Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cyclone, hailstorm wreak havoc - Deaths, damage to crops and property reported from many states

Silchar/Kohima, March 31: Highspeed wind, accompanied by rain and hailstorm, has wreaked havoc in south Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura during the past three days, killing at least three persons and causing severe damage to property and standing crops.

A woman tea worker, Anima Baidya, 51, died in Koomber tea estate under Uddarbond block in Cachar district of south Assam on Saturday when her thatched house fell on her. Her death was reported to police yesterday.

Two persons were killed in Tripura.

Police sources in Aizawl today said Nor’westers swept through the northeast flank of Mizoram at least twice on Sunday followed by yet another cyclonic storm on Monday in Serchip, Lunglei, Kolosib and Saiha districts, leaving in their trails tell-tale imprints of destruction.

The Mizoram government has ordered the revenue department offices in the districts to assess the damage sustained by individuals for granting compensations.

In the Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi, over 200 houses, mostly cottages, were damaged as the season’s first storm ripped through the area on Saturday and then last evening.

Official sources in Cachar district today said Sonai block near Silchar town bore the burnt in last night’s hailstorm. Hundreds of bighas of farmland, growing vegetables like tomatoes, beans and cauliflower, were destroyed.

Electric supply in Karimganj district was also disrupted in the wake of the storms, damaging the power pylons and snapping the overground power lines, plunging wide areas in darkness during the past four days.

At least eight tea gardens, including Pathemara, owned by the Calcutta-headquartered Grob Tea Limited, in Cachar’s Udderbond block, were ravaged by the storms which left visible marks of devastation.

In Pathemara alone as many as 3,00,000kg of green tea ready for processing suffered damages and 65 houses of tea workers were destroyed. The hailstorm caused considerable damages to roofs of buildings.

Hailstorm, accompanied by high velocity cyclone winds, lashed parts of Nagaland since yesterday causing damages to lives and properties.

Today, strong winds lashed parts of Zunheboto district twice causing heavy damage. But there was no report of death or injury in the initial reports received here. Sources said dozens of houses, including government property, were damaged in Atoizu subdivision. Eyewitnesses said around 10 houses were uprooted in Awotsakilimi village and an equal number in Yeshulto village. Several houses, including a government school, were damaged in Atoizu town. Zunheboto deputy commissioner Kiheto Sumi has deputed officials to assess the damages.

At least 60 houses were severely damaged in Changtongya town and Akhoya village in Mokokchung district by cyclone and hailstorm yesterday. Two persons, identified as Sharon, an 11-year-old Class V student of St John High School in Changtongya, and Purlemla, a 55-year-old housewife of Akhoya, were injured.

In Tripura, two persons were killed and over 600 houses damaged by similar storms in the past two days, PTI reports.

Santanjoy Reang, 13, died last night when his house collapsed during the storm at Nandirampara in North Tripura. Purnaram Reang, 21, was killed and his wife Anjuti was seriously injured when lightning struck them at Paharpur in South Tripura yesterday.

BDR bump on rural lightposts

Dhubri, March 31: Hundreds of Bangladeshi nationals from Kacherkuti village in Kurigram district, accompanied by BDR personnel, entered Bhogdanga and Fauksarkuti villages in Assam yesterday and protested against the erection of solar lightposts there.

Bhogdanga and Fauksarkuti villages are located along the Indo-Bangla border, outside the barbed wire fencing, in Dhubri district.

The installation of posts was stalled after the protest, but the villagers of Bhogdanga and Fauksarkuti immediately informed the matter to the company commander of 5 Battalion, BSF, of Kedar border outpost that falls under Golokganj police station.

BSF officials called a flag meeting with the BDR at Bhogdanga, but after a threadbare discussion on installation of solar lightposts, they could not reach any conclusion.

“The BDR insisted on the earlier standing agreement in force that neither country would construct any permanent structure within 150 yards from the zero line,” a BSF official said.

