The inspiring journey of Rima Das

“People don’t like me because I don’t have money”. Raseswar  Bora, the protagonist of Jahnu Barua’s  successful film “Halodhia Choraye Baodhan khai” had said so. The film got the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1988.After 30 years another Assamese film bagged the award, Rima Das’s “Village Rockstars”.

The film is about a poor village girl child who fights the challenges surrounding her and does everything to own a guitar and to become a rockstar. It is a simple film with a message like “Halodhia Choraye Baodhan khai”.

But Rima Das is no Jahnu Barua. She is not a trained filmmaker. With her qualifications she could have settled down as a professor. But she chose to follow her heart. Already she has made three movies that can be described as “one woman show”, because she is the director, producer, story writer and so on and so forth of all her movies. All her films won regional, national or even international awards.

Rima Das had constraints. She had to shelve her dream of becoming a bollywood actor, one of the reasons being her limited Hindi speaking skill. In film making the obvious constraint was money. But she was able to manage money through self funding and capture global audience so as to get sufficient return of her investment and continue making films.

Rima Das’s journey from Kalardia village near Chaygaon to Guwahati and then to Pune and Mumbai is inspiring. Hope she continues to excel in her creative endeavor and also continues gifting us the likes of Bhanita Das who won the Best Child Artist award.

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Air India privatization process

“When are you getting married pilot?” One of the airhostesses asked the pilot. The ATR aircraft of Air India had halted at Dimapur airport on its way to Imphal  from Guwahati.

I was half-asleep. In order to catch the early morning flight I was extra cautious and could not sleep properly at night. After waiting for almost an hour we realized that  no passenger boarded at Dimapur to fly to Imphal. The airhostess congratulated me for being in a “charter flight”.

I must thank Air India for allowing me to hire a “charter flight” at virtually no cost. I nurture a dream that on some day I would tell my grandchildren that I too moved around in a “charter flight”. But while I was in the “charter flight” the problems of Air India had begun. Policy makers decided to raise Air India’s debt in order to increase its fleet size. But it was not earning enough to repay the debt. The rising losses speeded up a national consensus that Air India must be privatized.

But there are strong voices against the privatization move. The TMC, the CPI(M) and even the Shiv Sena call Air India a symbol of national pride. The advice of parliamentary standing committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture is that the privatization decision should be shelved.

The first NDA government had clarity on privatizing Air India. But it lacked sufficient numbers in the parliament. Despite being an absolute majority government the Modi led NDA is somewhat unsure about what to do with Air India. It took three years to give an “in principle” approval to privatize Air India. Recently an expression of interest is published by the government seeking to divest 76 per cent government stake in Air India.

Why should the government run non viable businesses? It should perhaps do so when there are bigger social objectives. Any such objective seems to be missing in the aviation sector.

The government has limited time to complete the divestment before the next general elections. It is now acknowledged by all that the 2019 general elections are wide open.  If the privatization is not completed by then a changed power center in Delhi would certainly derail the privatization process.

Budget speech of Assam Finance Minister

I spent quite some time going through the budget speech by the Finance Minister present in http://assamassembly.gov.in/budget-speech-2018-19-english.pdf. No doubt the preparation of a state budget which can meet people’s expectation is a daunting task. To criticize and find faults is easy. Moreover the government reached out to all citizens seeking suggestions through newspaper ads. I have not heard much about public response but I presume there were many suggestions.

 

But I am not sure if it is indeed a growth oriented or pro people budget.

Tea gardens and tea Industry

The eighteen flagship programs  or the  “Astadash Mukutar Unnoyonee Mela”are nothing new and could be treated as regular developmental  activities. The Finance Minister rightly puts in his speech that the nation mostly associates the image of Assam with tea. Tea appears to be a primary focus in the budget mostly by way of welfare programs for tea garden workers. The budget speech refers to “fluctuating fortunes of the Tea Industry” but no action plan found in the budget to face the challenge except some relief to small tea growers.

The budget provision to give smart phones to tea garden Sardars sounds funny. One such Sardar is a good friend of mine. When I called him up he said he was unaware of any such government scheme but he already has more than one smart phone.

Flood, erosion and dredging in the Brahmaputra river

The budget does not talk much about flood, erosion and dredging. Flood and erosion are the two most major threats to the state. Dredging in Brahmaputra river was a pet project of the Chief Minister till recently .But the budget says that the government only “contemplates to start corrective dredging in Brahmaputra and Barak”  and “proposes to purchase a dredger” that mean  we are again going to be helpless in the next round of floods.

