By the Brahmaputra: (Vol: 12)

By the Brahmaputra ( Vol: 12)
C-NES Newsletter
(For the quarter October – December 2010)


Whispering pines no more: Shillong dying

Twenty years ago, even 10-15 years back, I would have placed Shillong, my home town, as one of the prettiest hill stations in the country.  Not any longer. The city is an absolute mess, a concrete jungle with a few pockets of green. Its streets are overwhelmed by the stench of vehicle fumes and traffic is one long nightmarish jam, especially around school opening and closing times.

In the daytime, trucks ply unhindered through these crowded streets carrying coal, consumer goods, vegetables and heavy machinery, because for a quarter century, the state government, the National Highway authorities and private land owners have been unable to agree on the routing and compensation for the “Shillong bypass,” so appropriately named for it is only a bypass that could save the city from a massive coronary attack.

Shillong, once the “Scotland of the East”, with its valleys and hills, its streams and golf course, its wonderful old wooden bungalows and striking natural scenery in the districts around, is gasping for breath, and no one seems to be bothered – not the government, editors and civil society.

In fact, this is a key campaign that civil society organizations – and there are so many of them in the North-east need to launch, in partnership with the Government. Shillong may be the capital of Meghalaya but it is the pride of the North-east. To restore it to health will take a joint effort. For that to happen, concerned citizens, professional bodies, researchers and individuals from across the North-east with connections to Shillong – and they will be elsewhere in India and across the world — need to pool their ideas, resources and plan on specific, sustainable strategies.

How is this to be done: first document, research (although many already know the reasons and it’s rooted in human greed) and strategize on the problems of the city in separate sectors – traffic management, stopping destruction of the trees and scientific replanting, curbing the rush to build, better water and sanitation, cleaner streets with proper dustbins and regular clearing by municipal trucks.

But opposition by influential groups has successfully blocked plans for municipal elections. However, even to clear the garbage, the city needs a specific, responsive and responsible government – neither the Autonomous District Council nor the traditional dorbars nor a bunch of bureaucrats nor the State Government can deliver. Politicians spend time feathering their own nests.

This needs to be thought through carefully. Without a stake by the people, can a city be governed? There is a solution: the Constitution has enough flexibility to legislate a permanent majority for the Scheduled Tribes in the governance of the city. This should be ensured. But it cannot happen by depriving some residents of representation on the basis of their ethnicity. This would violate the principle of equality before the law and the basis of the Constitution.

Across the world, city and town councils work well because they function on adult franchise. Gangtok, Shimla and other hill stations are competently run, clean and pleasant to walk around in with are pedestrian zones where no vehicles are allowed; tourist traffic is growing. But Shillong is growing without planning either for the present or the future.

Thousands of tourists crowd its shops, lanes and markets and dash to Cherrapunji of the fabled rain and falls and elsewhere and congregate noisily for food and fun. But with its carrying capacity failing, without a sense of ownership by its people and visitors, the city is on the verge of collapse.

Apart from the crisis facing the city, the highway from Guwahati to Shillong is pock marked with long patches of dusty broken road. Drivers careen crazily across bends and race each other in a mad rush, endangering passengers and villagers. And now I have seen the future of this once green and pleasant road – the National Highway of India is smashing its way through hill sides and old jungles to build a four lane. The NHAI can’t maintain the existing two lane, the bypass for Shillong isn’t in place and won’t be for some time. The four-lane will choke the city to death?

Jairam Ramesh, our lone environmental warrior in the Government of India probably isn’t aware of this. His office in Shillong should brief him and he should pay a visit to see what is happening to one of the most beloved hill stations of our land. This reckless destruction must be challenged.

The goal is simple, the slogan is clear: Save Shillong.

Sanjoy Hazarika
Managing Trustee

( From his column in The Shillong Times published on 13.12.2010)

NRL supports C-NES

As part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) announced a sponsorship amount of Rs. 12 lakhs for the Centre of North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES) to support its innovative boat clinic initiative in Assam. The first installment of Rs. 4 lakhs was handed over by MD NRL Dr. B. K Das to C- NES Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika in September 2010. The NRL donated Boat Clinic is likely to be placed at Sonitpur district of Assam

“We are delighted to welcome NRL as our newest partner in this mission of taking sustained health care and other development services to this excluded population. Ours is primarily a partnership with the National Rural Health Mission of the State Government but we have important support from the public sector units such as Oil India Ltd and members of the tea industry as also from an international organization such as UNICEF.” said C-NES Managing Trustee and journalist of national repute, Sanjoy Hazarika.

