study Fund.
We are also providing credit assistance and technical consultancy in
areas like petrochemicals, health-care, food processing, jute, cold
storage facilities, power generation and tourism promotion. Q: Whether
any industrial magnet of repute has come forward with proposal in recent
time to set up industry in this region? A: L G Electronics has shown
interest in setting up a production unit near Guwahati. Discussions are
on and if the deal is finalized there will be an investment of not less
than Rs 50 crore. Birla Group is also coming here very soon and they
will start off with an educational institution. Efforts are being made
to attract outside investors in steel and cement sectors also. It's
heartening that some entrepreneurs and promoters have taken keen
interest in making investments in our Burnihat industrial growth park
and in other places. Q: What is the recovery rate of NEDFi-financed
projects? What is your observation about the local entrepreneurs? A:
Right to say, the recovery rate is very discouraging. We have a scheme
for the new generation of the region called 'North East Equity
Fund', for which Rs one crore is being kept as reserve. Under this
scheme, aspiring unemployed youths are extended financial assistance to
set up small industrial units with locally available resources. But, the
poor recovery of earlier sanctioned loans is sending wrong signals and
in some cases the beneficiaries have diverted funds to unproductive
purposes. Q: What do you think about the future of industrial
development of the region? Is insurgency posing a threat? A: Insurgency
and worsening law and order situation in the region has been diverting
resources and attention of the State governments which otherwise could
have been available for economic development. An outside investor thinks
twice before making an investment in the North-east due to bad law and
order condition. Otherwise, the region could have lured more investors
and attain faster industrialization with the incentives and exemptions
granted by the Central and the State governments. As things stand today
no small initiative can bring about rapid economic development. With
years of development back-log together with slow pace of infrastructural
growth, what is required is a "giant leap." There is also a need for
confidence- building exercise among the entrepreneurs. Q: Your
predecessor Dr Jayanta Madhab had said that he was compelled to put in
his papers because he resisted political pressure in NEDFi's
functioning especially in matters of sanctioning loans. Do you face any
such pressure? A: I can't totally disprove and rule out such
pressures. Actually, in this type of lending and financial institutions,
political intervention is more or less a common phenomenon. But, this
much I can assure that I will not succumb to any political pressure. The
NEDFi is guided by the principle of sanctioning funds to those projects
which are economically viable. No interference will be tolerated which
goes against its principle.
KUNAL KANTI BHATTACHARJEE email@example.com)
Miles to go before 'expenditure
control' becomes a reality for Assam
Business is going to change much more in next ten years
than in last fifty years- says the world's most successful man and IT
baron Bill Gates. And for the cash-strapped Assam government, coming out
from the grip of acute financial crisis will be easier than ever before if
it can fill up the gap of deficit by increasing revenue and cutting down
expenditure in next five years-feels H N Das, chairman of the Fiscal
Reforms Committee, constituted by the Gogoi government five months back.
"The annual contribution to the State exchequer may be as high as Rs
1,100 crore if the present government can carry into effect our
recommendations," says Das when asked about the effectiveness of the
report. The committee while calling for path-breaking reforms in each and
every sector suggested a curb on fresh employment and reduction of
employees at the rate of two per cent per year over the next five years.
It views that the image of the government can be changed and modernized
once the e-governance is introduced in right earnest. It says that the
computerization of important departments including treasuring through
local areas network will ensure less corruption, increased transparency,
greater convenience, revenue growth and cost reduction. "Good governance
which means a transparent bureaucracy and avoiding cost and time over-runs
is possible once we utilize the information technology," says Atul Sarma,
another member of the panel. Besides recommending freezing of dearness
allowance and dearness relief to the government workforce for at least
three years, it also urged for a curb on travel and control of expenditure
on vehicles. It is confident that it the entire amount gained from the
increase in revenue coming from the suggested reform package along with
saving affected by control of expenditure is spent on development
projects, the total employment in the state over the next five-year period
will be more than the number of posts abolished. Even though the Chief
Minister Tarun Gogoi has not set any specific time-frame for implementing
the report, it can be easily gauged that the government employees would
have to bear the first brunt. The committee while analysing the background
of financial crisis in Assam comes out with the conclusion that increase
in number of employees and consequent increase of expenditure on salary,
wage and pension-is the main cause responsible for the present situation
as 51 per cent of the expenditure goes on meeting this. The total
expenditure on salary, wages and pension has gone up to Rs 4,990.55 crore
in 2001-02 and that of the total number of employees and pensioners has
touched the figures of 4,59,701 and 1,11,356 respectively. The education
department, which shares 41.42 per cent of the government staff, is the
first one to come under heavy fire. "The department is even ignorant
about the exact number of teachers working with it", says the committee,
adding that the expenditure remains very high on education and became
ten-fold in the last year due to increase in workforce and illegal
recruitment. The security-related expenditure due to insurgency and law
and order problems has also gone up significantly-more than seven-fold.
Calling for reduction of aid to autonomous bodies at the rate of 10 per
cent per year, the committee also raised serious concern over the
mushrooming of NGOs over the past few years. "Easily available grants
from various departments encourage 'fly-by-night' type of
organizations which disappear soon after clearing the government cheques."
It said. At a time when the Chief Minister has to leave for New Delhi
every month to persuade the Centre to bail out the State in order to pay
salaries of employees, the committee views that the present crisis calls
for certain amount of sacrifice from every quarter. "The Assam
government will come out as one of the most efficient State governments in
India if employees, citizens and political parties eventually bear the
extra burden of taxation," it pointed out. Suggesting massive tax
reforms it called for enhancement of land revenue, excise, motor vehicle,
passengers and good taxes. It also advised the government to review the
present structure of green leaf and professional taxes, stamp duty,
registration fee and also electricity tariff. Regarding the State-run
undertakings, the committee found that barring three out of 49 existing
PSUs - Assam Gas Company, Artfed and Assam Co-operative Jute Mills -
all are running at huge losses and have become a heavy burden. Suggesting
immediate disinvestment in 16 PSUs, it urged the government for
liquidation of stakes in 14 PSUs which are not economically viable. It
also favoured fragmentation State Electricity Board (ASEB) into three
strategic business units which would work as independent profit centres.
