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By the Brahmaputra (April – June 2015)

By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 30)
C-NES Newsletter
(For the Quarter April – June 2015)


Mr. Modi: Travel in India, visit Mawlynnong 

Should Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now on a major and important swing through Central Asia and Russia, visit the north-east in the near future, I recommend that he spend as little time as possible in the  overcrowded streets of Guwahati, the traffic jams of Shillong (though blissfully free before 8 am and after 7 pm), not that he would experience the problems of either.  And that he get away from the monstrous buildings of Aizawl and Gangtok that tear at the sky and block out the beauty of the surroundings till you get to their top, the shanty clusters of unplanned Itanagar and the burgeoning towns of Kohima, Dimapur and Imphal, where malls and plush buildings vie for space with broken roads, decrepit structures and a sense of tiredness.

For one, should he go to Meghalaya, I hope he travels on a trip of freshness and heads not to Cherrapunji but to the hamlet of Mawlynnong in the Khasi Hills. This village has been called ‘The Cleanest Village in Asia’ and I have been extremely cynical of this description. Obviously, the person — I’m sure he must have been an out of town journalist, probably from Guwahati or Calcutta, which doesn’t have a single clean street or mohalla — has never been to a village in Souith East Asia or Japan or Taiwan or Korea, for that matter.  Those places have clean running water, electricity, sewage systems  and garbage disposal processes, their citizens pay taxes for services and don’t demand free service for everything or complain about whatever exists without doing anything about it.

If Mr. Modi goes to Mawlynnong, a tongue twister if ever there was one, and he goes as I did in the burst of recent monsoon rains, with my old class friend Darryl Feegrade, a banker who’s retired from the Meghalaya Cooperative Apex Bank, he will come across a landscape so enchantingly beautiful that it is almost painful. This is, I said, just how Tolkien must have imagined the Shire of the Hobbits to be in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Driving through mist and rain, not able to see even 10 or 15 meters ahead, with sheer falls on one side, our driver pressed the car at a pace faster than I was comfortable with.

But he was as surefooted as a mountain goat.  But the scars on the hillside were there, as deep as raw wounds on a body, bleeding in the rain; the water didn’t heal, it made the gashes and damage on the hills and forests worse. The excavators and sand grinding machines standing like ghostly silhouettes (we got a better sight of them on the way back when the weather cleared a little), a bit like the ugly machines of Mordor in Tolkein’s brilliant tale. These machines wreck Meghalaya’s hillsides for the wealth and selfishness of Shillong and its elite and rich, destroying in a few minutes the rocks, wood and sand that took millions of years to create to the homes and offices of local power brokers and mongers.

Once those were behind us, we came to a desolate striking wind-swept, rock-strewn hill spread, inhabited by deserted government buildings, from which you could see the flood plains of Bangladesh below, awash with water. And then on to Mawlynnong, on a tiny road that spun through high jharoo grassland (the broom stick used for domestic use is a major cash crop here), with banana groves and other trees glinting in the occasional sun. A stream flowed rapidly below. Mawlynnong is 80 km from Shillong and a two hour drive from the capital.

Visitors pay a parking fee to go in; that goes for the upkeep of the place.  We were met by the headman, a cheerful, slight man by the name of Thomlin Khongthohrem — by now, I’m pretty convinced that Tolkien must have paid a secret visit to the Khasi hills and developed the entire Shire sequence out of there! We walked about a bit and truly it was amazingly clean. If the tourists, largely from Calcutta and Guwahati and a few from Shillong, weren’t there, you could have easily been in a hill town in South East Asia. Certainly not on the Indian subcontinent.

There wasn’t a scrap of plastic or paper lying around, plenty of litter bins, solar light panels, clean homestays and restaurants with homemade meals cooked quickly in the family kitchen and served without the grime and mess of the plains (although it was sultry when we were there in June, and the place is also pretty low in altitude).  The entire village of less than 500 persons is built on a wedge of volcanic rock and villagers use natural pools to store potable water and breed fish. The Rangbah Shong as the headman is called in Khasi told us that the village took two decisions nearly 30 years ago which were the initial steps for long-term change: the first was to ensure that pigs would not be allowed to roam freely around and would be stall reared; the second was to prevent open defecation and encourage each household to build its own toilet.

