Majuli used to be a large river island on the river Brahmaputra in Assam, India
It is about 20 km away from Jorhat and serves as an important tourist attraction
Recently, the new Assam government has decided to honour Majuli as a separate district of Assam
Assam to become the first state to grant district status to an island. Recently, after the elections, the BJP led government formed in Assam met for the first time since the victory and decided to take a landmark decision. The decision was to grant district status to Majuli, a 400 sq km big island on river Brahmaputra. Majuli falls under the Jorhat subdivision of Assam. It is intended to become the 34th district of Assam.
“We have decided to elevate Majuli to a district so that people do not have to take a boat every time they need to approach the district administration,” state excise minister Parimal Suklabaidya said to The Hindustan Times, after the meeting.
Majuli has been a home to mostly the Mishing tribal of Assam. It has been the hub of the neo-Vaishnavite culture of Assam which had been initiated by Srimanta Sankardeva, the saint-reformer, in the 15th century. Therefore, the island boasts of harbouring a number of Vaishnavite monasteries from a long time ago. Some of them have been lost and destroyed over time. Some of the surviving ones are Dakhinpat, Garamurh, Auniati, Kamalabari and Bengenaati.
The new government has also made the promise that they will secure jobs for the teachers who have passed the TET(Teachers’ Eligibility Test) and have not gotten employment yet. The decision had coincided with the event of around 7000 teachers joining schools across 10 districts of Assam. They had earned their postings through the lottery, a week ago.
Schools, colleges and universities worldwide have been closed since March 11, 2020 when COVID-19 was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a global pandemic.
But for 69 lecturers of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), the door was shut against them since May 11, 2018 – two years ago. Like the outbreak of COVID-19, there was no warning. These lecturers were ambushed with retrenchment letters in the middle of the semester while teaching students in class.
The dismissal letters gave them seven days to take their personal property and vacant the premises. They were caught off-guard with mortgages, loans, rent and bills to pay as well as families to feed. They were suddenly without a job and medical insurance.
The stay-at-home retrenchment order was triggered to these “surplus” lecturers who had become “redundant” in the university’s “restructuring exercise.” Was their forced quarantine justified? Let’s look at the facts and revelations, using my situation as a case study.
My teaching load was higher
In all its internal and external releases, University of Trinidad and Tobago has declared that lecturers’ teaching load (as opposed to work-load, which would have included research and service) was the main criterion used to select teaching staff for retrenchment.
UTT’s disclosure to my Freedom of Information (FOIA) application after I was dismissed states that I was carrying a teaching load of 70.8%, excluding Practicum. However, there were other Assistant Professors who had considerably lower teaching load percentages, but were not selected for retrenchment.
Some of them had scores as low as 15%, 28%, 35%, 38%, etc. In fact, of the 20 Assistant Professors who were retained, only two (2) or 10% had higher teaching load percentages than mine.
Although my teaching load percentage (70.8%) was higher than most of my former colleagues, who were retained, I should have earned yet a higher teaching score had it not been for an error and contradiction on the part of UTT.
University of Trinidad and Tobago’s disclosure to me after I was fired reveals that the PRACTICUM courses I taught were not counted as part of my teaching load. However, the same PRACTICUM Term 2 courses (PRAC 1002 and PRAC 2002) were counted for my colleagues, Additionally, a PRACTICUM Term 3 course (PRAC 2001) was counted for others but not for me.
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These errors and contradictions by UTT are important to note because the university has declared that lecturers’ teaching load was the main criterion used to select teaching staff for retrenchment.
These errors and contradictions in computing the teaching load scores for me constitute bias, inequality, unfairness and injustice in selecting me for retrenchment. These mistakes and paradoxes resulted in my dismissal which caused me grave humiliation, pain, suffering, stress, trauma and rejection as well as loss of income, status, dignity, pride and institutional affiliation.
Was this Programme really being phased out?
In many of its releases and correspondences, University of Trinidad and Tobago has stated that I and other lecturers were retrenched because the Secondary School Specialisation courses which they taught were being phased out as part of the university’s restructuring exercise.
