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National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) lowers Covid-19 lockdown tax on contractors

National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) lowers Covid-19 lockdown tax on contractors

The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M), the Nagaland-based organisation which is in peace talks with the Centre, has decided to reduce the “tax” it imposes on residents of the state in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A senior NSCN(I-M) leader told The DSTV Darjeeling on Monday that the reduction of “tax” from five per cent to three per cent  by the group is only for contractors operating in the state. The “tax” will be calculated on the work order, he said. There are over 500 contractors in the state.

The NSCN(I-M)’s announcement assumes significance because it comes amid a row triggered by a letter written by governor R.N. Ravi to chief minister Neiphiu Rio over the “grim” law and order situation in the state on June 16. Without naming anyone, Ravi spoke of law and order problems over “extortion by armed gangs”, which the NSCN (I-M) has taken exception to.

The group, which signed a Framework Agreement with the Centre in August 2015 to end the decades-old Naga political problem, announced its decision to “reduce tax” in a statement issued on Saturday but it did not specify who would benefit from the move or the cycle of payment.

“This is for general information that in the context of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic crisis and the economic slowdown that followed because of the continuing lockdown, the 5% tax payable to the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim (GPRN) shall henceforth be reduced to 3% with immediate effect,” the NSCN(IM)’s statement said.

The Dimapur Chamber of Commerce and Industry was among the first to flag the issue of rising extortion during the pandemic. It said

Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) were demanding tax item-wise, making it difficult for the business community to operate. There are seven NNPGs, which joined the peace talks with the Centre in 2017.

The governor’s letter had highlighted the “unrestrained depredations by over half-a-dozen organised armed gangs, brazenly running their respective governments, challenging the legitimacy of the state government without any resistance from the state law and order machinery.” Ravi, who has been an interlocutor in the peace talks, also said the rampant extortion and violence by the armed groups had sparked panic.

He said contractors of the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) working on the NH-29 four-lane project, had complained of armed gangs stopping work unless five to seven per cent of the project cost was paid to them as ransom. Those defying or delaying payment were abducted or assaulted, Ravi’s letter said.

On June 27, NSCN (I-M) reacted to Ravi’s letter, which was visible on social media on June 25, by denying extorting money but said it “levied legitimate taxes” on the people.

“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 (I-M) said.

Collection of taxes for the Naga cause is as old as the Naga political issue, sources said. Government staff, vendors, contractors, shopkeepers and property-holders all have to pay to the different groups, including the NSCN(I-M).

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Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam to get national park tag

Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam to get national park tag

The Assam government on Monday decided to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary to a national park with the change in the tag being expected to boost the protection of the biodiversity hotspot spread across over 111.942 sqkm.

The number of national parks in Assam would incr­ease to six after the upgrade.

The government’s move comes in less than two months of a sustained online camp­aign to save the sanctuary, also known as the Amazon of the East, from illegal mining.

The Save Dehing campaign was launched in May after the National Board for Wildlife had given permission on April 7 for the use of 98.59 hectares of land from the proposed reserve forest at Saleki for mining by the North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a unit of CIL. Saleki mining site is about 9km from the sanctuary but falls under the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.

On June 4, the Gauhati High Court issued notices to Coal India Ltd and the Assam government to respond by July 14 on the protection of the Dehing Patkai biodiversity
hotspot spread over Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts from alleged illegal mining, after hearing three public interest litigation pleas. The case will come up for hearing on July 20. A day before the court order, the NEC said it was temporarily suspending all mining operations in the area.

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Monday evening announced the decision after a meeting with the forest department.

Sonowal tweeted: “Our Govt has decided to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, which is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna, to a National Park. In a meeting with senior officials in Guwahati today, I have directed them to take necessary steps in this regard.”

Sources have said in simple terms, wildlife sanctu­ary provides protection and conducive living conditions to animals, while a national park provides protection to the overall ecosystem which comprises the flora, fauna, landscape and the animals.

In order to expedite the process of upgrading the Dehing Patkai sanctuary to the national park, Sonowal directed the forest department to prepare a draft notification and hold a public hearing to take the views of people living in the vicinity, besides starting consultations with Union environment and forest Ministry.

He also instructed the foresters to prepare an action plan for preserving the adjoining areas of the wildlife sanctuary and include the opinion of the public in the adjoining areas in the draft action plan.

Following the protests, the state government said there had been no mining since October 2019 and it had imposed a penalty of Rs 48 crore on CIL for mining without approval, Khataniar said. On May 20, Sonowal also directed forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya to visit the site and submit a report.