The president of the Bhogdanga-Fauskarkuti Simanta Gaon Bachao (Suraksha) Samiti, Mintu Kumar Roy, expressed resentment over the non-implementation of development projects, including the solar light scheme.

He alleged that BSF officials had failed to convince the BDR in the meeting that the solar electrification was undertaken to improve the quality of life of the villages where people have been living without basic amenities.

The North East Craft And Rural Development Organisation (Necardo) that has been liaising between the organisation and the government also expressed deep resentment over this and demanded chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s intervention to end the impasse.

The director of Necardo, Binoy Bhattacharjee, said they had been trying to carry out development in Bhogdanga and Fauksarkuti but the BDR and the people of Bangladesh had repeatedly raised objections.

Imphal reels under daylong power cuts

Imphal, March 31: Imphal reeled under intermittent power cuts throughout the day setting off speculation that the employees of the power department had joined the ceasework launched by the joint administrative council (JAC), an apex body of government employees’ unions, from today.

Confusion reigned as the JAC could not confirm whether the department had joined the strike or not. “We cannot say with certainty whether the power department employees have joined the strike or not. But they have decided to join the strike and if not today, they will join soon,” a JAC spokesman said.

Several government employees, under the banner of the JAC, have been on ceasework since January 16 to demand implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission in toto.

They have rejected the Ibobi Singh government’s offer to start paying the increased rates from April this year and are maintaining that the payment should start from January 2006.

Ibobi Singh had recently said he was planning to meet the leaders of the council after the 2009-10 fiscal was over.

He, however, added that the employees’ ceasework did not have much impact.

A senior official of the power department said the employees had not joined the strike. He said the power cuts were because of the heavy rain.

The employees at the state secretariat, Raj Bhavan and police headquarters here said they experienced intermittent power cuts throughout the day.

The supply to the local media offices was also disrupted frequently.

“We are managing with a small generator because of the power cuts. We cannot say whether the employees of the department have stopped the supply or not,” an official at the police headquarters said.

A senior official at the state secretariat said the secretariat had similar experiences today.

Many complained that the telephone at the Keishampat power supply point in Imphal city was not attended throughout the day.

Sources speculated that today’s power cuts were a warning by the power department staff to the government that they would also join the strike if their demands were not considered.

LF names ADC poll candidates

Agartala, March 31: The ruling Left Front in Tripura today announced its list of all the 28 candidates for the May 3 Autonomous District Council elections.

The Front’s convenor and sitting CPM MP, Khagen Das, announced the list that has eight new faces, including three women. Das said the Front would win all the 28 seats as it did last time.

The Front’s announcement came on a day the state election commission, headed by principal secretary Y.P. Singh, announced the detailed schedule of the council election.

Singh told reporters that the model code of conduct for the parties had come into force, adding that the notifications by the governor and the state election commission would be issued on April 5.

“The last date for filing nominations is April 12, that of withdrawal of candidature will fall on April 16 preceded by scrutiny of papers on the 13th. Polling in all the 28 seats across the four districts of the state will be on May 3,” Singh said, adding that counting would take place on May 7.

The term of the present council will expire on May 19 and the entire polling process will have to be completed by May 12, he added.

“For the ADC polls, we will have 1,006 polling booths. We have sought 30 companies of paramilitary forces from the Union home ministry. Hopefully it will be enough to conduct the polls peacefully and smoothly.”

The CPM will contest 25 seats, leaving one each for the CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc, Das said. The RSP has changed its candidate, he added.

Das said the Opposition parties in collaboration with “separatist and militant elements” were conspiring to reduce the election to a farce.

ADB to set up office in Guwahati

Guwahati, March 31: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will set up a project office here to enhance the processing and implementation of its various schemes in the region.

The office will be set up to provide capacity building support to the ongoing projects as well as the future ones in the states of the region.

The bank’s experience in the region since 2003 has shown that it takes much longer than initially anticipated to design and implement investment projects here.

