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Linear projects: A rising threat to our forests and wildlife: Fauna

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Earlier this month, on December 5, locals at Hojai in Assam’s Nagaon district witnessed a distressing incident. A speeding Kanyakumari-Dibrugarh Vivek Express rammed into three elephants, killing them. It included two pregnant elephants, who delivered stillborn calves. Only 12 days later, two adult elephants and a calf were killed when a train hit them 125kms away from Guwahati, again in Nagaon district. These two accidents along with another one on December 6 took the life of eight elephants in December alone.The accidents in Assam and the rise in proposed linear projects such as highways, railway line doubling, power transmission lines and canals once again bring to attention how perhaps certain developmental projects pose the biggest threats to our forests and wildlife. A deeper look into projects that have been both, proposed and cleared, reveals that they will pass through some of our most dense forests that are home to rich biodiversity, varied wildlife and are precious sources of freshwater in fast warming climate. In 2016, some crucial linear projects that will fragment our forests, were cleared or have made their way towards being cleared.Wildlife corridors under threatFor instance, in March, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), chaired by the Prime Minister, cleared conversion of the 227-km long Gondia-Jabalpur line from narrow gauge to broad gauge. Of this 227km, 77km will pass through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor, considered one of the most crucial in the country for it allows tigers from two different source populations and gene pools to move to newer territories.In Eastern India, the Indian Railways has approved expansion of the 156km long Sambalpur-Angul railway line, that already fragments Satkosia-Ushakoti-Badrama elephant and tiger landscape.Conservationists and wildlife activists have argued that while large linear projects should be avoided in forests and wildlife habitats, there is also an acute lack of standardized environmental safeguards.Lack of willIn the case of National Highway – 7 widening, that will pass through the Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor and the Pench tiger reserve, the National Highway Authority of India was dragged to court to have them construct environmental safeguards such as underpasses and overpasses for safe wildlife passage.The NH-7 case illustrated that government agencies were unwilling to initiate expenditure on environmental safeguards to prevent wildlife casualties, until courts ordered them to. Following this case, the union ministry for environment, forest and climate change commissioned the Wildlife Institute of India to prepare guidelines on incorporating environmental safeguards in linear infrastructure. The ministry also commissioned this report with a view to ensure speedy clearances for linear projects.The guidelines were made public in October and suggested minimum engineering solutions such as elevated ramps and sections should for wildlife to cross highways and fencing in case of railways. The guidelines though, do not have to be followed mandatory, as they have not been notified.Environmentalists have also questioned these guidelines. “I don’t think these guidelines will be followed because the project developers always try to go for safeguards that will be least expensive. We need to put in place a conservation fund for linear projects and project proponents ought to involve environmental experts at the start of the project and not at the clearance stage. These projects are fragmenting and damaging valuable forest resource,” said Anish Andheria,, President, Wildlife Conservation Trust, a non-profit organisation working in 110 protected areas across 19 states.Other conservationists said that the current dispensation has junked an earlier decision of the environment ministry to stop new roads in protected areas. “The NBWL, in its previous term, had recognised linear infrastructure as one of the major threats to forests and wildlife. This prompted formulation of guidelines that said that no new roads will be constructed in protected areas. Why were those guidelines junked? asks Prerna Bindra, conservationist and former member of NBWL standing committee.Upcoming projects passing through forests and protected areasProposed linear projects waiting for wildlife and forest clearance:Dedicated freight corridor passing through Gautam Buddha Sanctuary, home to leopards, bears and chitalCasterlock-Kulem railway line doubling and Tinaighat – Castlerock railway line doubling in Dandeli wildlife sanctuaryHubli-Ankola railway line will pass through Western Ghats forests, Bedthi conservation reserve at Yellapur and buffer region of Anshi Dandeli Tiger ReserveBarkhera-Budni third railway line construction in Ratapani wildlife sanctuary. Project will take up 104.75 hectares of the sanctuary

