he Wangkhei Thangapat road leading to Thumbuthong Bridge across the Imphal river, now an important link between Imphal West and Imphal East, has finally been repaired. This route, as those living in the southern part of Imphal East will know had become a vitally important link road between the two Imphal districts ever since the main Sanjenthong Bridge across the Imphal River was closed for upgrade for two years and more. Thankfully, the reconstructed Sanjenthong Bridge is once again functional, however, though there has been some ease in the traffic, the Thangapat link road continues to be vital. For reasons best known to the government, this road was allowed to decay all along. It was even missed out in the government’s desperate road facelifts in and around the Hapta Kangjeibung ahead of the 2014 edition of the Sangai Tourism Festival. While we are not saying this is the only road in the state which has remained neglected, for indeed there are plenty more in Imphal as well as the rest of the state suffering even worse degeneration and disrepair, we are prompted to highlight a general pattern of the working of the Government of Manipur. It neglects what should have been its routine responsibility, and is nudged into action only when there are street protests. While it is good it is shaken awake every now and then, the message that this sends out to the people by and large is dangerous. It translates as: you can only get things done if you threaten agitation. It is not surprising then that today street protests and government inactions have come to be seen as mutual triggers for each other. To state the obvious then, this culture must end, and government must begin acting on its own impulse of responsible governance. If this were to be so, these sporadic street protests too would become redundant and deprived of any sense of moral legitimacy which they today have in ample.
However, the concern of the conscientious public must go beyond this confined instrumentality of public-government relations. It must also importantly be about making sure these road construction works are done as per specifications and that no undue profiteering results from them at the cost of quality. The surest way to ensure this is to insist on transparency. In any given road construction work, and for that matter all other public projects, the government must be made to reveal details of the contracts including who the contractor or contractors are, the specifications of the project to be accomplished and the funds earmarked for it etc. This will not only ensure quality work, but also that no money meant for the project is siphoned off illegally. This will in fact be one of the most effective ways of checking corruption, for indeed, corruption in sponsored economies like Manipur has today come to be to a great extent synonymous with the place’s contract culture. By perpetrating this culture, those in positions of power, and their power brokers build an elaborate nexus of politicians-bureaucrats-technocrats-contractors, and happily loot and share a percentage of the state’s annual plan budgets. Maybe the nexus is simpler, much simpler as an observer suggested. Maybe everybody in this nexus is a contractor at heart. In the case of the politicians at least, this observer further pointed out, almost all of them have contractor backgrounds, and almost all of them are still contractors, swarming around the boss of all government contracts in the state with a begging bowl for their shares.
Manipur’s, and indeed much of the Northeast’s, economy is today in shambles. These are economies where a primary sector had evolved, but before a secondary sector could also shape up and take roots, a superimposed tertiary service sector, in the shape of government jobs, have virtually short circuited the process, leaving the secondary sector vulnerable in its infancy and grossly underdeveloped. Manipur, in particular the valley, was showing signs of the secondary sector germinating. Professions were multiplying as per the intrinsic demands of the economy, and maturing encouragingly too. Then came the shift in the economy with the introduction of the government service sector, commanding salaries much higher than what the market realities would warrant, therefore killing off the germination process of professions grounded in the economy. Today, with the exception of a few, all the blacksmiths, goldsmiths, motor mechanics, tailors, carpenters, journalists, newspaper hawkers, and the honest money they earn, have become so subordinated to the government services, that those in these professions would sell off their wares to pay bribes so their children would get into the government service sector. The trend cannot be reversed, but with imagination and commitment, the government itself can do the needful to ensure that the economy’s vital secondary sector does not disappear altogether. It must, with an effort, reorient its investments, of effort and funds alike, towards this end.