country boats makeover

Makeover for country boats
Guwahati, Oct. 29: The country boats (bhut-bhutis) in the Northeast will soon be given a makeover in order to improve connectivity and transport facilities.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India has shown interest in providing assistance for the mechanisation and upgrade of country boats in the region to help in the overall development of inland water transport mode of communication.
Sources said a scheme to provide 50 per cent assistance for the mechanisation and upgrade of country boats is being prepared.
A presentation was made before the North Eastern Council in this regard.
The owner of the boats will provide 50 per cent and the government will provide 50 per cent by the owner of the country boats. The Centre will provide Dispur’s share.
There was no scheme earlier for the unorganised sector.
The country boat is the principal means of unorganised transport for cargo and passengers.
Country boats are generally driven by an agricultural pump engine that is attached to a direct shaft and propeller, while launches have wooden hulls and are fitted with a truck engine and gearbox.
There is a dense network of mechanised country boats in lower Assam, particularly in Dhubri, Goalpara, Guwahati, Jorhat, and Tezpur, where they are used to transport crops, vegetables, dairy products and livestock to the towns and cities from the agricultural riverine islands.
Similar operations exist in the Dibrugarh-Sadiya-Saikhowa triangle, where various tributaries of the Brahmaputra meet.
A senior waterways official said it would improve the efficiency of the small vessels and thereby increase employment opportunities and efficiency of inland water transport sector as a whole.
“It will also help in poverty alleviation and improve connectivity,” the official said.
In the Northeast, that a lot of transportation (both passengers and cargo) takes place through small country craft with a capacity of 40 to 50 tonnes.
The mechanisation of these small vessels and fitting of appropriate safety devices/appliances on board will improve the productivity of these vessels, bring down transportation costs, improve overall transportation efficiency and make inland water transport operations safer.
There have been a number of mishaps on these country boats during the floods in Assam.
A study on inland water transport development in the Northeast carried out by IWAI on the annual movement of passengers and cargo on National Waterway 2 has estimated that nearly 30 million people use the organised sector and 20 million use the unorganised sector.
“This mode of transport is essential to small or remote locations for the transport of agricultural and commercial products to and from regional markets and growth centres, especially during the monsoon and floods. The upgrade of country boats will serve a big purpose,” the official said.


India-bhutan joint tiger camera trapping

India and Bhutan join hands for tiger project
- Manas in both countries to undertake big cat estimation through camera-trapping
Forest officials of Manas National Park of both India and Bhutan will go ahead with tiger estimation in both countries simultaneously for the first time.
The idea behind the exercise, which will be done through camera-trapping, is to study the movement of tigers in contiguous areas.
“A meeting, the first of its kind, will be held at Manas National Park on November 10 where officials from Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan will be coming to discuss the modalities,” A. Swargiari, field director of the park, told The Telegraph.
At the meeting, the coordination part of the project, patrolling and protection will be discussed.
The estimated date of tiger estimation has been fixed as November 15.
Bivash Pandav from the World Wide Fund will coordinate the camera-trapping for Royal Manas in Bhutan.
Pandav had recently come to Manas in India to discuss the issue with Swargiari.
At Manas India, camera-trapping will be done at Bansbari, Bhuyanpara and Panbari.
“Camera-trapping will obviously help in getting pictures of other animals too,” Swargiari said.
Swargiari said the forest department of Bodoland Territorial Council had been informed of the exercise and they, too, have agreed to come to the meeting.
Experts from Aaranyak, a wildlife non-government organisation, have also agreed to help Manas India in camera-trapping.
Another issue to be discussed at the meeting is the creation of a Greater Manas, together with the existence of Royal Manas in Bhutan and Manas in India, which will provide an important guarantee for the integrity of the property and long-term conservation of the values for which it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The World Heritage Committee has already supported the idea of Greater Manas.
The Tiger Action Plan for Bhutan states that its tiger population was distributed through most parts of the country and the habitats connected with those in India.
Tigers move from Phibsoo wildlife sanctuary in Bhutan to Manas tiger reserve, Buxa tiger reserve and Jaldapara wildlife sanctuary in India.
The plan states that Bhutan’s contribution will be crucial to long-term survival of tigers in the region.
In fact, the continuous distribution in the Manas-Namdapha Tiger Conservation Unit forms the nucleus of one of the two largest tiger populations in South Asia.
Sources said the need for trans-boundary cooperation between protected area personnel is for two reasons — the movement of wildlife transcends international boundaries and it is, therefore, important that they are sufficiently protected when they cross into the other side of the border and also, much of the poaching occurs along borders as a consequence of its porosity and border areas are ready market for wildlife products.
While Manas India has an area of 500 square km, Royal Manas, Bhutan covers 1,057 square km.
River Manas connects the two parks and is integral to the topography.
Sources said though officials of both parks shared a good relationship and regularly met and shared resources, they needed to concretise it and shape it into a protocol.
Manas National Park contains 22 of Schedule I mammals and at least 33 of its animals are listed as threatened.
Royal Manas in Bhutan has 58 species of mammals.


