By Paojel Chaoba
IMPHAL December 6: Traveling during the dry season, the road was caked with nearly three inches of loose dirt as the media team started from Jiribam and got wedged among the trucks passing through the NH 37 en route to Imphal. Visibility came down to zero on numerous times along the way due to the dirt kicked up by passing vehicles. One false turn would either plunge the vehicle down the ravine or get smashed into the hillside. It was mandatory to pull up the windshields even then the dust would seep in and choke the passengers. As commercial vehicles are without air conditioning, it was like a steam bath inside and for several kilometres at a stretch, there were no respites. This is the present scenario for most of the undeveloped track along the 222 km long National Highway 37, the Imphal- Jiribam road.
The first hand assessment of the highway was made by a team of media persons along with representatives of the Information Centre for Hill Areas, Manipur (ICHAM) as part of a policy of the latter to appraise the Union defence ministry of the predicament faced by the public and transporters while traveling along the route. ICHAM has mandated itself to take stock and investigate the snail’s pace of development works carried out along the highway.
“At the present rate of work which is being assigned to various contracting houses for just 40 kilometres along the national highway accorded to the BRO/ BRTF , I must say it is evidently impossible for the construction companies to meet the 2013 deadline”, ICHAM president N Rajendro who accompanied the media team said.
He further mentioned that ICHAM has been monitoring the work progress on a monthly basis beginning September last and have met concerned officials of the BRO/BRTF working along the said route.
The officials had also blamed the weather conditions and lack of stone quarry sites for the hindrance in work along the route.
It was learnt that according to a report sent to the Union defence ministry by the BRO on July 27, 2011, more than 1280 labourers are presently engaged with adequate machinery to complete blacktopping of the NH 37 by December 2013. The same was further intimated to Chief Minister Okram Ibobi by Union minister AK Anthony afterwards.
“As it is clearly obvious, there are hardly 200/250 labourers engaged in works at present. It has remained so since our last two visits. I ask you, Where the rest of the workers have disappeared to, there are supposed to be 1280 workers currently deployed. ”, Rajendro further exclaimed.
Calculating the approximate wages for the number of workers, who are supposed to be assigned on daily minimum wages, Rajendro pointed out that at least a sum of Rs 38,40,000 has to be paid out to the labourers per month which amounts to Rs 4,63,80,000 in a year. “We hope that the rest of the invisible thousand workers are getting their due salary, I think an inquiry into the workings of the BRO should be initiated by the concerned authorities”, he said.
It may be mentioned that along the NH 37, the blacktopping tender for the 20 km stretch from Makru to Kaimai has been allotted to Gautam Construction Company, an Assam based company which had begun work and set its deadline by December 2012. Only a 2 km stretch of the 5km Kaimai to Shantikhunou allotted to the BRTF has been completed. The rest from Shantikhunou to Barak which is 20 km and allotted to ABCI Limited is yet to commence. The work for the rest of the route is allocated to the BRTF.
It was observed that aside from some labourers and machines working at intermittent gaps along the Makru to Shantikhunou stretch, there was no huge involvement of manpower to develop the road.
Approaching some grubby passengers at Barak Bridge, K Indramohan while dusting his clothes told IFP,“ This is no Highway, this is Dustway 37. I wish that the CM or Governor would once take this land route, then they would have this God forsaken experience that the public and transporters have been facing for so long”.