Kaziranga eviction: 2 killed, 19 injured in police firing; CM announces ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Two persons were killed and 19 others, including police personnel, were injured in mob violence and subsequent police firing during an eviction drive near Kaziranga National Park on Monday.Police resorted to firing in Banderdubi area under Kaliabor sub-division of Nagaon district after protestors, demanding compensation before they were evicted, turned violent and attacked security forces by pelting stones at them, Assam Director General of Police Mukesh Sahay said.”The eviction was carried out as per orders of the Gauhati High Court and the police used full restraint and minimum force to ensure that the land was cleared of encroachers,” he said.The situation turned violent and the police was forced to resort to lathi charge, tear gas and firing which led to the killing of two persons, including a woman, and injury to 19 others, including 15 police personnel due to stone pelting, the DGP said.”There may be a possibility of the people being instigated by a section of people. We are investigating the matter and strict action will be taken as per law against those who provoked the people,” the DGP said.Following the incident, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal held an emergency Cabinet meeting and directed that an ex gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh be paid to the next of kin of those dead and Rs 50,000 each to those injured.The Nagaon district administration had decided to carry out the eviction following a Gauhati High Court order in October last year that Banderdubi and Deochurchang areas under Kaliabor sub-division near Kaziranga National Park be cleared of encroachers. Industry minister Chandra Mohan Patowary told reporters after the meeting that the state government was committed to the protection of Kaziranga and in no way would it disregard the directives of the High Court.”The eviction was carried out as per the orders of the Gauhati High Court and even people of the state want illegal encroachers to be evicted from in and around Kaziranga,” he said.The Chief Minister had directed two senior ministers, Minister for Education and Health Himanta Biswa Sarma and Minister for Water Resources, Science and Technology and also the local MLA Keshab Mahanta, to meet the representatives of the two areas before carrying out the eviction.”The court had mentioned nothing about compensation but the state government agreed to pay on humanitarian grounds with affected families agreeing to leave the areas.” the minister said.”Today’s protests, however, indicate that there may be a third force at work to instigate the affected people which will not be tolerated. The Chief Minister has directed that the matter be investigated and strict action be taken against those involved,” he said.Minister for Health and Education Himanta Biswa Sarma complimented the Nagaon district administration for their successful eviction drive in Kaziranga.”Our government will never compromise on JATI (identity), MATI(land) and BHETI(home). On that note, I also assure all deserving land owners that adequate compensation will be paid to all of them,” he said. Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, however, told reporters that removing people from their land and home by resorting to killings was “condemnable”.”Agreed that the Gauhati High Court had given the ruling last year but there was a process to ensure its adherence. The state government failed to take the necessary measures before carrying out the eviction,” he said.Moreover, it was the Asom Gana Parishad government in 1996, who had facilitated the settlement of these people in these two areas, so “how can they be illegal encroachers.” AIUDF President Badruddin Ajmal also condemned the police firing and killing of two persons who, he said, had only sought compensation before eviction.”We demand strong action against the police and adequate compensation for villagers evicted from Kaziranga and also to the family members of those killed today,” he said.People who are being evicted from Kaziranga are “neither Bangladeshi nor illegal settlers but are political victims because they are Muslims,” he alleged.The two persons killed in the firing have been identified as Anjuma Khatun and Fakhruddin.The situation in the area remains tense, but is under control with the eviction drive continuing.There was no report of any untoward incident in Deochurchang area.The authorities had pressed elephants and excavators into service to demolish the houses.A total of 190 and 160 families are being evicted in Banderdubia and Deochurchang areas respectively.

Firefighters douse flames in garment factory in Bhiwandi; over 200 residents rescued

The fire that broke out on Tuesday morning in a garment factory in Bhiwandi has been doused, officials confirmed. More than 200 residents have been rescued and firefighters are in the process of clearing the fumes.

Fire at Bhiwandi building. IBNLiveFire at Bhiwandi building. IBNLive

Fire at Bhiwandi building. IBNLive

Seven residents of the nearby area who helped the firefighters save the people trapped were injured in the rescue operation and one is in critical condition, an official said.

An officer from the fire brigade present at the spot said that the four-storey building had a powerloom on the ground floor and private residences on the rest of the floors. An elderly lady who lives in the building was rushed to Sion Hospital for stress-related issues.

Many residents tried to escape from the second floor with the help of firefighters. Others broke an iron gate on the fourth floor to reach the terrace so the firefighters could rescue them. The building was only two years old and the officials are yet to determine the cause of the fire.

The fire broke out at 6 am. Four fire engines from Bhiwandi were sent to the area.

Fire tenders from Thane and Kalyan were also called to the spot for rescue efforts.

Ambulances and four water tankers were rushed to the spot to battle the fire.