The MD NRL, Dr BP Das( in black suit) handing over the first installment to Mr Sanjoy Hazarika, MT, C-NES

Consultation on upscaling education initiative

C-NES in association with UNICEF, Assam organized a statewide consultation on “Upscaling of C-NES-UNICEF education initiative in the char/saporis of Assam” at Guwahati on 24th September, 2020, at the Indian Institute of Bank Management (IIBM), Khanapara. The consultation was attended by Ms LS Changsan, Mission Director, Sarba Shiksha Abhigyan (SSA), Assam and Commissioner Higher Education, Ms Jeroo Master, Chief, Field Office, UNICEF, Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee C-NES, Patricia Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times and Social Activist, Dr Jayanta Madhab, Economist and former Advisor to the Assam Chief Minister, Papori Boruah, senior consultant, Alternative School, SSA Technical Support Group among others. Officials from SSA, UNICEF, teachers from schools in the river islands and community members were also present.

C-NES’ education initiative which begun in February 2008 with UNICEF support involves upscaling education with reference to school dropouts in islands of Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur. Under the initiative children of the river islands have been able to attend regular schools through the innovative concept of Feeder schools (developed and run by the communities in a particular area and attached to a nearby Government school) and the dropouts rates have been significantly reduced in the respective areas. As the education initiative has been a success in both districts, C-NES in association with UNICEF Assam, proposes to forge a partnership with SSA to upscale the model to similar riverine areas in other districts where the Boat Clinic health initiative is operating with support of the Boat Clinic.

“Our experience from these two districts is that despite difficulties we can tap both the social capital of people in developing and running of these schools as well as connect children to feeder schools to the education process on the mainland” said Sanjoy Hazarika. “UNICEF is a mentor to us” he further added.

(Seated from left) Ms Jeroo Master, Chief, Field Office, UNICEF, Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee C-NES, Ms LS Changsan, Mission Director, Sarba Shiksha Abhigyan (SSA), Assam and Commissioner Higher Education at the consultation

A section of the participants at the consultation. On the forefront (sitting left) is Patricia Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times, Social Activist, and C-NES Trustee

Orientation for new C-NES members

An orientation meet was organized by C-NES on 25 September, 2010 at Guwahati for the new members joining the Boat Clinic Project which has ( since August 2010) been up scaled to include five new units – Goalpara, Dhubri, Barpeta, Bongaigaon and Kamrup, making it a total of 13 districts and 15 units. The meeting was attended by Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika, Trustees Dr Jayanta Madhab and Dr Mahfuza Rahman, Advisory Council member, Dileep Chandan, Dr. P. N. Bora, State Programme Manager(SPM) of NRHM, Dr Ajay Thakroo, Project Officer (Health) UNICEF and Dr Sandeep Ghosh, SPM, NRHM besides the newly recruited staff from the units and members of PMU.

After an introductory session by Programme Manager Ashok Rao, the Managing Trustee, Mr Sanjoy Hazarika welcomed the new members to the organization. He said the new members would have to work with passion to restore the faith of the people in themselves and in governance. “Sustained health care is a basic human right which we will be delivering,” he said. Sanjay Sharma, Associate Programme Manager who has been associated with the organization since its inception, spoke about C- NES, the organizations initial projects and collaborations, the ‘AKHA’ health initiative and how this successful innovative concept was up scaled from a single district to 13 districts now, covering more than three lakh marginalized people with sustained health service.

Manik Boruah, Assistant Programme Manager spoke about the Community Radio Station (CRS) initiative of C- NES with UNICEF support. Bhaswati Goswami, Communications Officer, C-NES spoke on the importance of good reporting and documentation.

C-NES Trustee Dr Mahfuza Rahman speaking at the orientation. Sitting (from left) Trustee Dr Jayanta Madhab, Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika and Advisory Council member, Dileep Chandan.

Boat Clinics formally launched in new districts of Assam

C-NES in Partnership with National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Government of Assam, formally launched five new Boat Clinics in Kamrup, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Barpeta and Dhubri districts of Assam between 21 to 30 October 2010. Shri P.K.Goswami, Deputy Commissioners of Goalpara inaugurated the Goalpara boat clinic at Chunari Ghat. In Dhubri the Boat Clinic was inaugurated by Shri Jatindra Lahkar, Deputy Commissioner at Kachari ghat. The Additional Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup, Shri Manik Sharma inaugurated the boat clinic at Chaygaon Gumi ghat. Dr Subhash Mazumdar, Joint Director of Health Services inaugurated the Barpeta Boat Clinic at Mandia ghat while Dr. B. Devnath, Sub Divisional Medical & Health Officier, Boitamari PHC inaugurated the Bongaigaon Boat Clinic at Boitamari ghat.

