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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Hinduja rift out in open

Hinduja rift out in open

The Hindujas, who have consistently topped the Rich List in Britain with net wealth put at £25 billion last year, have always prided themselves on being a strong and united family, with the motto, “Everything belongs to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone”.

But a totally unexpected split in the family — it has shocked the Indian community in the UK and beyond — has come to light because of a high court judgment delivered on Tuesday in London.

The philosophy of unity has long been followed by the four Hinduja brothers — Srichand (known as SP), 84, the head of the family, and Gopi, 80, who are based in London, Prakash, 75, who lives in Geneva, and Ashok, 70, whose home is in Mumbai. The brothers believe they are like “Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughna — four bodies, one soul”.

It is a belief inherited from their father, Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja, who was born in Shikarpur in Sind (now in Pakistan) on November 25, 1901, and founded the family business when he moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1914.

Srichand and his wife Madhu have two daughters, Shanu and Vinoo, who are involved in the health and philanthropic sectors. Vinoo has now moved court, acting on behalf of her father, Srichand, as a “litigation friend”, and apparently seeks “partition” — the family business to be split up. She believes she is entitled to a quarter share. But this is easier said than done because the family’s wealth is tied up in trusts, with all members having an equal share. If Vinoo is to have her way, the trusts will have to be broken up. In fact, she has gone to Jersey to try and achieve that aim.

There is another complication. Srichand has a form of dementia and even his brothers are no longer allowed access to him because of the differences between Vinoo and her three uncles. Srichand’s friends have also not been able to visit.

The case gets even more complicated because back in July 2014, the four brothers signed a letter that “assets held in any single brother’s name belong to all four”.

There is litigation in Switzerland over the control of the Hinduja Bank, “an asset in Srichand’s sole name”. Vinoo, again acting on behalf of her father, is seeking a declaration that the letter has no “legal effect, whether as a will, power of attorney, declaration of trust or other binding document”.

The judge, Justice Falk, has to untangle a quintessentially Indian dispute, where culture, tradition and money are all in the mix. The judge said that SP lacks capacity to give instructions to his lawyers and had appointed Vinoo to act as his “litigation friend”, conducting the proceedings on her father’s behalf.

The three defendants’ lawyers had argued that there was no evidence that SP is not able to “understand, retain and use or weigh information, or to communicate decisions”. They also said that Vinoo “has her own separate financial interest in pursuing the proceedings, and that she would not be in a position to form an independent and objective judgement about the merits of the claim and Srichand’s best interests”.

Justice Falk said: “The defendants do not dispute that Vinoo lacks capacity, and indeed have relied on it as a basis for seeking to take control of Hinduja Bank, an asset in Srichand’s sole name, relying on the July letter. This is the subject of proceedings in Switzerland.”

She said she was “satisfied that Vinoo can act fairly on behalf of Srichand and that she does not have an adverse interest”.

She continued: “It is said on Srichand’s behalf that, if the defendants’ position on the July letter is correct, then that throws Srichand’s estate and tax planning into disarray, calls into question the validity of his wills, potentially displacing the appointment of his executors, and may also make the acts of his attorneys invalid.

“If any part of this is right, and I did not understand the assertion to be challenged, then proceedings that seek to determine the legal effect of the July letter, and address the uncertainty that currently exists, cannot rationally be said to be contrary to Srichand’s interests.

“In principle it must be in Srichand’s interests to have the effect of the July letter definitively determined, and these proceedings would appear to be an appropriate step for his attorney to take on his behalf.”

The three brothers say they have no differences with SP, the acknowledged head of the family. In a statement given to Bloomberg, they said that the litigation will have no impact on their business and that the proceedings “go against our founder’s and family’s values”.

They said these principles have stood for decades, especially the idea that “everything belongs to everyone and nothing belongs to anyone”.

As in many traditional Indian families, only the boys were groomed for the family business and have been allocated a vertical each. Sanjay, for example, has oil, while Dheeraj has been given charge of Ashok Leyland. There is plenty to go around for the Hinduja empire, operating in 100 countries and employing 100,000 people, takes in health; energy, power generation; automotive; finance and banking; oil and gas; IT and BPO; media and cable; real estate; trading; and defence. India, the UK and he US are key countries.

