Purnima Barman nominated for ‘Green Oscar’

Assam’s Purnima Barman, known for her efforts for the conservation of the Greater Adjutant Stork and its habitat, has been nominated for the prestigious Whitley Awards 2017, also called the Green Oscar, it was announced on Tuesday.

This prestigious international prize honours exceptional individuals working in grassroots nature conservation in the world’s developing countries, and who often face humanitarian, environmental and political challenges in the projects they undertake.

The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), a Britain-registered charity, has announced the shortlist of six finalists for the Whitley Awards 2017.

There is another Indian in the list – Sanjay Gubbi who has been nominated for his efforts to reduce deforestation in Karnataka’s tiger corridors.

The others contenders are Ximena Velez-Liendo, who has been enabling coexistence of Andean bears and farmers in the Bolivian mountains, Alexander Blanco for conserving Venezuela’s magnificent harpy eagles as a rainforest flagship, Ian Little for contribution towards conserving South Africa’s threatened grassland biodiversity, and Indira Lacerna Widmann, who has partnered with prisoners to safeguard the Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo.

The final results will be announced at a special evening ceremony on May 18 this year at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Barman, 37, a native of Kamrup district, has been engaged in conservation of the Greater Adjutant Storks, popularly known as Hargila in Assamese, and their habitats for several years now. Her success can be gauged by the name she has earned – “Hargila Baideu” (Stork sister) in Dadara village where there is a huge colony of the species living without any disturbance from the humans. The village has over 1,000 storks now and the credit goes to Barman and the hard work and dedication she has put in all these years. She had even quit her job as a college teacher so that she could devote herself to its conservation. “It all started in early 2009 when Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation, took up an initiative for the conservation of the bird and entrusted me to create awareness among the locals,” said a happy Barman.

She regularly visits the villages and organizes awareness campaigns relentlessly among the locals, through posters, banners, street plays etc. Roads in Dadara, Pacharia and Singimari are all spruced up with posters and banners with messages to save the bird. She motivates the locals saying the bird is their asset and as such, they should protect it.

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Power generation in Assam still dismal

Although around Rs 10,000 crore was invested in Assam for power sector reforms in the 15 years of Congress rule, State has little to show in terms of power generation. So much so, that in 15 years, the State’s own power generation increased by a paltry 80 MW only.

At present, the State’s power requirement is 1,650 MW per day in peak hours and in 850 MW in off-peak hours.

According to official records, in 2001-2002, the State’s own average power production per day was 140 MW, which has risen to average 220 MW per day in 2016-17. That means in the last 15 years, average power generated per day increased by 80 MW only whereas the peak hour power requirement has increased to around 800 MW per day. As per Census 2011 report, Assam has 26,395 villages and of it, 25,088 have been electrified so far. It may be mentioned that the previous Congress government trifurcated ASEB into three companies for smooth functioning. An amount of Rs 10,000 crore, generated from different sources, was invested in the State for power sector reforms. Of this amount, a huge chunk was spent for augmenting power but the then State government failed to generate sufficient power.

Some projects like the revival of Namrup Thermal Power Project (supposed to be completed in 2012) and the Mintriyang Hydel Project (supposed to be completed in 2011) are yet to become operational. Implementation of some other power projects in the State is presently running behind schedule.

For meeting the power generation shortfall, the Assam Power Distribution Corporation Limited (APDCL) spends 80 per cent of its revenue earned for purchasing power from outside the State.

The onus is now on the present BJP-led coalition government in the State to generate more power instead of buying the same from outside. Along with this, it should stress minimizing frequent power-cuts and provide uninterrupted power to villages.

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Dispur reviewing security cover to netas & babus

Dispur has started reviewing security covers provided to politicians and retired top officials, following a directive by the Central government that some former IPS officers and Assam government officials are enjoying ‘more than necessary’ security cover and still occupying government quarters long after retirement.

The State government has also decided to put a new security system in place for politicians and top officials in the line of ‘Z’ category and ‘Y’ category security after a thorough review.

The new security system will be introduced after looking into the real threat perception for each of these top officials’, including retired officials’, and accordingly they will be categorized and provided security cover. To decide on the types of security cover to be provided to these top officials and politicians, inputs on the nature of threat against these individual officials would be gathered by the State Police from its Special Branch and other Central agencies.

The State police has already been instructed by the Home and Political Department to gather all relevant inputs in this regard. After analyzing the inputs, need-based security would be provided to that particular officer or politician.

It is observed that a section of retired IPS officers in Assam are enjoying heavy security cover far in excess of what they actually need. Use of unnecessary security cover by these officials is tantamount to misuse of police force. This pernicious trend caught the attention of the Central government, which in turn issued the directive to Assam government urging review of the same.

Talking to The Sentinel on this issue, Home Commissioner LS Changsan said, “We are working on the basis of a strict instruction given by the Government of India on reviewing security provided to some retired top IPS, IAS and few other officials in the State. The Central government has asked us to review the same and withdraw it accordingly.”

