Flood hits 21 Assam districts

Flood hits 21 Assam districts

As many as 21 districts and a population of over 4.6 lakh have been affected in the ongoing flood in Assam with water entering Dibrugarh town and coming threateningly close to entering the capital city. Assam has 33 districts.

With the death of two more persons on Saturday, altogether 18 persons have died in the flood that hit the state on May 22, according to official sources.

Social media was abuzz with updates and comments on flood and the problems being faced by the affected. Such has been the situation that Oil India Limited had to call off all activities related to the capping of the gas well blowout at Baghjan, about 530km east of Guwahati, because the surrounding area was submerged by the flood water which has also hit the Kaziranga National Park.

According to the Central Water Commission, all major rivers are flowing over the danger level because of incessant rainfall over the past few days. The MET office has predicted heavy rain in the northeast till Tuesday.

The Brahmaputra is flowing above the danger level at Neamatighat (Jorhat), Tezpur (Sonitpur), Guwahati (Kamrup), Goalpara (Goalpara), Dhubri (Dhubri); Burhiding at Chenimari (Dibrugarh); Dhansiri(S) at Numaligarh (Golaghat); Jia Bharali at NT Road Crossing (Sonitpur); Puthimari NH Road Crossing (Kamrup); Manas at NH Road Crossing (Barpeta); Beki at Road Bridge (Barpeta)

The affected districts are Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Biswanath, Udalguri, Darrang, Nalbari, Barpeta, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, South Salmara, Goalpara, Kamrup, Morigaon, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat, Majuli, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia.

Assam State Disaster Management Authority said that 19,496 affected people are living in 132 relief camps, the most in Tinsukia (53) Dibrugarh (41) followed by Dhemaji and Goalpara with eight each.

All the 22 wards of Dibrugarh are under water while all the major rivers flowing along and within Guwahati have registered a rising trend. With heavy rainfall over the past few days, the Kamrup (Metro) District have asked people living in landslide prone areas to move to safer places till the monsoon are over.

On Friday, a person died in a landslide in the Kahilipara area while a major highway was blocked because of landslip in the Amingaon area here. “The situation is bad. Covid cases are rising and now we are staring at flood,” an official said.

Total lockdown is being implemented for 14 days from Sunday midnight in Kamrup Metro district to check the spread of Covid-19 cases.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been deployed in over eight districts to meet any eventuality.

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NSCN(IM) counters governor’s ‘jibe’

NSCN(IM) counters governor’s ‘jibe’

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) on Saturday denied extorting money at any point of time but said it levied legitimate taxes on people in an apparent reaction to Nagaland governor R.N. Ravi’s recent letter on “armed gangs” to chief minister N. Rio.

“Taxes have been the source of sustenance that has brought the Naga political movement this far…legitimately acknowledged by earlier Interlocutors and Indian authorities..,” the NSCN (IM) said.

This comes two days after governor Ravi’s letter dated June 16 to Rio surfaced on social media. Without naming anyone, the letter spoke of law and order problems over extortion by armed gangs.

Ravi is also the Centre’s interlocutor for Naga peace talks that started in 1997.

Without naming Ravi, the NSCN(IM) said it was a legitimate national organisation of the Naga people “and not a gang”. The statement went on to say: “But if he finds pleasure to handle the Naga issue as a ‘law and order’ problem he is not the right person to solve the long-standing problem.”

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Lockdown in Guwahati

Lockdown in Guwahati

The Assam government has announced a 14-day “total lockdown” in Guwahati from Sunday midnight following a spurt in Covid-19 cases.

Night curfew was also imposed from 7pm to 7am across Assam from Friday evening and there will be “total lockdown” on weekends in town and municipal areas.

State health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced the decision on Friday after a high-level meeting chaired by chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Thursday night to take stock of the situation. The meeting was attended by Sarma and the chief secretary, among others.

Sarma said the government had no option but to announce the lockdown in Kamrup (metro) district, under which Guwahati falls, because of the sharp spike in cases. Except pharmacies and hospitals, everything else will remain closed, he said.

“Of the 762 positive cases detected in the city since June 15, 676 had no travel history. Almost 50 per cent cases reported in Assam over the past few days are from the city. People are not wearing masks and not maintaining social distancing in busy areas. Residents have two days to buy essentials. We had to resort to the lockdown to save the city, the state and the Northeast,” Sarma said.