In London, the Hindujas are continuing with the conversion of the Old War Office, in which they have a 250-year lease, into a luxury residential and 125 room Raffles Hotel complex.


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Changed: HC bench that pulled up Gujarat

Changed: HC bench that pulled up Gujarat

The Gujarat High Court bench that compared the coronavirus situation in the state to the “sinking Titanic” has been changed, with Chief Justice Vikram Nath deciding to head the new bench himself.

Last week, the earlier bench of Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Ilesh Vora had in a 143-page order on a PIL described Gujarat as “one of the worst affected states in the country” and said the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital was “as good as a dungeon”. The state’s health minister “does not seem to be aware of what’s going on”, it said.

Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, whose ministry is the nodal agency in the management of the coronavirus crisis. While the Centre has left no stone unturned to target Opposition-ruled states such as Bengal and Maharashtra, it has been treating Gujarat with kid gloves.

On Thursday, a notification by the high court registrar said the PIL and other coronavirus cases would be heard through videoconferencing by the bench of Chief Justice Nath and Justice Pardiwala.

The PIL, initiated by the high court on its own, and similar petitions had first been assigned to the bench of Chief Justice Nath and Justice A.J. Shastri. Then, at the beginning of May, the division bench of Justices Pardiwala and Vora was created. This bench conducted the hearings.

The number of coronavirus cases in Gujarat rose to 15,572 on Thursday while the death toll touched 960, the state health department said.

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150 return without informing govt

150 return without informing govt

More than 150 people from Mizoram have reportedly returned on their own during an exercise by the state government to bring back stranded residents from four northeastern states, an official of the home department said on Wednesday.

The Mizoram government had carried out an exercise to bring back nearly 700 people stranded in Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura, between April 30 and May 2.

The stranded residents were asked to report to the deputy resident commissioner (DRC) of Mizoram Houses and Young Mizo Association (YMA) of the states where they were stranded to facilitate their return.

The official said the stranded people have returned to the state on their own without informing the DRCs or YMA leaders, which has inconvenienced the state government with regard to allocation of quarantine facilities and food.

Meanwhile, the Opposition Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) on Wednesday demanded disciplinary action against those who returned on their own.

A statement issued by the party said those people, who returned on their own, have made the state vulnerable to the spread of novel coronavirus.

ZPM asked the state government to round up the people and send them to designated quarantine centres immediately.

However, home secretary Lalbiaksangi said all the stranded people, who returned from the Northeast recently, have been quarantined at designated quarantine facilities in different parts of the state.

She told The Telegraph that about 154 people, who were stranded in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura, have returned to Mizoram on their own without informing the state government, DRCs and YMA leaders, creating a gap in the management system.

“It doesn’t mean that the returnees are not being sent to quarantine facilities. But the fact is that they were left out of the list as they failed to report to DRCs and YMA leaders before they returned,” she said.

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2 new Covid-19 cases in Assam as normality limps back

2 new Covid-19 cases in Assam as normality limps back

Assam reported two fresh Covid-19 cases on Tuesday at a time when life seemed to be limping back to normal in the state’s green zone districts following lockdown relaxations.

With Goalpara district reporting its sixth case and Kokrajhar its first, the state’s Covid count has gone up to 44 with 11 active cases so far. While 32 persons have been discharged, one had died.

The fresh case in Goalpara has come from a containment zone, prompting health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to appeal to the people not to be afraid.

The 55-year-old patient is a religious leader and Goalpara is a hotspot. He had come into contact with a secondary contact of Nizamuddin Markaz, the religious congregation that was held in New Delhi in March.

The patient in Kokrajhar district had a travel history to Cooch Behar in West Bengal.

However, the mood was different in the state capital. People from all sections stepped out of their homes, crowding the streets.

The Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) deployed 200 more city buses on Tuesday to accommodate the commuters.

Transport officials were seen at several bus stops, asking people to adhere to the social distancing norms and registering passengers’ names for future context.

Business establishments also opened, adhering to the one-third rotation policy prescribed by the Kamrup (metro) district administration.

Shops opened with clear markings for consumers to maintain social distance. However, in many places, people skipped the norms of wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

On Tuesday, the state government added a few more directives to the guidelines issued earlier, pertaining to relaxations in businesses and work in the state.