District Program Managers of all five units were present in the inaugural function in their respective districts besides other officials from the District Health Department and NRHM of all the five districts were present. The local people of the river islands and from the ghats attended the inaugural function. Members of Panchayats, ASHAs, Anganwadi Workers, and School Teachers also attended the inaugural programme. Ashok Rao, Programme Manager; Sanjay Sharma, Associate Programme Manager; and Manik Ch. Boruah, Assistant Programme Manager attended the inaugural programmes from C- NES.

The health team members of the newly inaugurated Goalpara Boat Clinic

MoEF Scientist visits dolphin site

Dr. S.C. Katiyar, senior scientist from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, north east regional office, Shillong visited Kukurmara on 30 September 2010, to prepare a report on the proposed distillery unit- “N.V. Distilleries and Breweries Ltd” at Rampur village, near the Kulsi river at Kukurmara.

Dr. Katiyar’s visit follows a meeting between Sanjoy Hazarika, Managing Trustee, C-NES, and Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State (Independent charge) for Environment and Forests, in New Delhi where Mr. Hazarika stressed the need to ensure full protection to the dolphins and to people’s livelihoods. Mr. Jairam assured Mr. Hazarika that he would pursue the issue and take firm action, whenever warranted.

The dolphins, locally known as the xihu, were declared Assam’s state Aquatic Animal in 2008, a status that C-NES lobbied for specifically; it is now also the National Aquatic Animal. The conservation of the highly endangered dolphin, through participatory efforts and weaning poachers away from hunting, has been a unique success story of a C-NES project supported by the Ford Foundation during 2006-2009.

During his visit, Dr. Katiyar said that the Dolphin and the Ground water scarcity will be a major concern if the plant develops and that he would submit an impartial report based on his observations and anyone could procure a copy of the same by filing an RTI .

Dr. Katiyar at the project site accompanied by villagers and staff from the proposed plant.

Brahmaputra Expedition 2010 collaborates with C-NES

An international team traversing the Brahmaputra from Tibet through North-east India into Bangladesh collaborated with C-NES, in the sector of community heath in October 2010. The focus of this collaboration was to explore initial support for rapid emergency evacuation of patients from remote inaccessible habitations in Brahmaputra with fast-motorized inflatable boats.

The expedition’s primary objectives, as with all other river expeditions undertaken by Andy Leemann earlier, have been to establish greater focus worldwide on river ecology, as well as the livelihood and culture of people who live on and by the river. It is also exploring the possibility of promoting eco-responsible tourism, sustainable livelihoods for people who live by the rivers and long term measures for conserving ecological capital.

The expedition team along with Amrit Bora of CNES attended a health camp at Aichung sapori, an island on the Brahmaputra. On 10 November 2010, the expedition members interacted with about 30 journalists at the Guwahati Press Club, an event organized by C-NES. Thanking C-NES for collaborating with the Expedition, Andy Leemann said boat clinics were providing a great service but highlighted the need for speedier and faster boats to increase their reach.

Ande Leeman briefing the press at the camp

Intern visits Boat Clinics

Sarika Jhunjhunwala, a Post Graduate student in Media Management at International School of Business Media, Kolkota visited the Boat Clinic districts of Dhubri, Morigaon, Nalbari and Tinsukia on a 45 day internship programme in Oct- Nov 2010. Her visit was to study the “Role of Dhais (midwives) in the reduction of Maternal Mortality Rate and Infant Mortality Rate”. (It needs mention that Assam has India’s worst Maternal Mortality rate at 480, higher than Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, and a high Infant Mortality Rate). During the course of her study she conducted interviews with Dhai’s and ASHAs to enable her to blend practice and theory. She was exposed to various island communities whereby she observed current trends of delivering a child visiting the camp sites accompanying the medical teams during regular camps.

