NE Dispatch: Suspected H1N1 Outbreak at India-Myanmar Border, NPF's Shurhozelie Wins By-Poll

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

Imphal hospital

JHIMS hospital in Imphal. Credit: PTI

Manipur: Nearly two dozen deaths in the state in mosquito borne diseases; suspected H1N1 outbreak in India-Myanmar border area

Manipur is reeling under mosquito-borne diseases that have led to nearly two dozen deaths so far. While there has already been a confirmed death due to the H1N1 virus, the reason for other deaths has not yet been disclosed. Local news reports said it could also be due to dengue or Japanese Encephalitis.

In the last few years, some deaths have been reported in the state due to Japanese Encephalitis.

State health minister L. Jayentakumar told the assembly on July 29 that 16 people in a village in the Henlep sub-division of Churachandpur district bordering the India-Myanmar border had died due to a mosquito borne disease and another four deaths had been reported in other parts of the state, “suspected to be of the same cause”. 

He added that the disease with high fever might have come from trans-border movement of people. The minister told the house that the “health department is concerned about the deaths and is monitoring the suspected outbreak of H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus in Henglep sub-division.” He said that a team of doctors have been posted at the sub division while some at Churachandpur district hospital. He said altogether 41 individuals with suspected cases of H1N1, including 31 children, have reached the district hospital in Churachandpur and placed under medical observation.

The minister said there is no need to panic as his government “is fully prepared to combat any outbreak of disease.”

While isolated wards have been opened at the both the Imphal-based JNIMS and RIMS – the two main centres of healthcare in the state, the government has also restricted the movement of those affected by the disease by setting up check points in the district to restrict its spread to other parts of the state.

Meanwhile the state Chief Minister N. Biren Singh took stock of the situation in an emergency meeting. Singh said over 200 people have been affected by mosquito-borne diseases in the Churachandpur district. Doctors and paramedics have been dispatched to the district besides necessary medicines.

“A fund has also been sanctioned to transport over 100 persons from Henglep and other inaccessible villages in Churachandpur. If needed, the persons will be airlifted,” he said.

Shurhozelie Liezietsu

Shurhozelie Liezietsu after winning the bypoll. Credit: Facebook

Nagaland: Factional fight in NPF continues even as Shurhozelie wins by-poll; MP Neiphu Rio suspended from NPF

The factional feud in the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) continues even as its president Shurhozelie Liezietsu won the Northern Angami-I assembly constituency in the July 29 by-election in Nagaland by 8038 votes. The former chief minister of the state defeated independent candidate Kekhrie Yhome backed by present Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang’s faction of the NPF.

Trouble started in the party when Shurhozelie’s son and sitting MLA Khriehu Liezietsu resigned from the 60-member house on May 24, paving the way for his father to get elected as a member of the assembly. Winning the seat would ensure Shurhozelie’s continuation in the post of the chief minister, which alarmed Zeliang and MLAs supporting him.

Zeliang stepped down from the post of chief minister early this year due to violent protests in the state opposing his government’s decision to hold the urban local bodies’ elections with 33% reservation for women as per a Supreme Court directive. According to local news reports, there was a tacit understanding between Zeliang and Shurhozelie that he would facilitate the return of Zeliang as the state chief minister once the protests subsides.

As many as 35 MLAs supporting Zeliang soon demanded the resignation of Shurhozelie, leading to an ugly confrontation between two factions of the NPF, finally ending with the state governor P.B. Acharya reinstating Zeliang as the state chief minister, even though Zeliang was suspended from the party for six years. According to some news reports, the NPF central youth wing has launched a poster campaign against the governor’s action. One such poster said, “Governor, please read Indian Constitution”.

Meanwhile, the factional fight within the party continues. While the Zeliang faction has named former chief minister and MP Neiphu Rio as the party’s interim president, demanding Shurhozelie’s resignation by August 15, he has refused to step down and has instead asked the rebel MLAs to return to the party fold by the first week of August.

