Disaster upon disaster

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Manipur has never been in bigger trouble. Even the weather gods seem not at all eager to be kind to it this time. Incessant rains for a few days and the state ended up devastated by floods in the valley and landslides in the hills. The extent of damage caused has not been, and could not have been, ascertained just as yet, but from the look of the devastation, it will not be anything to trifle. At least 20 lives have been reported lost in a landslide which buried an entire hamlet, Joumol under Khengjoi Sub-Division in Chandel District near the Myanmar border. Some reports put the figure higher by a few, but whatever the exact number of casualties was, it will not change the magnitude of the tragedy. The site of the landslide is remote and not easy to reach even in normal times, but during the monsoons when all approach roads become a slush of mud, the area has always remained virtually cut off. Now, after these cloudbursts in the last few days and the disasters of landslides, it would be impossible to reach the site and return without sparing a few days. No wonder then there are still no accurate reports of the disaster as yet. This does not however mean the government must wait for the situation to improve. It must urgently send rescue teams there. If necessary, it must press helicopter service to do so.

Joumol suffered the worst in terms of human casualties, but the extent of the damage is far wider. Almost all the valley districts and the flatter reaches of Chandel district towards Chakpikarong have suffered flooding. It is however Thoubal and foothills of Chandel districts which have suffered the worst. Although except for a case of one person drowning there have been no other human casualties reported, it is imaginable what the losses would be in terms of homesteads and properties destroyed, crops and livestock lost. As the picture become clearer, it is quite likely to reveal an unprecedented tragedy. Apart from the profound individual tragedies, it would probably also spell big trouble for the state for the coming year or even years. The inundated areas constitute a major portion of the rice bowl of the state, and if the crops have been destroyed beyond redemption, food shortage in the year ahead is predictable, even with the assistance which would come as disaster relief from the Centre. What is essential now is for the state government to get into the act. It must first begin the rescue operations in earnest, and then take stock of the depth and spread of the damage so that it can start formulating ways to contain the miseries ahead.

The trouble is, this natural disaster is not the only problem there is for the government to tackle. At this moment the state has so many unfinished agendas for the government to resolve. The Inner Line Permit System agitation which had set the state on fire for almost the past one month is the most immediate of these. Even as the weather improved, there were already protest rallies in some areas of Imphal. Since the two districts of Imphal were the least affected by the floods, at least for a week, till the flood waters completely recede, these two districts should keep the agitations low key as a show of solidarity to those who faced the flood devastation. There are more problems at hand. There were some reports in sections of the media today that the Nagaland government is preparing to push the question of Greater Nagaland probably in a bid to facilitate a conclusive treaty between the Government of India and the NSCN(IM) who have been in an inconclusive peace negotiation for the last 18 years. The urgency is clear. The NSCN(IM) leadership are getting old, and indeed the organisation`™s Chairman Isak Chishi Swu is already on his last leg, and General Secretary Th. Muivah too has entered the octogenarian decade, therefore the need to enter into an acceptable settlement would have to be felt desperately on both sides of the negotiating table. As to what kind of bearings this can have on Manipur is nothing ambiguous.

In the meantime, something would have to be done about those power brokers who build their private residences as sturdy and steel reinforced as bridges should be built, precisely by building bridges of straw and pocketing the money. The number of dams and bridges which were washed away even at the hint that the rivers were swelling is not a matter of joke. It is reported that flimsy 6mm steel rods were used to build the fallen brand new Sekmai minor irrigation dam for which Rs. 4.11 crore was sanctioned by the NEC. Petty bicycle thieves in the bazar are often caught and locked up in custody, so why shouldn`™t those who steal big money from public funds also not be hauled up and treated as all thieves should be? The trouble is, if this were to be done, even top functionaries of the government would have to spend time behind bars.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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