By Dr. R.K. Ranjan Singh
Development processes and progress of a country or state basically depend upon the Geo-economic background of the area. However, the degree of development of an area also depends upon the resources, the way of its utilization and ability of technical application to the resource mobilization. In order to achieve systematic and sustainable resource utilization we need an appropriate infrastructural development. Among the infrastructures, transport and communication are of prime importance. Manipur state is one of the most backward states in the country. It is because of the fact that the minimum requirements of transport and communication facilities are not yet attended to in the state. As a result, almost the whole of the state and more specifically hill districts are the worst affected areas. Taking advantages of lack of communication facilities and resultant isolation and under-education, the ignorant common tribal people are often dependent on a few local elites, insincere politicians and exploiters. Lack of means to win greater access to resources and markets and to prevent the imposition of unworkable programme or technologies the common tribal people suffer extremely. The lesson is clear: unless the common highlanders are given the means to participate fully in the developmental works, they will continue to be excluded from its benefits. This should be realized and provoke a new alternative developmental concept for maximum extension of transport and communication system in the hilly areas of the state. The basic fault in the past developmental approaches in the consulted in the developmental planning and usually they have no role in the development activities. That is why the vast majority of the poor and ignorant have no time to represent their interest. Recent years have shown growing criticism of hill development strategies and efforts that have failed to deliver goods on their promises. These conventional strategies have been developed primarily as a series of technical transfers aimed at boosting and generating wealth for the elite groups and insincere politicians only. Even the basic and primary essential commodities and services do not reach the people of the region. hence, common grass root people in the hills are reduced to an alarming de-humanizing situation. In order to document the realities of the field situation, the author is trying to focus this paper on the following issue.
Geographically Manipur is a land of mountains dotted with inter-mountain valleys and wetlands. The state also belongs to the same geological characters of the entire north-eastern region except in the case of Meghalaya plateau. In the early geological history the region experienced a massive movement of the Tethys Sea floor. This resulted in the upward and downward folding of the rocks. Characteristic features such as highland, ridges, basins and valleys were thus produced. All these topographic regions are susceptible to any of the seismic activities as the rock formation of this area is basically weak and unstable. A number of fault and thrust lines are recorded in most of the stream channels and major drainage system of the river basin etc. Over and above the stratigraphic characteristics of the rock pose a serious hurdle for undertaking major engineering and construction like mega dams, etc. 90% of the State’s total area falls under the region of hilly terrain and belongs to the five hill districts of the state. Although the state is one of the most backward ones in the country, the situation is more aggravated in the hilly region. There is no symptom of infrastructural developmental planning specifically in the hills and for common highlanders. Till now there is no scientific attempt to modernize the Jhumming cultivation system on which more than 80% of the hilly people depend upon for their livelihood. Further it is also known fact that there are varieties of natural resources which could boost-up the economy of the hilly terrain inhabitants. All the flora, fauna, and natural beauty are of priceless gift of nature to the indigenous population of the region and are of high value in the present trend of self-sustainable economy. Their habitats are richly endowed with natural resources. The real potentialities of this region could be transformed into appropriate action only when the transport and communication network is made available. Otherwise, it is ironic that tribal people must live in poverty in the midst of plenty.
Current status of total surface road in the Hills:
Every level of civilization and composite culture gained by the Manipuris are all passes through this hilly terrain. Manipur has been evolved with her 2000 years old history and traditions and exposed to outside world only through these terrains. But, unfortunately the light and wave of civilization is yet to reach in this region. Some of the historic routes are of great value to be mentioned herewith i.e. Nongpok Haram, Nongchup Haram, Tongjei Maril, Heirok Lambee, etc. The colour of Manipur civilization is flowing through these network but not even a single mode of culture is protected till today. On the other hand, their simple trusting nature has made them prey to ruthless exploitation at the hands of middlemen who collect forest produce and other items from the tribes at the pittance. All plan funds sanctioned for the development of the hill districts and the people were missing in the pockets of a few men like contractors and insincere leaders of the area. Common tribal people faced with hunger and poverty, they invariably find themselves in the clutches of the exploiters ending up in the vicious circle of bondage from which there is no reprieve. Government efforts towards tribal development have failed to achieve the expected results, despite the heavy allocation of funds for this purpose. The top heavy bureaucratic approach devoid of any community participation did not address their real needs as perceived by the indigenous highlanders of the state. Post independent development plan for linking inter-district and village roads were constructed and maintained only on paper. A huge amount had already been spent for inter-village roads under tribal welfare scheme that were also only in blue print but not even a single bridle pet were constructed properly. These are all clearly visible from the plan record and expenditure statement of the state.