Awareness Camp at Morigaon and Barpeta

An awareness camp was organized by the Morigaon Boat Clinic in October 2010 at the Pithakhaiti Char where about 300 people were present. People from the nearby char villages – Pithakhaiti-II, Hahchara and Kalair also participated in the programme. People were informed earlier about the camp through community workers, ASHAs and AWWs. It was the team’s fifth mega awareness programme since commencement of the Boat Clinic health program in Morigaon where along with imparting awareness on general health issues like importance of immunization, ante-natal, post-natal care, exclusive breast feeding, family planning, sanitation and personal hygiene, sports events to keep the children and their guardians attending the meet entertained, were also organized. Video clippings promoting breast feeding, family planning and immunization were shown.

A similar awareness camp was held at Barpeta’s Uzir Ghat in November 2010 where over 2000 people were present along with school teacher and Dewani(village head). To help the team in this awareness drive, the SDM & HO from Mandia BPHC, Family Planning coordinator from NRHM accompanied the team. The GP President, GP member, ASHA and ASHA facilitator of Uzir Char, East / West Mowkhoa and Dhuler Char were present.

The team set off at 8 AM from Manikpur ghat. After a nearly three and half hour journey reached the camp venue- the high school at Uzir Char on bicycles- 10 such cycles were uesd for the 2 mile ride. A stage was erected for the meeting in the school field where the crowd had gathered. The SDM & HO requested the new mothers to ensure that their infants get proper health check ups and timely immunization. Pregnant women were told about the importance of ANC, PNC check ups and the need for institutional delivery. The FP Coordinator gave an awareness talk on the need for adopting modern family planning methods and to reduce the family size for a better future.

Dhemaji team assists in  delivery

The Boat Clinc health outreach programme reaches out to the state’s vulnerable population who live on islands on the Brahmaputra with a special focus on women and children. Providing ANC, PNC checkups along with advocating institutional deliveries has been priority with the health teams, crucial for a state like Assam which has India’s worst Maternal Mortality rate at 480, higher than Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, and a high Infant Mortality Rate

During September 2010,the Medical Officers of Dhemaji Boat Clinic, Dr Santanu Gogoi and Dr Dipankar Mall Gogoi assisted by the rest of the Boat Clinic health team successfully attended to and helped in conducting two normal deliveries. The first was at Lamba Mishing sapori village—where Konika Pegu, aged 25, delivered a healthy male baby at 9.30 am. The second was at Koilawali sapori village where Taramai Burman, 20 years, delivered a male baby at 1.30 pm Since the woman’s blood group was RH negative , the doctors referred the case to FRU.

PFI orientation

C-NES’ Population Foundation of India project organized a sensitization meeting  and orientation programme for ASHAs, CBO members, PRI members and other stake holders i.e. teachers, Anganwadi workers on November 2, 2010 at Na- Ali village, Pub Telahi Panchayat in Lakhimpur district. 38 people participated in the event which was run by Manik Ch. Boruah, Asst. Programme Manager, C-NES, and Chandana Bora, Project Coordinator.

Mr. Boruah spoke about the programme’s objectives while Dr. Nayanmoni Dutta and Dr. Debasish Koushi, Medical Officers at the Lakhimpur Boat Clinic briefly described different methods of family planning and STI and RTI. The interactive session also heard Ms. Bora stress the importance of family planning.

The effort is part of the project’s Information Education Communication (IEC) and behavorial change programmes that seek to tackle the challenges and confusion caused by the continuance of superstition on this sensitive and critical social and developmental issue. The participants showed keen interest in the issues and many of them said they would work to convince and encourage other villagers to adopt family planning for a stabler future.

A youth from Na- Ali village of Pub Telahi GP under Telahi Development Block of Lakhimpur district sharing his thoughts in the PFI programme for stakeholders on Family Planning. On the Dias- from left Ms. Chandana Bora, State Advocacy & FP Coordinator; Manik Ch. Boruah, Asst Programme Manager; Dr. Debasish Koushik and Dr. Nayanmoni Dutta, MO, Lakhimpur Boat Clinic.

Health camp at Goalpara: A report

Ashok Rao, Programme Manager C-NES reports on recent visit to a health camp conducted by the newly initiated Goalpara Boat Clinic:

The Goalpara Boat Clinic office is setup at Lakhipur, a small town in the district and is about 42 km from the National Highway 52 bordering Meghalaya.  The road from Agia town through which the diversion from NH 52 is taken meanders through small hillocks and reaches a stretch of dusty road under repair till we reached Lakhipur. To reach the ghat we traveled further through crowded market places with narrow roads  (people hardly giving way for the vehicle). The Boat Clinic is operating from Chunari ghat, about 12 km from Lakhipur. The original ghat on the embankment has shifted further away as the Brahmaputra has receded. The driver had to carefully maneuver the vehicle through soft sandy soil. The boat had just arrived after having dropped the health team at the camp site. The District Programme Officer, Monoranjan Sutradhar came to pick me up for the camp. I had carried life jackets for the team from Guwahati and the packet was loaded onto the boat. We traveled for 30 minutes and reached Patakata char part 1 (it was 12: 50 pm then) where the camp was going on. The team had arranged the camp in an open area.