It also suggested joint venture mechanism allowing 51 per cent equity to
private sector for profit-making and potentially profitable PSUs. It
suggested shutting down of loss-making and non-viable units. It may be
mentioned that 49 PSUs in which Rs 4,500 crore invested so far are running
into a accumulated loss of Rs 4,060 crore. While the administrative system
has failed totally during the past half-a-century to augment income
generation assets, the mismatch between income and expenditure has caused
climbing up of fiscal deficit to Rs 2,534.71 crore in 2001-02. According
to the committee, all these wrong steps ultimately resulted-failure to
pay salaries in time, failure to fund plan projects fully, diversion of
funds from plan to non-plan, decline of capital expenditure and increase
of revenue spending. On the revenue front, the committee felt
that-leakages in check gates, tax offices, business establishments and
overall economic backwardness-have caused serious losses to the
exchequer. The total debt burden of the State government has crossed Rs
10,013 crore mark in the last financial year. The cost of debt servicing
along with salary and pension today constitute a bulk of revenue and
capital expenditure as these three items constitutes 60 per cent of the
overall spending. Adding to woes is the frequent floods that visit Assam
every year leaving behind trail of death and destruction. "As the
calamity fund is hardly sufficient the government has to resort to flood
control measures through 100 per cent borrowing," the report stated.
Obviously, the main mantra for tiding over the fiscal darkness remains
"expenditure control". But there is a doubt whether the State
government will be able to follow in the bold footsteps when the Chief
Minister himself says "expenditure control is one thing and the ministry
expansion is another"-which forecasts further burden on the exchequer.
So, we have to travel miles and miles before monetary frugality becomes a
reality for the State.
KUNAL KANTI BHATTACHARJEE (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Guwahatians likely to face acute water shortage
Can privatization assure
viability of water supply schemes in Assam?
Privatization or Active community involvement - which
can ensure viability of water supply schemes? The experts opinion is
however, sharply divided on this. A section of them feels it is only
through privatization the financial viability of urban and rural water
supply schemes can be assured. Another group feels participation of users
in planning and maintenance of their own water supply projects, can give
Assam Public Health Engineering Minister, Dinesh Prasad
Goala, thinks it's right time now to examine the financial aspects of
urban and rural water supply schemes in Assam, most of which are running
in heavy losses.
He says water supply schemes have already been started
in various parts of the State but poor maintenance and operation are
posing threats to them. Financial constraint is a hurdle as water tariff
charged from the people is very low, he points out.
Emphasizing the need for community participation, Goala
says, the Central government has also stressed on the involvement of local
people in operation and management of water supply projects as it is not
possible for the government to run those schemes on its own.
Admitting carelessness on the part of public health
engineering department, Goala states: an awareness should be created among
the public regarding the supply of pure drinking water. "An
approachable tariff and a sense of self-responsibility can guarantee
supply of water in proper time," he viewed.
Expressing doubts over the long term existence of water
supply schemes in the State, Assam Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board
Managing Director Himangshu Sarkar, says the revenue collection is very
less and maintenance cost is much higher. "Water taxes are not
sufficient to meet the generating and distribution cost and the rising
revenue gap becomes the burden of the State government."
In fact, the World Bank has also expressed doubts over
the sustainability of water supply schemes in the States of Maharastra,
Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, due to poor management and
Pointing out the financial viability of water supply
schemes in the State has not been achieved till date, Sarkar informs that
people at large do not bother to pay for the services as they treat water
as a 'free commodity' and want to get it free of cost.
Since 1989, when the urban water supply scheme was been
started in the State, a large section of people do not bother to take
advantage of water supply connections as because underground water is
easily available in Assam.
Accepting the fact that poor economic condition of the
people is a hurdle standing in the way of success of these water supply
schemes, Sarkar says, out of 78 towns in Assam, where water supply schemes
are being run, 54 have a population-base of less than 20,000 with rural
background, where health consciousness is not prevalent to a large extent.
He however, agrees that the funds allocated by the
State government for this purpose is also meagre as it comes only two to
three percent of the total budget allocation.
Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Chief Engineer
(water supply), Sarath Bezbarua, views that private sector participation
is the only solution to make the water supply schemes economically viable.
He says for survival of water supply schemes a
comprehensive pricing policy, covering all sorts of cost, should be
introduced. Favouring induction of 'registration fee', Bezbaruah says
commercial activities associated in this regard cannot be ignored and to
reduce transmission and distribution losses, users should be charged a
non-refundable amount of registration fee.
D Bhattacharjee, Director (HRD), State Public Health
Engineering (PHE) department, suggests setting-up of users committee
through community participation at the local level and says involvement of
users in the operation and maintenance of water supply projects can ensure
The most interesting fact was revealed by A B Paul,
additional Chief Engineer, PHE. He says unlike electricity, for which
people are always ready to pay, water is being seen as a 'gift of
Pointing out the basic difference between power and
water supply, Paul says, when the electricity services were first started
in Chicago city 200-year back, no-body wanted to use it free but the day a
human being borns in this earth he sees water abounds every where.
"It's not ability to pay but willingness to pay which acts as a
barrier in revenue generation," he views.
Paul informs that the market price of water produced by
the State PHE department every year stands at around Rs. 85 crore and at
present 180 pipe water supply schemes are being run in the State.
Citing examples from a survey report he said 60 per
cent of the users take water at home against payments in Barak Valley.
"The only thing they demand is - guaranteed supply of water."
He further informs in Jorhat, where the scheme was
introduced in 1994, and presently has 40 lakh house connections - no
defaulter is found till date.
However, Indian Water Works Association president, BK
Bhasale when contracted, says the situation like 'cost-revenue gap' is
same in every State of India. He accuses the local governing bodies -
municipalities, town committees and panchayats - of not paying back the
revenues collected from the users to the producers.
All experts are of the view that in order to ensure
sustainability of supply schemes in Assam 'water' should be treated as
an 'economic wealth'. An expert also suggests introduction of paid
services for purified water and free services for non-purified
Corruption can be checked, it can't be eliminated:
State small tea growers yet
to get patta land in Assam
Despite tremendous development potential of small tea
growers in the State, the small tea growers are facing a plethora of
problems. Very few of them have patta plots of land. So, they face a lot
of problems in obtaining bank loan.
Talking to this reporter, Mr. Gautam Prasad Baruah, a
city-based business strategist and economist, said that small tea growers
can usher in a new era in the tea industry of the State.
Mr. Baruah has suggested the State Government to allot
patta to the cropland of the small tea growers so that they can avail bank
Regarding the quality of the tea brands of Assam he
stated that, the producers are yet to improve the quality of the brands.
"Flavour and strength of liquor of Assam should be
improved to earn better price. The quality of tea should be upgraded by
availing better field practices," he said.
In view of the open market policy, Sri Lankan and
African tea brands are gaining ground. To place with the high degree of
competition in the international market, Indian tea industry captains
should update their marketing strategy in order to widen the market share.
"In fact, the price of Lankan and African tea
brands are lower than that of Indian ones. The reason is not far to seek.