In the whole process, the overall security system prevailing in the State would be reviewed and a new system would be introduced so that the police force is not misused in rampant manner in the name of personal security of top officials and politicians.

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Aadhar in Assam soon: Patowary

On the concluding day of the special Assembly session on Thursday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary informed the House that Aadhar will be introduced in Assam soon. Patowary said, “The General Administration Department will carry out Aadhar implementation works and the State Home Department will monitor it.” The issue of Aadhar was raised by BJP MLA Devananda Hazarika during Zero Hour and he wanted to know why Aadhar has not yet been introduced in Assam as other States of the country have already started using it.

Patowary said people of Assam, especially students, are facing hassles outside the State without Aadhar card.

The minister also allayed apprehension expressed by certain quarters that illegal Bangladeshis living in Assam will get hold of Aadhar to prove their Indian citizenship. “It’s a misconception. Aadhar is not a citizenship document,” Patowary pointed out.

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Complete NRC first, then bring in Aadhar: AASU to Dispur

The All Assam Students Union (AASU) has made it clear that Aadhar should be introduced in the State only after completion of the NRC update exercise.

In the Cabinet meeting held on Monday last, problems faced by the people of Assam, especially students, outside the State due to non-availability of Aadhar cards were discussed. The State Cabinet also decided to constitute a high-powered committee to look after Aadhar implementation in the State.

It may be mentioned that work towards the implementation of Aadhar as pilot project was started in Nagaon, Sonitpur and Golaghat districts, and 17 lakh people were included in the project. But the project came to a halt due to AASU’s objection with the students body demanding that Aadhar should be introduced only after the NRC exercise is over.

Official sources said Aadhar has been made mandatory by the present BJP government at the Centre for citizens of the country to avail benefits of various schemes and programmes. “Due to non-possession of Aadhar cards, people of Assam have started facing many problems. On several occasions, the Assam government had to request the Centre to exempt the State from Aadhar. But the present government at Dispur will now take a decisive step to introduce Aadhar,” added official sources.

The AASU too has realized that students from Assam going outside the State are facing problems in securing admission and other reasons because they do not have Aadhar cards. However, the students’ body apprehends that many doubtful citizens living in the State will get hold of Aadhar cards, if the same is given without updating the NRC.

When contacted, AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said, “Our stand is very clear on the issue. Complete the NRC update first and thereafter introduce Aadhar. We will now keep a close eye on how the entire process of introducing Aadhar in the State progresses.”

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Big players got huge tax breaks, generated fewer jobs in Assam

Some mega projects in Assam secured huge tax exemptions but their employment generation here was simply not commensurate with such incentives. Rather, some small/medium/large scale industries which received lesser tax incentives outperformed the mega projects in employment generation in the State. This has come to light in a recent CAG report, putting a big question mark over industrial policy hitherto followed in Assam.

In accordance with the North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP), 2007, the Centre approved a package of fiscal incentives and other concessions for the Northeastern region. In synergy with the NEIIPP, the Assam government rolled out special industrial incentives, comprising various subsidies and exemptions, through the industrial policies of 2008, 2014 and onwards — the primary objectives being raising income and generating employment.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its report on Revenue Sector for the year ended March 31, 2016 and tabled in Assam Assembly on Monday, observed that tax exemptions as high as 200 per cent were allowed to some mega projects.

This contravened the decision taken by the Task Force of the Empowered Committee of Finance Ministers (TFECFM) constituted by the Centre — that incentives should generally be in the range of 25 to 50 percent, and that only in the rarest of rare cases, should 100 per cent incentive be granted.

What has raised eyebrows in various quarters is that as per the CAG report —though substantial tax incentives (as high as 200 percent) were granted to mega projects, the employment opportunities created by these projects was far less than that created by small/medium/large scale industries receiving lesser tax incentives.

The CAG report further observed there was revenue loss of Rs 34.8 crore on account of irregular grant of entry tax exemptions which are not provided for under the industrial policy 2008, besides irregular granting of tax exemptions of Rs 110.34 crore to two mega projects. The report further said: “Despite the judgment of Supreme Court prohibiting the coverage of certain activities under the term ‘manufacture’, tax exemptions aggregating Rs 78.48 crore were irregularly granted to 45 ineligible industries.”

The CAG also observed that no mid-term corrections were initiated in regard to tax exemptions.

The CAG report took note that only two industries – Topcem India and Cement Manufacturing India Ltd (Star Cement) – of the 18 industries declared as mega projects in the State, commenced commercial production as in March 2016. In addition, another unit – Calcom Cement India Ltd – was granted tax exemptions of 200 per cent of the value of P&M aggregating Rs 233.62 crore, the report added.

Undue tax exemptions and subsidies were rampant during the 15 years when the Congress was in power in Assam.

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