The summer of discontent

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Come summer time, the highways of Manipur would be clogged with numerous bandhs and economic blockades with demands ranging from college development to political demands. Perhaps it is the rising heat in recent times which is making bloods boil. In the last few decades we have been seeing varied political assertions being played out on the national highways of Manipur more particularly on NH 39, the Imphal-Dimapur Road. And the intensity had increased in the last few years with economic blockades stretching up to 50-60 days. Mention may be made of the blockade rising out of NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah’s planned visit to his native village in Somdal and the resultant demand for alternative arrangement in the hills of Manipur, and the demand for a Sadar Hills district. There are several other issues of lesser import but enough nuisance value to the highway traffic. This year, it could not wait for the month of June and the Imphal-Dimapur highway was blockaded by the people of Kanglatongbi on May 18 over the death of a young Nepali girl. The road blockade forced the entourage of three ministers to a diversion from the highway to reach Mao and on the return journey the ministers reached Imphal through a notorious road known for its ganja missions crossing Saikul. And it is not the first time that ministers have been blocked on the highway. A former Works Minister had to be rescued by police commandos. The new Works Minister Dr Ratankumar was pleased with the overall improvement of the condition of NH 39 though he expressed reservations on the quality of maintenance work on some stretches of the highway. Road conditions of the highway apart, a secure environment is yet to come on this highway. It is not only about the Dimapur highway, the ill-maintained Imphal-Jiribam highway cannot still be considered a safe highway. It has also its share of problems and difficulties besides the sluggish work of the Border Roads Organization (BRO).

In response to the frequent bandhs and blockades, the government still does have an answer except that of the much touted Highway Patrolling Scheme (HPS). A beginner allocation for the HP scheme has been there in the state budget for the last few years, which remains unutilized. The demand of political parties and that of some sections of the society has so far been limited towards implementation of the said HP scheme. If we have a say in this regard, we cannot but express our reservations to the scheme. It is the product of the ‘bunker mentality’ of the state which we have been seeing for the last few decades. Like its policy towards resolution of the conflict in terms of a military option and the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state, it contains itself within the security option with regard to the facilitation of regular traffic on the national highways of the state. As conditioned by the corrupt political culture and the interplay of power politics, it always refuses to go beyond the box that they are trapped in. But, one cannot always bank upon road opening patrols (ROP) and security escorts for the safety of public transport and goods carriers besides the regular travelers on the highway. We have to think in terms of a safe corridor on the highway, but with basic amenities for the regular traffic which should really benefit the local population settled on either side of the highway. Incentives for local hospitality services and markets of local produce at important intersections of the highway would go a long way in ensuring regular traffic free from disturbances. Situation Rooms at various levels could be opened to monitor disturbances and to coordinate immediate solutions either administrative or political.    

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