Bibhab Talukdar, an acclaimed wildlife expert and the CEO of the Aaranyak, a leading society for biodiversity conservation in Northeast, welcomed the move. Talukdar said efforts should be made to include the adjoining 300km area in the proposed park such as Joypoore Reserve Forest, Upper Dehing East and Upper Dehing West once and for all and save this biodiversity hotspot.

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IITG moots sustainable goals class

IITG moots sustainable goals class

IIT Guwahati has become the first such institute in the country to introduce a course on UN-Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 from the 2020-21 academic year. It intends to “reorient” the thinking of young and dynamic individuals towards “building” a better and inclusive society.

This is a compulsory four-month course for all undergraduate (BTech) students to be offered in the second year. The academic year usually starts in July but this year the date has not been finalised because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prof. T.G. Sitharam, director, IIT Guwahati, said there is an urgent need to adopt these 17 SDGs as part of the curriculum. “With only 10 more years remaining to fulfil these objectives, it becomes very vital that the students are taught about the goals of inclusive and sustainable growth and through this course, offered by faculty members from across engineering, science and humanities departments. IIT Guwahati wishes to prepare the students to play leading roles in ‘Transforming the World,” he said.

In 2015, world leaders agreed at the United Nations General Assembly to implement 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are meant to transform the world, building upon the principle of “leaving no one behind”.

These 17 goals aim to create a better world by 2030, by ending poverty, fighting inequality, hunger, addressing issues related to climate change, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation as well as affordable and clean energy.

The other goals include decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; life below water, life on land, peace and justice strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve these goals.

Professor Anamika Barua, course coordinator from the department of humanities and social sciences, IIT Guwahati, revealed that this would be the first time the nine departments of IIT Guwahati have joined hands to offer a course at the undergraduate level. This is based on the realisation that sustainability challenges and inclusive growth go hand-in-hand and have to be understood at the crossroads of science and society through an interdisciplinary lens.

“The students, through this course, would be educated to critically evaluate the idea of sustainability as an emerging discipline and have an opinion on the role for India, as a nation, in the successful implementation of the new SDGs,” she said.

Asked whether any other institution in India or abroad offers this course, Barua said none of the IITs has so far floated such a course. There are 23 IITs in the country.

“In other institutions in India, too, the focus has been on sustainable development where SDGs are a part of it, but in this course, the focus is entirely on SDGs and how can these goals be achieved. What kind of technological, social, and political interventions are needed to achieve these goals. Hence, interdisciplinary lens have been adopted. Abroad, there are some institutions where such courses are taught, but not as a compulsory course,” Barua said.

Professor Vimal Katiyar, involved in designing the course and from the department of chemical engineering, said that with this course, IIT Guwahati intends to nurture budding technocrats through sustainable technological practices to achieve an environmentally benign, safe and inclusive industrial ecosystem and foster innovations for the development of a sustainable society.

Established in 1994, IIT Guwahati is located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, around 20km from the heart of the city.

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Assam tries to clear air on land

Assam tries to clear air on land

The Assam government on Friday said the ordinance to facilitate setting up of MSME units will not only be a “huge game-changer” by aiding the ease of doing business but will also not pose a threat to the land rights of the indigenous communities.

Industries minister Chandra Mohan Patowary on Friday released the salient features of the Assam Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (Facilitation of Establishment and Operation) Ordinance to allay the apprehensions of a section of the people on the apparently blanket permission for converting any plot of land to set up industries.

“This ordinance will not affect the land rights of indigenous people of Assam which is protected by the Assam Agricultural Land (Regulation of Reclassifications and Transfer for Non-Agricultural Purpose) Act, 2015. This ordinance does not affect the restrictions on sale or transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural purpose as protected under the aforesaid act,” he said.

“This ordinance does not allow any person to buy or sell any agricultural land for non-agricultural purpose. The bar of agricultural land used or transferred for non-agricultural purpose as provided under the aforesaid act shall remain as it is and this ordinance will not affect it at all. In other words, agricultural land will remain with the agriculturalists only. This government is committed to the protection of jati (community), mati (land) and bheti (home) of the indigenous people. There will be no compromise on this front,” he added.

The elaborate clarification has a lot to do with the critics, including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), wanting clarity about the land-use policy, fearing that a blanket nod would lead to the indigenous people losing their land and, consequently, their identity in the long run.

The critics believe the ordinance will make the indigenous communities vulnerable to market forces and outsiders with big pockets and maybe forced to sell their land to them.