NE telecom road map

Road map to expand phone reach
Guwahati, Oct. 24: The department of telecommunications is going all out to double the teledensity in the region by December 2012.
With the strategic location of the region characterised by extremely tough terrain with limited transportation and other infrastructure and to bring it into the national mainstream, officials say it would be essential to substantially improve the telecommunication facilities.
The plan, Future Plan with Monitorable Targets for Improvement of Telecommunication Infrastructure in Northeast, has been drawn up targeting December 2012.
The plan speaks of entire national highways network being covered by June and the state highways by December next year. Broadband connections are targeted to have a four-fold increase by December 2012. All district headquarters and block headquarters are targeted to be covered by December. All villages in the region will be provided with public telephones by June.
Figures released by the department of telecommunications reveal that the teledensity in Assam as on June 30 is 20.31. Teledensity indicates the number of telephone lines per 100 people. While the teledensity of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura is 44.18, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland have a teledensity of 6.27.
The region comprises three territorial telecom circles — Assam, NE-I (comprising Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura) and NE-II (comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland).
The department of telecommunications is also providing subsidy support for setting up and managing infrastructure sites (towers) in the region for provision of mobile services in rural and remote areas, where there is no existing fixed wireless or mobile coverage. Around 85 towers have been commissioned in Assam as on June 30.
This is being done under the universal service obligation fund which is meant to serve rural and inaccessible areas and to provide vital telecom connectivity as these areas also generate lower revenue because of lower population density, low income and lack of commercial activity.
The infrastructure, so created, is being shared by service providers.
For induction of new technological developments in the telecom sector on a pilot project basis in rural and remote areas, a scheme has been launched wherein about five pilot projects shall be provided subsidy support.
Support is also being considered for renewable energy resources (solar, wind, diesel) with one site each in all states of the region. Further support is also being considered for mobile charging stations through TERI project of Lighting a Billion Lives. Hundred of such charging stations are being provided in Assam.

wwf eye on manas

WWF to aid Manas plans 
Guwahati, Oct. 20: The World Wildlife Fund has evinced interest in the long-term management of Manas National Park.
This was conveyed by Carlos Drews, the director of species programme, WWF International, to A. Swargiari, the field director of Manas National Park, at Manas yesterday.
This is the first time Drews is visiting Assam.
The WWF International, headquartered in Gland, Switzerland, has been assisting the state forest department in a number of ways. It works with local communities and turns them into agents of change in Assam. One of the biggest programmes in which it is involved is India Rhino Vision 2020.
The second phase of the programme is yet to begin, because of some delays.
“Drews asked me if the WWF can be involved in future long-term management of Manas,” Swargiari told The Telegraph today.
Manas is a World Heritage Site in Danger at present.
Drews discussed a variety of issues with Swargiari and other officials. The topics included the role of WWF, its future interventions and on the trans-boundary initiatives with Manas Bhutan.
“Goodwill cannot be purchased by money, you have to show sincerity and devotion,” Swargiari quoted Drews.
WWF-India is aiming at securing the elephant and tiger population of the North Bank Landscape.
Some of its current activities are supporting protected areas, research, resolving human-elephant conflict, critical elephant corridors and study tiger habitats.
The North Bank Landscape is the area between the northern bank of the Brahmaputra in the south to the foothills of the eastern Himalayas in the north and the River Manas in the west to the Dibang river in the east.
The total size of the landscape is approximately 40,000 sqkm and includes parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The area comprises a major part of the Himalaya bio-diversity hotspot and is also one of WWF’s Global 200 eco-regions.
Drews visited the Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary and Nameri today and will be in Kaziranga for two days. He came to Assam on October 18 and was in Manas for two days.


