NE Dispatch: ULFA (I) Opposes Land Allotment To Patanjali in Assam; Shillong Hosts Autumn Cherry Blossom Festival

A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.

Assam: ULFA (Independent) opposes state government’s decision to grant huge tract of land to Ramdev’s Patanjali 

On November 7, the Assam government gave 150 acres of land in the state’s Sonitpur district to Ramdev-owned Patanjali Herbal for setting up manufacturing units.

The project, which is set to be named Patanjali Herbal and Mega Food Park and will get an investment of Rs 1300 crores, which is said to be the highest ever by the company anywhere in the country.

Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, flanked by Ramdev, union ministers Babul Supriyo and Rajen Gohain and some of his cabinet ministers, laid the foundation of the food park at the district’s Balipara industrial park. Sonowal told those present that the park would start production “in a record time of 99 days.”

“This industry will not only provide jobs to hundreds of unemployed local youth, but also contribute towards producing organic products. Simultaneously, farmers of the state will also be benefited, while it being a non-polluting industry that will encourage plantation of various medicinal and other herbs and plants, will also contribute towards maintaining ecological balance,” Sonowal said.

Speaking on the occasion, Ramdev promised that the entire profit from the venture would be used to set up schools and skill development centres in every district of the state. News reports quoting Ramdev said that the park would give direct employment to over 6,000 local people.

On November 9, two days after Sonowal launched the project, the separatist outfit United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) opposed the state government’s move.

In a statement e-mailed to the local media, the outfit said, “The ULFA (I) in principle is opposed to allocation of 450 bighas of land to Indian’s latest capitalist incarnation yoga Guru Ramdev’s Patanjali at Balipara in Sonitpur district of Assam at a time when the state government has failed to provide rehabilitation and livelihood options to lakhs of indigenous people displaced by flood, erosion and other natural disasters.”

The ULFA (I) condemned “those cunning politicians who have laid a red carpet to capitalist entities like Patanjali to Assam thus converting the state into a ground of exploitation by colonial Indian forces”.

The Sonowal government has not yet clearly stated if it had allotted the land free of cost or at a low premium to Patanjali.

In 2014, Patanjali was also allotted 3,828 bigha four katha and 15 lessa land in the Chirang district of the state by the Bodoland Territorial Council, which was led by Hagrama Mohilary – whose Bodo People’s Front holds the forest portfolio in the Sonowal government – to set up the country’s largest herbal medicinal plant farm along with a factory. Several groups have been protesting against that allotment as it would reportedly lead to eviction of several people.

Nagaland: Centre likely to hold third round of talks with ENPO on the demand for Frontier Nagaland

The Narendra Modi government is taking forward the demand of the people of the Eastern Nagas who are living in the Indo-Myanmar border areas for a separate state culled out of Nagaland.

On November 12, Satyendra Garg, the joint secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs (North East), said at public gatherings in two districts of the state – which were organised to discuss the progress of the statehood demand – that the third round of talks between the central government and the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) on the demand for the ‘Frontier Nagaland’ state “is expected to be held before the end of this year.”

According to local media reports, Garg told those present at the meetings held in the towns of Tuensang and Mon, that “the demand of the ENPO for a separate state appear genuine” after visiting the area. He referred to the pathetic condition of the road from Tizit to Mon and said that “the backwardness of the region is visible even after so many years have passed after Nagaland became a state.”

ENPO has been demanding a separate state since 2010 comprising six backward tribes of the state – the Konyak, Chang, Sangtam, Khiamniungan, Yimchunger and Phom – living in four districts. The outfit alleges exploitation at the hands of the “advanced” Naga tribes that “control the powers in Kohima” by denying these tribes education and employment opportunities “even though Eastern Nagas first led the Naga national movement”. The six tribes comprise 36% of the state’s border land.

The Centre held its first talks with ENPO to discuss their demand in September 2015, a few weeks after Modi announced the Naga Framework Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah), or the NSCN (I-M).


Thuingaleng Muivah. Credit: PTI

The November 12 meetings were attended by representatives of several local organisations and student bodies who reaffirmed their demand for a separate state. According to some media reports, the Eastern Nagas who are living in villages that are technically in Myanmar also joined the meetings.

Though Garg has been meeting the ENPO representatives in New Delhi, this was his first visit to the area.

According to sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs, “The government had to open a channel with Eastern Nagas as [Thuingaleng] Muivah, being from Manipur, was not favoured by them as their representative.” Though the central government announced a ‘framework agreement’ on the Naga issue over a year ago with NSCN (I-M), no accord has come out of it yet.

After the death of NSCN founder leader Isak Chishi Swu earlier this year, Kholi Konyak, an Eastern Naga, was declared its president by Muivah “to quell differences”.

Meghalaya: India’s first autumn cherry blossom festival underway in Shillong

Cherry blossom festivals have been a great tourist attraction in various cities in the world. A large number of people throng Japan every spring to soak in the delicate beauty of one of the country’s national flowers, the sakura or cherry blossom, while many others plan their holiday to the US capital Washington D.C. to be a part of the annual cherry blossom festival. Every spring, South Korea’s capital Seoul too come alive with lavender and cotton white blossoms, attracting many sightseers to its Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival. China and Australia too have their versions of such festivals that are held every spring.

Hoping to add to this annual list is a cherry blossom festival being held in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong this week.

Planned by the government of Meghalaya in association with the Manipur-based Institute of Bio-resources and Sustainable Development (IBSD) – a central government institution – the four-day festival launched on November 14, is being projected as “India’s first autumn cherry blossom festival” (It was organised in March 2015 as well as a spring festival).

Dinabandhu Sahoo, the director of IBSD, told the local media, “Now people don’t have to spend dollars and yen to see a cherry blossom festival abroad, they can come to Shillong.”

Credit: Facebook/India's First Cherry Blossom Festival

An autumn cherry blossom festival is being held in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong this week. Credit: Facebook/India’s First Cherry Blossom Festival

Sahoo, who is responsible for promoting the idea of planting more and more cherry blossoms in Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram, said, “The festival will not only bring socio-economic development to the region but will also promote sustainable development, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It would also set the stage for 2017, which has been declared as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by United Nations.”

Inaugurated by the state chief minister Mukul Sangma at the Polo Grounds, the festival includes a host of events linked with cherry blossoms across different venues including the popular tourist site, the Ward Lake.

According to local news reports, the state government “is leaving no stone unturned to make it a success.” The government set up a Facebook page to promote the festival along with launching a website.

The kernel of the festival was laid in 2014 when Sahoo first stumbled upon a cherry blossom tree in full bloom at the campus of the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. Having taken part in the Sakura festival in Japan, Sahoo reportedly pushed the idea for sustainable tourism for boosting the local economy after joining IBSD. He was instrumental in planting over 3,000 saplings along the Assam-Shillong highway in 2015 besides simultaneously sapling such plants in Manipur and Mizoram.

The tradition of planting cherry blossom saplings goes back to the third century in Japan. Later, that country began gifting such plants to different world cities as a symbol of peace. The cherry blossom trees in Washington D.C. are a part of one such move. New Delhi too was gifted some cherry blossom trees by Japan some time ago.

Note: Hagrama Mohilary is not a minister in the Sonowal government of Assam as was originally stated in this article, though a representative of his BPF holds the forest portfolio.

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