The cost of production of Indian brands is higher than Lankan and African
brands. India adopts labour-intensive technology in the production of tea
brands while the African and Lankan tea industry barons use
capital-intensive technique in the production. As a result, the cost of
tea production is higher in India than Africa and Sri Lanka," Mr.
Apart from the development possibilities, Mr. Baruah
also averred his views over the economic gloom of the State. He has
advocated drastic economic reforms in order to revive the State economy as
a whole. According to him, local investors and entrepreneurs should come
forward to set up production units to revitalize the State. "We
should not look for outside investors all the time. Outside investors fear
to come to Assam for prevailing disturbed law and order situation. Only
the local investors are to pave the way to rapid development of the
State," he remarked.
He said, "The State Government should reduce
expenditure. How it will cut expenditure it is up to the government.
Downsizing the employees may be one of the important reform measure.
Today, the State has about 5 lakh employees as against 2.60 lakh staff in
1985-86 which marked 70 percent increase during the period. However, the
services aspect of the State Govt. Employees has not improve. Does it help
On the dismal scene of fiscal health of the State he
quipped, "About 80 percent of the total revenue is spent on the
payment of staff salaries and maintaining administration, 15 percent
revenue is spent in the repayment of debt and only 5 percent remained for
Commenting on 'corruption issue' he said,
"Corruption has become a way of life. The valuable subject 'Moral
Studies' should be reintroduced at the primary and secondary
Accordingly, Mr. Baruah informed that, he had urged Mr.
N Vittal, Vigilance Commissioner, during a recent meeting to write to all
the school level to root out vexed problem of graft practices in different
"Corruption and prostitution are two phenomena in
human civilization. These two elements cannot be eliminated, but can be
controlled, to some extent. External vigilance is the price of liberty,
said W Wilson, so, if you want to reduce corruption, you are to revise
vigilance," he added.
Can Agriculture Dept.'s contingency measures save
farmers in Assam today ?
While the State is facing a scanty monsoon rainfall,
the Department of Agriculture has chalked out contingency plans to check
possible ravages of flood in the months to come. Though the farmers are
currently working hard in their cropland yet they seem to pass through an
uncertain future as after delayed monsoon floods collapse crops every year
in the State. Now, the question is : How far the contingency plans of the
Agricultural department will be able to help the poor farmers in the State
"Flood is a regular feature in Assam during May to
September. It affects an area of about 3 to 5 lakh hectares of land under
cultivation depending on magnitude. The year 1999 was marked by an unusual
drought like situation which prevailed from November 1998 till 3rd week of
April 1999. The unusual drought like situation spread over a period of
almost 6 months, damaged standing crops and drastically reduced the yield
to 40% to 50% Rabi Summer/Pre Kharif crops. Total area affected was
2,35,775 hectare covering 3,48,2086 farm families. This drought like
situation was followed by the regular flood affecting 1,09,878 hectare of
crop area and also by the attack of Rice Hispa in Kharif paddy affecting
72,737 hectare," informed Mr. E Bimal Singh, Deputy Director,
Department of Agriculture, Assam.
"During the year 2000-2001, the State experienced
three waves of floods. The first wave of flood came in the middle of June
2000, second wave was in the latter part of July and last wave was in the
early part of September 2000. During Kharif 2000 total cropped area
affected was 2,92,903 hectare and total family affected was 6,36,102. The
similar situation is now prevailing in the current year 2001-2002. Loss of
standing Kharif crops both early and late flood is apprehended," he
In fact, the flash floods and early floods are most
common in the districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Gohpur sub-division of
Sonitpur district, Majuli sub-division of Jorhat district. In recent
times, these districts are also facing acute problems of sand deposition
converting fertile land to barren land overnight. Heavy river bank erosion
is also causing concern to the large number of farmers.
The main objective of contingent planning is to
minimize the losses of production by way of selecting appropriate
alternate crops, suitable variety and adopting appropriate crop production
AK Bora, Director of the Department felt that more
funds from the Revenue Department would be needed to check the recurrence
of floods in the State. He further informed that all field officials of
the Department have been instructed to monitor the adverse situation
arising out of the devastating floods.
Meanwhile, the Department has formulated a set of
measures to check the devastating flood in the State this year.
For occasionally flood-affected areas, where flood
recedes early in season and rice can be transplanted in middle of August,
varieties like Ranjit, Bahadur, Pankaj, Lakhimi, PNR 381, Monohar, Sali
etc. may also be selected with normal seedbed sowing.
Chronologically, flood affected areas where flood water
is expected to recede by the last part of August and first part of
September, varieties suitable for staggered planting like Monohar Sali,
KMJ-17-19-1, Andrew Sali etc. may be selected with seedbed sowing in
normal sowing time.
In areas where transplantation of rice is not possible
by mid-September, early maturing (short duration) varieties like luit,
Kapili, Culture-1 may be selected for direct seeded crops with spouted
In general under normal conditions 5 to 6 KG seed is
needed for transplanting one bigha of land. However, for late
sowing/transplanting seed rate should be increased as the germination
percentage mainly of Monohar Sali falls very fast beyond June.
In the areas of hills and in late transplanting
situation, 4-5 seedling is to be planted per hill to maintain panicle
number per unit area with 40-5- days old seedling. Therefore, higher seed
rate is necessary for late transplanting situation, he added.
Falling demand & prices put tea industry in a
GTAC introduces 'on-line
Tea industry in Assam runs
into rough weather
Sipping a cup of tea gives you some extra energy. Tea
has so much to tell, more so if the magic brew comes from the gardens of
Assam, world's most diversified, successful conglomerates. Grown in
lush plains of the land of 'red river and blue hills' this rich brew
from Assam is being served over the globe. Tea tells more so if
cultivated, plucked and processed in Assam.
Novelist Mulk Raj Anand, nicely portrayed the lives
and styles of tea community in his famous novel "Two Leafs
and a Bud" - which depicts the significance of tea in
socio-economic life of Assam.
With the advent of globalisation and removal of
quantitative restrictions, Indian tea producers are now facing
cut-throat competition. Although Assam's production level has shown
growth, there is a very apparent slowing down in recent years.
Against a projected compound growth rate of 4 percent
as envisaged by the Tea Board, Assam achieved only 2.2 percent during
1981-92. Assam tea industry will therefore have to shift attention to
productivity in as much as concentrating on its effort on quality.
The recent stagnation in the domestic tea market and
declining prices, will surely put Assam's tea industry in a tough spot
as it is the backbone of the State economy and to face the current
crisis of downward price trend, the tea industry should have to strive
for two things - quality improvement and cost effectiveness.