The fresh guidelines issued by chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna allowed:

  • All industries and their supply chain to operate in the state without the need for any specific order and all personnel working therein to commute to work at all times.
  • Tea industries, warehouses and the workers engaged therein to operate at all times.
  • All activities related to PDS operations, FCI, railways, LPG and petroleum delivery services and the workers engaged therein to operate at all times.
  • Bank employees to move beyond 6pm, depending on the necessity. The government had earlier restricted people’s movement by imposing a curfew between 6pm and 6am. Emergency and essential services were exempted.
  • All automobile dealerships and outlets to operate between 6am and 5pm.
  • Supply chain related to essential food items like milk, fish and other perishables and the workers engaged therein to operate at all times.
  • All essential services, including conservancy services by municipal bodies and other government agencies, to operate at all times.
  • Private offices located in the same building as that of a mall to operate. The shops in the same building, however, cannot open.
  • Shops in market complex to operate with two shops closed between two open shops. However, grocery shops, pharmacies and medical establishments situated therein are allowed to open on all days during the permitted hours.
  • All shops in rural areas, except in malls, can remain open without any distinction of essential and non-essential.
  • All types of goods-carrying vehicles to ply at all times.
  • All construction activities, including highway construction and flood control works, at all times.
  • Large standalone shops can operate with limited number of entrants.
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Another Covid-19 case in Assam

Another Covid-19 case in Assam

Assam reported another Covid-19 case on Thursday, taking its total number of cases to 35. The day also saw the government launch rapid-testing system on an experimental basis and take the decision to reopen medical colleges and district hospitals for general patients.

No Covid-19 case was reported in the state in the past seven days.

A 62-year-old man from Bilasipara in lower Assam’s Dhubri district tested positive on the 19th day of his being in a quarantine centre on Thursday. The development prompted health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to announce that from now on anyone found to be in direct contact with a Covid patient would be quarantined for 28 days. “The new patient had been in a quarantine centre from April 5. Usually Covid-19 is detected in 14 days. But in his case, it was detected in 19 days. In some parts of the country, positive cases have been detected in a person till the 28th day,” Sarma said.

This is the fifth case in Dhubri. The new patient was a part of the religious congregation held at Athgaon Kabarsthan Masjid in Guwahati, which has already been announced a hotspot by the state health department. Sources said this person has a history of close contact with the first positive case of Dhubri district, who had returned to Guwahati after attending the religious congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi.

A health official said on March 11 morning, the new patient had gone to Fakiragram railway station from Bilasipara in a shared taxi with 10 other persons, who have already been quarantined. From Fakiragram he boarded a train to Kamakhya railway station in Guwahati and then travelled to Athgaon Kabarsthan Masjid by a city bus and stayed the night there.

On March 12 morning, he attended prayers at Athgaon Masjid where he met Dhubri’s first and second Covid-19 patients. After returning from Guwahati to Bilasipara, the fifth patient attended prayers at Bilasipara Jame Masjid where he again came in contact with the other two. After the prayers, he returned home at Kathaldi part-III under Bilasipara police station, health officials said.

Sarma said rapid testing was introduced in the state on Thursday. “We have done it on experimental basis on residents of Spanish Garden here,” he said.

Spanish Garden was declared a containment zone after one of its inhabitants tested positive. Sarma said if no resident of the apartment building was found positive during the rapid testing, its containment zone tag would be lifted within 48 hours.

The rapid testing will also be done in Athgaon Kabarsthan Masjid.

Sarma said the medical colleges and district hospitals would reopen on Friday for general patients.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal was in Upper Assam on Thursday to take stock of Covid-19 preparedness at Sadiya in Tinsukia district and in Sonari district.

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Struggle for survival in Vellore

Struggle for survival in Vellore

Over 5,000 people from Bengal, stranded in the vicinity of Christian Medical College at Vellore in Tamil Nadu, have alleged “harassment” by the owners of lodges where they are staying, even though the local administration has ordered them to offer 50 per cent rebate in rentals.

About 9,000 persons hailing from various states are stranded at the lodges, which accommodate the families of patients who come for treatment at the CMC.

“On March 31, the Vellore district magistrate issued an notice saying lodge owners would have to bear 25 per cent of room rates, while the state would pay for another 25 per cent. The notice also said the current residents would be provided with three meals a day until they were able to go home,” said a source, adding that several lodge owners were instead putting pressure on the guests to either make full payment or vacate.