Assam Elections 2016: It won’t be a smooth sail for BJP; Cong & AIUDF have an edge in final phase

After a few days of rainfall, the sun is out again and the heat is on the parties, candidates and grassroot workers in Assam for the second and final phase of elections on April 11. The high-decibel campaign for the final phase came to an end on Saturday. ConstituenciesThe final phase of polling will take place in 61 constituencies – Nalbari, Mankachar, Salmara South, Dhubri, Gauripur, Golakganj, Bilasipara West, Bilasipara East, Gossaigaon, Kokrajhar West, Kokrajhar East, Sidli, Bongaigaon, Bijni, Abhayapuri North, Abhayapuri South (SC), Dudhnoi, Goalpara East, Goalpara West, Jaleswar, Sorbhog, Barpeta, Jania, Baghbar, Sarukhetri, Chenga, Bhabanipur, Patacharkuchi, Boko SC, Chaygaon, Palasbari, Hajo, Kamalpur, Rangia, Jalukbari, Dispur, Guwahati East, Guwahati West, Tamulpur, Barkhetry, Dharmapur, Barama, Chapaguri, Kalaigaon, Sipajhar, Mangaldai, Dalgaon, Jagiroad, Marigaon, Laharighat, Raha, Dhing, Batadroba, Rupohihat, Nagaon, Barhampur, Samaguri, Kaliabor, Jamunamukh, Hojai and Lumding. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Of the 61 constituencies, the most key ones are Kaliabor, Samaguri, Nagaon, Barhampur, Raha, Laharighat, Jagiroad, Dharmapur, Barkhetry, Guwahati West, Guwahati East, Dispur, Jalukbari, Chaygaon, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar East, Kokrajhar West, Dhubri and Salmara South. Close fights among candidates are expected in these constituencies. Candidates in the fray
ALSO READ Assam Elections 2016: Illegal immigration comes to the fore in Phase 2In the final phase, a total of 525 candidates are in the fray – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded 35 candidates, Congress 57, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) 19, Bodo People’s Front (BPF) 10, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) 47 among others. Two hundred seventeen (217) candidates are also contesting the polls this time as Independents. Among the prominent candidates are Cabinet ministers Rakibul Hussain, Chandan Sarkar and Nazrul Islam from the Congress, former two-time chief minister and veteran AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, AIUDF chief and Dhubri MP Badruddin Ajmal and former Congress minister Himanta Biswa Sarma who is now in the BJP.
ALSO READ Don’t ask such questions: When Amit Shah snapped at a journalist in AssamOther prominent candidates include former BPF ministers in the Congress government Chandan Brahma, Pramila Rani Brahma and Rihon Daimari, former AGP ministers Ramendra Narayan Kalita and Kamala Kalita and their former colleagues Atul Bora and Chandra Mohan Patowary who joined the BJP. Poll mood & beyond
ALSO READ Assam elections 2016: Only 8.6 percent women candidates in frayAlthough the poll mood in lower and central Assam is not different from the mood prevalent in upper Assam districts and the Barak Valley during the first phase of elections on April 4, with majority of people craving for parivartan, there is still an underlying fear in the minds of all major parties of any last minute shocks. Poll observers here opine that though the high voting percentage of 82.20 this year compared to 70.82 in 2011 is an indication of a large number of people wanting change, the lower and central Assam electorate still remains divided over a vote for parivartan or continuity: i.e the AGP-BJP-BPF combine or the Congress. Interestingly, for the Congress, parivartan means transformation of the party’s work culture into a more efficient one so that people’s faith in the grand old party increases. On the other hand, for the BJP, parivartan is all about throwing the Congress out of power, placing the state on the growth path and protecting the Assamese people’s jati, mati aaru bheti (identity, land and base). With these three things in mind, the top Central and state BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, campaigned across the state and wooed the voters. The Congress, on the other hand, stressed on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) update work the party has undertaken and tried to convince people about the lurking ‘dark days’ if the BJP comes to power. Nilim Aakash Kashyap, a Nalbari-based journalist and author, feels that the wave is definitely in BJP’s favour and the ruling Congress is facing anti-incumbency. But the latter’s chances could not be ruled out in lower and central Assam districts in the final phase of polling, he says. “The sea of people at Narendra Modi’s as well as Himanta Biswa Sarma’s rallies does not necessarily mean that all those people are BJP supporters. Several of the lower Assam constituencies are dominated by the minority community who are traditionally Congress and AIUDF supporters,” says Kashyap. What the records sayThis time, the BJP is making all efforts to win at least 84 seats as part of its ‘Mission 84’, which was announced by the saffron party when Congress heavyweight and former state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma joined them. The Congress announced that it would retain its earlier position or even get a majority in this Assembly election. In the 2011 Assembly polls, the Congress won 24 seats, AIUDF- 17, BPF- 9, AGP- 5, BJP – 3, Independents – 2 and Trinamool Congress- 1 in these 61 constituencies. Prospects of a few prominent candidates in some key constituencies Three-time MLA from Samaguri and minister in Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s cabinet Rakibul Hussain is