By: Neken Singh Seram
“ The more our dependence on outside products, the greater is the importance of national highways. As of the present day generation, almost everything we use right from the early morning wake-up to the time we return to bed at night comes from outside the state. Right from tooth brush and tooth paste to clothes we wear, from apples to rice and oil, from school bags to Tiffin materials of children, from vehicles and fuel to entertainment gadgets, everything is imported from outside the state. It is high time people of Manipur explored various possibilities to reduce dependencies on the highways and outside markets. We need to learn use of local products instead of products imported from outside. ”
Long queues in front of oil pumps indicate the onset of highway bandh for one or the other demands of people inhibiting along the people’s lifelines. Government always remains hapless in dealing with the frequent highway blockades which harass the general population particularly the poor majority. No befitting action has been taken up against those taking undue advantage of residing along the national highways. The supreme court of India has already ruled that highway blockade is a crime worth punishable. However, till today not a single perpetrator or organisation involved in highway blockade has ever been booked and banned in Manipur. Thanks to the inaction of the incumbent government that does not spare even an old vendor woman of Khwairamband Keithel for her occupying a small space at the roadside, selling vegetables and braving traffic police lathis to feed her families.
During the 68 day Naga-sponsored economic blockade last year, the normal social and economic lives of the Manipuris were severely hit. As the LPG gas was unavailable due to blockade, time of cooking depended on the availability of electricity during daytime. We saw widespread use of rice cookers and electric heaters for all cooking purposes replacing use of cooking gas. People started using charcoal with chulaas for cooking at home. The blockade in highways obviously taught a valuable lesson to the Manipuris regarding economical use of fuel at home and outside. Earlier most people recklessly used LPG for domestic purposes keeping aside the electric heaters and rice cookers rusted for long. But, we were forced to repair the electric heaters and chulaas for making tea, boiling water, preparing curries and fries.
Although its negative impacts have hard-hit the inhabitants of Manipur hills and valley people during the last few months, economic blockade is not bereft of intent merits providing durable benefits to the people. Unnecessary roaming on vehicles has drastically reduced as petrol prices in black market sky-rocketed as high as 120 per litre. Long queues have adorned the oil pumps. Besides using public carriers like Auto-Rikshaw and Magic-Tata by office goers, number of cycling and walking people will also rise in course of time. As many vehicles are off the roads due to fuel scarcity, there will be reduction of air and noise pollution in city. Fuel scarcity will certainly make a valuable contribution to the health of many people who walk and ride cycles for their routine businesses by activating body metabolism and controlling body weight. Thanks to blockade sponsors who indirectly help us realized the relevance of simple living.
Dearth of edibles coming in from outside the state will compel many people to use local products made by self-help groups. Most popular are: papad, pickles, chow-chow, Khurman, kabok, spices and juices of various kinds. It is time to teach our children children to eat Kabok, Laloo, Heingan, Khurman instead of Cakes, Uncle Chips and Lays. Local made eatables may replace Macorni, Maggi and Chow-chow for School Tiffin. The quantum of demands for local products during the economic blockade may be almost double. Hundreds of women who are engaged in ferrying these products from place to place may be benefitted in their business.
One most rewarding merit of the long economic blockade by the various Naga bodies last year was the garner of attention of the government towards improving the conditions of national highway number 53. However, no improvement has been seen as yet. The said alternative lifeline of the Manipur people which had long been neglected by the government will now be put up again as the most debated agenda of the ensuing general elections.
Locally available fruits should take the place of apple, grapes, mangoes and pomegranates imported from outside which are expensive and the prices of which often fluctuate due to transport disruptions. Cooking LPG uses may be reduced at the minimum by utilizing the electricity economically and adopting the traditional charcoal/ fuel wood burning. People in general need to popularize walking and cycling for less-hasty and less-distant businesses. It serves the trio-benefit of health improvement, saving fuel and reducing pollution. If we can be familiarized with such habits and practices, the hardships due to economic blockade will not be too grave as before. The simple living and Swadeshi philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Nation have found total relevance in Manipur at this hour of highway blockade.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)
The above article was sent to Kanglaonline.com by Mr. Neken Singh Seram