“We get one meal a day and that is sufficient for one person. But there are five of us here, and we don’t have the money to go out and buy overpriced rations because most of the money has been spent on my mother’s medical treatment. She is suffering from gastric ulcer,” said Sumit Thandar, 25, a toto operator from Tamluk.

Thandar said regular costs at the lodge ran up to Rs 10,000 a month, adding that he was out of income for almost a month and was spending from his savings.

“In spite of all this, the owner is asking us to make regular payments and offering no rebate. On Friday, I sold my mother’s gold ornaments just to buy food. Each day of our stay here costs Rs 1,000,” he said.

Sukumar Majumdar, 62, a carpenter from Raiganj in Uttar Dinajpur, arrived in Vellore early in March with his wife and daughter to receive treatment for stomach ache.

“But he got diagnosed with third stage liver cancer and doctors expressed their helplessness after some initial treatment. The lockdown had been announced by then, and we are stuck here now,” said his wife Sumitra.

“I had to sell my ornaments in order to buy staples. We are getting no help from the lodge owner or government,” Sumitra said, adding that she did not have any money left to buy a train ticket back home if the lockdown was lifted on May 3.

The Bengal government had announced “pocket money” for migrant labourers from the state who were stranded in Mumbai, Delhi and Surat because of the lockdown. No such financial help has been offered for others stuck outside Bengal.

Ambulances, which are exempt from the lockdown can technically ferry patients and their kin across states. But several residents of the lodges said they were stretched beyond their means, and that ambulance costs were restrictively high.

East Midnapore district magistrate Partha Ghosh said: “I am aware of the Vellore district magistrate’s order issued on March 31. I will try to get in touch with Tamil Nadu officials regarding the situation.”

Water resources minister Somen Mahapatra, who is also the Tamluk MLA, said he had been contacted by several families from Tamluk who were stranded in Vellore and needed financial help.

“The Bengal government has already appealed to several states, especially Tamil Nadu, to attend to people from our state. We were happy to learn about the Vellore district magistrate’s order, but now, we are hearing it is not being adhered to and several of our brothers and sisters are starving. I would like to bring this to the Tamil Nadu government’s kind attention,” he said.

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Official and wife held for lockdown violation

Official and wife held for lockdown violation

A Visva-Bharati employee and his wife have been arrested and booked under the Disaster Management Act for allegedly violating the lockdown and preventing police from carrying out their duty.

Sumantra Pal, office assistant in Visva-Bharati’s accounts department, and his wife Kakali Pal were produced in a Bolpur court on Sunday and remanded in police custody for four days.

Sources said Sumantra and Kakali had been travelling in a car when the police had stopped them late on Saturday evening. “They got off the car and started an argument with the police. The husband was abusive and even pushed a police officer,” said a source.

“We have arrested the duo for violating lockdown norms. We made similar arrests in the district. We are taking strict actions and holding awareness campaign,” said Birbhum police chief Shyam Singh.

Police sources said the Pal couple had been booked for using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty and under section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act.

The police said they were trying to humanely deal with lockdown violators keeping in mind the chief minister’s advice of “korakori, kintu barabari noy (strict but without any excesses)”.

In the districts of East Burdwan, Hooghly, North 24-Parganas and Nadia also, police started taking strict action against lockdown violators.

In Burdwan, 32 persons have been arrested on various charges since Saturday evening. The police said they had started arresting “regular offenders”. “We are arresting people who are moving around without any reason, opening shops violating the lockdown and forming crowds,” a police officer said.

Some south Bengal districts are using drones to locate the areas where people are gathering or violating the lockdown. “We are using drones to spot areas where people are violating lockdown regularly. We have arrested around 20 persons since Saturday,” said a police officer in Hooghly’s Arambagh.

Tathagata Basu, the Hooghly rural district police chief, said: “We are arresting people under sections of the IPC and the Disaster Management Act.”

At few places in the Nadia district, the police are making lockdown violators hold their own ears and squat. Four youths were arrested while roaming on motorbikes in Santipur.

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Protests against quarantine centres

Protests against quarantine centres

protests have erupted in several south Bengal districts against establishment of Covid-19 quarantine centres despite chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s appeal to people not to oppose such facilities.