Sources said the ADB would soon set up the office under the Multistate and Multisector Project Management Capacity Building technical assistance project.

The project will be executed in Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim, Nagaland, Meghalaya where investment programmes are currently under implementation, and in Assam where the processing of the new project in the agriculture and natural resources sector is at an advanced stage.

The technical assistance will continue till February 2012.

The ADB has set up its office here because it would be relatively easy to access the other five states and the rest of the country.

The project support office will have project implementation specialists as well as support staff.

The team will provide expert assistance and logistical support to the ADB processing missions and project review missions. It will also help officials of the project executing agencies in advance project preparation activities such as feasibility studies, detailed project reports and detailed engineering design.

Emphasis will be given to project implementation by reviewing documents prior to submission to the ADB (such as bidding documents and bid evaluation reports).

as well as providing advice in contract awards, contract management, construction supervision, disbursement and financial audit.

The team will also provide assistance to the project executing agencies in setting up a project management system.

Delhi dash to remove Lapang

Shillong, March 31: The demand for a leadership change in the Meghalaya PCC has gained momentum after the Assembly session with more legislators flocking to Delhi to meet Sonia Gandhi, seeking chief minister D.D. Lapang’s removal for the government’s poor performance in the past year.

The main reason for the demand, however, appears to be Lapang’s delay in accommodating senior Congress legislators in the ministry by dropping the Independents and Paul Lyngdoh, the lone KHNAM member.

A senior Congress legislator said over phone from Delhi today that of the total strength of 28, at least 16 Congress legislators were demanding a leadership change

“Three more will be joining us shortly to pressure the AICC to effect a change,” he said.

“We are waiting for an audience from Congress president Sonia Gandhi to get a clearance regarding the change to be effected,” the legislator said.

Prior to the just-concluded Assembly session, a section of Congress legislators met Sonia in Delhi and aired their grievances.

She said she would explore the possibilities to address the grievances of the legislators after the state Assembly session was over. She asked the disgruntled legislators to meet her in Delhi after the session.

Though the rebel Congress legislators have not proposed the name of any senior legislator as the next leader, the name of Speaker Charles Pyngrope is doing the rounds for the top post.

“We have not suggested the name of any one. We want the Congress president to select a new leader among the 16 legislators who are demanding a change,” a legislator, camping in Delhi, said.

The pro-Lapang camp, however, wants the chief minister to stay.

The prominent among them — deputy chief minister Mukul Sangma and urban affairs minister Prestone Tynsong — have told the AICC leaders that constant changes in the leadership would affect the development of the state.

At present, the AICC leaders are of the opinion that frequent changes would only create disunity in the party, a Congress minister said.

A Meghalaya PCC source today attributed the grievances of the senior Congress legislators mainly to Lapang’s delay in accommodating them in the Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) government.

The rebels wanted Lapang to drop three Independents, A.T. Mondal, Limison Sangma and Ismail Marak, from the ministry as well as the lone KHNAM minister.

They argue that despite having 28 Congress members, there are only six cabinet berths for the party in the 12-member ministry.

Propaganda worries Nehu VC - Tandon promises security

Shillong, March 31: North Eastern Hill University vice-chancellor Pramod Tandon today expressed concern over the “misinformation campaign” spread by teachers regarding Nehu’s functioning.

He also said the appointment of two new professors as heads of two departments was in order and the university was committed to provide security to its staff and students.

Tandon’s comments came amid fresh allegations by the North Eastern Hill University Teachers Association that the university had hurriedly appointed two new professors, B. Bhuyan and L.J. Singh, as heads in the departments of information technology and electronics and communication respectively.

The previous heads of these departments, Iftekar Hussain and S.K. Dutta, had resigned after they were assaulted by Khasi Students Union activists for conducting examinations on a local holiday on December 30 last year.

