By Amar Yumnam
Manipur is right now facing some veritable issues relating to the development and the management of her capital, the Imphal city. The development issues relate to the environmental (dust, mud and similar pollutions; the noise pollution is yet to enter the thinking of the people of the land), improvement of the existing logistics and infrastructure and amenities, and efforts towards installing new facilities. The management problems are those relating to traffic, clustering of locations and social impact issues of the improvement and development activities.
Impressive Yes: The recent interventions affecting changes in Imphal city are impressive in so far as they relate to improvements of facilities and creation of new amenities. They are impressive because, for the first time in any development activity in living memory, there are signs of application of mind and social and engineering design commitments in these.
Here we may recall some basic roles of an urban area. Urbanisation in any social context should be a basic foundation for modernisation and technological change. This should also serve as the place for interaction and integrity among the different segments of the population. While endeavouring to play these roles, the basic requirement is not to outgrow itself in which case the possible negative characteristics would outstrip the positive externalities of urbanisation. Once such a stage reaches a critical point, the city becomes a centre of crime and place for absence of rule of law difficult to re-establish governance. In other words, a city can grow only up to a level where it can sustain itself in terms of normal conduct of business, interaction of people and interchange of ideas and provision of access and amenities without compromising on the level of comforts. To all these, we now have a twenty-first century dimension to urban governance, which relates to security; the city should be such that ensuring security and restoration of security atmosphere without much loss of time if once disturbed by terrorist attacks can be affected.
The recent developmental interventions, post the flyover, indicate efforts to cater to all these requirements of a city. The fiasco, historical and social, of the Imphal flyover seems to have sunk into the minds of the Imphal city planners, and they now seem eager to remedy this by a new set of rationale interventions. To this extent, the new developments and changes are to be lauded.
Management of Changes: While the developmental interventions are to be appreciated as stated above, we must categorically point out that the management of the changes betray absolute lack of application of mind and streaks of non-democratic orientation. We now seem any instances of putting the cart before the horse in introducing the changes, and a kind of conviction where the police forces are being projected as the sole means for development orientation. Unfortunately, we fail to appreciate why so many violations of the new rules are being committed by the vehicles of uniform personnel and vehicles of ‘very important persons’; all these are dangerous portends for a democracy and instances which can ultimately jeopardise all the good intentions accompanying the recent interventions. If we are effecting urban development, we must also be aware of the global lessons in urbanisation.
We understand that any kind of development intervention would generally have the impact of benefitting some and disturbing the interests of some others. Accordingly, it is important that the governance of the impact be such that the negative impacts be minimised, if not neutralised, and at least conditions are generated for the adversely affected people to bear the temporary adversities without much hardship. But this cardinal lesson seems to have been missed out by the city planners and administrators. One instance-exemplar of the lack of management is the case of the street vendors. It is true that all now existing and those who would be emerging in the future cannot be accommodated in the existing city centre. The clearance of the city centre from their presence is right, but the timing is absolutely wrong. As mentioned above, the street vendors would definitely have to bear the cost of inconveniences when forced out to a new place. However – given the historical, social and economic role of our women- the policy makers should have been alive to the necessities for addressing the adverse impact these women would face when forced to move to Lamphelpat. Before forcing them out to Lamphelpat, all the accesses should have been put in order in the first place, but it is quite the contrary. A marketplace is one where both sellers and buyers can easily access and interact. This fundamental principle has been violated to the core. Further, this has negatively affected in the second round the markets in the greater Imphal areas which were earlier dependent on bulk morning purchases for retailing in the rest of the day. One can easily imagine the kind of bitterness and negative impact these must have generated.
Another instance is the case of traffic management. For the new non-entry and non-parking regulations to be sustainable and thus have lasting effectiveness, it is important that we have a clustering and then zoning approach to the city. This way, we could generate a kind of labour-intensive activity atmosphere in the city while not jeopardising the present approach. Once again, the will has been imposed, and the security agencies have been pressed into a cause for developmental intervention.
Final Comment: In fine, we would definitely like to say that the governance of development in the land and for that matter anywhere needs to be aware of the impact management dimensions of the needed interventions. The lack of this understanding is particularly marked in otherwise good urban interventions in Imphal today post-the flyover. Further, we should now be shedding the entrenched impact of the long existence under the army law where everything is to be controlled by the forces in uniform. What is important in a democracy and thus sustainable is the establishment of a system which people would spontaneously imbibe. Further this system would give no exceptions, as is wont in Manipur to the security forces and the very important persons, for once exceptions are maintained in public domain, the future of democracy is at stake.