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By the Brahmaputra (Vol:2)


A Vision and the Reality

On July 3, 2008, at a packed hall in Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched Vision 2020, a compendium of various strategies, proposals and action plans for improving the condition of the NE Region and its people. The document has integrated work done by the National Institute for Public Finance and Policy as well as the extensive field level surveys by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in 2005-06 that reached 40,000 households in eight states in partnership with 20 civil society organizations. That latter project was mandated by the North Eastern Council, the regional planning body, and was an effort to develop a participatory approach to planning and program implementation. Such an effort, and on such a major scale, has not been done till date in the North-east and we were privileged to have been tasked with that mission. The NIPFP was asked to write a fresh report and took nearly two years for the same, without even initially consulting our basic document. It was only after I had pointed out at a meeting of that project’s Steering Committee that such a process that ignored the responses of such a large survey was unacceptable were the findings of the survey incorporated. After public discussions of the NIPFP document last year threw up sharp criticism of the same as being out of touch with the realities of the NER, I was asked by the Minister for the Development of the North Eastern region, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, to head a Task Force to “enrich” the basic document and give it a strong North-eastern connection. We completed our work in three months and the team included such distinguished figures as Dr. Jayanta Madhab, economic adviser to the Assam Chief Minister, Dr. Mahendra Lama, Vice-Chancellor, Sikkim University, Dr. Udayon Misra, who has just completed his tenure in Dibrugarh University, Dr. Lianzovi of Mizoram University and Ms. Patricia Mukhim, editor of the Shillong Times. Different members of the TF took different responsibilities and it was handed into the Minister, who then assigned a team of senior officials from his ministry to review the entire project. The final project is therefore a combination of several efforts, although much of the data and tables are from the NIPFP. The Minister referred warmly to C-NES’ survey and the efforts of the Task Force in his remarks at the launch of the project.

The Acknowledgements section also mentions the role of C-NES and the Task Force. Volume I of the report runs into 298 pages and covers a range of issues, from Catching up with the rest of the country and the growth rates required for the same to structural transformation, poverty eradication, maximizing self-governance, harnessing resources for people and strengthening infrastructure. It has proposed a practical approach to the Look East Policy, accelerating agricultural growth and developing sectors with comparative advantage.

Parts of our report have found their way in the final document although I am still to complete my perusal of the entire report. It has been uploaded onto the Ministry’s website and it is now up to various stakeholders, scholars, media and civil society groups to debate the issues therein and then move from informed debate to action, especially through developing a plan for implementation. The basic job has been done – now it is up to civil society groups keep up the pressure on governments and ensure that the vision is implemented through specific visible steps. It is especially heartening to note that our recommendation for creating monitoring mechanisms for projects in the North-east have been accepted and finds a prominent place in the first chapter. This is one of the most critical components of governance and will go a long way to giving people, deeply troubled by the extensive leakages of project funds, a sense of involvement in such programs and also force a sense of fiscal responsibility on governments. Indeed, as both the Planning Commission and the Vision 2020 say, it is time for inclusive growth through inclusive planning and governance.

Good News for the Gangetic Dolphin

One piece of good news was the announcement by Assam Chief Minster Tarun Gogoi on World Environment Day that the xihu or the Gangetic river dolphin would now be the State Aquatic Animal. This announcement will strengthen efforts at conservation and was partly a response to sustained efforts by C-NES for the declaration. The conservation of the highly endangered dolphin, through participatory efforts and weaning poachers away from hunting, has been one of the successes of a project we launched in 2006. Indeed, it is a great joy to report that as a result of the work by our team of Manik Boruah and Bhaskar Jyoti Saud and the Binn community in Dhubri district, western Assam, which has embraced conservation, groups of dolphins have started emerging again after a gap of several years at Dhubri ghat, secure in the knowledge that they are safe. Our efforts now must to be develop Dolphin Protection Areas, another goal of our project, to involve local communities not just in protection but in ensuring that the dolphin remains at the core of eco-tourism programs and development since it is at the apex of river ecology. The former hunters have shown the way but they have done so because they are finding a benefit in conservation: their catch has improved three times with alternative oil for fish bait, instead of dolphin oil. So have their incomes. Thus, if eco-tourism and home stays benefit local communities by the river side, they will have a stake in developing protected areas for dolphins outside of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. That is why we have focused so much on building awareness among school children and young adults because they will teach the older generation about protecting the environment. The Children’s Summit on Dolphins was a big success as the news letter says and we plan to have more of these in the future. But in the meantime, please sign on to our Save Dolphin signature campaign. We want more than 10,000 signatures which we will then send to the Union Environment Minister.

