Unimaginative Planning

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The Thoubal Bazar is getting a major facelift. People often talk of the manner in which the place is being done up with a measure of awe and cynicism, saying this is the only place in Manipur where development is happening as it should be. The snide hint is that this is so because this is chief minister, Okram Ibobi’s home constituency, casting a hue of parochialism to the man who has emerged beyond doubt as someone with political acumen few others in the state can match. It is another matter that politics in the state is less about statesmanship and vision but more of the wiles of survival in a treacherous backstabbing game. In this game, Ibobi has proven supreme, having just returned to power for the third consecutive term with a thumping majority of 42 for his Congress party in the 60-member Assembly. The cynicism is warranted, but not for the popular reasons cited. For indeed, what Ibobi is deemed to have done for his constituency, all other ministers if not MLAs could have also done. This is not all about funnelling developmental funds into any particular constituency. It is also a lot about sincerely monitoring and thus ensuring all entitlements of every constituency is used as they were meant to be.

The cynicism of Thoubal town surging ahead of other townships however is still warranted for the unimaginative manner the new town is being conceived. All would agree that the construction works in Thoubal are indeed solid. Unlike in most other parts of the state, the thickness of the asphalt black topping is thick and as per specification, the roads have been widened, many new building are springing up etc. But the disappointing fact is, there is not a hint of modern planning here. The main street along the NH-39/AH-2 is shop-lined as it should be, but unfortunately what are shaping up are hundreds of small box shops. In this age of shopping malls and multiplexes, the planning mindset has still not grown out of the ubiquitous pan dukan mentality of the early 20th century. Ibobi’s Thoubal is not set to be a plus shopping arcade or a city mall in the manner and style of the new metropolises springing up everywhere in India and the world, but a congested marketplace prototype of Darya Ganj or Chandni Chowk. What a pity.

But the greater pity is, this is the standard picture of town planning evident everywhere, including the suburbs of Imphal. As for instance, the Sagolband stretch of Imphal-Jiribam road has also been widened after a lot of painful land acquisition and demolition of many ancestral homes. Along it too are new built buildings coming up. These constructions again bear the same signature of architectural style and city planning as in Thoubal, although it must be admitted, at a less grand scale. This newly broadened road too is lined with tiny box shops. Whatever happened to the imagination of those behind city planning is difficult to fathom. Surely they have seen the trends of the new world evident everywhere. Nobody has to go too far to see them. The newer parts of Guwahati, such as the G.S. Road, are just some examples. But why even go to Guwahati, just across the border from Moreh, even the Burmese small backwater township of Tamu has an eye on the future, with its broad, straight and tree-lined avenues, well-paved sidewalks, and generally neatly swept and kempt look everywhere. That even an impoverished country like Burma can do this to a mufossil township is proof that this is not all about money. What are infinitely more important are commitment to job and a capacity to imagine artistic beauty. Burma is now opening up rapidly and the attention of the world is falling on it again, and it is every crystal gazer’s prediction today that Myanmar would be the next big vibrant South East Asian economy. When that happens, even fringe townships like Tamu are likely to begin shining. It is a foregone conclusion Tamu would tower over Moreh which today is nothing more than a filthy, unplanned settlement. But if Tamu comes to rival even Imphal, the capital of an Indian province, a scenario which is not altogether unimaginable considering the direction of developmental planning here, we would expect our planners to die of shame. In mediaeval Japan, such a sense of defeat would definitely have lead to strings of hara-kiri amongst responsible authorities. In any other responsible place too, maybe it is not hara-kiri, but definitely it would have led to many important heads rolling.

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