Tandon told The Telegraph today that he had met Hussain and Dutta on December 31 along with other top functionaries of Nehu and expressed regret over the incident. He had asked them to re-consider their decision.

Regarding the complaints of the staff that Nehu did not take the assault on teachers seriously, Tandon said the university had taken responsibility for the incident.

He expressed concern over the move of some teachers, led by the president of the teachers association, S.B. Prasad, to prevent the new heads from functioning.

He said frequent disturbances in Nehu by the joint action committee, comprising teaching and non-teaching staff, had resulted in the university being unable to spend Rs 10 crore allotted for the technology department in March. He also said several members had come out of the committee, as they were not satisfied with its functioning.

Stressing on the need for co-operation, Tandon said Nehu’s budget had increased from Rs 12 crore to over Rs 123 crore during his tenure and he did not want any disturbance from any quarter to mar the functioning of the university.

Nehu registrar David Syiemlieh had recently written to the teachers association regarding the steps taken to provide safety and security to the university.

Syiemlieh, who is also the controller of examinations, said top functionaries of the university had met the affected teachers and students after the incident. The matter was also discussed by the executive council which requested the two teachers to continue.

Syiemlieh said the subsequent examinations held in the beginning of this year proved that the university had provided adequate security.

Beyond Headlines

An evening of musical extravaganza

It was a concert with a difference. Musicians from the Northeast came together on Monday in Shillong, performing evergreen western numbers.

All India Radio, North Eastern Service, Shillong organised a western music concert — Come Together — on Monday at U Soso Tham auditorium, Shillong.

The packed concert featured artistes from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

The crowd enjoyed the show right from the first note of Papu Dolo from Arunachal Pradesh till the All Artists song We are the world. After Papu Dolo, Baiashanbok Marbaniang rendered the evergreen Leaving on a jet plane, which was followed by songs from Sunny, Vikash and Bikash of Assam band Orange Soap.

The Whitney Houston of Shillong, Natalie Syiem, sang Greatest love of all, and she drew thunderous applause from the crowd. Mayanglambam Uttamkumar of Manipur rendered three songs and he, too, rocked.

The audience enjoyed the beautiful music presented by Wari, Marvel and Rilang. They sang From this moment and Stupid Cupid. Mimi Vanlalrempuii Renthlei of Mizoram presented Hey Jude and Halo, and the crowd praised her beautiful voice.

Former minister R.G. Lyngdoh, who was the chief guest, said the platform provided by the North Eastern Service would enable several artistes of the Northesast to showcase their talents.

The evening continued with presentations by the Shillong School of Music, Na Rympei, Tribal Fire, Dwar, Rangdap Kharshiing and Lou Majaw and friends. Lou Majaw and friends, as always, got the crowd on its feet.

The audience joined in with all the artistes, lending its voice to the last song of the evening, We are the world.

High literacy state dreams big - Mizoram hopes to upstage Shillong as the new education destination

Silchar, March 31: Mizoram is planning to build an education empire, making its sterling literacy rate the capital.

The Congress government is planning to turn the hill state into the new education hub of the Northeast, upstaging Shillong, which has so far been the learning destination, by establishing a number of institutes.

Mizoram minister for education and law Lalsawta today said over telephone from Aizawl that these new institutes would aim at drawing students from various states of the Northeast, apart from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal.

He said among a fresh crop of “classy” higher educational centres, which the Mizoram government has proposed to set up, are a National Institute of Technology (NIT) and a university in collaboration with a group of education entrepreneurs from Singapore.

At present, Mizoram only has a Central University, which has its campus in Thanril, a bustling new neighbourhood of Aizawl.

Currently, the Northeast boasts of only two NITs — one in the Silcoorie area on the southern fringes of Silchar and another in Agartala.

Lalsawta said four more polytechnic colleges would also spring up in the state with central grants.

Mizoram now has two government polytechnics — one in Aizawl and another in Lunglei, the second most populous town in the state’s southern flanks, bordering Myanmar.