new hope for dhubri waterways

River terminal plan for Dhubri


Guwahati, Oct. 21: The Inland Waterways Authority of India is reviewing traffic projections upto 2025 to set up a modern permanent river terminal at Dhubri.

There has been no permanent terminal facility at Dhubri, though the waterway authorities operate and maintain a floating terminal for the vessels and movement of cargo.

From pre-Independence days, Dhubri has been playing the role of an active distribution/collection centre for fertiliser, food grain and other agricultural products.

Other agricultural products to and from south Meghalaya are also routed through Dhubri.

Many of south Meghalaya villages and towns are connected by mechanised ferry and the inland water transport route cuts down transportation costs.

A total of 4.59 acres at Bahadurtari in Dhubri town has been identified as a suitable location to set up a permanent terminal.

The proposal has already been submitted to the state government through the Dhubri deputy commissioner to acquire land for the terminus.

The land has got good connectivity to the main highway through the public works department road of Dhubri town.

The depth of the river adjacent to the terminal is also sufficient to berth inland vessels.

Once a suitable terminal is set up, it can be used for movement of several goods through water transport.

The water authority is now on the lookout for consultants to prepare a detailed project report for setting up a permanent river terminal.

Sources said the study would have to review traffic projections, data collection from earlier reports, all relevant authorities and update it for future potential traffic for 2015, 2020 and 2025.

“The study will have to fix the location of the jetty to ensure the safe berthing of loaded barges up to a 2.5-metre draft during leanest period.

“Geo-technical investigation on the land will have to be carried out apart from collection of water-level data (two locations) for the purpose of design of structures,” a source said.

It will also have to recommend the kind of cargo handling equipment required at the terminal, considering the prevailing norms for operation and its merits/demerits.

The study will also view the tariff structure for use of the terminal.

The terminal will have suitable mechanical handling equipment to handle the cargo and a fire fighting system according to terms and requirement.


100 years and still young

Only 100-year-young for research degree
- Oldest student at GU
Guwahati, Oct. 18: Einstein once said knowledge exists in two forms — lifeless, stored in books, and alive, in the consciousness of men. The second form of existence is, after all, the essential one.
At 100, Bholaram Das, a former Cottonian and freedom fighter, who is going all out to complete his PhD falls in the second group.
Living a century is itself a dream and still pursuing a higher degree could be a miracle for many in the country.
“His memory is still active. I think in all probability he will be able to complete his research,” Dipak Kumar Sharma, his guide at department of Sanskrit of Gauhati University, told The Telegraph.
On Saturday during a function at Cotton College when Gauhati University vice-chancellor O.K. Medhi announced that Bholaram Das was pursuing PhD, many felt that age was no bar for knowledge.
Das with a Gandhi cap was given a standing ovation at the function.
In fact, Das is the oldest student at Gauhati University pursuing PhD and could be the oldest in the country.
At the function, Das spoke on his life and the various influences. He admitted that his health was failing and he did not know whether he would be able to complete his research. However, his family said he was mentally strong. “I am not sure whether I will able to complete my PhD on time as my health is failing, but my mind is not,” he added.
Das passed his HSLC in 1933 with first division and graduated from Cotton College in 1937 and cleared MA and bachelor of law from Calcutta University in 1940 and 1941. He retired as a district and sessions judge from Gauhati High Court in 1971.
His research topic is role and contribution of Bohori village of Barpeta district in spreading the neo-Vaishnavite way of life in north-eastern part of India. He has also written three articles in his life.
Das was born at Bohori village in Barpeta district. “It is generally the students who call their guides ‘Sir’ but in this case I call him ‘Sir’.”
He registered as a PhD student in 2008 at the age of 98.
“Many had raised objection at that time on a 98-year-old person wanting to do PhD, but vice-chancellor Medhi took a positive stand and gave a go ahead,” Sharma said.
Cotton College principal I.K. Bhattacharya said being a holiday the college could not honour him in a befitting way and wished him for successful completion of his PhD.
The former president of Asom Sahitya Sabha, Kana-ksen Deka, said Das was a perfect role model for the young.
Assam Governor J.B. Patnaik said Das is 100 and still not out. “He has lived a full life and there are very few people living at 100,” he said.
One of his sons, Bhupati Das, chairman and managing director of Numaligarh Refinery Limited, said his father is an eternal optimist with a never-say-die spirit.
His latest fascination is learning the violin, his grandson, Abhinab, said.