For more than a century and a half, the tea industry
has contributed immensely in economic development of Assam and so far
remains biggest tea producing area in India. It accounts for nearly 55
percent of India's total tea production and about 80 percent of
When tea auction was started in London in 1839 based
on Assam and China teas and in Calcutta in 1861 based mainly on Assam
tea, no consideration was given to the fact that the natural advantage
was with Guwahati. It was not realized that in this process, Assam was
being deprived of a major share of the benefits of its most important
It was only in late 1960s the then State Finance
Minister late Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who later became the President of
India, initiated action to examine the feasibility of setting up of a
tea auction centre in Assam. In May, 1970, the State government
appointed a committee headed by former Chief Secretary late Dharmananda
Das, under the active support of the late Chief Minister, Bimala Prasad
Chaliha. The committee adopted the Guwahati Tea Auction Rules and the
first ever tea auction was held in Guwahati, on September 25, 1970.
The first lot of tea was auctioned in the Nehru
Stadium Guest House, 31 years back, by no other than legendary RG Baruah,
the first Chairman of Assam Tea Brokers Ltd. Since then, the Guwahati
Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) has undergone many ups-and-downs till date. In
1985, auction was shifted to GTAC's newly constructed permanent
building at Dispur. The building with facilities - including an ultra
modern auction hall - has become a landmark for the city of Guwahati.
GTAC's growth is reflected in terms of throughout
numbers of sellers and buyers. The total membership of GTAC has reached
nearly, 1,000 mark which includes - 662 sellers, 292 buyers, 9 brokers
and 33 warehouses. The list of buyers include - Hindustan Lever, Tata, J
V Gokal and Company from Russia and various other companies from China,
Kenya, Sri Lanka and West European countries.
From a mere quantity of 2.75 million kgs sold in
1970, GTAC achieved a record sale of 151.3 million kgs of tea in 1993,
traveling a pretty long way to become one of the largest tea auction
centres of the world. GTAC has also contributed to the growth of
Guwahati by stimulating local entrepreneurship and creating employment
facilities for more than 3,000 job-seekers.
"Guwahati being the gateway of the North-east,
is the ultimate choice as an auction centre. Producer's preference for
the centre is eloquently evident in the steady increase in arrivals in
local warehouses," says Jayanta Kakati, Secretary, GTAC.
Consequently, Guwahati has now emerged as the premier
tea market in the world for CTC tea, next only to Colombo.
"GTAC primarily caters to the domestic market
and buyers from all over the country gather in this city to ensure their
active participation in the biweekly held auctions," says N N Deka,
an assistant Superintendent with GTAC.
With the arrival of Internet and e-commerce boom in
this corner of the world, GTAC is also planning to introduce 'on-line
auction' facility within a short span of time. "We don't want
to be left behind others. Transactions in GTAC will be on-line in next
two years," informs Kakati.
In fact, GTAC will grow larger and larger with
improved communication system which is far from satisfactory when
compared with other parts of the country. Natural advantages of GTAC
will be augmented and prospect of further growth will receive a boost if
e-commerce facility is inducted.
Though Assam produces highest amount of tea in India
yet the tea companies, operating in this region, do not have their
headquarters here. For the convenience of tea companies having head
offices in Kolkata, to some extent, trade has been monopolised there,
depriving Assam from its due share of revenue and other benefits.
For a long time, student bodies, political parties
and virtually, the entire tea community here, demanding the shifting of
headquarters from Calcutta to Guwahati.
"There are around 700 tea estates in the
North-east. Works can be carried out in a faster way if headquarters are
brought here. At present, for an official approval and procedure,
companies have to wait for the instruction from Kolkata, which causes
unnecessary delay," resents Kakati.
Tea from luxuriant estates of Assam, loved the world
over for special quality. Assam produces 15 percent of the global crop.
On the global scenario newer tea producing nations - Kenya, Malawi -
have entered the fast track showing remarkable increase in productivity
level and therefore posing threat to tea industry in Assam.
Assam Tea Industry : Production Trend
Area in lakh hect.
Productionin million kgs.
Average Yield kg./hect.
Source : Tea Board
Growth Rates of the Assam Tea Industry
Average yield kg./hect.
Rate of growth of Production ( in %
Area under tea (in
Source : (i) J. Thomas &
Co. (ii) Tea Board (iii) I.T.A. Circulars
Index of 3 yearly moving average of production :
Index of production
Source : GTAC
Assam shares 92.72% complaints in North-east
How N-E states respond to
Banking Ombudsman ?
Assam shares about 92.72 per cent of the complaints
against banks filed before the banking Ombudsman by the customers in
North-east nowadays. The rest 7.28 per cent of the complainants belong
to Meghalaya and Nagaland. However, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram
and Tripura have shown no response to the Banking Ombudsman scheme
during the financial year 2000-2001.
The Reserve Bank of India constituted a 'neutral
forum' between the nationalised banks and the customers to deal in
different complaints or cases subject to 'sufficient cause' and
rules of the bank-concerned. That is, the Banking Ombudsman scheme has
been designed to upgrade the quality of customer services in different
banks of the country. Its key objective is to enable resolution of
complaints relating to provision of banking services and to facilitate
the settlement of such complaints.
There is a Banking Ombudsman office in the RBI
regional office on the Railway Station Road, Guwahati. The scheme has,
indeed, been playing a vital role in the development of banking sector
in the North-east since the inception of Guwahati office in June 1996.
The office has registered 37 complaints out of 108 cases during the
financial year 1996-97. It registered 114 cases out of 239 complaints in
1997-98, 65 cases out of 234 complaints in 1998-99, 47 cases against 110
complaints in 1999-2000 and 55 cases against 145 complaints in 2000-01.
Up to 1999-2000, all cases have been deposed off. However, 38 cases
remained pending during the financial year 2000-01. Out of 38 cases, 18
cases were registered by the end of the year under review. In the
meantime 7 cases, out of these 18 cases were deposed off by April, 2001.
Talking to this writer, Mr. Gautam Prasad Baruah,
Banking Ombudsman, North-east said, "The Banking Ombudsman has been
set up by the RBI for speedy and inexpensive redressal of complaints of
bank-customers against deficiency in banking services. The body is
faster than a civil court in disposing cases. There had been no pending
cases for four years."
"The response to the Banking Ombudsman scheme by
Assam is quite good in Assam. The State shares at least 80 percent of
the complaints set by other N-E States. The response from Meghalaya is
all right, Nagaland - not high, Arunachal Pradesh - not much. However,
Mizoram is showing no response to the scheme. The people of Mizoram are
either satisfied with the bank performance or they are not aware of the
scheme; notwithstanding the fact that the State is one of the important
States with higher literacy rate."