Regarding the new NIT in Mizoram, the education minister said its entire cost would be borne by the Centre.

The site and the possible cost of this new institute are yet to be planned, and a team of specialists has been engaged to arrive at a consensus on the issue.

Lalsawta said a few sites in and around Aizawl town are now being considered for the proposed NIT.

The NIT in Nagpur, Maharashtra, has been given the responsibility to act as the intermediary for building the model, formulating subjects and courses and estimating the possible costs for establishing the high-tech NIT in Mizoram.

To begin with, Rs 100 crore will be pumped in to raise the infrastructure for the institute, the minister said.

A team of the educational entrepreneurs from Singapore had also visited the state and met state chief minister Lalthanhawla to discuss the possibility of setting up of the second university in Mizoram, which Lalsawta said would be named after Rajiv Gandhi.

The team would make some more trips to Mizoram before evolving a blueprint for the new university.

Tension over Thoubal suicide

Imphal, March 31: Tension is brewing in Kakching Khunou village in Thoubal district over the death of a young woman who, after an alleged assault by a policeman in public on Sunday, consumed acid the day after.

Khumukcham Shamasha-khi Devi, 24, a resident of Kakching Khunou in Thoubal district, died in hospital here today. She consumed acid on Monday after being allegedly assaulted by police commando Anand Singh of sub-inspector rank, her mother Manimacha Devi alleged. She was a pharmacist with New Light Clinic at Mayang Imphal in Imphal West district.

Anand, a police commando posted at Mayang Imphal police station, close to the private clinic, used to visit the clinic frequently.

“My daughter committed suicide after the police sub-inspector publicly humiliated her by beating her on March 28 and later threatened her. The police officer should be brought to book,” Manimacha Devi, mother of Shamashakhi, said.

The relatives refused to take the body and have lodged a complaint at Waikhong police station in Thoubal.

Manimacha Devi said: “My daughter told me before she consumed acid on March 29 that she did not want to live because her prestige has been lowered after the assault.” She could not, however, say why the policeman had assaulted her daughter.

Shamashakhi had a boyfriend — Rabishankar Singh, an Assam Rifles jawan — now posted in Nagaland.

“My daughter also told me that one day Anand forced her to call her fiancĂ©’s parents over mobile phone and tell that as she had physical relation with the sub-inspector they better give up hope of getting her as their daughter-in-law.” Manimacha Devi told the media today.

She said on Sunday, her daughter had called her from the clinic, asking her to take her home since she was afraid to come alone,” Manimacha Devi said.

Sangrila, Shamashakhi’s colleague, said Anand beat up her friend severely while Shamashakhi was on her way to Sangrila’s place on Sunday. Manimacha Devi said Anand had dropped her daughter home on Monday morning, after which the girl consumed acid.

NCERT syllabi raises storm

Guwahati, March 31: Retired teachers of Cotton College today announced a mass movement against Dispur’s move to introduce a syllabus prescribed by the National Council of Education Research and Training in Assam schools from Class I, saying it would only bring an “alien culture” among students.

The Cotton College Retired Teachers’ Forum has decided to meet education minister Gautam Bora next month to pressure him into withdrawing the government’s circular regarding introduction of NCERT syllabus from Classes I to XII.

The forum organised a brainstorming session on the issue by involving educationists, scholars and intellectuals here on Sunday and resolved to carry out a sustained movement.

“The Assam government’s decision to introduce NCERT syllabus, particularly at the elementary level (Classes I to VIII), by adopting and translating its textbooks into local language without any modification to include local environment, culture, value system and ethos will be very harmful. What will our children learn about Assam, its culture and its environment? From childhood they will be acclimatised to certain traditions, names and culture, which are alien to them and this would push the state’s own culture on the verge of extinction,” the forum’s president, Tarakeswar Choudhury, told reporters.

He said the forum would involve various organisations, including the All Assam Students’ Union, to generate healthy public opinion against the government’s move.

