By Amar Yumnam
Charles Dickens wrote the Bleak House where: “Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds. …Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look….The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery. ..Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.” But he also wrote the Great Expectations. He as well wrote in David Copperfield thus: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.” The description of the fog in the Bleak House is like the road leading to the Tamenglong headquarters. But we cannot afford to allow this situation to continue forever, and the time is now for a rebirth and a new clock to strike.
The timing is important. The results of the recent elections to the Indian Parliament have assured the ushering into an era of hope and change. The necessity and compulsions for taking the mountains of Manipur along in this journey are now much more compelling than ever for social, political and economic reasons. Today I would take up the case of the headquarters of the Tamenglong District. Tamenglong Town is the most difficult district headquarters of Manipur by any yardstick. Within the district, it is the most difficult one to reach from any village in any direction within. It is also structured in a very diverse way; we can have linkages from Tamei, Tousem and Khoupum Tampak as examples.
But what is unfortunately more pressing right now is the linkage with the headquarters of the province with those of the district. We can reach Tamenglong Town from Imphal through two routes – one from Imphal via Kangpokpi and Tamei, and another via Khongsang. The first route is longer, and so the people generally opt for the second one. Now how does the second one take us from Imphal to the district headquarters town of Tamenglong? We have to start from Imphal by the Imphal Jiribam Road (it is said that it is a National Highway and going to be an Asian Highway. But I am not sure about it for it does not have any of the accepted indicators of a National Highway. Of course, it is marked by irritating halts and checks by an army self-described as “Friends of the Hill People”. It is also taken care of by a roads construction agency of the country who have assured work for themselves for at least the next century looking at the way their workers work/don’t work on the roads.) One hundred and seven kilometres from Imphal towards Jiribam, we would reach the diversion at Khongsang. This would take from two to two and half hours. From Khongsang to the Tamenglong Town is a stretch of forty kilometres. It would take the same number of hours as it took for travelling from Imphal to Khongsang. The stretch wears the same condition as it was in the past – two decades, one decade or whatever – with no sign of improvement.
Now the question before us is how do we attend to this issue of non-improvement in the linkages between Imphal and the Tamenglong Town? I can think of three strategies. First, there is an imperative need for evolving a special policy for dependable connectivity between Imphal and all the district headquarters of Manipur. This would be incomplete unless we frame this as a package-programme accompanied by the dependable linking up of the district headquarters with all the block headquarters within. Tamenglong can be accommodated within this framework on a priority basis. Second, the Imphal Jiribam Road should be handed over to an international construction agency, preferably a Chinese, in order to learn timely completion, quality construction, working pattern and reliable delivery of the projects in hand after completion. While these would be good but would not be enough for Tamenglong. The forty kilometre stretch from Khongsang to Tamenglong Town and the difficulties being faced in the town itself are such that there is need for a more comprehensive and aggressive intervention. This takes us to the third strategy of developing Tamenglong Town as the Summer Capital of Manipur. This would have two very positive spin-offs. The necessary infrastructure development would inevitably come up. Further if it is developed as the province’s Summer Capital, the authorities would have the ability to ride roughshod over the disturbances being faced now. In any case, time is now for giving a fillip to development in the mountains of Manipur, and Tamenglong needs more than any other area.