The indefinite bandh of the Old Cachar Road was lifted yesterday following the assurances from deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam and engineers of the state Public Works Department. The route beside its historic importance is a vital organ for development of Tamenglong district, particularly the villages in Khoupum valley and adjoining areas and those along the most ancient national highway of Manipur. This time round, we hope the government will show sincerity and take up concrete measures for actuation of its promises for starting work for modernization of the route, particularly after the chief minister made a fresh pledge to bring development of hills at par with the valley.
The problems faced by the residents of the villages along the route is manifold, part of which can be attributed to the total indifference of the administration to the renovation of the route for decades altogether and ironically, the emphasis put on the need for its development. The significance of the route can be drawn from the fact that the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh has declared twice that the Centre has agreed in principle to take up repair of the road on December 2, 2006 and December 3, 2011. The road was for once the only route linking Manipur with the rest of India until the British developed the two main national highways. Afterwards, the Old Cachar Road or Tongjei Maril was forsaken for ages, specially in recent past, and the last major renovation reportedly took place more than four decades ago. Due to the dreadful road conditions, the passenger vehicles had hard times traversing across and this has led to increase in fares and earned itself the epithet of Disco Route, indicating the plight of the passengers who are thrown in all directions during the journey due to the bouncy and undulating road. Ultimately, for scores of villages lying on the route, besides the increase in price of essential items it meant aggravated inconvenience in movement of sick villagers needing advanced and intensive medical care in Imphal and traders desperate for faster transportation of their degradable fruits and vegetables. The condition of the route can make or break the future of thousands of people residing in villages along this ancient highway. For the records, Gaikhangam, whose native village of Gaidimjang is nestled in Khoupum valley, has repeatedly pushed for revival of the age-old route, asserting that a new wave of development would come forth once the road becomes functional.
According to villagers of Khoupum valley, though they have learnt that the North Eastern Council had invested Rs 147 crores for development of the route, they have not witnessed any conspicous result of the flow of money so far. It is anybody’s guess what has happened to the fund sanctioned and the fate of the road on which depends the future of thousands of villagers of Tamenglong district. At the same time, the PWD has for reasons unexplained chose to maintain silent on why the road has not been modernized even though a minister has verified the allocation of fund. On the other hand, the department had criticized the maintenance of the NH-53 by the Border Road Organisation and made desperate bids to convince the Centre to entrust the work to the department, though all in vain. If the PWD is so self-assured about its skills and technology on bettering the BRO in safe-keeping the national highway, it should give a fitting illustration of its capability by transforming the Tongjei Maril to stake a authoritative claim for entrustment of maintenance work of NH-53, as a major section of the two routes lies in Tamenglong district.