"There are three ways to redress the complaints
against a particular bank. First of all, the complaint and the bank come
to a mutual agreement and the Banking Ombudsman tries to help them to
consider mutually acceptable terms. At least 70 per cent of the conflict
is redress in this stage. Secondly, if certain conflict is not resolved
by a mutual agreement or mutual discussion, in that case a hearing is
organised when both the parties put up their case in a formal manner.
After hearing the case, the Banking Ombudsman gives his recommendations
to them, i.e. the Complainant and the bank. In case they agrees to
settle the matter, the case ends there. Thirdly, either the party does
not agree, the matter goes to the third stage where the Banking
Ombudsman inform parties to hear the case again and in this hearing an
award is given by the Banking Ombudsman if the award is acceptable to
the complainant, the award becomes a binding on the bank."
A customer of any commercial bank (including a
foreign bank) and a scheduled primary co-operative bank can approach the
When a customer can approach the Banking Ombudsman?
Replying this query, Mr. Baruah said, "You can approach the Banking
Ombudsman as soon as your bank has rejected your complaint or if you are
not satisfied with your bank's reply or if the bank does not respond
to your complaint within two months of your writing to it. But remember
to send your complaint to the Banking Ombudsman not later-on than one
year after your bank rejecting your claim or sending its final
Poor collection of samples adds impetus to food
66 per cent cases pending in
Poor collection of samples has widened the scope
of adulterating food items by dishonest traders and dealers in the State
in a big way. According to the latest report of the Comptroller and
Auditor General of India (CAG), poor collection and examination of
samples rendering cases of adulteration remained undetected. It also
unveiled that 66 percent of the food adulteration cases instituted had
been pending in courts for over three years.
The average collection of samples per senior food
inspector (SFI) and food inspector (FI) per month ranged from 1.81 to
2.14 during the period between 1995 and 1999 (five years), which was
negligible. It was also seen from the records of six districts, local
health authorities (LHAs) test-checked that the average monthly
collection of samples per SFI and FI during those five years ranged from
1.50 in Tinsukia to 3.34 in Barpeta. It is noteworthy that the State
Government attributed (August 2000) the reasons for poor collection of
samples to non-availability of funds, which is not tenable as there were
savings every year against provision of funds. Audit analysis revealed
that the poor performance was due to non-stipulation of norm of sample,
collection per SFI and FI, and irregular deployment of manpower. As a
result, the surveillance of sellers, manufacturers and agents of food
items was inadequate.
"Functioning of the laboratory used for
examining samples was also affected for want of sophisticated equipment
though funds were provided by the Union Government for the
purpose," the report said. During the period between 1995 and 1999
seven food poisoning cases were reported in which 30 persons died after
consumption of adulterated milk, puja prasad, etc. As many as 800 people
were affected by food-poisoning cases in different parts of the State;
even many of them died after eating contaminate grams in the recent
Reflected in the CAG Report, mention has been made of
the poor collection of food samples by SFIs and FIs. Together with this,
for providing licenses to manufacturers and traders of food articles,
the Assam Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules was introduced in 1960.
Yet it was only in 1997 that licensing authorities were appointed. It is
a pathetic fact that until July 2000 no license had been issued in the
Monitoring at all levels was very poor and no
evaluation was done. Implementation of the Food Adulteration Act, 1954
(a Central Act) and The Assam Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules,
1960 did not gain the expected momentum in the State.
Up-to-date position of pending court cases could not
be furnished by the food health authority (Director of Health Services,
Assam is the ex-officio of FHA) of the State. It was seen from the
annual report of 1998 that of 565 cases pending in courts, 385 cases (66
per cent) were pending for over three years. Scrutiny of six
test-checked districts local health authorities also disclosed that as
of December 1999 only 84 cases were pending in courts for over three
Having reviewed the situation, arising out of the
poor collection of food samples by SFIs and FIs as well as the tardy
issue of licenses, Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi instructed all concerned
government officials to take immediately precautionary steps for
implementing various Rules on food adulteration in the State.
With a view to ensuring availability of unadulterated
food and drink (other than drugs) to consumers, protecting them from
fraudulent trade practices and providing guidance/norms to the
manufacturers/dealers of food articles, Central Government enacted 'The
Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954'. Under Section 23 of the
Act, the Centre had made 'The Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules
1955'. In exercise of powers conferred by Section 24 of the Act and
for giving effect to the provisions of the said Act, the State
Government had made 'The Assam Prevention of food Adulteration Rules
1960' which was amended in 1983.
There are three key objectives of the Food Act. They
are : to prevent adulteration of foodstuff and manufacture, storing and
sale of adulterated foodstuff for human consumption; to ensure the
purity of food items sold to public and to eradicate the antisocial evil
of adulteration; and to prohibit misbranding of foodstuff and to prevent
fraud on the consumer public.
The State Public Health Laboratory (SPHL) in Guwahati
performs the analysis of food samples sent to it under PFA Act, 1954.
Besides the food samples sent to the laboratory by private persons and
other governments and agencies of the North-eastern region are also
analysed by the SPHL for which fees at prescribed rates are realised in
Timber traders violating SC ban on felling trees
Violating the Supreme Court ban on felling trees
in all North-eastern States, a large number of timber traders and saw
mill owners are still engaged in felling trees throughout the region.
In a significant breakthrough, the Bureau of
Investigation of Economic Offences (BIEO) of the State caught red handed
a good number of offenders dealing in illegal timber trade in the
region. Early this morning, the BIEO rounded up two Punjab body trucks
at the Nine Mile areas on the outskirts of the city, carrying fresh
timbers of Rs. 2.25 lakh from Mairang areas of Meghalaya. They were
carrying non-Sal and Pine trees. Interestingly, number plates of the
trucks were deleted in order to eye-wash the police and the people.
Later on, the numbers of these two trucks were ascertained as 25A-7116
and MLO5-B 7873. On the basis of a document BIEO officials found that
Mr. Moresh Shyam of Mairang, Meghalaya was the owner of the truck number
25A-7116. However, no paper was found from the truck number 25A-7116.
Both the trucks were coming down from Mairang of Meghalaya. But their
destination could not be established as the drivers and handymen of the
vehicles had managed to flee before the police seized the trucks.
Getting a special information from Mr. Bhaskar
Konhain, president of the Kamrup District Youth Congress Committee, an
investigating BIEO team -- comprising of Biren Sarma, DSP and Bolen Nath,
Forester (Grade-I) - reached the spot where the two trucks were parked
(in between Jorabat and Khanapara on the GS Road). It is reliably learnt
that about 20 Youth Congress workers helped the BIEO officials to round
up the trucks. It is noteworthy that the Kamrup District Youth Congress
Committee had initiated a drive to close all 'last number lottery
ticket' counters in the city. The drive against corruption would go on
and on, said a youth Congress leader.