The announcement was followed by a run on the markets where social distancing norms were violated. The price of a kilo of potato rose from Rs 30 to Rs 40 in an hour.

Guwahati, considered the commercial hub and the gateway to the Northeast, has to be secured to check the spread, officials said. There has been a sharp rise in coronavirus cases since migrant workers and stranded people started returning home in May.

There are 9,592 cases in the region so far. Assam tops the list with 6,646 cases, followed by Tripura (1,259), Manipur (970), Nagaland (371), Arunachal (158), Mizoram (142), and Meghalaya (46). Twelve patients have died with Assam accounting for nine deaths and one each in Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.

Assam is also battling the annual floods which have affected over 10 districts and left four dead so far.

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Pollution board withdraws OIL closure notice

Pollution board withdraws OIL closure notice

The Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) on Monday evening withdrew the notice it had served on Oil India Limited to “close down” all production and drilling operations in Baghjan oil field area in Upper Assam where a blowout and subsequent fire have adversely affected life, livelihood and the ecology.

The development followed early morning talks between Oil India CMD Sushil Chandra Mishra and PCBA chairman Y. Suryanarayana, after which the company submitted a court affidavit and other documents and data sought by the pollution watchdog at its Dibrugarh regional office.

A senior Oil India official told The Telegraph on Monday evening: “Our CMD spoke to the PCBA chairman, following which we submitted everything they sought from us. We also gave an undertaking of what we have done or are doing to comply with PCBA regulations.”

The official said the notice was withdrawn but with several riders, including submitting a detailed time-bound environment management plan within 15 days and applying for separate consent for each drilling operation, production and other installations along with an environment management plan.

The pollution board also sought details of hazardous waste generated and disposed, treatment facilities and taking necessary action for proper disposal of e-waste.

The official said closing down all operations would have not only complicated the ongoing capping operations but also affected the “productivity and safety” of other gas and oil wells. Halting operations would have impacted several tea gardens and units like Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corporation Limited at Namrup, Assam Gas Company Limited at Duliajan and Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Limited at Lepetkata, all in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district which depend on gas supply from Oil India.

Sources also attributed chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s “indirect role” in resolving the issue out of court.

Sonowal had told reporters it was an issue between Oil India and PCBA and that the state government will intervene when “our time will come”.

However, officials said the chief minister referring to Oil India as a “national institution”, highlighting the dependence of several institutions on its gas supply, according top priority to capping the gas well and providing relief to the affected Baghjan locals “clearly conveys he is not in favour of closure”.

In its two-page communiqué ordering closure of all Oil India operations on June 19, the PCBA has accused the company of “nonchalantly violating the provision of law in force, causing pollution to the environment”.

The closure notice made other stinging observations against Oil India, which has been accused of “destroying” the aquatic life of nearby Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung wetland in the “name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures” and not being equipped with proper safety and precautionary measures “for which often major accidents occur at the drilling sites/production installations”.

The PCBA also observed that the May 27 blowout and subsequent fire was due to “negligence and carelessness” of Oil India authorities towards the “safety of people’s lives and property in neighbouring areas as well as protection of the environment”.

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Congress team quarantine and barbs in Manipur

Congress team quarantine and barbs in Manipur

AICC observers Ajay Maken and Gaurav Gogoi, who had flown here on Friday evening, were kept under quarantine for the second consecutive day in line with Covid-19 protocols in Manipur, while a war of words erupted between the ruling BJP and the Congress.

While the Congress claimed that the BJP-led government has lost majority, the BJP claimed the issue had been settled with the victory of its candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls.

Nobody has been allowed to see Maken, Congress spokesperson, and Gaurav Gogoi, party general secretary in-charge of the Northeast, who came here as AICC observers after the sudden political developments in Manipur, including formation of the Secular Progressive Front (SPF) led by O. Ibobi Singh following the resignation of four ministers belonging to National People’s Party and five others from the government.

The state authority had placed the two AICC leaders in a paid quarantine centre at an Imphal hotel in accordance with the guidelines on pandemic. As they had already booked rooms at the hotel before their arrival here, they were guided by an additional superintendent of police rank officer to the hotel, official sources said.

Both of them have to stay in isolation and undergo Covid-19 tests, a government spokesperson said.

A state Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity, said they are not allowed to see the AICC leaders as they are in quarantine centre.

BJP general secretary Ram Madhav took a swipe at the Congress, saying it could not win the Rajya Sabha seat and was claiming majority in the Assembly.