The low density of roads in the state is accounted mainly of low density of roads in the Hill Districts of Manipur. The density of roads in the hill districts range from as low as 136 km./1000 sq.km. in Chandel to 282 km/1000 sq.km in Ukhrul. Therefore, priority on road development strategy should be made by emphasizing the necessity of low density in hill districts of Manipur. Such kind of approach may lead to a successful sustainable development in the State. This may act as a catalyst for emergence of horticulture and spice based activities and eco-tourism policy matter the road networking should be planned connecting all the focal growth points and sub-divisional headquarters and district headquarters to the capital city of Imphal. Secondly, based on the resource potential and free trade, the state should have extended the road network to the following growth potential areas.
A. Three Major Outer Ring Roads
1. Bishnupur, Khoupum, Nungba, Tamenglong, Motbung, Saikhul, Litan, Phungyar, Kashom Khullen, Thoubal and Bishnupur.
2. Churachandpur, Tharon, Phaijang, Keiphundai, Namtiram, Tamei, Tuyang, Kangpokpi, Chongla, Tuinem, Ukhrul, Shansak Khullen, Kamjong, Kashom Khullen, Gomi, Tengnoupal,Chakpi Karong, Sugnu to Churachandpur.
3. Singhat, Bukpi, Hanship, Parbung, Tipaimukh, Jiribam, Tousem, Katang, Magulong, New Khunpung, Kulong Naga, Yangkhulen, Maram, Tadubi, Lai, Jessami, Wahong, New Tusom, Challo,Ching-Ngai, Chammu, Choro Khunou, Kangpat Khullen, Kwatha, Moreh, Yangoulen, Molcham, New Somtal, Sajiktampak to Singhat.
B. New Corridor Roads
i. Kangpokpi, Tousem to Jowai via Nagaland
ii. Ukhrul, Jessami to Phek
iii. Heirok, Sita, Soibol, Yangoupokpi to Mintha (Myanmar)
iv. Ukhrul, Chatrik
v. Imphal-Diphu via Eroisemba, Waichong, Tamenglong, four districts of Nagaland to Diphu of Karbi-Anglong, Assam.
vi. Karong to Diphu
vii. Sugnu to Bokan (Myanmar) via Jaupi,Tangoulen and Molcham, etc.
One can easily deduce from the district-wise road density figures stated earlier that the kind of transport bottlenecks being faced in the hilly areas. Superimpose these conditions on the difficult terrain of the hills and the problem is extremely enormous. This makes the hill economy a much more costly and serves as a double constraint on development. As there is low level of economic activity in the hills, real wages are low there and due to higher transport costs, prices are higher. Therefore, while considering the issue of prioritizing the development of road transport and communication system in the Hills of Manipur, the level of connectivity in between the districts, districts to sub-divisional headquarters, sub-divisional headquarters to villages, inter-villages and to the state capital has to be increased and should be made available for the places and people of the region. It should also aim at rising of production system of the area, increasing accessibility to facilities and governance and increasing socio-physical interactions etc. This may create a congenial atmosphere for the integrity of the whole of the State.
Lastly, development of road transport and communication network system in the Hill districts should try to reduce the time and transportation cost of both people and commodities in order to reduce the cost of production while at the same time facilities marketing setup, conservation of natural and cultural heritages of the region. Further, it should also serve as a catalyst for emergence of new productive activities among the highlanders.