That was way back in 1987, well before the Government of India launched its TSC (Total Sanitation Campaign) and before health movement leaders worldwide pushed for hand washing as a key component of diarrhea and dysentery prevention and thus of good health.  That’s why the laudable Swacch Bharat Campaign needs to learn from places like Mawylnnong, pioneers in good governance and public health.

Then the Prime Minister could go to Mizoram and, with an overnight stop in Aizawl with its ugly urban sprawl, drive to the village of Sualsuk, about two hours distance.  This, like M<awlynnong, is a place of exquisite beauty, hemmed by ridges of hills, washed by rain and swathed by mist. This changes of course with the season. Here and in the villages en route in Mizoram, Mr. Modi will see streets which are sparkling clean, not because they’ve been cleaned up for a VIP visit, but because people keep them clean, as they do their homes, markets, stores and restaurants. It’s partly inculcated by the church which emphasises simple living, cleanliness — and in many ways the ethic is not different to what Mahatma Gandhi taught the world: we can be the change we want to see and the place to begin is with ourselves.

I wish that the Ministries of Health and that of Sanitation put up full page ads and broadcast the work that has been done in Mawlynnong and in Mizoram, in these villages on the edge of India, thousands of kilometers from the corridors of power and policy in Delhi. Why? Because ordinary people, the aam aadmi, not the powerful and poltiical, decided this was how they wanted to live.  All our states in the North-east can make it public knowledge and government policy.

There’s another reason Mr. Modi, however, should visit Sialsuk: like many parts of Mizoram, it was burned by the security forces during the insurgency of 1966-1986. Like many others on the road to the village and many elsewhere. There is a haunting poem, sung by men and women, of the burning of Sialsuk. I listened to that song the other day in Sialsuk and my eyes filled, pain at the torment that ordinary people went through, pain at the harm that we inflict on simple folk, pain at the lessons not learned, pain at the atrocities called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act that enable men in uniform to get away with murder, arson and worse. The people of Sialsuk seem to have forgiven and put the past behind them, though the memories and trauma linger. Only two houses survived the torching of the village — but today it is whole and new, an example to every part of India, with its shiny streets and sparkling tin roofs.

A new village challenging the might of Delhi peacefully, by its very existence, and daring it to learn from its past.

by Sanjoy Hazarika

(From the regular column in the Assam Tribune published on 8th July 2015) 


Global Exhibition on Services: A Report

The Global Exhibition on Services was organized by the Govt. of India jointly assisted by Confederation of India Industries (CII) and Services Export Promotion Council (SEPC) from the 23rd  to  25th of April, 2015 in New Delhi’s famed Pragati Maidan. The Government of Assam and National Health Mission, nominated C-NES’ Boat Clinics to be exhibited at the Exhibition  along with other services of NHM like the 108 Emergency Services, 104 Services and Operation Smile. The ground for the exhibition was divided into a number of halls, bannered thematically under various heads- Health, Tourism, Industry and Technology. The exhibition saw a huge number of participants from across the globe. 40 countries participated in the exhibition but since each country had more than one service to exhibit, the number of stalls outgrew the number of countries.  Most states from India were also promoting tourism. The three day experience at the exhibition showed how innovative ideas and extraordinary services of a particular organization, industry or an institution has been brought to the front for showcasing. It was a brilliant idea that saw a constant flow of information, knowledge, ideas and intuitive minds working together in order to reach a larger audience.

A team of 8 members from C-NES including the Managing Trustee, Technical Consultant for Boat Clinic Program, the Program Manager, two Medical Officers and two District Program Officers along with the Data Analyst were nominated for participating in the exhibition along with other delegates from NHM, Assam. For the exhibition, the boat clinic team prepared a model of the first ship  ‘AKHA’ which operates in Dibrugarh district, along with photographs of the various health camps, the challenging experiences from the grassroots, the topography and the services of all boat clinics.

