Highway dreams

702

Everyone has the right to be ecstatic about a central minister agreeing to travel by road on NH 37 otherwise known as the New Cachar Road or the Imphal-Jiribam road. So ecstatic that the state Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and his merry band of ministers followed Dr MM Pallam Raju, the Union Minister of State for Defence all the way upto Tamenglong. Cool, quite a statement on the most delayed national highway. The Border Roads Organization (BRO) has been working on a snail’s speed here to the impatience of many people here in Manipur. So, a minister of the Defence ministry who looks after the agency BRO travelling on the highway by road instead of an aerial inspection is indeed noteworthy. It would certainly speed up the road construction works, no doubt about that. Still, we are missing something here. Why has it to be either the Home ministry or the Defence ministry who are charged with highway development or development activities in these parts? Why is the BRO and not National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) charged with the construction of national highways in the region? Does the political establishment think that the NHAI is not competent to handle construction of National Highways in the border areas of the northeast? Besides, the Silchar-Saurastra East-West Corridor under the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) in the Barail Hill range, the authority is also charged with stretches of national highways in the region; which are 161 kms of the Nowgong-Dimapur highway and 212 kms of the Numaligarh-Imphal-Palel-Moreh. NHAI helps in implementing Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for North Eastern Region (SARDP-NE); a project to upgrade National Highways connecting state capitals to 2 lane or 4 lane in north eastern region. But here, the authority is not the implementing agency. Simply put, Manipur or the borders of northeast is beyond the radar of NHAI, as desired so by the powers that be in New Delhi. Why must the Centre insist on the rhythm of Saurastra-Silchar or Kashmir-Kanyakumari with regard to the East-West and North-South corridors? The then Manipur Chief Minister W Nipamacha Singh had pleaded with the Centre to break the rhythm and extend the East-West corridor upto Moreh, which fell on deaf ears. The NHAI is charged with various stretches of highways besides the Golden Quadrilateral linking major metropolitan cities and the NSEW corridors. And many of these stretches touch the Pakistan border on the west and even the Jammu & Kashmir and the Nepal border. If the NHAI network could reach the Pakistan border in Punjab and interior areas of Jammu & Kashmir and Nepal, what is stopping them from reaching the border in the region more particularly in Manipur? Given the projects undertaken by NHAI, we must assume that it has the competence to undertake highway projects in Manipur. They are presently engaged in the Barail hill range for the East-West corridor. Is it out of bounds for the NHAI and who takes the decision in this regard? Is there no other prism besides Home Affairs and Defence to look at issues of development in the northeast? Development has taken quite a beating in the northeast. The North Eastern Council (NEC) which is charged with the overall development of the region began its innings with the Ministry of Home Affairs and it was only in recent times that the Council has come under the Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) ministry. On the other hand, most of the border roads of the region other than Assam are handled by the BRO, an agency of the Ministry of Defence. The time has come to turn the tables and impress upon New Delhi that it should look at the development issues of the region through its development ministries. Let us start with the Surface Transport ministry, who through NHAI should really be handling the national highways in the region including the border areas.

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