An Assam government official said the basic objective of following the NCERT syllabus was to enable students from the state to be successful in all-India examinations.

He said the decision was taken after the Union human resource development ministry last year instructed all states to switch over to the NCERT model while preparing the school syllabi.

“The ministry’s instruction is part of its effort to bring uniformity in school education across the country,” the official said.

The vice-president of the forum, Ranjit Nath Bhattacharjee, said there is a difference between adopting a syllabus and adopting textbooks.

“We are not against upgrading the present syllabus on the lines of NCERT by keeping the local flavour intact to enable students from the state to compete with their counterparts across the country. But the State Council of Education Research and Training and Board of Secondary Education, Assam, are currently involved in a literal translation of NCERT textbooks into local language to change the existing syllabi. Such literal translation of NCERT books will not include subjects like Assam’s history, culture and geography,” Bhattacharjee said.

Rain cheer for tea industry - Planters hope for good first flush crop

Guwahati, March 31: Continuous rain for the past one week has brought cheer to the tea industry in Assam with planters hoping for a good harvest during the first flush that ends in May.

The tea produced from the leaves picked during first flush (March-May) is known for its strong and fresh flavour. Nearly 20 per cent of the total production of tea in Assam takes place during the first flush period.

Assam produces about 500 million kg of tea annually, which is more than 50 per cent of the country’s total production of the crop.

The state has over 800 tea estates spread across both the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys.

Upper Assam, the hub of tea activities in the state, recorded about 72.6mm rainfall in the past six days.

During the corresponding period last year, however, there was no rainfall.

“We are hoping for a good harvest during the first flush,” said Abhijit Sharma, chairman of the Assam Tea Planters Association.

Sharma, who is also a renowned planter, said Golaghat district, which witnessed a prolonged dry spell, had also been blessed with heavy rainfall in the past few days.

Upper Assam witnessed 22.4mm rainfall today, the heaviest during the past six days of continuous rainfall.

Kamala Kanta Nath, head of the department of agro meteorology at Assam Agricultural University, said the rain had come as a boon for not only tea but paddy crops as well.

“Last year there was no rain at all during this period. As such the agriculture sector was adversely affected,” he said.

A scientist at the Tocklai Tea Research Station said the rain had come as a blessing as pest attacks on tea bushes would reduce.

“Heavy showers have washed away the red spiders and helopeltis (tea mosquitoes) from the tea bushes. The pest attacks on the bushes will lessen now,” he said.

The Tocklai scientist said the cost of production would also come down since the planters need not use more pesticides like they would have to do in the case of a dry spell.

Apart from the tea-rich Upper Assam, the showers also brought good news to planters in Barak Valley.

“We are expecting a good harvest during the first flush. We hope to make up for the crop loss in the last few weeks,” said Dipanjal Deka, secretary of the Tea Association of India.

The association has several member gardens in Barak Valley.

Planters in Assam were a worried lot till a month back in view of the dry spell that began from December. The state witnessed a similar situation last year.

Another scientist at the Assam Agricultural University said the state had witnessed a tremendous climatic change in recent times with a decrease of nearly 50 per cent in annual rainfall in the last 15 years. Last year, planters had to carry out replantation in several gardens in Jorhat, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and Sivasagar districts.

Don't treat soldiers like beggars: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has slammed the union government for treating army personnel like "beggars" in respect of emoluments and pension and asked the authorities to adopt a more "humane approach" towards those bravely defending the country's borders.

"If a person goes to any part of Delhi and sits for begging, he will earn Rs 1000 every day and you are offering a pittance of Rs 1000 per month for a man who fought for the country in the high altitudes and whose arm was amputated?

"Is this the way you treat those brave army officers? It is unfortunate that you are treating them like beggars," a bench of Justices Markandeya Katju and A K Patnaik said in verbal comments while passing the order.