During the exhibition, it was observed that the visitors were impressed by the concept of Boat Clinics and its services to the marginalized communities of the river Brahmaputra. The model of the ship presented at the exhibition drew constant attention and appreciation from the many delegates and visitors, both national and international.

On the 23rd, the first day of the exhibition, the gates were opened for the public at 10.00 am but a formal inaugural session was held at 5.00 pm for the Prime Minister of India who declared the exhibition open. During the formal inaugural session, the delegates from all stalls were invited to attend the opening ceremony where the Managing Trustee and the Technical Consultant from C-NES were present.

Throughout the exhibition, delegates and visitors came in large numbers to visit the Assam Pavilion and were eager to learn about the Boat Clinics, the topography and the demography of the state of Assam and appreciated the kind of services being provided under such adverse situations by the teams.  Many were eager to visit the boat clinics. Some  prominent visitors in the exhibition included Dr. R. P. Vashist, Ms. Shunita and Mrs. Indrayani Malay from CII, who were interested to take the concept of Boat Clinics to other African nations. “The concept might work well in the African health system as there are many rivers and riverside population in the African subcontinent” said Dr. Vashist as he praised the innovations in the state’s health sector.  Mrs. Indrayani Malay too expressed her interest in visiting the Boat Clinics and to present the concept at the Indo-Africa business seminars with help from C-NES. Dr. D. P. Bhatt, Senior Principal Scientist & Head from CSIR; Lt Colonel J K Patnaik, also an MBBS doctor based in AIIMS, New Delhi showed great interest in spreading the concept of Boat Clinics through journals which are shared with some of the top 5000 health institutions across the globe; an Engineer (Mr.) K K Roy Chowdhury who is an energy and environment expert based in New Delhi; Aman Singhania and Vivek Gupta who work on communication systems for ships were some of the others.

During the last day of the exhibition, on 25th April, the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi  visited the stall examining the model, speaking to the delegates and the team members and showered appreciation for the hard work. During early afternoon the exhibition also saw few cabinet and union ministers holding conferences and meetings where delegates from  various stalls participated. At 2.00 hrs, the exhibition was declared closed


Abdul Halim, DPO, Barpeta Boat Clinic Unit 1
Riturekha Baruah Phukan, DPO, Jorhat Boat Clinic.


NRL donated “Kaliyani” Launched

Boat Clinic Kaliyani is the latest to join the C-NES Boat Clinic fleet, donated by Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) to C-NES as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The inaugural function of the launch of Kaliyani for providing health services to the marginalized river island population of Kamrup district was held on 18th May 2015 at Machkhowa ghat, Guwahati. It needs mention that this is the second such boat sponsored by NRL to C-NES. The first one, Boat Clinic SB Numali, operating in Sonitpur district was launched in March 2011.

“Among the most marginalized people in Assam, nearly 30 lakh or ten percent of the State’s population live on its islands in the mighty Brahmaputra and for decades have struggled to survive at a basic level,” said C-NES Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika.  He added “We thank NRL for supporting us with yet another boat in this mission of taking sustained health care and other development services to this excluded population”.

Chief Guest Mr P Padmanadhan, Managing Director NRL lauded the work being done by the Boat Clinics and  said  “The Boat Clinics are doing an amazing work for the poor and underprivileged to reach medicine, care and solace to the unheard and unseen people, living on the numerous islands created by the whim and fancy of our mighty Brahmaputra”.  Mr Pranjal Pratim Das, Programme Executive, NHM, Assam present on the occasion said that “the government was proud to showcase the work of the Boat Clinics at both the national and international level. Inspite of various challenges we move ahead in our common mission”

C-NES provides basic health care services to the vulnerable population who live on islands on the Brahmaputra, with a special focus on women and children, through specially designed boats equipped with laboratories as well as pharmacies on board, to the river islands – it now has boat clinic teams in 13 districts of Assam with 15 units, a major upscaling from the single district when it began its innovative initiative in 2005 at Dibrugarh. This has been done through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with NRHM since 2008. The districts covered are Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Sonitpur, Morigaon, Kamrup,Nalbari, Bongaigaon,,Barpeta, Goalpara and Dhubri.

