War against drugs and tackling the COVID-19 situation are the two key areas of focus of the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma-led government who completed the first month of his office on Thursday, June 10.
Himanta Biswa Sarma took oath as the Chief Minister on May 10. After he took charge as the chief minister, Dr. Sarma said that he would take measures to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic and also instructed the Assam Police department to take strict measures against drugs.
The Covid challenge
On May 10, the day the new Cabinet took oath, the state recorded 5,803 positive cases. Within the next 10 days, the figure kept increasing, going up to 6,573 cases on May 20 — the highest-ever daily cases for the state. Nearly 80-90 deaths from the disease were taking place and hospitals were filled to the brim with patients.
Contrary to expectations, Sarma, who handled the health ministry in the previous Sarbananda Sonowal government, gave the charge of the ministry to Keshab Mahanta, working president of AGP, instead of handling the responsibility himself.
Initiatives such as a strict curfew, extending to as long as 17 hours daily, without going in for a complete lockdown; the setting up of new Covid care centers; improvement in oxygen supply; a ban on inter-district movement; and increasing the number of Covid tests as well as speeding up vaccination has helped bring down the figures in the past two weeks.
Daily numbers have now come down to around 3,800 cases and nearly 40 deaths. The positivity rate, which hovered around 8% a month ago, has now decreased to nearly 3%. The state, however, still has 49,000 active Covid-19 cases at present.
The war on drugs
While the health department is handling the pandemic situation, the state’s police is busy busting drug cartels, arresting traffickers and recovering contraband and cash since the new government took office.
Though the drive against drugs has been part of the routine police operations, the campaign picked momentum last month after the new government under Sarma, who also holds the home portfolio, took charge.
Between May 10 and June 7, the police across Assam has registered 401 cases and arrested 701 persons in connection with illegal drugs. Over 8.5 kgs of heroin, 2 kgs of brown sugar, nearly 6,000 kgs of marijuana, over 270,000 illegal tablets and around ₹26 lakh in cash have been recovered in this period.
As per police records, there has been a big jump in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act cases in past 10 years in the state. From 180 cases in 2010, the police registered 1,023 cases last year.
“We will continue our operations against drugs continuously. Many families have been destroyed because of it, so we are taking this action as our responsibility. I am of the firm belief if our police act actively, Assam would be able to get rid of this menace,” Himanta Biswa Sarma said in Delhi last week.
The militant challenge
The release of Ritul Saikia, a junior engineer assistant of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), kidnapped by the banned United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I), within two weeks of the new government taking charge, has been another highlight of the past month after the chief minister took charge.
“Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took personal interest in the matter and visited the affected family. His appeal to ULFA-I commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah elicited a quick and positive response and led to Saikia’s release on the Indo-Myanmar border,” said information minister Pijush Hazarika.
Saikia was abducted along with two other colleagues from a work over rig site of ONGC in Sivasagar district of Assam on April 21. While his colleagues were rescued three days later by security forces from Nagaland, close to the Indo-Myanmar border, in a joint operation, Saikia’s whereabouts were not known.
In the past month, the government also increased its stake in Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) from 12.35% to 26% with an investment of ₹2,187 cr, marking the biggest-ever investment by the state.
On the administrative front, the government created the role of “guardian ministers”, giving responsibility of two to three districts to each Cabinet minister for development projects and welfare schemes in those districts.
On completion of his first month, CM Himanta Biswa Sarma urged the minority community to adopt a “decent family planning policy” for population control to reduce poverty.
“All stakeholders in the community must come forward and support the government in helping reduce poverty in the community which is primarily due to an unabated increase in population,” the chief minister said.
“The government is the guardian of all poor people but it needs the support of the minority community in tackling the issue of population growth which is the root cause of poverty, illiteracy and consequent lack of proper family planning,” he said.
Sarma said that his government will work towards educating the women of the community so that the problem can be tackled effectively.