Rio, opposed to both Zeliang and Shurhozelia till a while ago, had been suspended from the party for a long time “due to anti-party activities”. In an attempt to divide the new found Zeliang-Rio bonhomie, Shurhozelie, as the NPF president, revoked the suspension order. However, Rio has again been suspended from the party following Zeliang’s return to power on July 19. In total, while 20 rebel MLAs have been expelled from the party by Shurhozelie, 10 have been suspended for “violating the party’s constitution”.

The BJP, part of the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government, is backing the Zeliang and Rio faction of the NPF.

Northeast railway

The new railway line will give the land-locked northeastern states access to Bangladesh’s Chittagong port. Credit: Reuters

Tripura: Land acquisition for India-Bangladesh railway line begins

Nearly eight years after the project was finalised by India and Bangladesh, land acquisition for the 15-km railway line between Tripura capital Agartala and Akhaura (in Bangladesh) has begun in both the countries.

When completed, the 963 crore project, agreed upon by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would facilitate carriage of goods to and from both the countries and link the land-locked northeastern states to Bangladesh’s port. The railway line will also shorten the journey time between Kolkata and Agartala via Bangladesh from the present 1,613 km to 514 km. Present railway minister Suresh Prabhu and his Bangladeshi counterpart Majibul Haque laid the foundation stone for the project in July last year. While only five km of the railway line will be in India, the rest will be in Bangladesh. However, India will bear the cost of the entire railway line. While the Department of North East Region ministry will finance the Indian part, the ministry of external affairs will do the line in Bangladesh.

Local media reports on July 27 quoted West Tripura district magistrate and collector Milind Ramteke as saying, “We have started the land acquisition process this week for the railway project. We have targeted to hand over the required land to the railways by August 31.” He said notice had been served a week before to 257 families living in the area. Of the total 66 acres of land to be acquired, only five acres belongs to the government.

The families will be compensated for their land under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The district collector said the central government, through the northeast frontier railway, has already released Rs 97.63 crore to acquire the land for the project.

Reports said the Bangladesh government has also started acquiring around 70 acres of land for the railway project.

The Agartala-Akhaura project would be part of the Trans-Asian Railway network aimed at connecting northeast India to southeast Asia.

A Sangai fawn. Credit: Wikimedia

Manipur: Sangai number has risen to 260 as per a survey last year, says forest minister

If Assam is known for its one-horned rhino, Manipur is the proud home of the brow-antlered deer Sangai, also the state animal – like the rhino is in Assam.

Due to lack of protection and rampant poaching, the precious species of deer, endemic to Manipur, showed an alarming decrease in its number in the 1980s, leading the environment NGOs and civil society groups to fear that the deer would soon be extinct in its natural habitat, the Keibu Lamjao national park. Many also expressed fear that the state government’s project to clean the Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake of the northeast, of biomass or phumdis, in  would disturb the delicate balance in the environment around the lake and the adjoining national park and further harm the protection of Sangai. Phumdis are considered the habitat and source of food of the Sangai living in Keibu Lamjao, the world’s only floating national park.

Besides, the artificial reservoir of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation at Loktak has been causing flooding of the national park.

On July 30, the state minister for forest and environment Th. Shyamkumar told the assembly that the total number of Sangai in Keibul Lamjao as per a survey conducted in 2016 is 260 – an impressive jump from just 27 in 1985. The survey was jointly conducted by the forest department with Manipur University and the Wildlife Institute of India, among others.

The red data book of International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which categorises the Sangai in the threatened list, mentions that the number of the deer was only 14 in 1975, prior to the declaration of the area as a national park.

In response to a starred question by MLA Bira Singh on the number of Sangai deer and measures taken by the state government to protect it, Shyamkumar, however, said in the ongoing budget session of the assembly, “The demarcation of the boundary of Keibul Lamjao national park is still in process and will be completed soon.” The minister said that to save the Sangai, measures such as electric or solar fencing would be put around the park after consultation with NGOs and officials of the forest department to control poaching.

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