At the dismissal meeting at the Centre for Education Programmes (CEP) at UTT, administrator Dr Judy Rocke also told the assembled lecturers that all Secondary School Specialisation courses were being phased out, resulting in us being “redundant” in the university’s “restructuring exercise.” The following facts reveal that this statement is not true.
These same courses were timetabled for a NEW cohort of students during the new semester which began in September 3, 2018. These Secondary School Specialisation courses are taught from Year 2. One of these courses which was not phased out for the new Year 2 student-intake was ANTH 2001- Caribbean Cultural Anthropology, which I taught. After my retrenchment, I was replaced by a lecturer who was not qualified to teach ANTH 2001.
Substitute lecturers not qualified
The Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) made the following written disclosures to me, dated August 23, 2019. Its Executive Director, Dr Eduardo Ali, stated that my substitute lecturer was “not qualified to teach” ANTH 2001. Additionally, Dr Ali stated that another substitute lecturer teaching the course TVOC 2003: Job Task Analysis in Semester 1 during the Academic Year 2018-2019 at CEP was also “not qualified to teach the said course”.
I began my tenure at UTT as an Assistant Professor in January 2007 – longer than most of my former colleagues, who held Ph.D. degrees in CEP. My latest Performance Management and Appraisal Process (PMAP) appraisal score dated October 3, 2017 was 95 out of 100. This score was given, approved and endorsed by my immediate supervisor, Dr Judy Rocke, who paradoxically selected me for dismissal.
Myskills and qualifications are more diverse than those of most of my former teaching colleagues. My M.Phil. degree is in the Humanities (Literatures in English) and my Ph.D. is in the Social Sciences (Anthropology).
Dr. Mahabir is a former Organization of American States (OAS) Fellow and the recipient of a Government National Award for Education.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Saturday inaugurated the first-ever CNG fuelling station of the state in Dibrugarh.
Sonowal said that to make Assam free from air pollution and to promote the use of clean and green fuel, State government is preparing a roadmap for setting up CNG fuelling station in all districts of the state.
He also said that since vehicular emissions take a toll on the health of the people, the State government is working sincerely to promote the use of compressed natural gas in the state.
“Making a pollution-free state is one of the primary objectives of the government and therefore, the government, has been taking series of steps to make Assam free from the scourge of pollution and its manifestations,” he said.
In a welcome move, the Assam government has relaxed the restrictions on cultivation of the scented Agar tree.
“In a landmark decision, the Cabinet approved growing and cutting of Agar and Chandan trees on non-forest lands. This will promote cultivation of Agar and Chandan in the state. The Cabinet also approved setting up of an International Trade Centre for Agar in Golaghat,” said Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in a tweet.
‘Aquilaria malaccensis’, which is locally known as Xasi or Agar, is used in world class perfumeries as a fixative and is highly prized by European perfumers for mixing their best grade scents. It acts as a stimulant, cardio tonic and carminative, aphrodisiac, alternative anodyne, anti-diarrheal, anti-asthmatic and astringent.
“The Assam cabinet has kind of liberalized the Agar plantation and its felling. Now there is no need for registration for Agar cultivation up to 35 bighas of land. This is going to boost the state’s economy to a great extent,” said a senior industry department officer in Assam.
The plantation of Agar tree is seen in Assam’s Sibsagar, Sadiya, Nagaon, Darrang, Goalpara and Cachar districts of Assam. Apart from Assam, the tree is also grown in Khasi Hills and Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya and also found in the forests of Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
The All Assam Agar Traders and Agar Oil Manufacturers’ Association has been demanding the state government to exempt agar wood from the purview of Assam Wood Based Industries (Establishment and Regulation) Rules 2000 and bringing them under the Secondary Wood Based Industries.
“As Agar wood was classified under the wood based industries, cutting of Agar tree was not allowed and there was requirement of registration for sending the same outside,” said the senior official adding that the move would also help stop the illegal Agar trade, which is estimated to be of Rs 10,000 Crore.
At present the Hojai district in Assam is the hub of distilling the agar oil. More than two lakh people are directly dependent on this Agar cultivation and illegal Agar trade in Assam. In Hojai alone, there are over 2,000 distillation units of Agar. (IANS)