New Communications Officer

This news letter has been largely compiled by our new Communications Officer, Ms. Bhaswati Goswami, with inputs from Sandeep Vats, my assistant, in New Delhi. Bhaswati has studied in Shillong, Itanagar, Kolkata and New Delhi and wrote for local media before joining us. Her editing skills are a great help in putting numerous reports by our field staff especially into shape.

Sanjoy Hazarika Managing Trustee

Programme Highlights

1. Children’s Summit (4, 5 June 2008)

Coinciding with the World Environment Day (June 5), C-NES organized a two day State Children’s Summit with the theme – “Save the river dolphin,” at Guwahati’s Shilpagram. For two days Guwahati played host to nearly 300 school children from across the state – more than half coming from remote villages. The idea behind organizing this unique summit was to involve and mobilize the students and youth in the process of conservation of wildlife and natural resources- to focus attention on the grave threat to the very existence of the river dolphins.

Marked by (environment based) essay writing, drawing and quiz competitions, the summit witnessed a unique and vigorous interactive session between the State Chief Minister, Shri Tarun Gogoi, and the students at an hour- long programme where young boys and girls grilled the political leader on issues as varied as global warming, waste management and cutting of trees for highway construction. Guwahati residents further witnessed a colourful march across the heart of the city by these school children with thought provoking banners calling for protection of the dolphin locally called the xihu. A signature campaign for the same was undertaken by the participants, signed initially by the state Chief Minister. This is a continuous campaign, covering six districts of the state- so far over 1000 signatures have been collected.

The documentary “Children of the River, the Xihus of Assam,” C-NES’s major tool for this campaign was screened at the summit and watched with keen interest by the young crowd.

A press meet for the same was organized at the Guwahati Press Club where Mr. Sanjoy Hazarika, C-NES’ Managing Trustee addressed the media along with Dr Sanchita Baruah, Lecturer, Kanoi College, Dibrugarh, Mr. Rashad ul Islam, Lecturer,Cotton College, Guwahati both from the Department Of Zoology, Mr. Manik Boruah, Enterprise Specialist and Mr. Bhaskar Saud, Project Officer, C-NES. The progamme received wide media coverage in Doordarshan, local channels NETV, Newslive and in leading dailies such as the Assam Tribune, Indian Express, The Times of India and vernacular papers like Amar Axom, Dainik Batori and Axomiya Khabar.

The summit was financially supported by Airtel, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s fund), ABITA (Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association), NEDFI (North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd), CEE (Centre for Environmental education, North East) and ASTEC (Assam Science Technology and Environmental Council) among others. Further, NEDFI donated caps, Airtel donated T Shirts, caps and umbrellas, CEE donated the books which were awarded to the winners of the Quiz show along with the light refreshment served to the participants of the awareness march.

2. New status for the River Dolphin

C-NES’ sustained campaign for the cause of this highly endangered species brought significant results. On June 5, World Environment Day, the Assam Chief Minister, Shri Tarun Gogoi declared it as the State Aquatic Animal at a public function and referred to the organization’s efforts, specifically those of Mr. Hazarika, and his interaction with the school children at the Summit the previous day. “We have to learn from them,” the Chief Minister said, describing how impressed he was with the questions from the children and their focus on environmental issues.

3. Alternative Livelihoods /Self Help Groups (SHG’s)

The Ford Foundation funded C-NES’ project on “Promoting Conservation: Saving the Gangetic dolphins, creating Livelihoods, eco –tourism” as part of a bigger study on livelihoods continues to bring about gradual economic transformation to rural groups in three districts of Assam- Kamrup, Dhubri and Tinsukia.

Small grants to SHG’s especially women have activated these groups onto backing dolphin conservation as also improved economic empowerment. The SHG’s are into weaving, goat rearing, poultry rising and piggery. This is a new source of income. A total of 51 SHG groups have been formed so far.

4. Dairy programme

There is also an ongoing livestock survey in Dibrugarh, Dhemaji and Darrang conducted by C-NES workers. At Dhemaji a camp was conducted for dairy animal vaccination cum treatment. Local youth and dairy farmers are being periodically trained in basic veterinary treatments and Clean Milk Production (CMP) at the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) Siliguri.

5. Eco-Tourism

Kukurmara in Kamrup, about 40 km west of Guwahati developed as a tourist spot by C-NES, welcomes tourists to come and view dolphins on the Kulsi, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Local entrepreneurs and SHG groups have set up here an interpretation centre, boats for taking tourists about as well as huts for brief breaks and accommodation. Traditional handloom based on Eri, the “vegetarian” silk and other products are popular with the tourists, increasing local incomes.