“The Congress party couldn’t win the RS seat in Manipur. Yet went to governor claiming they have majority in Assembly. Their leader Ajay Maken and MP Gaurav Gogoi entered Manipur disregarding Corona guidelines. They have been promptly quarantined by the state health authorities,” he tweeted.

In the Rajya Sabha poll in Manipur, which took place in the backdrop of high political drama triggered by the resignations, BJP’s Leishemba Sanajaoba defeated rival Congress candidate T. Mangi Babu by four votes.

In a counter to Ram Madhav, Ajay Maken tweeted: “The Congress always regards rules and traditions. We came here with permission with full knowledge and booked a quarantine centre in advance. It is a support to the Manipur PCC and its people in fight against a government formed by manipulation against popular votes!”

Gaurav Gogoi, MP, also hit back at Ram Madhav, saying: “You are a senior leader of your party. I would have hoped that you would check your facts before tweeting. May be the last-minute manipulation to block four Congress votes has induced a false sense of confidence.”

Three Congress defectors — Ksh Biren Singh, S Bira Singh and Surchandra Singh — were not allowed to cast their votes as cases are pending against them. However, the other four defectors could vote.

The seven Congress legislators who had crossed over to the BJP shortly after the 2017 state polls, have been facing anti-defection cases. Their disqualification matter is with Manipur High Court as well as the Speaker’s tribunal.

One recently disqualified MLA was also barred from taking part in the voting process. Of the nine members who tendered resignation on Wednesday, BJP MLAs S. Subhashchandra Singh, T.T. Haokip and Samuel Jendai could not cast their votes.

Four NPP ministers, who had withdrawn their support from the ruling coalition, have exercised their franchise during the poll.

The lone Trinamul Congress MLA T. Robindro Singh, who also pulled out of the N. Biren Singh-led dispensation, was not allowed to cast his vote. He lodged a complaint with the Election Commission.

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Baghjan ‘thanks’ pollution cell for waking up

Baghjan ‘thanks’ pollution cell for waking up

Blowout-hit local residents of Baghjan are as “surprised and shocked” as Oil India by the Pollution Control Board of Assam’s (PCBA) directive to “close down” all production and drilling operations in the affected area in Upper Assam.

They told The Telegraph that their pleas and representations to the PCBA and the district administration over the past 15 years, seeking an end to Oil India’s operations in the area had fallen on deaf ears.

“And now we get to hear about the PCBA’s closure notice. It is a welcome order, which has left us surprised and shocked as well. Had they acted earlier on our pleas, things would not have come to such a pass. This blowout could have been averted. This loss of life and livelihood could have been avoided. We thank the PCBA for waking up from their deep sleep to the dangers we face,” Hemanta Barman, adviser to the Baghjan Goan Milanjyoti Sangha, said on Sunday.

The Sangha is representing the affected local residents in talks with Oil India and the district administration for adequate relief and rehabilitation following the extensive damage caused to houses, plantations and aquatic lives within an area of 1.5km from the oil well that uncontrollably began releasing gas on May 27 and subsequently caught fire on June 9.

Over 8,000 residents are still living in 10 relief camps set up by Oil India around 15km away from the blowout site.

The Sangha had on Saturday evening temporarily withdrawn its protest against the PSU’s operations in the area for 15 days.

Oil India, which operates 18 oil wells and four gas wells in the Baghjan area, said they were requesting the PCBA to revoke the order because closing down operations suddenly could, among others, impact the capping operations.

If the PCBA does not heed its request, the company will file a writ petition challenging the order before the Gauhati High Court by Monday afternoon.

It is not only the Baghjan residents who are surprised over the PCBA “mysteriously” waking up to the threat posed by Oil India’s operations in the area despite the well being in operation since 2005.

Actor Adil Hussain on Sunday morning tweeted: “Assam Pollution Board acknowledged that @OilIndiaLimited had been drilling without proper authorisations, it is serious violation of Water, Air, Environment Acts in Upper Assam. Asks #OIL to shut all Drilling, Production Immediately. Thank You for waking up, Late than Never.”

The PCBA order has also directed Oil India to take all possible steps to cap the gas well fire, which is still raging.

The PCBA has accused the PSU of “nonchalantly” violating the provisions of law in force by “causing pollution to the environment” and “destroying” the aquatic life of nearby Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung wetland in the “name of exploring oil without any mitigation measures”, without being equipped with proper safety and precautionary measures “for which often major accidents occur at the drilling sites/production installations”.

