By Jimmy Leivon
IMPHAL, January 18: The two national highways (NH-2 Imphal-Dimapur road and NH-37 Imphal-Silchar road) that connects Manipur with the rest of the country apparently have become the most hazardous highways for truckers of the state. With no other feasible routes as alternatives, these two national highways are considered the lifelines of Manipur- the main supply line of the state with a population over 27 lakhs (as per 2011 census).
Keeping in mind their strategic importance, these highways are used as mediums of orchestrating propaganda or demands by various sections besides, becoming haven for extortions of different armed elements. At the same time, the deplorable condition of the highways is another factor adding to the woes of the truckers.
For several years, disturbances along the route in the form of blockade and extortion related crimes have not only taken a heavy toll on the economy of the state but also claimed precious lives of truckers who have been rendering their service for the public.
Manipur being a multi ethnic state, differences amongst communities have always led to social upheaval in the state. It has become a common phenomenon in the state for any group or community to impose a general strike or blockade on the highways to further their cause or demands.
How genuine the cause may be, the consequences had to be borne by the public. In such an event prices of commodities soar sky high at an uncontrollable rate. But, the heaviest price of all is to be paid by the truckers directly engaged in supplying the daily needs of the public.
In 2011 alone, a truck driver was killed and around 54 vehicles including 41 heavy vehicles torched during the 92 days economic blockade imposed by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC), the longest blockades in the history of Manipur as well as India. The SHDDC was demanding a separate district under the banner of Sadar Hills an area mostly dominated by Kuki tribe.
The deceased Rahman Anwar, 33, from Keirao, was allegedly beaten to death by blockade supporters in the month of September, 2011.
The latest incident took place recently in the month of April, 2013 wherein a truck driver was shot dead, another kidnapped and three goods laden trucks set ablaze by armed miscreants.
The killing took place along the NH-37 Imphal-Silchar road, under Tamenglong district, when heavily armed persons suspected to be militants shot dead a truck driver and torched two trucks.
The deceased driver, Sorokhaibam Babu Singh aged 40, a local of Samurou Awang Leikai in Imphal West district, Manipur was on his way to Imphal with his handyman carrying load full of FCI rice, when the incident took place on the night of April 16.
According to witness accounts of the handyman, Lalhakthang, 27, (also brother in law of Babu) they were stooped around 10 armed man clad in combat dresses and dragged down.
He further recalled that without any warning the armed miscreants started firing indiscriminately killing Babu instantly. However, Lalhakthang reportedly managed to hide himself in a roadside pit and escaped the tragedy. The miscreants also allegedly torched two trucks before leaving the spot.
While the killing triggered state-wide protest, another oil tanker driver was kidnapped from Kohima and a truck torched in Senapati the same month.
As per data recorded by the All Manipur Road Transports Drivers and Motors Works Union, an apex body of different transporters, over 200 truckers have been killed along the two national highways. Of the total fatal cases around 60 were reportedly inflicted due to blockade related violence and by armed miscreants.
The first violence against truckers along the National highway was reported in the 1990 wherein a freight truck driver hailing from Kakching Wairi, Thoubal district of Manipur was beaten to dead at Zupzap, by miscreants. Till date nobody has got any clue behind the motive of the attack.
The killing had led to the formation of the transporters’ body spearheading the movement of the transporters till date.
“What is the benefit in targeting truck drivers who are supplying essential commodities for everyone of us in the state?”, questioned Anil, organisation secretary of the All Manipur Road Transports Drivers and Motors Works Union.
“Everyone must respect the service rendered by the drivers. Above all they (driver) are family men trying to meet the requirement of their wife, children. If anyone like to burn a truck let them burnt it, the trucks are insured by their owners. Why takes drivers life”, lamented Anil.
Despite the huge profession hazard involved a driver are paid with a minimal income. A six wheel driver gets only rupees 3000 as monthly salary while a ten wheeler driver gets 5000 rupees per month.
With relentless violence taking place against the drivers, the transporters are insecure despite security escort being provided by the government.
With the recent spate of incident in April last and unable to provide additional security, the truckers are now advised by the government to stay off the national highways after 6 pm.
“It is an impossible task that only two vehicles of CRPF, one guarding the front and the other the rear, to give security coverage to a convoy of over 500 trucks, instead the Government must come up with a lasting solution like establishing a permanent highway protection force”, held Kulamani.
Setting up a Highway Protection Force is the prolonged demand of the transporters. Providing basic facilities in all the unit offices of the transporters situated along the highway for smooth operation and frequent ROP duties are also amongst the demands.