Hundreds of schools lack facilities

The Finance Minister in his budget speech says that through Gunotsav the government has discovered that hundreds of our schools lack basic facilities such as separate classrooms, provision of electricity etc. The dilapidated conditions of most of the government run schools agonize us. The very first agenda of the “Astadash Mukutar Unnoyonee Mela” is provision of additional classrooms, partition walls and electricity in elementary schools. I feel it could have been simply put as renovation of infrastructure of all government run schools. In one place I have read the plan of upgrading Ulubari HS School in Guwahati into model Integrated Academic Centre of Excellence. I am keen on observing the developments soon.

Tourism Department: Awesome Assam

In the budget speech the Finance Minister mentions that the government had initiated rigorous branding, international road shows etc to put Assam on the tourist map of the continent. But I wanted some insight about the role of the brand ambassador and the cost benefit analysis. I learnt that under home stay infrastructure development scheme “Amar Alohi”, 31 entrepreneurs have been selected. But 31 is not an encouraging number.

 

 

Monthly stipend for purchase of sanitary napkins

It is nice to learn about the government’s resolve to improve women’s health and safeguard her dignity. But I am not quite sure how will the government ensure utilisation of the stipend of Rs600/ per year for the intended purpose.

 

North East Foundation

The Finance Minister announces setting up of North East Foundation which will act as a think tank for the region and that the government of Assam will provide seed fund to the foundation. My apprehension is that it is going to be one more non functional entity, because we don’t lack any “think tanks”.

Thought provoking abbreviations

In the end I would like to thank the Finance Minister for some truly thought provoking abbreviations, in addition to the poems, verses and slokas.

 

ReSTART : Restructuring Systems and Technology for Augmentation of Resources for Transformed Assam

LEAP: Lead Externally Aided Projects

ACCSADP: Assam Citizen Centric Service Delivery Project.

Crossing the Lines

When Harbhajan Singh abused Andrew Symonds as “Teri M**key”, Symonds complained to the authorities that he was racially abused. But Harbhajan didn’t mean “monkey”, it was much more disgusting. We don’t know whether anybody explained it to Andrew Symonds but such expletives are common in North India and Pakistan. In the ambience of a tough cricket match such words are commonly used and therefore Harbhajan Singh got away without much trouble.

The alumni of famous Banaras Hindu University “fondly” recollect “Inter College Inter Hostel Gali” competition night, where the male boarders outshout  male students from other hostels. The “Galis” or abuses are directed at mothers and sisters. Talented young men of the University show their talents in framing innovative Hindi expletives but again using “mother” and “sister” words.

In January 2017 a video went viral which showed Vijay Shekhar Sharma ,India’s business icon celebrating the profits gifted by demonetization. In the video he was dancing and shouting expletives. We all know what those expletives are.

We are habituated to such words and normalize and get along. But somewhere we cross the lines.

Scene 1:

The senior professional was making a comparative analysis of two products,one product from his company and the other product from a competitor company “E****r”. The senior professional said “See guys, E****r has s*****d the product, pardon ladies”.  The lady professionals smiled and took it in good spirit. When the gentleman ended his long speech, another professional complemented him by saying “So guys, let’s s***w E****r ,pardon ladies”. There was smile all around again.

Scene 2:

The senior sales professional was lecturing about “passion” and to be “passionate” . He said “Passion is like …I will s***w a sixteen year old girl even at the age of sixty”. All the female employees in the room walked out.

No doubt in Scene2  the senior sales professional crossed the lines.

And perhaps Papon crossed the lines and I presume he can’t  escape the legal dragnet. But the media trial to project him as a pervert is not acceptable.