Protests in the area have already resulted in Oil India losing over Rs 15 crore since May 27.

“And if there is total shutdown, we will lose around Rs 5 crore daily. But more than monetary loss, shutdown will affect capping operations. The EPS or early production setup, near the affected site serves as our war room, among others,” a company official said.

He said Oil India had submitted data of the last 15 years as sought by the PCBA within a week.

“It is true we sought a few more days, but when our plea was not granted we sent the data on June 19 through email, the day PCBA sent the closure notice. We will request it to reconsider the closure notice or we will have no option but to move court. Shutting down operations will have long-term impact, including productivity of the wells,” the official said.

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21 die in landslides in 3 Assam districts

21 die in landslides in 3 Assam districts

Nearly 21 people died in three separate landslides on Tuesday morning, triggered by incessant rainfall over the past couple of days in Hailakandi, Cachar and Karimganj districts in south Assam’s Barak Valley.

The landslides hit between 5am and 8am, killing eight in Hailakandi, six in Karimganj and seven in Cachar, officials said.

A family of five was buried alive in Mohanpur, around 25km from Hailakandi district headquarters, while seven of a family died in Cachar’s Joypur, they said. The landslide, which hit Kaliganj in Karimganj district, left six dead.

All victims were day labourers living in the hilly areas in the adjoining districts.

The landslides are the latest disaster to hit Assam, which has been grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and the first wave of floods. The Covid-19 count is nearing 1,500, while nine persons have died in the deluge so far.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, expressing grief over the loss of lives in the landslides, directed the deputy commissioners of the three districts to extend help to the affected people, including the injured, and involve the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) in relief and rescue operations. He also directed the district administrations to immediately release ex gratia to the next of kin of the victims.

Cachar superintendent of police Manabendra Debroy told The Telegraph that the affected area was a hilly terrain.

“Tomijuddin Laskar, 45, a daily-wage earner, and his three daughters and three sons, aged between nine and 23 years, perished in the landslide that occurred around 5am. Laskar’s widow escaped, as she was not present in the tin house. She is in shock in hospital. All the bodies were recovered with the help of locals. Total compensation of Rs 28 lakh was paid to the affected family members by afternoon,” he said.

In Hailakandi, two landslides hit Mohanpur village, killing eight persons and injuring five. Among the deceased, five were from the same family — Kutan Mia Laskar, 40, his wife and three daughters, aged between three and six years. Five persons were injured in the landslide that occurred at 8am.

He said the state government should shift those living in the hills immediately to prevent a repeat.

In Guwahati, the Kamrup (Metro) district administration issued a warning to those living on the hills to shift to safer places during the monsoon.

Last week, two minor landslides occurred in the city but there was no casualty.

In Karimganj’s Kaliganj, of the six killed, five were from the same family. The deceased have been identified as Azir Uddin, 58, his wife Razia Begum, 40, their two sons Aftar Hussain, 10, and Anwar Uddin, 6, and their daughter Tahera Begum, 5. Before the SDRF team arrived, the locals dug up and rescued 10 injured people.

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Student lynched in tea estate, 8 arrested

Student lynched in tea estate, 8 arrested

Police have arrested eight persons, four of them on Monday morning, in connection with the alleged lynching of a college student on Friday night inside the Gabharu Parbat Tea Estate at Nakachari, about 43km from Jorhat, the district headquarters.

Several leading organisations such as the All Assam Students’ Union, All Tai Students Union, Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Union have condemned the incident and demanded strict action against those involved in the incident.

Mariani police have registered a case. Jorhat DC Roshni A. Korati told The Telegraph: “Today we held a peace meeting in the area to defuse the tension. We are keeping a close watch on the situation. Additional security personnel have been deployed. Eight persons have been arrested till Monday morning.”

According to Korati, the deceased Debashis Gogoi had gone sightseeing in the garden with his friends. “Preliminary reports suggest that while on their way back, one of their two-wheelers met with an incident, hitting two ladies and an infant. Soon a scuffle reportedly broke out, leading to the unfortunate incident. Investigation is on. We are looking into all aspects. An inquiry has been ordered,” she said.

Sources said that Debashis, along with seven of his friends, had gone for sightseeing. They had an altercation with the garden chowkidar who had tried to stop them as outsiders were not allowed in during the lockdown. While returning, the accident happened and all hell broke loose, a source said.