He further claimed that the timber traders could
manage to deal in the 'illegal trade' as there was an 'unfair
nexus' between the timber smugglers and the local police officials.
In the meantime, police busted many rackets of timber
smugglers in different parts of the State. On November 1, police
detected illegal timbers of Rs. 3 lakh at Fancy Bazar. The timbers were
the sorts of finished bits belonging to one Kiran Bhotra. These bits
were later handed over to the Forest Department, Kamrup Division.
On November 2, the BIEO detected a huge quantity of
Gomari and Khokan bits at Rangia. The approximate value of the timber
would be Rs. 3 lakh. They were handed over to the Forest Department of
In a separate incident, as many as 18 timber traders
surrendered before the police at Tezpur, on November 10, police sources
CBI may start Vitamin-A probe after four
The CBI is likely to take at least four years in
initiating investigation into the UNICEF-sponsored Vitamin-A
immunisation drive which has claimed many lives of children of the
State. Earlier, the State Government has ordered a CBI inquiry into the
death of infants after being fed with Vitamin-A in a UNICEF sponsored
mass immunisation programme. An Assam government spokesman informed
that, the Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, took the decision on November 20.
Highly-placed sources close to the Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI) said on condition of anonymity that the bureau had
to initiate formal investigation after four to five years of different
scams like LoC scam, Palmoline scam etc. in Assam.
"This time too, the CBI may start its
investigation after four years. The reason is not far to seek. The State
Government had to intimate formally the Central Government (Union Home
Ministry) first. Then the Centre will direct the CBI headquarters. The
headquarters will direct the Eastern Zonal office in Kolkata and the
Eastern Zonal office will direct the North-eastern regional office of
the CBI, Guwahati, to start the formal probe. Thus the process is too
long to get prompt result," the sources added.
On the other hand, Assam police sources said that,
two teams of CID of the State visited the Barak Valley and the Nagaon
district to stock of the situation there. Officials sources averred
that, only two death cases of children were filed in the Barak Valley -
one at the police station of Sonai and another at Lakhipur police
station in Cachar district. The Sonai case was an unnatural death case
while the Lakhipur case was a regular death case. Khabir Ahmed, SP, CID
led the police team to Cachar which visited the district from November
13, 2001 to November 18, 2001.
"No doctors disclosed the cause of death of the
victims. All death certificates marked opinions reserved," sources
It is noteworthy that the State Government has been
pushed to a corner by this tragedy and the Opposition political parties
have been howling for the CBI inquiry. The State Government, UNICEF and
the Union Government have remained clue-less about the tragedy even as
the blame game is on each passing the bucks to the others.
The UNICEF pointed the finger towards the overdose
while the Union Government says that they had asked Assam Government not
to use the consignment, while the pediatrics in Assam say that mass
immunisation of Vitamin-A was not at all necessary in Assam. Meanwhile,
the Union Government has suspended the entire nationwide Vitamin-A
immunisation programme till the inquiry reports found out the real
Initially, more than 10,000 babies fell ill in lower
and Central Assam but most of them recovered within the first 12 hours
after complaints of vomiting and Diarrhea.
Keeping all conscious people in speculation over
Vitamin-A solution and its 'overdose theory', the State Government
today made a list of 15 samples collected from six districts for
laboratory test, while as many as 15 children died in different parts of
the State. The three brands of Vitamin-A are Nestor, Niculas and Piramol,
which were used in Sonitpur, Kamrup, Goalpara, Dibrugarh, Cachar and
Highly-placed sources close to the Ministry of Health
and Family Welfare told this reporter: "The drugs controller of the
State today prepared a list of 15 samples of 'Concentrated Vitamin-A
Solution', which were used in immunisation drives in the State
The letter, bearing the list, addressed to the
officer on special duty (OSD) to the Minister of Health and Family
Welfare goes : "As desired by you I am furnishing herewith the list
of sample of Concentrated Vitamin-A Solution drawn by the different
inspectors of drugs of various districts of Assam."
According to the letter, the drugs controller
received 2 samples from the Sonitpur district, on November 16, 2001 and
the brand names of the samples are Nestor, Niculas and Piramol. Three
samples of Niculas and Piramol brands were received from Kamrup
district, on November 13, 2001. Only one sample of Niculas brand was
received from Goalpara district, on November 13, 2001. Two samples of
Niculas brand were received from Dibrugarh district on the same date.
Three samples of Nestor and Niculas brands were received from Cachar
district, on November 12, 2001. Four samples of Nestor and Niculas
brands were received from Kamrup district, on November 13, 2001.
Out of the total 15 samples of six district, seven
samples of Nestor and Niculas brands, which were distributed in
largely-affected Cachar and Nagaon districts, have been sent to the
Central Drugs Laboratory, Kolkata by the Drugs Controller.
In the meantime, a few concerned officials claimed
that, the State drugs analyst cold have unveil the findings of the
laboratory tests on different samples of Vitamin-A in a day. They
questioned the analyst why he could not announce the same even after
passing eight days.
Development of civil aviation in North-east
Making the entire world into a 'global village'
the civil aviation service sector plays a vital role in the fast
changing transport industry of the North-east, in particular and the
country as a whole. That is, the civil aviation sector can help boost
the socio-economic development of Northeastern states by way of
facilitating operations related to cargo, domestic and international
What is the present position of this service sector
in the seven-sister states? The passenger movement through Borjhar (Guwahati)
airport during the year 1999-2000 is 4,03,035 and that of during
2000-2001 is 5,06,978, keeping in pace with the increasing trend of air
passengers, as well as freight, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) has
constructed the air terminal building at a cost of Rs. 27 crore to
handle 1500 passengers at a time. This terminal building is one of the
largest domestic terminal buildings of India today. It is designed to
handle 1500 passengers at a time. Its architecture resembles boat in
All modern passengers' facilities like, restaurant,
snack bar, tea stall, telephone booth, prepaid taxi service, postal
facilities, wheel chair, ambu-lift, coffee bar, rest room facilities
have been provided. Provision of two numbers of aerobridged also being
examined. The entire terminal building is being air-conditioned at a
cost of Rs. 2.53 crore. Strengthening of runway has already been done to
facilitate the landing of wide bodied aircraft. Extension of run way
upto 12,000 ft. from existing 9000 ft. has been planned for which land
has already been acquired from state government. A separate
international terminal building has been planned for international
operations. Moreover, international cargo operations has been started,
cold storage facility is also available. The apron has been expanded to
accommodate 6 nos. of different types of wide bodied aircraft at a time.