On board are fully fledged medical teams (two doctors, three nurses as well as lab technicians and pharmacists) which conduct regular camps organized through a network of community health workers and organizers in the district.

C-NES’ unique health clinic story began with a single boat, a prototype called Akha in Dibrugarh district in 2005; since then it has spread to other districts to dramatically upscale the programme to reach the socially and geographically excluded groups.

Radio Brahmaputra wins e-Assam Challenge award, 2015

C-NES’ Brahmaputra Community Radio Station (BCRS) won the “Certificate of Proficiency” the top award of e-Assam challenge 2015 under the category “Digital Innovations in E-Governance, Citizen Services Delivery & Last Mile Access” organized by Digital Development Foundation and Digital Empowerment Foundation supported by the Department of Information Technology and AMTRON, Government of Assam, on April 10th, 2015.

BCRS has been chosen jointly with the project “Mahanagar” an e- governance initiative taken by the Kamrup Metro district.  17 Private as well as Government operated projects across the country including Project Data Digitization, e district, Department of IT, Sikkim, Demi Solutions; Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers (IASF) C-DAC, Silchar; Project Sahaj Citizen Services and e-governance were nominated for the final round under this category where BCRS and project Mahanagar achieved the top award. This is second major award that BCRS, which is led by Bhaskar Bhuyan, coordinator and an enthusiastic team of eight members in Dibrugarh, won in the past four months. It had earlier won the Manthan SA/Pacific and Asia award for CRS from 400 entries from across the region.

BCRS was the first presenter at the working plenary session-1 and on behalf of BCRS, Mr. Manik Ch. Boruah, C-NES’ Associate Programme Manager made the presentation. The session was chaired by Mr. Mukesh Ch. Sahoo, IAS, Commissioner and Secretary, IT, Govt. of Assam and the expert panel comprised of Ms. Shalini Kala, The World Bank, New Delhi and Mr. Sanjeev Sarma, Founder Director, Webx. Dr. Gautam Barua, Director, IIT, Guwahati; Mr. Osama Manzar, Founder Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation; Sanjeev Sarma, Founder Director, Webx and Dr. K M Baharul Islam, Professor of Communications, Chair, Centre for Public Policy & Government, Programme Director, the World Bank project, IIM, Kashipur were present at the felicitation function along with Dr. Sayed Kazi, President, North East Development Foundation.

There were four other parallel plenary sessions- ICT & Digital Innovations in Education, Learning; ICT & Digital Innovations in Health & Environment; e-Youth & Social Media for Empowerment and ICTS for Livlihood, Skill & Enterprise. Rajiv Kr. Bora, IAS, Add Chief Secretary, Govt. of Assam was present as the Chief Guest at the inaugural function.

Visitor to BCRS from Auburn University

Kelly Alley, Professor of Anthropology, Auburn University, USA visited Radio Brahmaputra on March 26,2015. She interacted with the radio team led by coordinator Bhaskar Bhuyan who introduced the team to her and the station’s community based projects. She appreciated the work done by the station and proposed a collaboration between Radio Brahmaputra and Auburn University with the latter supporting data collection which  radio team could undertake to map the island regions around Dibrugarh including photo mapping of the islands. The University could generate digital maps for the station’s use. “Thanks and congratulations on a wonderful project” she wrote in her message to team Radio Brahmaputra.

Workshop on Ground Water Management

A two-day regional level workshop on Reviving Springs & Participatory Ground Water Management (PGWM) in the Northeastern Himalayan Region was held on 23rd and 24th April 2015 at Guwahati . Assisted by the Regional Office, Centre of North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES) at Guwahati, the workshop was organized by the  Dehradun based People’s Science Institute (PSI) with financial assistance from Arghyam. The introduction to the workshop was given by Dr. Ravi Chopra from PSI, moderated by Bhaswati Goswami, Communications Officer C-NES. Welcoming the participants in the inaugural session, Dr Ravi Chopra  said that springs have been drying up in all the north eastern states. Fortunately in the last decade or so the concept of spring shed management has been successfully demonstrated in many locations in the Himalayan states.