The father and sister of Debashis alleged that the crowd threatened to kill them if they tried to get down from the Maruti van in which they had rushed to rescue the boy.

The residence of the deceased is about 3km from the site of the incident.

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Assam seeks leadership role

Assam seeks leadership role

Assam is seeking to “establish leadership role” in the management of the corona crisis in the country.

State health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Sunday night that the corona crisis had provided the state “with an opportunity for us to establish leadership role of Assam in the nation” because it has overtaken Kerala as far as testing is concerned.

His referring to BJP-ruled Assam to Left-ruled Kerala, the second time in a week since May 24, highlights Assam’s achievement in the ongoing fight against coronavirus that has left the world in turmoil — and affected over 1,300 in the state itself.

The southern state has attracted global praise for its management of the corona crisis, so much so that the Madhya Pradesh government had last week adopted the Kerala model to trace, isolate, test and treat the affected.

While elaborating on Assam’s bid to assume leadership role, Sarma said: “Kerala is praised for its testing. It has done maximum number of tests. It was discussed in almost all national media. Kerala was a case study. But nobody thought that a state like Assam can not only pull past Kerala but convincingly do so in testing.”

Continuing the comparison, Sarma said: “Kerala’s infrastructure is known for last 60 years, Assam’s infrastructure is known for three to four years. But today they have completed roughly 70,000 tests although they were testing since March. We did 1 lakh tests in in May. I don’t know the circumstances but with equal number of patients, we have overtaken Kerala and convincingly. And it will be difficult to catch up with us because we are ramping up further. We will be definitely doing 2 lakh test by June 15. We are ahead of many states.”

The first time Sarma compared Assam to Kerala was on May 24. He had tweeted: “In a strong testimony to excellent team work and our steely resolve to do the best in a crisis like Covid-19, I am humbled to share that Assam has carried out 55,862 tests so far. This is higher than Kerala’s (52771), a state known for its healthcare excellence.”

Assam’s capacity to respond to the unfolding situation has manifold even though they started in March, he said, adding the number of testing labs has gone up to eight from one in March and will reach 12 by next week.

“We have placed over 2.25 lakh people in quarantine. Most of our cases are imported but there is no community transmission. We have through community surveillance checked 29,771 villages but found no positive case. We started by treating Covid patients in our medical colleges in March but today we treat them in all district civil hospitals and now we will treat them in model hospitals at the block level. Today, we have

facilities to treat 5,000 patients,” he said.

Disclosing the way forward, he said by June 10 they will try to reduce the number of days in institutional quarantine to four days from seven days. “They will be allowed to go if they test negative. This will save us money and open up more space. However, they will have to do the 10-day mandatory quarantine at home,” he said.

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Deluge toll mounts to 6 in Assam

Deluge toll mounts to 6 in Assam

The death toll in Assam floods reached six with the death of one more person on Saturday in Nagaon district.

Floodwaters receded in different districts and those who took shelter in relief camps are returning home. According to the ASDMA, the number of relief camp inmates came down to 17,770 which was 21,807 on Friday.

The ASDMA said over 3.72 lakh people of 348 villages in six districts were affected by floods as on Saturday.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Saturday visited Nalbari district and took stock of work being undertaken at the erosion-affected areas near an embankment along the Brahmaputra at Doulasal-Larkuchi in the Borkhetri constituency. He directed the water resources department to complete repair on a war footing. “Directions have already been given to repair the breaches or restore the erosion-hit areas with the help local MPs, MLAs and people,” he said.

Sonowal added that the 15th Finance Commission had declared river erosion a natural calamity and recommended adequate compensation, including rehabilitation. He said the state government was preparing a detailed report to be submitted to the Centre.

Sonowal said the state government had already received Rs 386 crore out of Rs 772 crore from the Centre under the SDRF.

Meanwhile, the Kopili is flowing above the danger level at Dharamtul and Kampur in Nagaon district.

Erosion was reported in Majuli, Sonitpur, Dibrugarh and Biswanath districts. Over 1.7 lakh animals were affected. Damages to roads and breaches in embankments were also reported.

The president of the Flood Erosion Resistance Struggle Forum in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Upper Assam, Binod Kedia, said: “ln these areas situation is critical due to riverbank erosion caused by the Dibru river. After the first wave of floods erosion started gobbling up hundreds of houses and agricultural land. A total of 92 families are on the road without food and shelter. We have requested the deputy commissioner, Dibrugarh, to help the victims immediately. He assured us that he would to take necessary action.


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