The state government also said an aspiring entrepreneur will not get an acknowledgement for his self-declaration if the land falls under the restricted categories such as public grazing reserve, village grazing reserve, wetlands, eco-sensitive zones, heritage, historical, archaeological sites and land settled, allotted or reserved for religious institutions like xatras, naamghars, temples and wakfs, and land under tribal belts and blocks, among others.

The state government hopes the ordinance will help tide over the depressing business environment triggered by the coronavirus-induced lockdown by creating a conducive environment, driving domestic growth, attracting investment and accelerating overall industrial development, Patowary said.

Around 24 lakh unemployed people, including the returnees from other states, could directly or indirectly benefit from the move, he said.

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Meghalaya records 8 fresh Covid cases

Meghalaya records 8 fresh Covid cases

Meghalaya recorded eight fresh Covid-19 cases on Saturday, taking the state’s overall tally of active cases to 26.

These eight fresh cases include three from East Khasi Hills and five from Ri Bhoi , director of health services Aman Warr told reporters here.

The three were reported from the BSF camp located here while from Ri Bhoi, four were from 13th Mile and one from Khanapara.

Khanapara and 13th Mile are close to the inter-state border with Assam, which has recorded thousands of active cases.

The Ri Bhoi district administration had promulgated curfew since Friday night along areas near the Kamrup (metro) district of Assam to enable health authorities to conduct random and rapid tests among the residents.

Meghalaya has seen a sudden spike in cases when on June 24, there were only four active cases. But as on Saturday, there were 26 of them. Currently, 43 people have been cured of the virus while the first Covid-19 patient passed in April.

Of these 26 cases, 11 are from East Khasi Hills, 10 from Ri Bhoi, two each from West Garo Hills and South West Garo Hills, and one from East Jaiñtia Hills.

Dr Warr said the priority area for health workers was Khanapara, and around 350 random and rapid tests were conducted on Saturday. As per the test results, all were found negative.

He said  till Saturday, the samples of 20,570 individuals from different parts of the state were sent for testing; of these, 20,251 samples turned out be negative. The results of 250 samples are awaited.

Warr said the health authorities have given an advisory to the BSF to collect the samples of all the jawans posted at Lyngkhat border outpost in East Khasi Hills after two jawans who were posted there tested positive.


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Nagaland to ban dog meat

Nagaland to ban dog meat

Nagaland has decided to ban the import and sale of dogs and dog meat, which many in the state deem a delicacy with high nutritional and medicinal content.

Nagaland chief secretary Temjen Toy announced the decision on Friday afternoon through a tweet.

“The state government has decided to ban commercial import and trading of dogs and dog markets and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked. Appreciate the wise decision taken by the state’s cabinet @Manekagandhibjp@Neiphiu_Rio,” Toy tweeted.

Sources said the first formal demand for a ban on the sale of dogs and dog meat in the state was made in 2016.

Dog slaughter is illegal under Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Nor do the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011, allow the slaughter of dogs or cats for food.

The ban comes a day after the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) repeated its appeal to the Nagaland government to immediately ban the sale, smuggling and consumption of dog meat. The FIAPO has a presence in 70 cities and boasts over 1,000 activists.

The dog trade in Nagaland has been vast and well entrenched.

Over 30,000 stray and stolen dogs, mostly smuggled in from neighbouring Assam, are slaughtered every year in Nagaland, sources said.

A dog catcher in Assam gets Rs 50 for a single catch, which fetches about Rs 1,000 in the wholesale markets in Nagaland. One kilo of dog meat sells for about Rs 200-250 and a dog for about Rs 2,000, the sources said.

In March, the Mizoram Assembly had unanimously passed the Animal Slaughter Bill 2020 to remove dogs from the definition of animals suitable for slaughter, which most feel is the first step towards banning the sale and consumption of dog meat.

Apart from the northeastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur, dog and cat meat is popular in China, South Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Some 30 million dogs and 10 million cats are killed annually for their meat.

FIAPO executive director Varda Mehrotra had said in a statement on Thursday: “We are once again hit by shock and horror at recent images that have emerged from ‘animal markets’ in Dimapur (Nagaland) where dogs are seen in terrified conditions, tied up in sacks (gunny bags), waiting at a wet market, for their illegal slaughter, trade and consumption as meat.”

The FIAPO has offered to collaborate with local authorities to spread awareness about animal laws.

Abu Metha, adviser to Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio, has welcomed the government decision as a “progressive” move.

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Meghalaya imposes curfew along inter-state border with Assam

Meghalaya imposes curfew along inter-state border with Assam

The Meghalaya government on Friday imposed a curfew in some areas of Ri Bhoi district along the inter-state border with Assam,following a rise in Covid-19 cases over the past few days.