In Himalayan villages groundwater is the major source of water for rural communities in the form of springs and base flows in the mountain streams. But rapid developmental activities, including deforestation, changes in land use patterns and the construction of dams, tunnels and roads are leading to a decline in water quantity and quality. Many springs have reportedly gone dry or become seasonal. Many mountain communities face acute water shortages especially during summer. Despite these problems sustainable and equitable management of ground water resources have not been adequately considered in mainstream watershed management and other government programmes.

Addressing the inaugural session of the workshop as the chief guest Mr MP Bezbaruah, former Union Tourism Secretary said that only four percent of the north eastern states ‘groundwater resources have been developed so far compared to the national average of about 22 percent, which calls for an integrated approach towards management of water resources in the region.

About 50 participants from the soil and water conservation department of Meghalaya, land resources department of Nagaland, the Meghalaya water foundation, forest department of Nagaland and Sikkim and CSIR NEIST Jorhat attended the workshop which included a field visit to a spring in the outskirts of Guwahati.

Mr MP Bezbaruah, former Union Tourism Secretary addressing the inaugural session of the workshop. Sitting (from left) are C-NES Trustee and Chairperson of the inaugural session Dr Mahfuza Rahman, Dr. Ravi Chopra from PSI and Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni from ACWADAM, Pune.



Visitors to Boat Cinic

A team from the 104 service provider M/s. Piramal Swasthya keen on understanding the work of the Boat Clinics and to also work out a possible collaboration with Boat Clinics visited the Kamrup boat clinic in May 2015. The 104 team was represented by Mahesh Deori,. Rajesh Sethi and Najeeb Hazarika from Sanjeevani. From C-NES regional office, Guwahati,  Dr.C.R.Hira, Technical Consultant and Ashok Rao, Program Manager accompanied the team . Hasivuddin Borbhuyan, Block Programme Manager from Chhaygaon Block Public Health Centre was also present.

The Health Camp was arranged at Bejortari Char with a population of around 700. The Boat started its journey from Jahirpur ghat (Gumi) at 11:00 am and took about 20 minutes to reach the char from where the visitors with the team with medicines and camp essentials loaded on bicycles walked to the camp site arranged outdoor under the shade of a tree beside the local ASHA’s residence. The 104 team interacted with the ASHA and the community and also observed the services provided at the camp.

The visitors were impressed with the division of work and the systematic arrangement of the camp under such difficult conditions – divided into sections like registration, OPD, Doctors Table, Laboratory investigation and immunization.

NHM Official at health camp

Director Finance, NHM, Delhi Ms.Kabita Singh visited a health camp conducted by the Kamrup Boat Clinic accompanying the team on the boat to the target village.  The camp was held according to the monthly action plan at two sites- Uttar Matiram and Pub Matiram as each site has a small population. The Finance Manager and Program Executive, NHM, Assam along with Dr.Hira, Technical Consultant and  Ashok Rao, Program Manager C-NES received Ms. Kabita Singh at the airport and  proceeded to  Futuri ghat via Rampur .On reaching the ghat at 12:30 pm, the team welcomed the visitor and was introduced by the DPO Hiranya Deka.  Ms.Singh interacted with the team members. She expressed her long cherished desire to visit the Boat Clinic and expressed happiness at being able to finally manage a visit. She appreciated the unique innovation of reaching out to the isolated communities through the boat clinics and narrated  a similar experience at a remote tribal villages in Chhattisgarh she visited a while ago where a lone Christian missionary doctor was serving the needy and the sick in the most backward areas with tremendous dedication and zeal especially for patients suffering with TB. “Such kind of service cannot be measured with money and cost per patient” she added.

The boat reached the Char and proceeded to the camp held at the local Angadwadi compound.

The patients mostly women and children were waiting as they were informed through the ASHA worker about the camp. The women stood in queue for the registration done by the Community Worker. All sections of the camp were neatly arranged a routine feature in all boat clinic health camps. Ms. Kabita was impressed to see the arrangement and visited all the sections to understand the work. She also interacted with the ASHA worker to know the status of women’s health and mortality. Her comment in the visitor’s book, “A great experience, and excellent execution of an innovative idea leading to humanity” summed up her trip.

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