স্বচ্ছ সৰ্বেক্ষণ

গুৱাহাটীৰ বাটে পথে “স্বচ্ছ সৰ্বেক্ষণ” ৰ প্ৰাচীৰ পত্ৰিকা দেখিছো ।“ স্বচ্ছ সৰ্বেক্ষণ” শব্দ যুটি শুনি ধাৰনা হয় যে এয়া অসমী্য়া ভাষাত এক নতুন স্ংযোজন । স্বচ্ছ যাক ইংৰাজী ভাষাত কোৱা হয় TRANSPARENT বুলি । সৰ্বেক্ষন শব্দৰ অৰ্থ সম্পৰ্কে মই নিশ্চিত ন্হয় ।প্ৰাচীৰ পত্ৰিকা বিলাকৰ দ্বাৰা চৰকাৰে সম্ভব্ত পৰিস্কাৰ পৰিচ্ছনতাৰ বিষয়ে অবগত কৰিব বিচাৰিছে ।

দুখৰ বিষয় যে আমি অসমত এটা স্বচ্ছ(TRANSPARENT) ব্যব্স্থা অথবা পৰিস্কাৰ পৰিচ্ছ্ন্ন পৰিবেশ নাপালো ।

ভাৰত  চৰকাৰৰ  এটি  বিশেষ পদক্ষেপ “ স্বচ্ছ ভাৰত অভিযান” । এই অভিযান  অবশ্যে বিফল হোৱা বুলি কোৱা  অতি সৰলীকৰণ কৰা হব ।কিছুদিন আগতে মধ্যপ্ৰ্দেশৰ বানিজ্যিক চহৰ  ইন্দোৰ  ভ্ৰ্মন কৰি মই এই ধাৰনা লবলৈ বাধ্য হ’লো ।

ইন্দোৰ  চহৰৰ বাট পথ পৰিপাটী  তথা পৰিস্কাৰ । বিশেসকৈ মন্দিৰ বিলাকৰ  চৌহদ সমূহ অতি  পৰিচ্ছ্ন্ন ।

জানিব পাৰিলো যে ২০১৭ চনত ইন্দোৰ  ভাৰতৰ  সবাতোকৈ পৰিস্কাৰ  চহৰ  হিচাপে  স্বীকৃত হৈছিল।

এই  সাফল্য  নিশ্চিতভাবে মধ্য প্ৰ্দেশ (ভা জ পা) চৰকাৰৰ, তাৰ প্ৰ্শাসনৰ লগতে ৰাজ্যখনৰ জনসাধাৰণৰ ।

State Power Scenario: The Assam Tribune Editorial

While reading the editorial I felt that I had read it before also. It does not contain any fresh information. It is widely acknowledged that the power scenario in Assam is grim. The state owned power companies are not doing well.  It referred to some ADB loan to state power sector but there is no elaboration.

But the editorial does not mention a word about Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana or UDAY scheme which is considered as the key solution for the debt ridden loss making state owned power distribution companies. Government of Assam, central power ministry and Assam Power Distribution Company entered into an agreement in January last year bringing the state of Assam under the purview of UDAY scheme. The UDAY scheme presents a roadmap of turning around the state power sector. The Assam Tribune editorial was expected to highlight the progress made under UDAY scheme in one year.

At present the all India power scenario is also vexing. The country as a whole is facing a situation of excess capacity but inadequate demand,making power generation unprofitable business. Therefore to talk about self sufficiency in power generation is inappropriate, at least in the prevailing circumstances.

The Assam Tribune editorial is apprehensive about power tariff hike by the government in future. But the state is bound to hike power tariff as per UDAY scheme.

The editorial board is expected to do more research on issues of serious importance.

DIDI 1.25

How did she get the figure of 1.25 crore ? The leader of none other than Bengali Youth Federation , Assam made a candid statement that Muslims speaking Bengali language are not considered as Bengalis at least in Assam.

The Bangladesh origin Muslims are called “Miyas” in Assam. A section of Assamese intellectuals  coined a term “Na Asomiya” (New Assamese) to describe the community, but  the use of the term has never been widespread.

At a personal  level  many Bangladesh origin Muslims are known to me. All of them refuse to acknowledge that they are “Bengalis”, though their first language is various dialects spoken in  Bangladesh viz Sylheti and Mymensingiah.

Despite hostilities for decades the Bangladesh origin Muslims are  going to Assamese medium schools for their education in interior and difficult terrains such as river islands, remote villages in Baska, Chirang and Udalguri districts.

Also there exists an organization called “Asom Miya (Asomiya) Parishad”  the founders of which perhaps tried to establish that “Asomiya” (Assamese) is essentially “Asom Miya”.

Despite all that people of Bangladesh origin are a serious political threat to indigenous population of Assam only for their numerical strength and high birth rate and perhaps for the unabated influx from Bangladesh. If corrective measures are not taken, then the fate of indigenous population of Assam will be the same as the indigenous population of Tripura. The same apprehension is acknowledged by the Government of India, Supreme Court of India and many others and therefore we have things like Assam Agitation, Assam Accord, NRC etc.

