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By the Brahmaputra (October – December 2016)

C-NES Newsletter
(For the Quarter October – December 2016)


A poorer world: Trump comes and two friends go

As the year winds down, just as we are getting used to the idea of Donald Trump becoming the helmsman of the most powerful nation on earth, comes a startling joint statement by three top Harvard psychiatrists who say that he is mentally and psychologically unfit to hold office and huge pressures and responsibilities which come with the US Presidency.

“… his widely reported symptoms of mental instability — including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality — lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office,” said the statement. The psychiatrists, Judith Herman, Nanette Gartrell and Dee Mosbacher, whose statement was published by the Huffington Post, added a caveat saying that they were not venturing an opinion upon a personally evaluation but basing their view based on his record of public pronouncements and performance.
I’m sure that Trump, his family and their supporters will slam the prognosis by doctors who haven’t evaluated him professionally. But it is a warning sign of the turbulent times that the United States is in for, with a President who has been elected by the Electoral College but lost to his rival by not less than three million votes. It is an extraordinary situation bordering on the perilous.

There is a good suggestion that seeks a legal challenge to the relevance of the Electoral College (where a simple majority of the state’s popular vote ensures that that the state’s Electoral College, represented by leaders of both parties, go to the winner – it’s like that song ‘The Winner Takes it All’. )

There are many questions about Trump: whether it be on his views of an inclusive society, of a conflict of interests as far as his businesses are concerned, what he thinks of Islam, of issues in the Middle East, Russia, South and South East Asia, of human rights, freedom of expression and so much more including international institutions like the United Nations. The latter presents a forum for countries of the world, large and small, rich and poor, to interact, share their views and develop places and structures that are universally accepted. We know for sure that he does not believe in climate change, which is an absolute disaster and a wrecker for decades of efforts and especially for the vulnerable and other sentient species which inhabit our world.

There is huge irony in this situation:, an enormously wealthy candidate of a party that espouses conservative values and sees the creation of individual wealth as a great virtue, became the cynosure of hope for an alienated lower middle and working class, large numbers of whom would otherwise have been identified with the Democrats.


But apart from Trump, in this closing piece, I want to remember two friends, one of whom I knew from childhood and the other whom I respected but did not know that well, and who left us suddenly. One was the gentle-faced Anupam Mishra, whose modulated voice and kind face hid a vibrant passion for the revival of traditional water sources and systems in the country. His knowledge was encyclopedic, his commitment infectious and his deep voice with its beautiful Hindi was mesmerizing (I would, with my use of Shillong Hindi, hesitatingly at times ask him to explain his thoughts in simpler words). He would smile very kindly and share them with a pellucidity that was breathtaking.

I got to know him better as a colleague on the Governing Board of the Society for Development Communications, which runs the environmental and development magazine Down to Earth. To every meeting he would bring a range of experiences and share what was going wrong and what could make things better. It was clear sighted, strongly argued and had the power of a pure heart. All these qualities are getting rare and have to be mined assiduously in this day and age.

The photographer and writer Arati Rao-Kumar who brings a dazzling eye and poetic use of camera to her work especially on the Brahmaputra and on all living creatures, great and small, said of this unassuming and good man, after he first meeting with him, “I hung on to every word he said that day. Quietly, with wry humour and baffling clarity, he laid before us the high stakes of meddling with rivers…That these few who truly, deeply understand the implications of short-sighted thoughtlessness could live on forever and show us the way. I guess it is up to us to make this so by remembering what they stood for and humbly and honestly carrying on their work.”


I turn to my childhood friend, Saumjtra Chaudhiri, whom I had known for 59 years, from the time we were kids in school, at St. Edmunds in Shillong. Through those years in school, our fathers, both doctors, were not just colleagues but good friends. And though Chow, as he was always known to us and many of his later friends in college, university and professional life, didn’t ever care for the games of cricket and other sports that many of us enjoyed (and we didn’t do badly either at studies), he was streets ahead with his prodigious brilliance which shone both at university in JNU and then as he built a steady path as an economist who would shonein every place and assignment to which he turned.

Chow was one of the Class of ’69 who perhaps did more than any of us, or even the collective, for the region and the country. With his hunger for statistics and felicity for policy formulation, developed after deep study and understanding of issues, he would produce policy briefs, talk with clarity and mastery over details and stun interviewers and visitors from India and abroad with his depth of knowledge for details and his rigorous grasp of the macro-picture.

A friend wrote in The Hindu:”Whether it was a question of how best to reduce poverty, the right policy mix to promote economic growth or the appropriate technical solution to increase our exports, it was his view that was most keenly sought by the highest authorities. Saumitra had that rare quality of knowing every arcane detail but not missing the big picture — a skill that is critical to good policymaking.”

