Three decades ago,when insurgency had not yet taken root in the state,Tinsukia was Assams biggest commercial hub. And when insurgency took off with the creation of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in 1979,this Upper Assam town was the worst-hit. However,things are beginning to look up after the A and C companies of the ULFAs most-dreaded 28th Battalion came up with a ceasefire in June 2008.
It is a fact that Tinsukia is beginning to breathe freely after three long decades. This has happened after the ULFA companies declared a ceasefire and shunned the path of violence last June, says Suresh Kumar Khaitan,president of the Tinsukia-based National Chamber of Commerce. It is not that investments are flowing in. That will take time. But the people are feeling safer now, he adds.
Khaitans claim is corroborated by Tinsukia Deputy Commissioner K Dwivedi. Till a year ago,this district would have at least two blasts a month. But there hasnt been one since the ceasefire, he said,highlighting how major stores such as Big Bazar and Vishal MegaMart have opened branches here.
The impact has been felt in other sectors too. While a new residential school affiliated to ICSE has come up last year at a sizeable investment by a group of local entrepreneurs,the tourist arrival and hotel occupancy rates have also shot up. Our tourist arrivals have seen a sudden spurt this winter, says Nirantar Gohain,a local entrepreneur who has set up an eco-tourism resort near the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. Last year,we handled 1,226 visitors. This season the number has already crossed 3,000, said Gohain.
Government investment has,however,been nil. While adjoining Dibrugarh has witnessed huge investments in the past few years,not one project has been taken up in Tinsukia, rues B S Dohutia,a local tea planter.
The changing situation in Tinsukia district has also had a positive impact on tourism in adjoining Arunachal Pradesh. There were over 6,000 visitors to the Pangsau Pass Festival on the Stilwell Road this year in comparison to about 3,000 last year. This is definitely because of improving situation in Upper Assam, said Arif Siddique,one of the organisers of the festival.
The number of people who took part in the Parasuram Kunda Mela in mid-January too has shot up. This mela was almost abandoned for five years due to attacks on Bihari migrants and Hindi-speaking people. The extortions too have ended,say government officials and businessmen. There was a time when the ULFA was collecting about Rs 1.5 crore from Tinsukia,half of which was apparently shared with the NSCN which has a presence in the adjoining Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
But the militants who have come forward for the ceasefire are not all that happy. It would have been fantastic had the top ULFA leaders realised their folly and come out for a ceasefire. The Governments response too is not as expected. There are forces at work,including some Army officers,who want to derail the peace process, says Mrinal Hazarika,a former commander of the ULFAs 28th Battalion,who heads the group which announced the ceasefire. Over 150 cadres of the ULFA have joined the group headed by Hazarika and senior ULFA leaders Jiten Dutta and Prabal Neog. We had suggested some development schemes to the Government,but there hasnt been any response as yet. Whatever little is happening is because of the district administration, adds Hazarika.
No doubt Khaitan prefers to keep his fingers crossed. The ceasefire is good,but looks temporary, he says.