Brahmaputra-- dedicated freight corridor

Guwahati, Oct. 11: Efforts are being made to make the Brahmaputra, National Waterway 2, a “dedicated freight corridor” for the Northeast.
This was proposed by Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) to the DoNER ministry at a meeting in Delhi recently.
A dedicated freight corridor will enable the waterways authority regain its market share of freight transport by creating additional capacity and guaranteeing efficient, reliable, safe and cheaper options for mobility to its customers.
The waterways authority says about 20 lakh tonnes of cargo moves on NW2 annually and it has invested Rs 286 crore on development of NW2 since it became a national waterway in 1988.
“It has got great potential and all possible steps are being taken to make it realise its status as a national waterway,” a waterways authority official said.
The argument for a dedicated freight corridor gets a shot in the arm as promoters of hydropower plants coming up in Arunachal Pradesh have evinced interest using NW2 and tributaries for transportation of project cargo.
“The national waterway can be used as a dedicated freight corridor for ferrying traditional goods like jute, tea, coal from the Northeast to Bangladesh, Calcutta and foodgrain, fertilisers, fly ash, cement, steel, bitumen from Calcutta to the region,” a senior IWAI said.
The declaration of Ashuganj as a port of call in Bangladesh will improve connectivity to Tripura. while the Silghat port of call in Assam will enable transportation of products of Numaligarh Refinery Ltd and other refineries of the region to Bagabari in Bangladesh
“It has been observed that uprooted trees from the forest area in Dibrugarh-Sadiya stretch often block the navigable channel and safe movement of vessels through the main channel cannot take place. The authority plans for removing underwater wooden logs and others from the navigable channel and remove the same” the official said.
The authority has also prepared an action plan for making National Waterway 2 (Dhubri-Sadiya sector of Brahmaputra river) fully functional by 2011-12. This includes maintaining a 2.5 metre depth in Dhubri-Neemati stretch (630km), 2 metres between Neemati-Dibrugarh (138km) and 1.5 metres between Dibrugarh-Sadiya (123km).
For this purpose, IWAI has one cutter section dredger and one hydraulic section dredger (HSD) and it is getting four more cutter section dredger and one more HSD constructed for this waterway to maintain navigability.
Terminals at 11 locations are being maintained on NW2 for handling cargo vessels and ferrying passengers. The entire waterway is surveyed fortnightly and river notices are issued fortnightly.
The official said to make NW2 fully functional the linkage up to Calcutta through Indo-Bangladesh protocol route within Bangladesh should also be made fully functional in consultation with Bangladesh and the ministry of external affairs.
The official said as the road and railways have limitations because of the “chicken’s neck”, the inland water transport mode is a reliable mode for movement of cargo.