This particular tribute referred to his understanding of the shale oil industry and its potential: I remember this very well because in one sitting with him, whether it was at his office at the Planning Commission where he served as member for five years, or as member of Manmohan Singh’s Economic Advisory Council or at home, he talked with stunning knowledge and, energy of the intricacies of exploration and its economics. That was true of every subject that one spoke with Chow with. He did not suffer fools gladly and he made sure that, with a peppering of choice gaalis, what he thought of some politicians, officials or policies. And he ensured, by going to the field in many parts of the North-east, walking the talk, that good policies and programmes developed locally were supported.

He shall miss his laughter, his knowledge, the chuckle with which he would dismiss a pompous babu or politician – and above all his warm friendship.

Sanjoy Hazarika
Managing Trustee

(From his regular column in the Assam Tribune published on 21st December 2016)

WHO India Representative Visits Boat Clinic

Dr. Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to India accompanied by a team from WHO India including Dr Debashish Roy, Regional Team Leader, East and officials of Health Department, Govt of Assam, visited a Boat Clinic health camp on 5th October 2016 to observe the unique work being done by these Clinics for the marginalized river island dwellers of the Brahmaputra. This innovative health outreach intervention of C-NES is in partnership with NHM, Govt of Assam. It is an effort at ensuring that entitlements reach those along the many final miles for the Sustainable Development Goals. It is also an example of best practices in a very challenging conditions.

The camp was held at Bhokuamari Char/island under Chhaygaon Block of Kamrup (Rural) district. The island has a population of about 1600 people and the inhabitants are engaged mainly in agriculture and cattle rearing. It was a hot and humid day as the visitors led by the health team walked into the interior village to where the health camp was held. Dr Bekedam observed different aspects of health camp and also interacted with the local ASHAs, village headman and others. He added “For health to improve we need to bring quality services closer to people. The Ships of Hope (Boat Clinics) are exactly doing that”. Follows his comments in the Visitors Book,” Today I visited a health camp with the Ship of Hope. It was a wonderful experience where I saw that the camp did not only bring hope but also very effective health services to a community which is by and large migratory. For the health to improve we need to get quality service closer to the people. The “Ships of Hope” are exactly doing this. Congratulations! Well done!”

It may be mentioned that Dr Bekedam is the first WHO India Representative to visit Assam and the Northeast region. He also visited the field to see an immunization site in the slums of Guwahati and some health facilities.  Earlier he met the Commissioner of Health, Chief Secretary, Chief Minister,Assam. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and established on 7 April 1948, the World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health.

SELCO India team visits Boat Clinic

A five member team from SELCO India led by the CEO Harish Hande, Senior Manager Finance VK Joby, Lead Designer Huda Jaffer, Joey Michael, Project Coordinator and Stephanie Jones, Grants Manager from SELCO’s partner organization Switzerland based, Good Energies visited a regular boat clinic camp conducted by the Kamrup Boat Clinic team on 3rd November 2016 . With water levels subsiding, it was a short boat ride and then a walk of about over 7 kms both ways for the visitors including wading through a river channel. The health team had already proceeded earlier to the camp site in the river island village and the visitors got to witness the camp while it was almost half way through. Programme Manager Ashok Rao and Communications Officer Bhaswati Goswami from C–NES regional office,Guwahati accompanied the visitors. The camp was held at Bhokuamari Char/island under Chhaygaon Block of Kamrup (Rural) district. The island has a population of around 1600 people and the inhabitants are engaged mainly in agriculture and cattle rearing.

The camp continued for three and half hours. The team observed the work of the Boat Clinic and interacted with Boat Clinic team, ASHAs and with the villagers. They also inspected the Boat Clinic and discussed with the team members about the equipment’s used and power required. It may be mentioned that SELCO Foundation has already donated a 50 ltrs solar ILR (Surechill) (manufactured by Godrej & Boyce) to be used for the Tinsukia Boat Clinic Unit. Officials from SELCO including Adritha Subbiah Senior Analyst, Policy Team and .Dipayan Sarkar, Projects Head visited Jorhat Boat Clinic on 9th July 2016, to make an assessment of the solar power requirement. Based on the assessment SELCO has accordingly taken up the Jorhat Boat Clinic as a pilot project for its solar requirement .