If we talk about the undisputed Bengalis or Hindu Bengalis, they are also Bangladesh origin people but enjoy special treatment from the present ruling party. There is a commitment by the ruling party to grant citizenship to all Hindu Bengalis irrespective of their date of entry into Assam even if it violates the Assam Accord. Though smaller in number than their Muslim counterpart , Hindu Bengalis also constitute a significant part of the state population and they are a major political force.

We learn that since 1985(the year of signing of the Assam Accord) little less than 1 lac persons have been identified as illegal immigrants. The government says some of them are “deported back” some (most) are “absconding” and a few thousand are in detention camps at the cost of taxpayers money.

What was published on 31st December midnight is just a “draft” NRC. We don’t know what the final NRC will indicate regarding the number of illegal immigrants. Then again anybody can challenge non inclusion in NRC in courts.

How did Mamata Bannerjee come to know that 1.25 crore “Benaglis” will be thrown out of Assam is a mystery. So far I did not hear anything from her about the already detected 1 lac illegal immigrants in Assam. Though a state politician she has raised her voice against the injustice done to Rohingyas in Mynamar. But she has not called “Rohingyas” as Bengalis. Another point , Myanmar authorities don’t accept the term “Rohingya” and call them “Bengali” but Bangladesh refuses to accept them as “Bengalis”.

A friend of mine from Dhubri, who is also  a Bangladesh origin Muslim, WhattsApped me a message about the plight of Rohingyas. The message is reproduced below.

 

ৰোহিঙ্গা মুছলিম সকলক বচাবলৈ ভোট চলি আছে

⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔⚔

এই মেচেজ টো যিমান share হব সিমান ভোট পাব।
গতিকে আপোনালোকৰ ওচৰত হাত যোৰ কৰি প্ৰাৰ্থনা কৰোঁ যে সকলো whatsapp গ্ৰুপ আৰু সকলো ব্যক্তিক যাতে send কৰে

The Whattsapp message is written in impeccable Assamese.

Demand Driven Financial Inclusion

In a recently published article, a former Principal Adviser and Head of the Monetary Policy Department, Reserve Bank of India  has made some important comments .

1)Supply driven financial inclusion does not work.

2)Banks’ lending activities through BCs are negligible.

3) The compensation in the case of the BC model is awfully inadequate compared to the services expected from them.

A panel discussion participated by eminent bankers and policymaker from NITI Ayog, Amitabh Kant, in a business news channel also highlighted some key points on financial inclusion.

Payment Bank, which is another state sponsored move towards financial inclusion was not mentioned in the article noted above. But in the panel discussion the host journalist raised the issue and correctly stated that payment bank as a business model is not working out to be viable. She asked the panelists if  payment banks may be allowed to do micro lending.

The answer to the question by a banker baffled me. According to him a payment bank can be a BC of a regular bank and carry out lending on behalf of the bank.

The contradiction in the answer is there in point number 2 noted above. Having watched the BC model closely for years I can reconfirm that banks, specially PSU banks are not using the BC channel for lending or micro lending purpose. I am also not sure if a regular bank will be happy to have a payment bank as its BC given that it is a competitor in providing basic banking services.

There is no doubt that many of these lowly compensated BC agents are providing excellent services in interior and unbanked locations. During demonetization these BC agents helped the government to keep the situation under control.  Therefore an implied conclusion that the BC model has failed is factually incorrect.

In the article noted above there is no reference to another government sponsored entity “small finance bank” which is one more concept to bring about financial inclusion. Unlike payment bank nobody doubts the viability of a small finance bank. Despite the presence of small finance banks and traditional MFIs ,poor borrowers are sometimes charged @ 24-34 percent per annum(indicated in the article noted above)

We are keen to see a “demand driven” financial inclusion model. Involving BC channel/ payment bank for lending activities may be a step in this direction.