No direct aid for tiger funds

Guwahati, Oct. 12: The hopes of tiger reserves in Assam getting money directly through the tiger conservation foundation have been dashed because of a lapse at the Union government-level and will be it through the usual state government channel which takes a long time.
“We have been informed that the routing of money through the foundations has to be cleared by the Union cabinet and some formalities has to be cleared. We are disappointed as the money will come through the usual channel,” a senior forest department official told The Telegraph.
The Centre has released the first instalment of the conservation funds sanctioned for three tiger reserves in Assam.
It has released Rs 573.08 lakh for the current fiscal of which Rs 272.72 lakh will go to Kaziranga, Rs 237.5 lakh to Manas and Rs 63.58 lakh to Nameri.
The total amount sanctioned under Project Tiger for the three reserves is Rs 903.55 lakh of which the lion’s share is for Kaziranga (Rs 448.15 lakh), followed by Manas (Rs 356.08 lakh) and Nameri (Rs 99.32 lakh).
“We have worked hard for setting up the foundations and are the first one to do so in the entire country. Now, we will have to wait for the money to come through the government channels which takes a long time and ultimately affects conservation at the field level,” an official in Kaziranga said.
Delay in getting funds at the right time has been one of the main problems of wildlife conservation in Assam as often the money remains unutilised as by the time it is released by the state government, the financial year is over.
“Getting funds released from the state finance department is indeed very difficult. We are not supposed to go to the finance department for getting the money released. Our duty is to protect wildlife,” a park official said.
Manas tiger reserve in 2009-10 could not get funds because of failure in submitting utilisation certificates, which was because of late release of funds by the state government.
The main aim of the tiger conservation foundation will be to facilitate and support the tiger reserve management for conservation of the big cat and bio-diversity through multi-stakeholder participation according to approved management plans and to support similar initiatives in adjoining landscapes, consistent with the national and state legislation.
Formation of the foundations will enable the three tiger reserves in the state to function on its own with a certain degree of autonomy and plough back funds generated through gate collection and tourism activities for managing the habitat and its bio-diversity. At the tiger reserve level, the head of the governing body will be a legislator. 


PPP picks up in Assam

Centre clears 10 PPP projects
Brahmaputra riverfront development will be one of the projects
Guwahati, Oct. 5: Public-private partnership (PPP) mode of projects seem to have accelerated in Assam with the Centre giving the go-ahead to 10 projects in the state.
The empowered committee on public-private partnerships in the state had identified 18 projects which were referred to the department of economic affairs under the Union ministry of finance.
“The department of economic affairs has identified 10 of the 18 projects for which feasibility studies will be carried out,” a senior official in the planning and development department told The Telegraph.
The feasibility studies will be funded by the Indian Infrastructure Project Development Fund, administered by the department of economic affairs, under which they will bear 75 per cent of the project development costs, that is, the cost of engaging consultants to prepare detailed project reports. The rest of the costs would be borne by the state government.
The 18 identified projects are in different spheres, a majority being located in Guwahati.
Some of the projects in Guwahati include setting up a logistics park, development of jail land, Brahmaputra riverfront development project and water meter installation, among others.
A source said once these projects were structured on a public-private partnership model, they would be eligible for 20 per cent assistance under the viability gap funding scheme of the department of economic affairs.
“The Centre has assured the state government of providing viability gap funding to each of these projects as and when they are applied for,” the source said.
Public-private partnerships refer to an agreement between the government and the private sector regarding provisions of public services or infrastructure.
Public-private partnership models can be classified into four broad categories — supply and management contracts, turnkey projects, lease and concessions and private ownership of assets.
A management contract is a contractual arrangement for the management of a part or whole of a public enterprise by the private sector. Under turnkey category, a private contractor is selected through a bidding process and he designs and builds a facility for a fixed fee, rate or total cost, which is one of the key criteria in selecting the winning bid. In lease category, an operator (the leaseholder) is responsible for operating and maintaining the infrastructure facility and services, but is generally not required to make any large investments. In concessions category, the government defines and grants specific rights to an entity to build and operate a facility for a fixed period.