It also decided to carry out random testing of individuals living along the border.

Ri Bhoi borders Kamrup (metro) district in Assam.

Ri Bhoi deputy commissioner R.M. Kurbah said in view of the Covid-19 situation and to put in place preventive and mitigation measures, curfew has been imposed in the areas from Tandu Bridge via Byrnihat to Jorabat, Pillangkata, Maikhuli, Iongkhuli and Umtyrnga with effect from Friday, and till further orders.

The order is not applicable to security forces, medical teams on duty, wholesale and retail pharmacies, police and armed forces, among others. The decision to impose curfew in these areas was taken at a review meeting held here, deputy chief minister Prestone Tynsong told reporters.

He also said random testing of residents residing along the Byrnihat-Khanapara stretch will be conducted from Saturday.

The areas are close to the Kamrup (metro) district of Assam, which has been under lockdown for the past few days. The areas between Meghalaya and Assam along the Shillong-Guwahati road are contiguous.

In the past few days, at least three high-risk contacts of an infected person from a village along the border in Ri Bhoi tested positive for the virus.

In the past 24 hours, Meghalaya reported six positive cases, taking the total number of patients to 18. While 43 have recovered from the coronavirus, one died in April. Many of the current active cases are those of BSF personnel stationed in the Meghalaya capital.

The six fresh cases include two from the BSF, three high-risk contacts from Ri Bhoi and a returnee from Delhi in Tura, West Garo Hills.

Tynsong appealed to the people living in the areas where curfew has been imposed to cooperate with the administration.

On whether both Meghalaya and Assam would work together to fight the pandemic in the border areas, he said: “Yes, for the safety of the residents of both states, we are ready to take joint decisions.”

Till the filing of this report, Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, in his tweets, mentioned that the state has 3,090 active cases.

On whether the Meghalaya government has identified other vulnerable areas apart from those along the inter-state border, Tynsong replied in the negative.

At the same time, he said while the state is “safe”, people cannot be complacent.

Meghalaya director of health services Dr Aman Warr said till Friday, of the 20,182 samples tested, results for 19,920 were negative. He said 517 individuals are being kept in institutional quarantine centres. Till Friday, he said, 19,636 individuals have returned to the state.

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Arrested Bangladesh national dies

Arrested Bangladesh national dies

A Bangladesh national, arrested in May in lower Assam’s Dhubri district for allegedly violating visa rules, died in hospital on Tuesday, prompting a human rights activist to demand a probe into alleged police excess.

Bokul Miah, 55, passed away at 10.25am after he suffered a cardiac arrest, the Dhubri civil hospital said.

Dhubri deputy commissioner Ananta Lal Gyani said Mih was referred to the hospital on Monday around 4.30pm after he complained of stomach pain. Police sources said Miah had high blood pressure.

“He passed away on Tuesday morning. After post-mortem, which was videographed, we sent the body to Barpeta Medical College and Hospital for preservation. We also informed the home department, BSF and the Bangladesh High Commission,” Gyani said.

Miah and 25 others were arrested on May 2 during checking at Bahalpur in Dhubri district. Sources said their documents were not in order, including the visas which had expired in April. They claimed they were migrant workers but were travelling on tourist visas. They were travelling in two hired vehicles from Jorhat in Upper Assam to the Changrabandha border checkpoint in Bengal’s Cooch Behar district.

Jorhat is around 530km from Dhubri and 800km from Changrabandha.

A case was registered against the 26 persons in Chapor police station under Section 14(B) of the Foreigners Amendment Act, 2004, and Section 12 (1A) (3) of The Passport Act, 1967.

Kirity Roy, secretary of human rights organisation MASUM, told The Telegraph from Calcutta that he has moved the National Human Rights Commission, seeking a judicial inquiry under Section 176(1A) of CrPC (death in police custody). He also sought withdrawal of the case against the arrested persons because they “are not criminals” and safe passage for them. “They couldn’t return to Bangladesh because of the lockdown,” he said.

The case will come up for hearing on July 6.

Miah hailed from Kurigram district in Bangladesh.

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AASU protests land conversion step

AASU protests land conversion step

The apex students’ union of Assam on Thursday organised statewide protests against the government’s decision to speed up industrialisation by suspending the licence-permit regime for three years and easing land conversion.

“Our members burnt copies of the new land policy the government is pushing through an ordinance to boost the MSME sector. We are not against industrialisation or development. We are all for it but not at the cost of indigenous people.