Solar Electric Light Company, India or SELCO India is a social enterprise founded in 1995 based in Bengaluru,India. SELCO has played an instrumental role in improving living standards of poor households in rural India especially in the state of Karnataka through solar energy based interventions and low smoke cook stoves. In recognition of the services towards reduction of the gap in access to energy, the organization has been awarded the prestigious Ashden Awards (also known as the Green Oscars) twice, in years 2005 and 2007. CEO Harish Hunda was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2011 for “his pragmatic efforts” to put solar power technology in the hands of the poor, through his social enterprise SELCO India.

“Very honoured to be here for the extraordinary work you all have been doing. Let us work together and change the way health is delivered ! Thanks so much” were CEO Harish Hande’s comments in the Visitors Book

With water levels subsiding, it was a short boat ride and then a walk of about over 7 kms both ways for the visitors including wading through a river channel.

Screening of Rambuai

Rambuai, Mizoram’s Trouble Years’ a film by C-NES Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika and Trustee Preeti Gill premiered on October 20, 2016  at the Royal Group of Institutions, Betkuchi, Guwahati to a packed hall . The film was screened as part of the River Talks – North East literary Festival organized by the Royal group of Institutions and North East Writers’ Forum. Post screening followed an energetic round of question and answers. Maulee Senapati is the Director (Technical) of the film. This is the fourth documentary that he and Hazarika have collaboration on in the past 10 year: Children of the River, the Xihus of Assam; A Measure of Impunity and Where there are No Roads. The film has been supported by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung(HBF), New Delhi, which focuses on thematic areas such as climate, resources, gender in socio-economic policy, democratic governance, India as a global actor and promotes national and international dialogue processes with a view to enhance the diversity of green thinking.

This is the third partnership between C-NES and the Boll Foundation. The first in 2011 was a year-long project, ‘Bearing Witness: The Impact of Conflict on Women in Nagaland and Assam’ which included a film, ‘A Measure of Impunity”. The stories of women and their families who have suffered silently in the decades of conflicts between insurgents and Indian security forces – and between the idea of India and those who sought political and cultural spaces outside of it came alive in the film. The project included a Report and an exhibition of photographs by Kausiki Sarma. The second partnership project in 2013 was on “Poverty and funding in the North east: States of Assam and Mizoram” The study examined the relationship between central funds flow to the North East states and poverty with a focus on the drinking water and sanitation sector in Mizoram and Assam.

The film ‘Rambuai’ looks not just at the years of conflict and disturbances in this beautiful pocket of India, but also at the transition in mind-sets that has enabled peaceful change to endure, the resolve that drove the Indian State, and the challenges that remain. It gives voice to younger people who have only heard of the conflict through stories told by family elders. It raises questions about how ordinary people continue to struggle to cope with their experiences. It shows the wide-ranging effects of violence, different approaches to peace and peacemaking and how some key questions remain unaddressed.

The documentary and a book: After Decades of Silence, authored by Prof Margaret Zama and Dr. C Lalawmpuia Vanchaiu had its Premiere Screening and Book Release in the beautiful town of Aizawl, capital of Mizoram by Mr. Lalthanhawla Chief Minister on 14th September 2016. The film had its next screening on 5th October, 2016 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, to a full house. Senior citizens, Academicians, Journalists and students attended the screening and showed keen interest on the film and its research and requested for screenings in universities too. It was screened for the second time in Delhi on 16th December at the India International Centre.

The audience after each screening put forward their comments, suggestions and questions to and expressed that it is the first time that Mizo history during those troubled years and the atrocities that the common people had to undergo has been brought out in the form of a documentary after detailed research and congratulated the team for the efforts.

Post screening followed an energetic round of question and answers with the Producers Sanjoy Hazarika, Preeti Gill and Maulee Senapati, Director (Technical) of the film.

Visitors from Boll Foundation

A Team from the German Boll Foundation led by Dr. Axel Harneit-Sievers Country Director, India visited a Boat Clinic health camp conducted by the Kamrup Unit on 8th November 2016. Dr CR Hira, Technical Consultant and Bhaswati Goswami, Communications Officer from C-NES Guwahati office accompanied the team to camp.

The camp was held at Balagaon under Chhaygaon Block in Kamrup(rural)district of lower Assam with a population of about 1100 people inhabiting the island village. With the onset of winter and subsiding water level, it was a short boat ride. The camp was conducted on an open space on the bank of the river near where the boat was anchored. The Community workers from the team first gave an awareness session to the villagers on the importance of hand washing with a demonstration. Most health camps commence with such an awareness session followed by the regular health check ups. The camp continued for three hours. The guest team observed the camp and interacted with ASHA and villagers.

“It is a most inspiring and beautiful opportunity to be here. Your work, the island, the people and last but not the least the food we truly enjoyed it and we leant a lot about Assam today” said Dr. Axel Harneit-Sievers, Country Director, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, New Delhi after his visit.

