A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
Manipur: Centre airlifts fuel tankers to poll-bound state as economic blockade continues
The Centre has deployed the Indian Air Force to airlift approximately 96,000 litres of petrol and diesel to Manipur early this week, a move that comes nearly three months after the state has seen an acute fuel crisis due to the ongoing economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC), a powerful state-based Naga civil society organisation.
As per media reports, three forays have been made by the IAF’s C-17 Globemaster, its largest military transport aircraft, from Guwahati’s Borjhar airport to Imphal starting January 22 following an urgent request by the Indian Oil Corporation as only two days of fuel was left in stock in the trouble-torn state.
The decision to airlift fuel was taken after the central forces deployed on the highway, NH3, failed to securely escort the stranded oil tankers into the state. On January 23, armed militants attacked a convoy of about 300 oil tankers and trucks carrying essential commodities to the state on NH 37, leading to an exchange of fire between them and security forces escorting the convoy. A few weeks ago, two truck drivers were injured in a similar attack. Local media reports quoting police sources said the militants belonged to the NSCN (Isak Muivah) faction. No truck is able to ply on NH2, connecting the state to the rest of India through Jiribam on the Assam border.
The Manipur government said even though it asked for 60 companies of paramilitary forces to escort the trucks on both highways, only 29 companies were sent to give security cover to the trucks on NH 37.
Since November 1, people across the state have been facing acute shortages of not just fuel but all essential commodities, leading to many incidents of violence. Attempts by the Centre and the state government to bring the UNC to the discussion table to find a solution have not been successful. The UNC rejected a call by the state government for talks in Imphal on January 23 and instead mooted tripartite talks in New Delhi after the unconditional release of its president, Gaidon Kamei, from jail.
The UNC is opposed to the creation of seven new districts by the state, particularly Jiribam and SADAR Hills, alleging that the move would bifurcate the ancestral land of the Nagas residing in the state.
Arunachal Pradesh: Two Assam Rifles jawans killed in militant ambush near Assam border
Two jawans of the 13 Assam Rifles were killed by militants near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border on January 22. The jawans were a part of a foot patrol intending to open the route on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border for tourists going to the Pansau Pass winter festival in Changlang district of Arunachal.
In a statement issued by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) later in that day, the banned separatist outfit claimed it carried out the attack with Coordination Committee (CorCom) of four Manipur-based groups – People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Progressive), Revolutionary People’s Front and United National Liberation Front.
The statement – signed by M.M. Ngouba, chairman of CorCom’s “joint military commission” and Paresh Asom, “chief of army staff” of ULFA (I) – said, “The joint team killed three soldiers and injured two or more persons and was able to seize three weapons (two AK-series rifles and one Insas rifle).” The statement called it Operation Barak.
As per local news reports, 15 to 20 militants lobbed grenades at two tourist vehicles on NH38 near Jairampur in Assam’s Tinsukia district, about 8km from the inter-state border, around 8 am. Local police said the jawans died from the blast caused by the grenades hurled by the militants at them.
The jawans were identified as riflemen L. Ginlan Ven Nagaithe and Khampai Wangsu. Police claimed to have recovered the body of two militants from the site along with some IEDs, grenades, a pistol and a G3 rifle.
Media reports quoting the tourists in the two vehicles said they ran into the forest as soon as they heard loud explosions near them. A tourist told this correspondent that he and his group were caught in Arunachal Pradesh for two days as the border was sealed after the ambush. The ambush site was about 35 km from the festival site.
Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu condemned the attack meant to augment tourism in the state and announced that compensation would be paid from the chief minister’s relief fund to the families of the two jawans belonging to Arunachal and Manipur.
Assam special DG (law and order) Kuladhar Saikia reached the spot soon after the incident to take stock of the situation. The attack took place three days after a high level security review meeting was conducted by Assam DGP Mukesh Sahay in Tinsukia’s Makum district, about 60 km from the ambush site.
Sikkim: Centre promises railway line in the state
In the not too distant future, the people of Sikkim will see a train chugging into the state capital, Union railway minister Suresh Prabhu told a gathering in Gangtok on January 21.
Prabhu, speaking at an interactive session, said a foundation stone would be re-laid in Rangpo, a border town adjoining Siliguri (New Jailpaiguri) in West Bengal in the coming months, thus setting in motion the long-awaited project of the Union ministry to include the state in the country’s railway map. The railway link to Rangpo would be from Sevoke, a 45-km stretch.
“Now, all hurdles have been addressed and within a few days, all the paperwork for the rail project in Sikkim wll be completed. The actual physical work will kick off within a few months from now,” the minister said. He felt a railway line to Gangtok would increase the prospect of the state’s tourism and organic farming sectors, besides fulfilling the long-pending demand of the people for better links with the rest of the country.
State MP P.D. Rai, present on the occasion with chief secretary A.K. Shrivastava, the general manager of the Northeast Frontier Railway H.K. Jaggi and the secretary of the Sikkim Chamber of Commerce, apprised the visiting minister of the hardships people of the state had been facing due to the lack of rail connectivity.
As per local news reports, state governor Shriniwas Patil too raised the issue and sought the Centre’s intervention to expedite the rail project at the earliest.
The minister, on a two-day visit to the state, also released an “Achievement Report of the Northern Frontier Railways in the North East (2014-2016)” to “reflect the good governance (of the Centre) in the region.”