Thursday, October 28, 2010

THE TELEGRAPH, Calcutta

Thursday , October 28 , 2010

Derailed: train & truce

Bandh and blast spoil Dima Hasao’s peace and the govt’s efforts to promote Jatinga Festival

Nagaon, Oct. 27: A blast on the rail tracks near Lower Haflong derailed a passenger train at noon, almost scoffing at the government’s efforts to hardsell Dima Hasao as a tourist destination with the much-publicised Jatinga Festival, that began today.

The explosion occurred about 25km from the spot where Governor J.B. Patnaik inaugurated the first Jatinga Festival, aimed at hardselling the district as a must-visit for bird lovers.

Today’s attack broke the lull brought by the surrender of the DHD (Jewel), the chief architect of trouble in the district for the past several years, in October last year, and also came within hours of its rival faction, DHD (Dilip), calling an indefinite district-wide bandh.

District superintendent of police V.K. Ramisetti said the IED, attached to a timer device, triggered the explosion, but the identity of the group behind the blast was yet to be ascertained.

A Northeast Frontier Railway spokesman said the derailment took place around 12.15pm “apparently because of an explosion”, damaging 88 metres of the tracks. Nobody was injured in the accident.

He said four coaches of the train — one brake-cum-luggage van and three general second-class coaches — were derailed.

Up Barak Valley Express bound for Lumding was terminated at Bagetar station because of the accident.

Passengers of both Up and Down Barak Valley Express got stranded at the station.

Both trains resumed their journey later. Work is on to repair the tracks and restore normality.

But little could be done to restore the fervour with which the Jatinga Festival began.

Hundreds of birds converge at Jatinga each year and “commit suicide” from a cliff.

Though many travel to Jatinga to watch this “supernatural phenomenon”, environmentalists have long dismissed the “tales” and explained how the poor birds are drawn by lamps lit by villagers at the base of a cliff.

“I do not believe that birds can commit suicide. The mysterious phenomenon is only because the birds are lured by powerful lights. This is a crude way of killing the birds. I appeal to all sections of people to ban this practice,” Patnaik said in his inaugural speech.

The governor also stressed that the state government was with the people of the hill district in promoting tourism.

More than 5,000, mostly local people, gathered in Jatinga to be part of the inaugural programme.

“With unbounded beauty, this district has enormous potential to attract tourists from different parts of India,” Patnaik said, unaware that a bomb was ticking away not very far away.

If the blast dented the festive spirit at Jatinga, the bandh called by the DHD (D) added to it.

The outfit called the strike to protest against the attack on one of its senior cadres by the rival faction on October 23.

In response, shops remained closed, communication was paralysed and unprecedented security held back many who wanted to attend the bird festival. Most of them returned to Nagaon and Silchar.

“The bandh is very sudden and unwanted. Had the militant outfit not called the bandh, another 10,000 people would have gathered here. It is very unfortunate that the bandh deprived a lot of outsiders who were willing to visit Dima Hasao district,” said Rathin Nunisa, a Dehangi villager who reached Haflong two days ago to participate in the Jatinga festival.

The DHD (Dilip) faction withdrew their bandh following assurance from the Assam police to arrest the culprits by tomorrow.

The outfit’s chief, Dilip Nunisa, told The Telegraph that if the police failed to keep their commitment, they would reimpose the bandh from October 30.

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