Airport is well equipped with night landing facility. At present Indian
Airline, Alliance Air, Jet Airways, Sahara India Airlines, Pawan Hans
Ltd are operating through this airport linking Guwahati with Kolkata,
Delhi, Bagdogra, Imphal, Dibrugarh, North Lakhimpur and Shillong.
The revenue to be from this airport is approximately
Rs. 770 lakh per annum, whereas expenditure incurred to maintain it is
approximately Rs. 1,191 lakh. Despite a loss making Airport, this is
being developed to match with any international airport of the country.
That is, the AAI upgraded Guwahati airport as model
airport with all modern navigational, aeronautical and passenger
facilities recently. The airport was declared as international airport
in May 2000. Efforts were being made to start international flights from
this airport. So far airline has shown interest to touch this point. The
Union Civil Aviation Ministry seems busy in making deals with other
countries so that they could insist on taking Guwahati as "a point
of call" for their airlines. Cargo operations have also been
started in a modest way. The existing runway has been strengthened at a
cost of Rs. 22 crore. This airport has been provided with the
state-of-the-art navigational and communication facilities including
radars, covering the air space of Northeast at a cost of Rs. 30 crore.
Guwahati, situated on the banks of the mighty river
Brahmaputra is the gateway to the whole of Northeast and set-down point
for the wildlife reserves. The sustained economic development and
tremendous potential for adventure tourism keep encouraging more people
to visit and explore this land, the Brahmaputra Valley. In cognigance of
this fact and constant increase in traffic potential, the LGB
International Airport, named after the worthy son of Assam, Lokapriya
Gopinath Bordoloi contributes substantially to the trade and commerce in
this region. It was declared an international airport in May 2000. The
airport is equipped with all modern technical and navigational aids and
can accommodate six various types of wide-bodied aircraft at a time. The
terminal building has all the passenger-friendly services and is
spacious enough to cater for peak hour capacity of 1500 passengers.
Constructional of terminal building and associated works have since been
completed at a cost of Rs. 27 crore. Cargo operations have commenced
from this airport effective October 1999 and airport is equipped with
related facilities to handle international flights.
In the Northeast, the AAI maintains 20 airports and
civil enclaves in the seven states and 2 airports in the state of West
Bengal. It has undertaken major projects to develop operational airports
in the seven-sister states with an outlay of Rs. 2573.93 crore in the
9th Plan. To develop LGBI airport, the Plan outlay is Rs. 128 crore, out
of total domestic airports outlay in the 9th Plan of Rs. 1784.80 crore.
The Plan outlay for development of airports in North-eastern States
including LGBI Airport is Rs. 273.79 crore which is 15.34 % of total
It is important to note that the AAI manages 11
international and 112 domestic airports including 28 civil enclaves at
Defence airfields across the country and is committed to overall
development of its airport with passenger-friendly services. At AAI, the
development of infrastructure at airports is a continuous process.
According to a report, the AAI is well aware of terrain constraints and
frequent ravages in the Northeast region and hence importance of air
services. At present, the network of AAI airports and civil enclaves in
this region consists of 14 airports and eight civil enclaves at Defence
airfields which are located in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam,
Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. AAI has taken up
various projects at these airports and civil enclaves.
The AAI, with the help of North Eastern Council (NEC)
has taken up airport development works in all the States of North
Eastern Region with an outlay of Rs. 260 crore during the Ninth
Five-year Plan. New terminal buildings have been constructed and put
into operation at Guwahati, Silchar, Imphal, Dimapur, Tezpur and Tura.
Similarly, new terminal buildings are under construction at North
Lakhimpur and Agartala at a cost of about 33 crore. The runway at
Agartala airport is being extended to 7500 ft. at a cost of Rs. 22 crore.
At Imphal and Dimapur airports also, the runways are being strengthened
a cost of Rs. 25 crore. In Mizoram, the entire building of Oengpeu
Airport will be ready in the next month which costed Rs. 98 crore. The
total cost of projects which are at present going on in the Northeast if
Rs. 187 crore. This shows that my Ministry and also the NEC are
committed to strengthen the economy of the region. The navigational aids
are being provided at Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Agartala and Imphal and other
airports to facilitate all weather operations and improving safety.
According to the Annual Report of the Ministry of
Civil Aviation, 2000-2001, the Government have exempted all routes
within the seven States of the Northeast from the levy of Inland Air
Travel Tax (IATT) which is charged at the rate of 15% of the basic fare.
It has also decided to notify Aviation Turbine Fuel as 'declared goods'
under Central Sales Tax Act. 1956 so as to cap sales tax at 4% . A bill
in this regard is being introduced in Parliament by the Ministry of
A Task Force was constituted by the Government of
India in December 1998, to examine and make recommendations for
improving the air infrastructure and for better airlinks in the NE
Region. The Task Force had given its recommendation in 1999. The main
recommendations of the Task Force include : (i) Airlinks should be
established between the capitals of the States in the NE and between
major stations on both sides of the Brahmaputra. (ii) Guwahati should be
made hub station and main base of 50 seater aircraft operations by the
airlines. (iii) Construction of terminal buildings at Lengpui (Aizwal)
and Tura (Meghalaya), being carried out by the State Governments, to be
completed expeditiously. (iv) A new terminal building for Dibrugarh
airport. (v) The landing, parking, route navigation facility charges and
passenger service fee levied by Airports Authority of India (AAI),
should be reduced to 50% of existing levels for the NE Region.
Government should reimburse from the proposed Civil Aviation Development
Fund (CADF) the loss of revenue to AAI arising from the above mentioned
of charges. (vi) A CADF be created. 50% of the Foreign Travel Tax and
Inland Air Travel Tax, charged from international and domestic
passengers, should be allowed to be part of this Fund. This fund should
be utilised to finance aviation infrastructure development and to
subsidise the unviable, but essential air services. (vii) The Ministry
of Civil Aviation should grant subsidy out of the proposed CADF to the
airlines providing air services on the economically unviable, but
essential routes for recovering the cash cost of operations. (viii)
Helicopter services to be provided, as is presently being done, under
the subsidy scheme of Ministry of Home Affairs, to places where there is
no scope of building runways.
(ix) Air services to/from and within NE should be
expected from Inland Air Travel Tax. (x) Instrument Landing system (ILS)
and Runway Visual Range (RVR) measurement equipments to be provided at
Silchar, Tezpur, Dimapur, Jorhat and Lilabari airports. (xi) Very High
Frequency Omni Range (VHFOR) Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) and
Precision Approach Path Indicato (PAPI) to be provided at Lilabari and
Barapani airports. (xii) Approach lights and high intensity runway
lights should be provided at Dibrugarh, Lilabari, Lengpui and Barapani.