This char has a population of around 1500 and habitation is in clusters (20 to 25 houses). The population of the char is of minority community and has settled from 1998/1999 migrating mainly from nearby Dhubri district. Their main occupation is cultivation with some fishing. Whatever they produce is sold in the market in Lakhipur or Chapar in Dhubri district. Erosions during yearly floods is a main concern for most. The elders of the village informed that a large portion of land has been swept away during the last floods. Many had to migrate to other areas. One LP school exists in the char and children willing to study further has to travel 7/8 km to reach the ME school located in another char. Goalpara district has no panchayat system due to disturbances in the last Panchayat elections. This char has a village committee which is formed mainly to look into matters related to land issues and settling disputes within the community. The lone ASHA in the char has completed 5 module training and she complained that pregnant women were not willing to go in for institutional delivery. I informed her that we would give training to the Dhai’s (midwives) from the char area which will help her work to a great extent and she should therefore continue to work and provide awareness for better health of the community.

The Diwani (village head), elders and youths requested me to have 2 camps at different sites in this char as the area is big and the sick, elderly and children will have to walk long distances to come to this camp site. I assured them that we will assess the need for the same and will do the needful. The camp ended at 3:30 pm, people continued to pour in for treatment including a young child who was brought with fever and was diagnosed with malaria.146 patients were registered for treatment with 10 RI’s and 8 ANCs. The journey back to Chunari ghat took almost an hour.

The new Goalpara Boat Clinic

Case study 1: Bongaigaon (provided by DPO  Bongaigaon)

Name of the patient: Mousamad Khodeja Khatun Age: 09 yearsSex: Female Period of disease: 05 yearsSymptoms: Swollen body

D/O: Mohammad Munaf Ali and Sophia Khatun

The girl was brought by her mother for treatment at the health camp conducted by the boat clinic. The mother informed the team that the girl was treated at various health centers (Goalpara, Bongaigaon and Kachudola ) but there has been no change. The Medical Officers of Boat clinic conducted a thorough check up and suspected it to be a case of CKD (Chronic Kidney disease)/ Polycystic kidney disease and accordingly referred the child to a higher center for treatment. The team decided to go for follow up in the next phase of camp.

Case study 2: Bongaigaon

Name of the child: Saha Alam Age: 4 months Sex: MaleD/O: Md. Sujal Haque and Nisalema KhatunVill: Kheluapara pt I (east)

Saha Alam, the second child of Mohammad Sujal Haque and Nisalema Khatun was born with cleft lips. While the mother was being treated at a health camp, the child was noticed by the DPO, Boat clinic. He along with the MOs discussed the child’s deformity with the mother. The MO referred the child to the Boitamari BPHC after the health team explained to the illiterate mother that cleft lips cases are treated free at various centers including the Smile Foundation.

The concerned ASHA worker was asked to accompany the family to the health centre.

MT  in panel discussion

The Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika took part at the panel discussion moderated by Ms. Barkha Dutt, editor, NDTV, at the book release of Ms. S. Mitra Kalita’s new book, My Two India’s published by Harper Collins on Nov 25, 2010 at the India International Centre. Ms. Kalita is currently senior deputy editor at the Wall Street Journal in New York. Other panelists included Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, MP and former DoNER Minsiter, as well as Santosh Desai, columnist.

MT gives keynote address on Media and forced Migration

C-NES Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika gave the keynote address on Media and Forced Migration in the North-east at the Eight Annual Winter Course on Forced Migration, organized by the Manahirban Calcutta Research Group in association with UNHCR and the Govt. of Finland in December 2010.  The winter course, for young researchers and professionals as well as activists, is a rigorous and focused programme of studies, lectures and field work on issues relating to various aspects of forced migration.  It draws participation from across South Asia, including Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.   CRG has offered to collaboate with C-NES and share its extensive web library and online material on issues of migration. The session was moderated by Xonzoi Borbora of PANOS South Asia

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