ইতিহাস নে লোককথা

কেইদিনমান আগতে এজন মাৰোৱাৰী ব্যৱসায়ীৰ লগত  কথা পাতিব লগীয়া হৈছিল । কথা প্ৰ্সংগত ৰাজ নীতিৰ কথাও ওলাল । ধাৰনা হ্’ল  যে তেও এজন মোদী  ভক্ত । বিভিন্ন বিষয়্ত মন্তব্য ৰাখি তেও ২০০৭ চনৰ দুখজনক ‘ বেলতলা কান্দ’ ৰ কথাও ক’লে ।“ সেইদিনা খন ৰাজ্ পথত  বহু গৰাকী আদীবাসী মহিলা ধৰ্ষিতা হৈছিল । বহুজনক হ্ত্যা কৰা হৈছিল ”। তেও কৈ গ’ল। অনুভব কৰিলো যে মাত্ৰ দহ বছৰত ইতিহাস নতুন কৈ লিখা হ’ল ।

টেলিভিচনৰ বিতৰ্ক অনুস্থানত ‘পদ্মাবতী’ ৰ বিষয়ে কিছু কথা দেখিছো বা শুনিছো । পদ্মাবতী ৰ বিষয়ে স্কুলৰ পাঠ্যক্ৰ্মত কিবা আছিল নেকি আজি স্পস্ত্কে মনত নাই। সেই সময়ত বুৰঞ্জী বাধ্যতা মূলক বিষয় আছিল ।“অমৰ চিত্ৰ কথা” পঢ়িও কিছু কথা জানিছিলো ।

টেলিভিচনৰ বিতৰ্ক অনুস্থানত ভাগ লৈ জয়পুৰৰ ৰাজ পৰি্য়ালৰ লোকে কৰা মন্তব্য শুনি কিছু বিমোৰত পৰিলো । ইতিহাসৰ সাধাৰন জ্ঞানেৰে কব পাৰো যে জয়্পুৰ বা অম্বৰৰ ৰাজ পৰিয়াল দিল্লীৰ মুছ্লমান শাসক সকলৰ সহযোগী আছিল ।অসম আক্ৰ্মন কাৰী মোগল সেনাৰ সেনাপতি আছিল অম্বৰৰ ৰজা ৰাম সিংহ ।

লাচিত বৰফুকনৰ জীবন ভিত্তিত কোনো কথাচবি নিৰ্মান হ’লে তাত ৰাম সিংহক ৰাজপুত দেশ প্ৰেমিক হিচাপে প্ৰদৰ্শন কৰা সম্ভব নহব। আনহাতে ৰাম সিংহ মোগলৰ সেনাপতি হোৱা কথাটো মোগল শাসকৰ ধৰ্ম নিৰপেক্ষ চৰিত্ৰ বুলিও কোৱাৰ থল আছে।

বুৰঞ্জী ব্যাখ্যানিৰ্ভৰ । আনহাতে সৃস্তিশীলতাক স্বাধীনতাৰ প্ৰয়োজন ।অবশ্যে এই স্বাধীনতা কিছুমান দায়বধ্যতাৰ পৰিসীমাৰ ভিতৰত হে প্ৰযোয্য ।

Turbidity in Brahmaputra Water

I crossed the river twice over the bridge today and tried to assess if  water flowing in the river is more muddy. I failed to do because I could not recollect how much muddy it was when I travelled last. Based on what I read and saw in the media I was thinking of postponing  buying fish. So I called up my friend in Majuli hoping that he might have more insights.

The feedback is that the water is more muddy  than ever before. In some place fishes and cows died after drinking the river water (but the news is again based on what he read or saw in the media). Fishing is not banned by the authorities till date.

The turbidity of Brahmaputra water was in the news in early December 2017. We were about to forget, then a Member of Parliament from Odisha raised the issue in Parliament.  The government says that it is serious about the issue and will take “necessary steps”.

The actions and reactions on the issue are inconclusive till now. We have only talked about China, tunnels, dams and even earthquakes.  If newspaper reports are correct, water samples are being tested in laboratories of IITs, state Public Health Engineering department and many other places. The results are not yet made public.  But the state ministers have expressed different views on record (on the degree of the threat).

On the other hand there is an ad by the state government regarding a MoU with Isha Foundation on river rejuvenation. In fact I was expecting a similar ad on Brahmaputra dredging.

I understand Isha foundation spreads the awareness about the need of planting trees on river banks. It is a novel idea. But is it the solution for tackling the menaces of flood and erosion of Brahmaputra? In the past erosion had taken place in the state despite forest cover.

Another concern expressed by Isha foundation is about depleting rivers. But its stand on hydroelectric power  generation  dams is not known. We observe that Ranganadi river in Lakhimpur district flows only when NEEPCO releases excess water. In normal course Ranganadi river is dead due to dams constructed by NEEPCO.  Will Isha Foundation and Government of Assam clarify on this?