Of late, the Union Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr.
Sharad Yadav, constituted a high level team comprising of
representatives from the Ministry, Indian Airlines, Airports Authority
of India, DGCA and Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd. To make an on-the-spot
assessment of immediate airport infrastructure problems of the
Northeastern States in order to resolve them in a time bound manner.
Notably, the MPs from the Northeastern States formed
"Northeast MPs Forum" under the chairmanship of Mr.
P.R.Kyndiah, MP, Lok Sabha to voice the special problem of the region.
Mr. Samar Choudhury, MP, Lok Sabha is the Vice-Chairman of the Forum.
All the MPs hailed the decision of the Ministry of Civil Aviation to
declare Guwahati Airport as International Airport and urged the Minister
to start international flights from Guwahati.
Glad to say, the whole of Northeast is full of
natural beauty and there are a number of tourist places. Sad to say, the
region is yet to woo more and more tourists. The tremendous development
potential of tourism industry could not be tapped due to difficult
terrain and limited means of communication. Therefore, there is a need
for improvement in airport infrastructure and air services in this area.
It is expected to improve the economy of this region in the days to come
removing the so-called 'geographical isolation' from the national
mainstream. The region is likely to 'grow from strength to strength'
in collaboration with the civil aviation sector soon.
Legitimised crime : Check gates in city
While the State Government continues to claim that it
has succeeded in curbing all malpractices in four check gates and three
parking places in and around the city, extortionists are still illegally
collecting money from all commercial vehicles and cars carrying goods
passing through the gates. Security personnel area also making
extortions regularly from the forces of the gates and parking places.
Currently, tense situation grips the gates and
parking places at night, specially after 10 p. m. Local people said
that, frequent shoot-out incidents have become a routine in the gates at
night. A few cars are generally kept ready near the gates for taking the
victims in the shoot-out incidents to doctors in the city. Many boys,
who work for the gates, alleged that security forces came at night and
took away the collections. On the other hand, people claimed that the
boys illegally charged a higher amount of tax than that of rate already
fixed by the GMC.
Since 1976, the GMC has been collecting the entry tax
from the commercial vehicles under the Guwahati Municipal Corporation
Act, 1969. Earlier, it had been raising octroi. Octroi collection
process has some certain impediments and hence it decided to collect
entry tax as in other states of the country in 1971.
Official sources said that, Guwahati Municipal
Corporation (GMC) is collecting about Rs. 25 lakh per week from the
check gates and parking places. Last week, the GMC collected Rs. 8.660
lakh from Khanapara check gate, Rs. 7.806 lakh from Saraighat check gate
and Rs. 1.613 lakh from Khanamukh check gate, Rs. 0.693 lakh from
Narengi check gate, Rs. 3.173 lakh from National Highway No. 37 parking
place, Rs. 2.363 lakh from Jalukbari parking place and Rs. 0.680 lakh
from Garhpandu parking place. That is, the GMC received Rs. 24.988 lakh
week. Thus, Khanapara check gate is collecting the maximum 'entry tax'
among the four check gates. The NH 37 parking place is collecting the
maximum tax among the three parking places of the city.
Certain quarters alleged that the staff at the gates
and parking places collect more amount from the owners of the commercial
vehicles than the amount they deposit at the GMC cash branch at
Kacharighat every week.
The saddest part of the story is that the security
forces, using a particular Maruti Gypsy, visit the gates and parking
places in the evening and collect bribes for allowing the boys to raise
an illegal amount of tax.
It is important to note that the GMC ran two check
gates and two parking places itself from July 21, 2001 to September 23
this year. In those days the security personnel could not collect 'illegal
money' in the gates and parking places. So, the security forces hardly
extended co-operation with the GMC officials in collecting the tax,
The GMC handed over the gates and parking places to
the lessees as per an order of the Guwahati High Court. The lessees are
to deposit the tax to the GMC every week. Otherwise explanation notices
are served on the lessees.
Sources also confirmed that, though the gates and
parking places are practically run by a few SULFA men yet the names of
the persons, who had taken the gates or parking places on lease from the
GMC, are not those of the former ULFA cadres.
Many young men serve as guards of check gates in
contract basis and on meagre pay. Talking to this reporter one of such
employees expressed the anger over the facility as well as the so-called
salary that they are getting. All the four check gates belong to SULFA
leader Sailen Dutta Konwar. His men work in all the check gates of the
city. Earlier, he was the lessee of the Khanapara check gate and now he
is holding the same as well.
In the Khanamukh Check gate, one of the member
informed that lakh of rupees are collected through these check gates.
The check gates of the Khanapara and Amingaon collect from rupees fifty
thousand to one lakh per day.
"For doing the check gate business, one has to
be very powerful not only from the monetary point of view but also to be
strong enough as far as the muscle power is concerned," they added.
Daily they have to pay each and every police patrol group of the PS that
they belong. By this way they have to pay about one thousands of rupees
each day. This reporter also saw a police vehicle (AS 01 C/ 9130)
waiting for a couple of minutes in front of the check gate, and when,
worker of that particular gate handed over a packet then the Gypsy left
the place. The employee, later on, confirmed that money was in that
"Every lessee has to deposit one fourth of the
amount to the government initially. Only those persons get the check
gates who have close relations with the SULFA men, as they play a vital
role in the check gates. Even if one may not be a SULFA, he usually
keeps a good relation with the SULFA men. It is a business of the big
circle. Each and every one, specially Minister, Police, SULFA are
closely related with it," they said.
When the reporter offered to be a person in the
lucrative business, they advised that he should do the business of the
car parking in the city which is a very profitable business as well.
Earlier, N Deka, was the lessee of that check gate and now he is holding
the same as well.
In the Saraighat Check Gate, lessee Nabin Chandra
Talukdar, is the official owner of the check gate. But SULFA leader,
Sailen Dutta Konwar, is the man behind the screen. Though they usually
take Rs. 100 sometimes they demand Rs. 1,000. Because of their high
revenue sometimes dacoity also takes place. Army also comes there to
grab money forcibly. Because of this exchange of fire that occurs after
9.30 p. m. bullet injuries also take place. The cars that are ready for
it often carries the victims of the Medical College Hospital for
treatment. But it is not known where they are carried. The police Gypsy
(AS-01 9130) also seen in the area arouses suspicion. The nearest
vendors are also the sympathiser of the check gate businessmen. The
vendors also alleged that the lessee, Talukdar is a resident of Usha
Court. The vendors also alleged that a lots of Usha Court leaders also
involved in it. It seems that the lessee is just a rubber stamp. All the
important work is carried out by the SULFA leaders, they added.