Sadia Sohail,Program Co-ordinator, Bhaswati Goswami, Chok Tsering, Programme Coordinator, Babara Harneit-Sievers, Dr. Axel Harneit-Sievers, Country Director, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, New Delhi and Dr C Hira about to board the Boat Clinic.

Ships of Hope: Inspired by C-NES’ Work

A team of four from Heinrich Böll Foundation, India office had an opportune time and experience of Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research’s (C-NES) unique initiative of giving medical aid through boat  to the inhabitants of island villages on the Brahmaputra River in Assam. Most of the villagers are migrant populations in Assam and the boat clinics serve as the lifeline for their medical survival. Each ship has a team of 2 doctors, few nurses, laboratory technicians and community health workers. Overall, C-NES operates 15 boats along the Brahmaputra, serving more than 800,000 villagers. The team organizes health camps from time to time on the basics of health and hygiene along with their medical aid. The ships also serve as their link to the outside world and their hope to a better future. C-NES is a real large-scale provider of services to the far flung villagers in Assam.

Hats off to the team of C-NES!

Chok Tsering, Programme Coordinator, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, New Delhi

Workshop on Brahmaputra Knowledge Exchange, Itanagar

SaciWATERs in association with C-NES, IIT, Guwahati and Water Resources Department, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh conducted a three day workshop on Brahmaputra Knowledge Exchange under the project- “Building Capacity of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Communities for Effective Engagement in Trans boundary Decision-Making process of the Brahmaputra River” at Itanagar from 20th November to 22nd November 2016. C-NES’ Programme Manager Ashok Rao and Associate Programme Manager, Manik Ch. Boruah participated in the workshop. Dr. Lakhi Prasad Hazarika, Associate Professor, Department of Zoology, North Lakhimpur College made a brief presentation on river Subanshiri and Dr. Ghana Kanta Doley and Lilima Pegu (Doley) participated from Dehang (Siang) project area representing the Mising community. The workshop was also attended by a group of Govt. and Non Govt. representatives from both Assam and Arunachal Pradesh who shared their experiences and concerns over the issues related to the Brahmaputra basin. APM, Manik Ch. Boruah presented a paper titled- The Brahmaputra: Issues and Challenges- a holistic approach to resolve/address the problems through experiences and observations; a bird’s eye view. He also made a brief presentation in the workshop.

The objective of the workshop was to translate scientific and technical information on the Brahmaputra into a common and shared understanding about the river and bridge knowledge gap on science, policies and common perceptions on the Brahmaputra river.

The participants were given a field trip to Gerukamukh Lower Subansiri Hydro-Electric project site to get an idea about the controversial dam and which is being opposed by various groups of Assam. The team had an informal interaction with the NHPC official at the premise of its guest house.

C-NES at TISS (CSR) Workshop

Tata Institute of Social Sciences(TISS), a pioneer educational institution in social sciences with decades of experience in teaching, research, publications and field interventions  has come forward to host ‘National CSR Hub’ to support Public Sector Enterprises for developing  Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR)  management capacity. The hub carries out activities in a partnership mode i.e. TISS, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the concerned PSEs. In the rapidly evolving CSR pace of India the CSR professionals, NGO leaders need learning and sharing platforms to keep oneself abreast with developments and equip with required knowledge and skills. Hence TISS has initiated a series of learning workshops for corporates and non-profits on various aspects of CSR. The new Companies Act of 2013 mandates corporates to spend 2% of their profits on CSR activities.
The fourth regional capacity building workshop “Preparing for CSR Partnerships” for development partners of TISS North East Zone, was held at  Guwahati, Assam 28th and 29th November, 2016.

The workshop focussed on enhancement of knowledge and skills for fund raising, robust governance and organizational systems, financial management mechanisms, documentation and hand holding on proposal writing and building effective partnerships with donors and funder agencies. Dr CR Hira, Technical Consultant and Bhaswati Goswami, Communications Officer, C-NES attended the workshop.  Bhaswati Goswami was a panelist at the  panel discussion, “Why CSR? What CSR? How CSR?.’ Her co panelists were Prof. D.K. Shrivastava Deputy Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati campus, Sunder Singh Global Head, Oracle Practice,Enterprise Solutions, Tata Consultancy Services, S.N. Batliwalla Chartered Accountant.Advisor, Finance and Taxation, TISS,Secretary and Chief Accountant, Tata Trusts (Retd) Head, Finance, Empanelment Committee, National CSR Hub, TISS, Ruchira Gujral Private Sector Engagement Specialist, UNICEF India Sanjay Pradhan Associate, CSR, National Skill Development Corporation. The session was moderated by Rohan Sarma Head, Empanelment Committee, National CSR Hub. At the group activity session, Dr Hira  mentored the group working on Health and Sanitation along with  Bhaswati Goswami . Dr Hira shared his concerns about the the high MMR and IMR figures in Assam and the steps needed to counter these two  critical conditions.