adb largesse for assam floods

Green signal for $120m flood project
- Decks cleared for ADB funds
Guwahati, Oct. 4: The decks have been cleared for approval of the $120 million ADB-funded Assam Integrated Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management Investment Program as negotiations with Assam and the Centre have been completed.
“We have completed the negotiations with the Assam government and the Government of India on the project. The Government of India has also recently approved the detailed project reports for Dibrugarh and Palasbari subprojects,” Kenichi Yokoyama, agriculture, natural resources and social services division, South Asia department, ADB, told this correspondent in an email.
The ADB board’s calendar has put October 19 as the date for approval of the project. The board calendar reflects the schedule of formal board discussions and is a clear indication that the loan is being approved.
The loan will be given in two tranches.
The approval for the detailed project report for the Kaziranga subproject is under process.
The project is needed to support the Assam government’s initiatives to adopt specific steps for more effective management of flood and river erosion problems with along-term integrated perspective.
The project will provide enhanced resilience to flood and riverbank erosion risks in the three subproject areas (Dibrugarh, Palasbari and Kaziranga) along the Brahmaputra, benefiting nearly a million people.
The project document prepared by the bank says structural measures will focus on existing embankment systems protecting key urban and productive rural areas and updating requirements against river erosion.
Significant emphasis will also be placed on establishing sound data and knowledge base to effectively manage or respond to the dynamic natural river processes while not disturbing them as much as possible.
The state government, through cabinet endorsement, has established the Assam Integrated Flood and Riverbank Erosion Risk Management Agency for executing the programme, an autonomous body anchored to water resources department with a multi-disciplinary structure, stable leadership, high-level oversight, and timely funds flow.
While Assam has flood embankment systems protecting 50 per cent of its flood prone areas, their effectiveness is limited because of deterioration associated with poor maintenance, riverbed rise and failure from river erosion.
Environmental impact assessments have been carried out for the three subproject areas covering their entire scope.
“Overall, the three subprojects are needed primarily to safeguard the people, property and environment from frequent floods of the Brahmaputra river and are strongly supported by the stakeholders. Positive environmental impacts include preservation of flora and fauna from the impact of river erosion and flooding including wetlands, pond fisheries and agriculture land. Interventions near Kaziranga will preserve the wildlife habitat by preventing the impacts of sudden flooding (from embankment breach). No damage is anticipated on endangered species like dolphins as well as Kaziranga National Park,” the bank says.


funds for assam tiger reserves

Funds for Assam tiger reserves
- Delhi releases first instalment, seeks use according to agreement
Ray of hope
Guwahati, Sept. 30: The Centre has released the first instalment of conservation funds sanctioned for three tiger reserves in Assam with the rider that they utilise it according to the agreement signed with it and Dispur last year.
The Centre has released Rs 573.08 lakh for the current fiscal, of which Rs 272.72 lakh will go to Kaziranga, Rs 237.50 lakh to Manas and Rs 63.58 lakh to Nameri. The order for the fund release was passed on Tuesday.
The total amount sanctioned under Project Tiger for the three reserves for this fiscal is Rs 903.55 lakh, of which the lion’s share has gone to Kaziranga (Rs 448.15 lakh), followed by Manas (Rs 356.08 lakh) and Nameri (Rs 99.32 lakh).
The release order states that Dispur should make the funds available to the tiger reserves within two weeks of its receipt. It would also require to furnish regularly in its monthly report, both in physical and financial terms, the implementation of work as mentioned in the sanction letter. Dispur will have to submit its performance-cum-achievement report on or before March 31 next year.
The Centre, however, stressed the funds be utilised as per the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the field directors of the three tiger reserves and the state government for implementing tiger conservation initiatives as proposed in the annual plan of preparations, with due compliance with normative guidelines and advisories.
The MoU includes the drawing up of a security plan in accordance with the reserves’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and to ensure intelligence-based protection for tigers and other wild animals as well as the habitat.
Sources said the chief wildlife warden and the principal chief conservator of forests have been asked to conduct field inspections from time to time to ensure that the field work is undertaken in accordance with the management plan and the annual plan of operation.
Manas has been given a deep freezer for preservation of tiger carcass. “As some time would be required for investigation of the death of a tiger by experts, the carcass should be kept in a deep freezer,” a Manas official said.
Kaziranga has been given sanction for procurement of GPS sets, standard type night vision device, solar lighting systems, life jacket and reward to informers and staff, among other things.
Nameri has been sanctioned money for the purchase of a projector for public awareness and meetings.
Manas has been categorised a “poor” tiger reserve by the Centre as it has a low density of the animal. Sources said the estimated number of tigers in Manas is 15-18.
Kaziranga, which recently claimed to have the highest density of tigers in the world, has been categorised as “good” while Nameri has been given “satisfactory” tag.