6. NRHM and Boat Clinics

C-NES has been providing health services to the marginalized communities on the river islands of the Brahmaputra, people who do not have any access to health, through boat clinics. These “ships of hope” as they have aptly been called, continues with as much vigour and commitment braving adverse weather conditions, as earlier in the five districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Dhubri and Morigaon . Along with providing health services, training and awareness on health, sanitation, livestock care and education are also provided.

The Boat Clinics function with extensive support from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Government of Assam, and are a fine example of good Public Private Partnership whose activities have found a good response at the national and international level. UNICEF is also supporting the program in Dibrugarh district where it is working with C-NES on a school outreach program to cover children who have dropped out of school on the islands.

Each district has a health team of 14 members led by the District Community Organizer (DCO). At present, 12-15 camps are held in each of the saporis or islands. In one camp on an average, there are 150-200 general health check ups and 20 –30 immunizations. Women and children remain the main beneficiaries with ante and postnatal care (ANC, PNC) and immunizations for children being the main thrust areas. Till date (mid February to 30 June 2008) our health teams have covered 114 villages on 95 islands. Further there have been 32,673 general health check ups, 2808 routine immunizations, 1297 family planning, 1054 pre-pregnancy check-ups and 380 post delivery check-ups.

Changes in attitude

Our health teams have noticed a distinct change in attitude, with increasing numbers of young mothers with babies clinging to their backs coming to the immunization centers. Continuous visits and interactions with residents have created this transformation. Gone are the days when the very idea of an immunization team coming to their homes was met with hostility. There are frequent instances of women coming to the doctors and saying that they want family planning because they do not want any more children and are aware of the dangers this poses to their health. At the end of most camps, the medical officers conduct an interactive session where they speak of the need for family planning, the importance of women’s health and that of spacing children. Their audience listens in rapt interest.

7. Review Meetings and expert visits

Coordination meetings, visits by experts and refresher meets are regular features of the Boat Clinics.

1. In April 2008 there was an Orientation Meet for the Boat Clinic in Dibrugarh. Ms. Ajaita Shah, President Swayam Krishi Sangam (SKS) Foundation, Hyderabad and New York, was one of the main resource persons. She talked about the idea of combining micro credit with health care and said that the concept of health insurance should be popularized in the saporis and the ships could be used in this communication process. C-NES Managing Trustee, Mr Sanjoy Hazarika presided over the sessions attended by the entire C-NES staff.

2. In May 2008, a District Coordination Meeting was held in Morigaon chaired by the Deputy Commissioner of the district where the activities of the Boat clinic in the district for the last three months was presented by the District Community Organizer of Morigaon.

3. In June 2008 , Mr Chaman Lal, Trustee of C-NES, and former Special Rapporteur at the National Human Rights Commission and also former DGP, Nagaland, visited Dibrugarh and Tinsukia to review the activities of the Boat Clinics and interacted at length with staff and district authorities as well as NRHM.

8. Education

C-NES has launched an education initiation from February 2008 with UNICEF support- that of up scaling education with reference to school dropouts in the char/saporis of Dibrugarh. Children who are dropouts have been identified in the project location. The main activities that are being conducted are bridge courses, starting four feeder schools, training of teachers and setting up of a school library in the existing schools. The Education Officer is Ms. Jurimoni Gogoi of Digboi.

The thrust of the project is on including children from all social groups, working with the community to generate ownership of schools and encouraging community engagements in activities relating to schools and education.

9. Internship Programme

The KCCI “Knowledge Community on Children in India” is an initiative of UNICEF India that aims to promote information sharing on policies and programmes relating to children in India. In partnership with the Government of India, UNICEF seeks to fill gaps in the knowledge base in terms of implementing successful programmes for children. For this, there are UNICEF interns coming from different universities from the country and abroad to work on development issues relating to India’s women and children.

C-NES is partnering the implementation of the program, mentoring support for both health and education initiatives. Four interns from different universities (from both India and abroad) are in to Dibrugarh from June 1, 2008. C-NES is enabling the interns to complete research on the boat clinic program to ensure improved access to health and education on the river islands of Dibrugarh district and providing necessary logistic support and coordinating field visits for completing the internship. The interns are – Gabriel William Forrey from Yale University, US, Nino Gvetadze from Groningen University, The Netherlands, Ruchirang Goswami, Sardar Patel University, Vallabh, Vidyanagar, Gujarat and Jina Joan D’Cruz from the Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai .

Two other students, Liz Gross of Tufts University, and Anjali Krishnan of Singapore National University, took part in a briefer version of the program (June 1- June 20) and were sent by their universities. Ms. Gross came through the International Global Leadership program of Tufts with which Mr. Hazarika has been associated for over 14 years. Ms. Gross later interned with the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, on the publication, Down to Earth. This has been facilitated by Mr. Hazarika, who is the Chairman of the Governing Board of Down to Earth.

10. Itanagar Workshop

A workshop on the Look East Policy at Itanagar, capital of Arunachal Pradesh, which was scheduled to be held on the 12th of June 2008 was postponed and is likely to be held later in the year. The postponement was caused by the refusal of student organizations to allow Shri Hazarika to enter the state saying that he had called for the repeal of the Inner Line Permit. Shri Hazarika said he had not made any such statement but, given the position of the organizations and on the advice of local organizers, the workshop was postponed. Shri Hazarika’s team had included Dr. M. Rajarethnam of the Asian Dialogue Society of Singapore; Mr. MP Bezbaruah, former Union Tourism Secretary, and Mr. Lal Pudaite, former IFS and former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar and Bosnia.

11. Media Fellowship

The second UNHCR- CNES Media Fellowship 2008 was awarded to the Guwahati-based freelance journalist Ratna Bharali Talukdar. Ms. Talukdar, who has won a number of national and regional awards for her reporting, will work on the project “The need for a Refugee Specific Legislation in India with special reference to Chakma and Hajong Refugees of Arunachal.” and will hold the fellowship for three months i.e. 1 June to 31 August 2008. The first fellowship went to another North-eastern reporter, Nava Thakuria of Guwahati.

12. Publications

  1. Ships of Hope (Brochure)

  2. Save the River Dolphin (Souvenir for the Children’s Summit, available from Guwahati and New Delhi offices)

  3. The North East File – a compilation of news clippings and articles from the North east print media.(to be out in July)

Appointments and meetings of Managing Trustee, Shri Sanjoy Hazarika:

April 2008

5 April 2008 – Attended seminar at India International Centre on ‘The recent events on Tibet: Implications for India” chaired by Mr Kanwal Sibal, former Foreign Secretary.

20 April 2008 – Attended dinner for Swedish Ambassador in Guwahati, hosted by Dr. Jayanta Madhab, Economic Adviser to the Chief Minister of Assam along with Finnish and Danish Ambassadors and their spouses

21 April 2008 (Guwahati) Discussions with Ms. Jeroo Master, State Representative, UNICEF, about the Knowledge Community on Children in India (KCCI) and UNICEF internship programme; also present were Mr. Sanjay Sharma of C-NES, Dr. Ajay Trakru of UNICEF and Ms. Deepa Das, also of UNICEF (UNICEF office)

May 2008

1 May 2008– Attended lecture at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi by HE Mr. Esfandayar Rahim Mashaei, Vice President of Iran and subsequently met with Vice-Chancellor Dr Mushirul Hasan to discuss the setting up on a Centre for North East Studies at the University, which has been approved by the University’s Academic Council.

2 May 2008 – Meeting with Dr. Meena Radhakrishna, Director Research, National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi- nomadic tribes- Ministry of social Justice and empowerment: C-NES Office, New Delhi

3 May 2008 – Meeting with Shri Biswajit Saikia of the National Commission for the Unorganized Sector.

9 May 2008 – Meeting with Dr. Pervez Ahmad, Director, Max Hospitals,New Delhi, to discuss the possibility of a partnership with C-NES on health issues.

12 May 2008 – Meeting with the VC Dibrugarh University, Dr. Kandarpa Kalita.

15-17 May 2008 – Seminar on “Revising the North East” at Shillong organized by Divya Jeevan Foundation Society.

June 2008

3-5 June 2008 – State Level Children’s Summit on “Save the River Dolphin” organized by C-NES at Shilpagram, Guwahati.

7 June 2008 (Dibrugarh) – Dinner hosted for Mr Robin Borthakur, Additional Chairman, Bharatiya Cha Parishad and UNICEF Interns.

13 June 2008, Guwahati: attended the presentation ceremonies of Srimanta Sankardeva Award to Shri BG Verghese, eminent journalist.

15 June, Guwahati- Meeting with Shri Tarun Gogoi, Assam Chief Minister

16 June 2008, Guwahati- Attended the launch of the Branch Office of the Ministry of External Affairs in Guwahati which was addressed by Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Minister for External Affairs, Shri. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Minister, MDoner, Shri O. Ibobi Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur and Shri Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Assam

30 June, New Delhi- First meeting of Centre–State Commission, chaired by Justice MM Punchhi and of the Task Force on National Security, chaired by Shri Ved Marwah at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi.

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