C-NES-CHRI RTI workshop and Media

In collaboration with C-NES, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) organized an interaction with senior representatives of print and electronic media from across the North Eastern States on Right to Information Act (RTI) in Guwahati on 5th December 2016. The effort was to bring media persons into the RTI framework and to examine the impact and the nature of the challenges before the use of the Act, especially in the North-east. CHRI is committed to developing RTI as a tool by the media, use it to enable greater professionalism among journalists and help to press overall for greater transparency and governance. The media representatives agreed to promote awareness and the strategic use of RTI in the Northeastern states together with CHRI.

The welcome, introduction and overview of the objectives of the workshop were delivered by Sanjoy Hazarika, Director, CHRI while the keynote was given by by Mr. HS Das, Assam Chief Information Commissioner . Gangotri Hazarika Nath ,Project Officer,CHRI gave an overview of the use of RTI in the States of the NE One of the pioneers of RTI, Venkatesh Nayak of CHRI made a presentation on RTI and how it become a tool for better, more professional media work. Senior journalist Samudra Gupta Kashyap, spoke on “Using RTI: a journalist’s story” followed by Open Discussion focusing on challenges before journalists, RTI experiences from the field and how journalists are using RTI moderated by Sanjoy Hazarika. The workshop concluded with a crisp presentation by Dr.Subhajit Bhattacharjee, SRTL North East, WHO India. On Hidden statistics: Health, Poverty and the Media, WHO Representative. There were over 40 participants at the interactive work shop including journalists fro both the print and electronic media from the entire region

The RTI law in India has energized citizen activism, graduating from a mere abbreviation to a tool of empowerment of ordinary people who are using it on a daily basis to demand accountability and their rightful entitlements from governments. It is inspiring other countries in the neighborhood and across the world to similarly guarantee access to information held by public authorities.

Boat Clinic in Canada based documentary

DBcom Media from Montreal, Canada covered the Boat Clinic Jorhat unit as part of  The Island Diaries, a documentary series about island life around the world. The Island Diaries series runs on the French channel TV5 and Canada’s Knowledge Network before moving on to other channels and web platforms across the globe. Each episode of the series focuses on a different island and feature interviews with locals about what makes their island unique. The show aims to scratch the surface on daily life to explore themes such as getting to and from the island, provisions, identity, and environment to name a few.  Follows a report by Riturekha Baruah, DPO, Jorhat Boat Clinic Unit:
A report:

It was a wonderful opportunity for the Jorhat Boat Clinic to welcome DBCOM Media to a day long health camp organised at Bhekeli sapori of Majuli . The team comprised Sophie Fouron, Olivier, Mathieu Vachon and Syluain. Programme Manager C-NES, Ashok Rao was present and welcomed the team onboard along with Riturekha Baruah Phukan (DPO), Dr. Debanga Hazarika, Dr. Biswajit Sarmah and the entire team.
On 11th of December 2016, the team started journey from Nimati ghat at 7.30 am. Travelling in a referral boat, the media team caught up with the Jorhat Boat Clinic midstream. They documented the journey following the Boat Clinic. At 10 am, the team reached Bhekeli sapori. The community workers arranged the health camp at the river bank. Villagers flocked the camp for their check ups. Immunizations, Ante Natal check ups , general check ups were done. The documentary team covered the work done by Medical officers, ANMs, GNM, Laboratory tests, medicine distribution by the pharamacist. They also talked with the beneficiaries of Bhekeli sapori. The health team dropped the visitors at Kamalabari ghat where they covered others issues on island communities including the Vaishnavite Satras of Majuli, the art, culture, music of the island dwellers, covering Mishing tribal villages, their weaving culture. The one hour documentary will also include a talk with Padma Shri Jadav “Molai” Payeng, a Mishing environmental activist and forestry worker from the area. Over the course of several decades, he planted and tended trees on a sandbar of the river Brahmaputra turning it into a forest reserve . Said Sophie Fouron after witnessing the camp, ‘’Thank you so much for everything! Best clinic boat ever!’’ while Olivier said, “Amazing work, Amazing team, Amazing results! Keep it up! “Mathieu Vachon added , “Keep the good work and good luck for the future .Thanks for having us!’’and. Syluain said,’’ Your devotion is inspiring.’’


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