Since Saturday, at least three such protests have occurred in Birbhum and Hooghly. One person was killed by a crude bomb in a clash that broke out over the establishment of a quarantine centre at a hostel in Birbhum’s Parui.

Sources said residents of at least half a dozen areas of south Bengal had made their objections clear to police and government officials. The protests prompted the authorities to launch an awareness campaign saying no “confirmed” Covid-19 patient would be kept at those centres.

On Friday, the chief minister had said: “I am getting information (about protests) from a few places and I request people, with folded hands, not to do this. Nobody (apparently) wants a Covid-19 hospital in their area, and a few are opposing the last rites of the bodies of Covid-19 patients. It is not right, as we all are human. We are setting up separate hospitals for the treatment of Covid-19 patients in various districts. We all need to fight together.”

Nasiruddin Sheikh, a marginal farmer, was killed by crude bombs while leading a protest against the setting-up of a quarantine centre at the girls’ hostel in Talibpur village on Saturday evening.

Police sources said two groups of people belonging to rival factions of Trinamul — with opposing views on whether the quarantine centre should come up there — had clashed.

The incident occurred after police and block officials had returned from duty. Seven persons, including a civic volunteer, were arrested on charges of murdering Sheikh.

“We had chosen the place as a quarantine centre for future use. The local block development officer had informed us that the quarantine centre would not be set up if the villagers objected. But a clash began because one particular group wanted to have the quarantine centre there,” a senior Birbhum district official said.

The episode had also taken a political turn with Birbhum Trinamul Congress leaders like Anubrata Mondal claiming that BJP workers were spreading false rumours in rural areas. “We have information that a group of BJP workers and leaders at the local level are instigating people to launch such protests against quarantine centres,” said Mondal.

The BJP has denied the allegation.

On Sunday morning, a group of villagers in Hooghly’s Goghat blocked a road adjacent to a newly constructed godown of the food and supply department that had been proposed by the local administration as the site of a quarantine centre.

“The building is close to our houses and we will not allow it. So, we protested and blocked the road with a barricade so that no one could enter there,” said Ujjwal Mallick, a resident of Methul.

The local administration said they would send a team to the village to make people aware of the role of quarantine centres as places where contacts of primary Covid-19- patients would be kept isolated.

“I will send a team headed by the local BDO to make people aware of quarantine centres. People should know that confirmed Covid-19 patients are not kept there,” said Nripendra Singh, the subdivisional officer of Hooghly’s Arambagh.

In another development, a group of residents of Chinsurah in Hooghly on Sunday agitated in front of a private hospital for over an hour after it was selected by the government as an isolation centre for symptomatic and suspected Covid-19 patients.

The agitators said keeping such patients would spread the novel corona virus in their area.

“It is very unfortunate that few uninformed persons are instigating common people to launch such protests. They should be more humane,” said Trinamul’s Hooghly president Dilip Yadav.

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Calcutta Girls High School’s fee notice to parents

Calcutta Girls High School’s fee notice to parents

A notice issued by Calcutta Girls’ High School on Monday to pay online by March 29 fees for admission to Class XI left parents of many students anxious.

The school clarified on its website on Tuesday that the payment deadline has been extended till April 13.

“It could be April 13 or even later. All formalities regarding Class XI admissions will be completed keeping in mind the present crisis and the government directive,” a school official told Metro on Tuesday evening.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from March 24 midnight.

On Monday, the school had posted a list of students, selected on the basis of aggregate marks obtained by them in classes IX and X.

The school and teachers were flooded with phone calls from parents after the notice for admission to Class XI for the 2020-21 session was uploaded on the website. “Online payment for all streams can be done from 23rd March, 2020 to 29th March 2020,” it said.

Another notice posted on Tuesday clarified: “Online payment for Class XI admission (2020-21) is extended till April 13.”

The school shut down last week because of a state government order to help check the spread of the coronavirus. “All notices were drafted and uploaded one by one. It was a glitch. We will not deny admission to a student because of non-compliance of dates when the country is facing such a crisis,” a school official said.

“We had decided to close the office much ahead of the lockdown. We didn’t know that there would be a lockdown in the country and so had prepared the notices that automatically got uploaded. We have posted a clarification on the website for parents,” the official said.

The school had created individual IDs for parents to access report cards after the closure.

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