facing a tough challenge from BJP this time. Samaguri in central Assam’s Nagaon district is a Congress citadel. Hussain has been representing Samaguri since 2001. Even the AIUDF has not been able to get a foothold among Muslims here, who comprise around 80 percent of the total electorate of Samaguri. Even former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who contested from Samaguri in the 2011 Assembly polls, was routed by Hussain who is pitted against BJP’s Jitu Goswami in the polls on Monday. Hojai constituency in Nagaon district will witness another interesting contest this time among Shiladitya Dev of the BJP, Dhaniram Thaosen of the AIUDF and Ardhendu Kumar Dey of the Congress. Poll analysts say that Thaosen has an edge over both the BJP and Congress candidates in terms of winning the elections. In this Muslim-dominated town, AIUDF chief and perfume king Badaruddin Ajmal and his family continue to earn respect from residents of Hojai. Tales of Ajmal’s philanthropic works have achieved the status of myths here. The AIUDF has a great support base in Hojai. The Kokrajhar East constituency (ST), considered to be the most prestigious one in BTAD, has been represented by prominent Bodo leader and former Cabinet minister Pramila Rani Brahma of the BPF since 1991 without a break. Altogether, six candidates, including UPP’s Pratibha Brahma, are in fray in the constituency. Interestingly, both Pramila and Pratibha were teachers before stepping into politics. This time, Pratibha could give Pramila a strong fight given the former’s growing popularity in the area. In the 2011 Assembly elections, Pramila defeated her rival K Basumatary of the Bodoland People’s Progressive Front (BPPF) by a huge margin. The Barhampur constituency in Nagaon district is likely to witness another interesting battle this time among the BJP-AGP-BPF combine candidate and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Congress’s Suresh Bora and AIUDF’s Shariful Islam Siddique. In terms of poll prospects, Mahanta has an edge over the rest of the opponents this time. He has been representing the seat for five consecutive terms since 1991. This poll will decide whether Mahanta will be given another chance by Barhampur residents or whether Bora will have the last laugh. An interesting poll battle also awaits in the high profile Salmara South Assembly constituency in Dhubri district where AIUDF chief Badaruddin Ajmal is pitted against Siraj Hussain of the BJP and Wazed Ali Choudhury of the Congress. Once a bastion of the Congress, Salmara South was wrested by Ajmal in 2006 and retained by his son Abdur Rahman Ajmal. Wazed Ali Choudhury has been fielded by the ruling party for the fifth time. Both Ajmal and Choudhury consider each other archrivals. But this time luck could be in anybody’s favour. The socio-economic condition of people of this constituency has remained unchanged over the years. Neither the Congress nor the AIUDF could do anything constructive to protect the area from flood and erosion, illegal infiltration and a host of other problems. The Dharmapur LAC will also witness a prestige fight between Congress candidate and former agriculture minister Nilamani Sen Deka with BJP candidate and former AGP minister Chandra Mohan Patowary. This time Deka has an edge over Patowary. It was alleged that Patowary visits the constituency only during election time. The prestigious Jalukbari constituency in Guwahati is a bastion of the state’s political giant and BJP candidate Himanta Biswa Sarma who won the last three Assembly polls on Congress tickets. This time too, Sarma is most likely to win the seat. Other candidates, including Congress’s Niren Deka, will be of no match to Sarma’s charisma and influence. Regarding development works and other facilities in the constituency, voters are more or less satisfied. The Gauhati East Assembly constituency is another key constituency in the final phase of elections in the State. It’s an urban constituency where voters are very well aware of the political situation. Political observers say the fight for the seat this time would be mainly between first timer and Congress nominee Bobbeeta Sharma and BJP candidate and former State president of the party Siddhartha Bhattacharya. The contest is likely to be very close between these two candidates. The seat was an AGP stronghold in the eighties and nineties. The people of the constituency have been facing problems like water logging and scarcity of drinking water.

BJP can’t be allowed to play with JNU students’ future: Rahul Gandhi

Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said BJP cannot be allowed to play with the future of 8000 students of JNU and his party is with them.”There are eight thousand students in JNU and of them one thousand are from the North East. We will not allow BJP to spoil their future … BJP cannot play with the future of eight thouand students,” Gandhi said addressing an election rally here in Assam’s Nagaon district. The students have done no wrong, he said adding “we (Congress) are with them.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Sedition charge was slapped against JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar and he was put in jail “but I listened to his 20-minute speech (on February 9) and there is not a single word against the country,” Rahul said.”If they had to arrest anybody, why didn’t they catch those two to three people who shouted (anti-India) slogans? Arrest them, put them in jail and charge them with whatever case you want,” Gandhi added.