Politics

NE Dispatch: Meghalaya Rape-Accused MLA Removed From Committees; Bridge to Bangladesh From Mizoram

A roundup of this week’s news from the northeast.

Julius Dorphang. Credit: PTI

Julius Dorphang. Credit: PTI

Meghalaya: Speaker appoints MLA accused of rape to two assembly panels; revokes decision following protest

The Meghalaya assembly appointed MLA Julius Dorphang – facing trial for human trafficking and sexually abusing a minor – as member of two assembly committees, evoking strong public opposition, particularly from the state’s women’s groups. So much so that the assembly secretariat had to take back its July 7 decision a week later.

Local news reports quoted speaker A.T. Mondal, who earlier cleared Dorphang’s name for the committees, as saying on July 14, “We have accordingly modified the earlier letter (for reconstituting various assembly committees).”

On July 7, the assembly issued a notification on the reconstitution of various committees and named Dorphang, in judicial custody since January after he was nabbed from a bus terminus in neighbouring Guwahati and denied bail by a local court in Shillong, as a member of the committee on privileges as well as the committee on subordinate legislation.

Mondal told reporters that Dorphang has also been removed from the SC/ST committee which he earlier headed.

A former militant turned independent MLA from Mawhati in the Ri Bhoi district, Dorphang supports the Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance government. In January, Dorphang was accused along with five others on charges of human trafficking and raping a 14-year-old girl on two occasions, including at a guest house in Shillong owned by the family of home minister and Congress leader H.D.R. Lyngdoh. The case created a sensation across the state.

Though various civil society organisations and women’s groups then demanded that the government drop Lyngdoh from the cabinet to ensure a free and fair trial, chief minister Mukul Sangma refused to do so.

The July 7 assembly notification shocked the public yet again, leading to large-scale expression opposition, including on social media platforms. Along with the Meghalaya State Commission for Women and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), women’s groups demanded that the decision be revoked, considering he is facing trial under Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act and Section 5 of the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. Dorphang and others were arrested following two FIRs filed by the SCPCR.

Condemning the move, well-known activist Agnes Khashiing told reporters in Shillong on July 7, “We strongly oppose this appointment… is this what Meghalaya government wants, awarding the alleged rapist instead of speeding up justice for the victim?”

Tripura: Tribal party blocks highway and the state’s sole rail link since July 10, demanding separate state for indigenous people

IPFT agitators seen blocking the railway line in Tripura. Credit: PTI

IPFT agitators seen blocking the railway line in Tripura. Credit: PTI

The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) has been blocking National Highway 8 and the sole railway line in the state since July 10, demanding a separate state.

Local media reports said the agitators have been blocking the highway at Khamthingbari in West Tripura district. Police sources said the highway road traffic has been diverted to the Agartala-Khowai-Teliamura road.

As per North East Frontier Railway chief public relations officer Pranab Jyoti Sharma, the blockade has led to the cancellation of all trains in the state.

Demanding the creation of a separate state of Tipraland out of the areas that come under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous Council (TTAADC), the IPFT agitation, according to its president Narendra Chandra Debbarma, “is for an indefinite period until the central government gives a positive assurance” to its demand.

The TTAADC covers two-thirds of the state’s area and is home to 12,16,465 people, mostly tribals, out of the 37-lakh population.

Debbarma told reporters in Khamtingbari that a rally would be organised to reiterate its demand in state capital Agartala on August 23.

The Left Front government, opposed to the demand and the agitation, has urged the IPFT to lift the blockade as it would affect the supply of essential goods and fuel to the state, besides creating trouble for the public. The NH 8, which connects Tripura to Assam, is the sole road link to the state from the rest of the country.

Besides Left Front, other parties active in the state, including the Congress and the BJP, are also opposed to the IPFT demand. However, speaking to reporters, Bijan Dhar, state secretary of the CPI(M), accused the BJP of supporting the stir, stating, “They did a similar thing in Manipur prior to the assembly polls.”

The state, going to polls early next year, is being eyed by the BJP. The party has already begun its campaign against the Manik Sarkar government, which will complete 20 years of rule in the state next year.

Local media reports said the government has taken “unprecedented security measures” in and around Baramura hill ranges through which the highway and the rail link passes. No untoward incident has been reported yet.

Meanwhile, IPFT general secretary Mevar Kumar Jamatia and its youth-wing president Dhananjoy Tripura have been camping in New Delhi since July 13 to meet minister of state in the prime minister’s office and Department of North East Region Jitendra Singh and home minister Rajnath Singh to discuss their demand. Debbarma said, “We will continue or lift the blockade depending on what is discussed and agreed upon by the Centre with our delegation.”

Mizoram: India, Bangladesh to build a bridge over border river to facilitate trade and communication

Soldiers patrolling the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: PTI

Soldiers patrolling the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: PTI

India and Bangladesh have decided to facilitate trade and improve communication between Mizoram and the adjoining parts of Bangladesh by constructing a bridge over river Khawthlangtuipui.

The river, also called Karnaphuli in Bangladesh, passes through Mamit district of Mizoram, adjacent to the Chittagong Hill Tracts of that country. The state shares 318 km of unfenced border with Bangladesh.

Confirming this on July 8 after a meeting of officials of both the countries a day earlier at Tlabung town in Mamit district, director of the state’s industries and commerce department J. Hmingthnmawia told reporters, “The officials of both the countries discussed to speed up the work for the proposed bridge besides discussing several other bilateral issues.”

Bangladeshi official Rowshan Ara Khanam, who led his country’s delegation, said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already given her approval to construct the bridge which will lead to an important road link between the two countries.

After the meeting, officials of both the countries visited the site to zero in on a possible location for the proposed bridge.

Meanwhile, a separate Bangladeshi delegation has begun holding talks with the border security force on border issues in another northeastern state that shares boundary with that country – Meghalaya.

An annual exercise, the four-day talks, which will conclude in Shillong on July 15, is learnt to have discussed “illegal killing of Bangladeshis and illegal entry of Indians into Bangladesh” besides ways to control passage of Indian militants to that country.

While the 23-member Bangladeshi side has been led by additional director general M. Zahid Hasan of Border Guards Bangladesh, the Indian side is represented by U.C. Sarangi, inspector general of the Border Security Force.

Besides discussing activities of militants, the BSF delegation also raised the issue of cattle smuggling into that country, pumping in of fake Indian currency from across the border and illegal narcotics trade in the meeting. As per local media reports, the BSF also discussed construction of a single-row fencing and development work along the 4,096-km border to check on the movement of militants and border crimes.