Jorhat/Assam (Agencies): Confident about the peace talks that were held with the ULFA, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday asserted that the talks held a "good future" and downplayed the threats to the Congress issued by the outfit's Paresh Barua faction ahead of Assam Assembly polls.
 
The Prime Minister said that his meeting with the ULFA leadership, led by its Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, in New Delhi "had a very good beginning and its future will also be good".

"Both the government and the ULFA are committed to take the peace process forward and the process is on to bring other underground outfits of the North East to the negotiating table," Singh said in a brief interaction with journalists at the Circuit House.

Asked about Saturday's threat to the Congress by the anti-talk Paresh Barua faction, the Prime Minister said that those who are "now issuing such threats are away from India and are not aware of the ground realities".

Accusing the Congress of attempting to create a division within the outfit, the Paresh Barua faction has threatened to launch an "armed struggle" and called for a boycott of meetings by party leaders.

The Prime Minister said that ULFA Chairman had assured him that there would be no such incidents or disturbances during the assembly elections due in May.

He said peace had returned to the state and Assam had developed economically due to several flagship schemes initiated by his government.

Centre sensitive to needs of NE


PM said that his government has always been sensitive to the special needs of the entire North East region including Assam.
   
“The development of North East has always been the priority of the government and we have initiated several projects for this regard,” the Prime Minister said at the foundation laying ceremony of the National Institute of Design here.

Highlighting the various initiatives taken by his government, the Prime Minister pointed out that the steps taken for the protection of flood and erosion prone Majuli Island and Rohmoria area were at an advanced state of completion.

The Bongaigaon Thermal Power Station (BTPS) was likely to be commissioned shortly and the Assam Gas Cracker Project was another significant project which the government wanted to complete at the earliest, he said.

“We have also introduced several projects for improving connectivity, including the guage conversion, construction of Dholla-Sadiya and Numali-Gohpur bridges, four-laning of NH-37 on the Nagaon-Jorhat-Dibrugarh stretch,” he added.

The Prime Minister expressed pleasure at the commissioning of Ledo Open Cast Mining while the project for the preservation of the cultural heritage of Natun Kamlabari Sattra in Majuli has been also taken up.

On the issue of corruption, the Prime Minister said that it will not be tolerated and action will be definitely taken against those found guilty.

Referring to the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council Funds Diversion Scam, the Prime Minister said action has already been initiated with the National Investigation Agency filing charge sheet against 16 persons.

"There will be no compromise on the issue and the guilty will be punished," he asserted.

Asked about the demand for Scheduled Tribe status by six backward communities, the Prime Minister said that the Panchayati Raj was serving the purpose of safeguarding the traditional aspirations of these people.

"We have provided an additional package of Rs 250 crore to the Bodoland Territorial Council and we will also provide similar packages to the other autonomous councils", he said.

The Prime Minister said his mind was always in Assam and the North-East and that he was keen to see the region developed and strong.

Appropriate utilisation of technology

Prime Minister said that appropriate utilization of technology in oil exploration and refinery will be of great importance for the country in the coming years.

"It is well known that oil and gas will continue to provide the major portion of our energy requirement. Hence, appropriate utilisation of advanced oil and gas exploration and production technology, modern refining technology and efficient distribution of petroleum products in the country will be of great importance in the coming years," he said.

Laying the foundation stone of the country's second Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology (RGIPT) here, he said the Centre has undertaken studies for assessing shale gas potential in the country, including in the North East region where hydro carbon discoveries have been made in four wells.

"Many areas in the region are being assessed for shale (an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock) gas resource mapping and it is in this background that the establishment of his institute in Assam will be beneficial," he said.

The NE region is greatly endowed with hydrocarbon and during the last fiscal year contributed around 15 per cent of the country's crude oil and produced 3.38 billion cubic metre of natural gas.

"In eight rounds of the New Exploration Licencing policy, 25 exploration blocks covering 42,000 sq km have been awarded so far to the North East states and of these 50 are in Assam," he said.

The Prime Minister said RGIPT would be of world class standard and will produce technical personnel serving as leaders and innovators in the fields of petroleum technology, engineering and management.

The RGIPT, which will start its first academic session from September, will help the local youth to gain the knowledge and skill to exploit opportunities created by new projects like the gas cracker project, he said.

The institute is the first of its kind promoted by oil majors - ONGC, IOCL, OIL, GAIL, HPCL, BPCL and NRL- and Oil Industry Development Board (OIDB) under the aegis of Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.

The capital cost of this centre is estimated at Rs 143 crore and its funding will be entirely through contributions from PSU oil companies and OIDB. The recurring expenditure for the functioning of the institute will be met through the corpus fund of Rs 182 crore contributed by the promoting oil companies, official sources said.