The apex court passed the order dismissing the Centre's appeal challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court direction to pay higher pension to C S Siddu, a Short Commissioned Officer whose right arm had to be amputated due to an accident while on duty at the high altitudes on November November 21, 1970.

"The army personnel are bravely defending the country even at the cost of their lives and we feel they should be treated in a better and more humane manner by government authorities, particularly, in respect of their emoluments, pension and other benefits," the bench said in an order.

There was an element of drama in the court when Additional Solicitor General Parag Tripathi pleaded with the court not to use "strong words" in the order like "beggars," "niggardly" "miserly", following which the bench dropped them from the written order.

"We regret to say that the army officers and army men in our country are being treated in a shabby manner by the government. In this case, the respondent (Sidhu), who was posted at a high altitude field area and met with an accident during discharge of his duties, was granted a meagre pension. This is a pittance (about Rs 1000) per month plus DA. If this is the manner in which the army personnel are treated, it can only be said that it is extremely unfortunate," the bench however, noted in its written order.

India launches biometric census

India is launching a new census in which every person aged over 15 will be photographed and fingerprinted to create a biometric national database.

The government will then use the information to issue identity cards.

Officials will spend a year classifying India's population of around 1.2 billion people according to gender, religion, occupation and education.

The exercise, conducted every 10 years, faces big challenges, not least India's vast area and diversity of cultures.

Census officials must also contend with high levels of illiteracy and insurgencies by Maoists and other rebels in parts of the country.

President Pratibha Patil was the first person to be listed, and appealed to fellow Indians to follow her example "for the good of the nation".

"Everyone must participate and make it successful," she said in Delhi.

'Unstoppable'

This is India's 15th census and the first time a biometric element has been included.
"India has been conducting a national census since 1872," the man leading the exercise C Chandramouli told the AFP news agency. "Nothing - floods, droughts, even wars - has been able to stop it.

"The trick is to get things right the first time. There is no question of a re-census."

Over the next year, some 2.5 million census officials will visit households in more than 7,000 towns and 600,000 villages.

They will first begin the process of house listing - which records information on homes. This count will, for the first time, also attempt to gather information on the use of the internet and the availability of drinking water and toilets in households.

The physical count of residents will take place from 9-28 February 2011.

The mammoth registration exercise will stretch over 11 months, consume more than 11 million tonnes of paper, and cost 60bn rupees ($1.3bn; £880m).

India's Home Minister, P Chidambaram, has described the process as the biggest of its kind in human history.

"An exercise of this kind has not been attempted anywhere else in the world," he told reporters in the capital.

The national census is the only source of primary and credible data in India and is used not just to formulate government policies but also by private companies to identify markets for their products, says the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi.

The first 16-digit identity numbers are due to be issued starting in November.

The full census results will be released in mid-2011.

The collation of biometric information on a national database raises questions about possible infringement of civil liberties in the future.

BBC correspondents say many Indians appear to support the new ID cards, believing it will make it easier to receive things like state benefits.

Assam shows the way, provides healthcare for all

Assam became the country’s first state to guarantee all its citizens the right to healthcare by passing the Assam Public Health Bill, 2010 on Wednesday.

The new law makes it mandatory for all government and private nursing homes and hospitals to provide free healthcare to an emergency patient of any kind for the first 24 hours.

“This Act is the first step in India towards making healthcare a fundamental right and we hope it will revolutionise our health sector,” said state Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. “Rules would be framed to define an emergency under the legislation,” he said.

The Act says patients who cannot afford treatment in a private hospital can later be shifted to a government hospital after getting immediate necessary treatment for the first 24 hours -- very crucial in saving lives.

The Act also prescribes remedial measures in case a patient fails to receive attention in a government hospital or health establishment because of the absence of doctors or any other medical staff. Such patients would be entitled to monetary compensation.

Other salient features of the Act include every patient having the right to be provided his or her complete medical records of at least two years maintained by the hospitals and nursing homes.