“We are sure they will be affected if this blanket nod to land conversion is allowed,” All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) president Dipanka Nath said.

He sought the scrapping of any clause in the ordinance which makes the indigenous population vulnerable to the market and outsides forces. Nath also asked about  the status of the report submitted in January 2018 by the H.S. Brahma committee, which was formed to suggest measures to protect the land rights of the indigenous communities.

“Also, what happened to the report of the Clause 6 committee, constituted by the Union home ministry, which was submitted to the chief minister in February?” he asked.

AASU had spearheaded the Assam Movement (1979-1985) against unabated influx to the state, culminating in the signing of the Assam Accord which is yet to be implemented.

Clause 6 of the Accord provides for constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.

“Protecting the land of the indigenous people was a key recommendation of the Clause 6 committee. The government forms a committee to protect the indigenous people. At the same it comes up with an ordinance during the lockdown which goes against the indigenous people.

“It is unfortunate and reflects the true intention of the government which had ironically come to power with a promise to protect jati (community), mati (land) and bheti (home) of the indigenous people,” Nath said.

He said they will continue to protest till the government withdraws the “anti-indigenous” land policy from the ordinance.

Industries minister Chandra Mohan Patowary had on June 29, after a meeting of council of ministers, tweeted about the decision to facilitate the establishment of micro, small and medium enterprises in Assam through an ordinance which is yet to be notified.

“Now anyone will be able to set up industry in Assam just by submitting a self-declaration. No permission, clearance or licence will be required for three years. Land will also be deemed converted for industrial purposes. Such a bold and advantageous change is expected to accelerate the industrialisation process in Assam,” Patowary had said.

On easing the conversion of farmland for industry, Patowary said on Tuesday that apart from industrial estates and an industrial corridor, most existing units were on agricultural land.

Although industry has welcomed the government move to suspend the licence-permit regime for three years, the apparently blanket permission for converting any plot of land to set up industries has triggered apprehension and criticism.

The critics want clarity about the land-use policy, fearing that a blanket nod would lead to the indigenous people losing their land and, consequently, their identity in the long run.

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Manipur CM in Delhi to meet leaders

Manipur CM in Delhi to meet leaders

Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh on Tuesday reached New Delhi to “discuss and finalise” issues related to his council of ministers after the central BJP leadership had last week brokered peace between National People’s Party (NPP) MLAs and Singh to save the BJP-led government in the state.

Chief minister office and NPP sources told The Telegraph that Singh would be briefing the party leadership about the prevailing situation and allocation of portfolios among his ministers, which is inevitable with the return of the four NPP MLAs to the government fold.

“This trip is important. He will be meeting party leadership. He has to know about the deal, which has been brokered to save the government and the road ahead. Resentment was brewing against him since last year but his stripping of the portfolios of the deputy chief minister Y. Joykumar Singh in April added fuel to fire, which burst out into the open on June 17, threatening the collapse of the government, a source close to the ruling party said.

He also said the rejig of the portfolios or the ministry will not be easy as it is not clear what Singh might have promised to the other ministers for their support.

The resignation of the four NPP MLAs — Y. Joykumar Singh, L. Jayantakumar Singh, N. Kayisii and Letpao Haokip— on June 17 from Singh’s council of ministers against his alleged autocratic style of functioning had reduced the government into a minority two days before the Rajya Sabha polls.

An NPP MLA told The Telegraph on Tuesday that they are waiting for allocation of their portfolios before joining. He also claimed that Amit Shah played a direct role in resolving the crisis.

“Amit ji told us that he, Conrad Sangma and (Himanta Biswa) Sarma would look after any Manipur affairs. Amit ji had even asked Joykumar ji what portfolio he would prefer — home or finance? We were satisfied with the assurance given to us and accordingly Joykumar ji went and met the chief minister after our meeting with the governor. The government is stable,” the NPP MLA said.

Along with the four NPP MLAs, one Trinamul MLA and an independent MLA also withdrawn support.  Three BJP MLAs too quit the party on the same day. Next day, the newly stitched Secular Progressive Front, led by Opposition Congress, staked claim to form the government.

However, the BJP nominee won the Rajya Sabha polls and the Singh government, too, has survived following the intervention of BJP leaders Ram Madhav, Sarma and Sangma.

Sarma and Sangma took the four NPP MLAs to New Delhi for meetings with BJP national president J.P. Nadda and Union home minster Amit Shah on June 24. The next day, the quartet submitted a letter of support to the Singh government to governor Najma Heptulla in Imphal in presence of Sangma and Sarma.

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