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Death-Trap In Life-Line

The road is old. Nearly two centuries, historic historically. Once kings and queens of Manipur had trodden upon it. Road of erstwhile super power. The only link road with the west in the past. Once busy road looketh and deathful now. Oh, old Cachar Road, Tongjei Maril. Thou are a life-line with death-trap.

The purpose of this write-up is non-partisan, non-political or non-personal. It is an exercise of social engineering with altruistic and humanitarian plea for the sheer welfare of 15 thousand inhabitants of Tongjei Maril line.

The writer, for attending a community meeting, has undertaken a nightmarish journey on the Tongjei Maril road on the 16th of August last. The road is about 55 kms from Bishenpur to Khoubum/Khoupum valley. The road is too narrow, steep with extended portions of slippery surface of the road. The moment the wheels run out of the narrow and steep road means one payment of the debt of nature. What a lifeline of the people! The only most reliable super service available for the journey is provided by old condemned jeeps being driven by bold and rewardable drivers. A Canadian who has travelled by the road a few years back is said to have said that he was ‘Scare but travelled on the road because the driver was driving with confidence.’ The tribal women who made journey on the road are also said to have satirically described about too explorable condition of the road saying that ‘the riders can touch the ground of the road from the moving vehicle by being sat inside it.’

The writer was informed that people travel on this deadly road almost day and night disregarding the impending danger and inclement weather. The late night journey is not always intentional. It is often incidental on bad condition of the road. What has moved me was that women from the hills and valley are found daring themselves by riding the vehicles with marketable items bringing from both sides. And many young students (boys and girls) are unavoidably compelled to take the road now and then. Many of them cannot come to their sweet home and leave the same safely and happily. What a sorry life and sordid feelings they undergo there! And one more experience that equally moved me was that many old women aged between 50 and 65 were found going on foot with saleable items like Naga Chillis (Umorok) on their back. The load weights about 20-30 kgs and travel all the way of 40-55 kms.

Apart from the road being a lifeline of certain section of people, its importance is historical, communal in compulsion. The road constructed in 1839 is now nearly two centuries. It was once the only main link road between Jiri, Cachar and Manipur. Many royal members including Manipuri kings and queens, princes and princesses, noblemen had trodden on Tongjei Maril road. The road is historically important. It deserves preservation through proper maintenance and promotion. Moreover, the road is a living reminder to hill-valley relationship. Promotion of the road will certainly produce closer relationship between different people living in the State. Yet, this historically important road and lifeline which can bring closer contact between the people of the State remain neglected for decades after 1947.

Another aspect of its importance is that it can provide a viable alternative in the event of landslide or bandh, blockade occurring in Sadar hills or between Keithelmanbi and some parts of Tamenglong District lying beyond Irang River towards Imphal. That is the old Cachar road snaking from Bishnupur to Rengpang can serve safe passage to Tamenglong, Nungba and Jiri-Cachar destinations if NH-53 is disturbed between Keithelmanbi and Irang River. Remember, major landslide and other form of disturbance occur now and then between the portion. This urgency is also expediently felt in view of present revitalization of the NH-53. So, what is pleaded here is not in the interest of some section of a community but in the larger interest of all people of the State.

Another expediency of our plea for the proper maintenance and promotion of Tongjei Maril is that Khoubum valley is an administrative centre having BDO, Police station, PHC stations, etc. The good purpose of Government establishments without good communication for the staff is practically defeated. Such state of affair has not been a matter some years only but one of several decades.

Morally speaking, whoever posted there is punished on duty. Of course, the people of the region compellingly bear the brunt of the poor functioning of the Govt establishments. The neglect of the Old Cachar Road causes economic loss to the State. The region is fairly fertile and productive. Many valuable agro-forest produces come from it. If the resources are properly managed both the locals and people of the State can benefit themselves in countless ways.

Moreover, there are eco-tourism potential such as waterfalls, dam, unique location of the Khoupum valley, beautiful landscapes, breathtaking rocky mountains, the Irang river, etc. Yet, these beauties and mines are still kept hidden from Manipuri society and the world for decades. How has it been so? Is there politics of the road? Many with whom I conversed on the matter are affirmative of the politics. Many use the poor road against any sitting MLA in their electoral politics. They try to gain ground politically. The sitting MLA, they retorted, has been in the trick to keep the people in submission to him by not attending to common concerns like the construction of good and safe road-for them. They mean to say the representative wants to keep people under ‘kind subjection’ to him. The politics of the road, according to the people, is also that the persons want to keep road under bad condition so that they make money by doing contract works.

The writer was informed of these politics of the road. And I think, to be fair, there is some amount of truth in those politics. But whatever may be the case one thing is very sure that the road is completely in bad shape being dangerous for the travelers. So, it is not wrong to call those concerned persons, as many call them, as criminals and sinners. Legally they are criminals. For, they misappropriated public funds. Biblically they are sinners because they robbed the funds meant for public welfare by spending the same dishonestly.

It is true that some men are responsible for the poor shape of the road. Therefore, we are pointing our accusing fingers to them. But it is not right to forget what someone has rightly said, ‘When we point with one finger to someone, three fingers of ours point to ourselves’ How? We are so used to bad practice. We are completely failed to distinguish between individual and common concerns. For common concerns like road construction, community development works, etc. both the ruling and non-ruling should come together and attend to the same. Both the members of the parties should remain vigilant against any insincere implementation of development works. The common bad culture found in our society is that every development work is considered an exclusive duty of the ruling group and the group also works in that fashion. So, there is big room for manipulation and misappropriation. Such culture must change for the good of our society. There lies the magic of change in our society.

The write-up as our plea for proper maintenance of old Cachar road or historical Tongjei Mari, we give here our humble suggestions in the larger interest of the people of the Manipur.

(i) As for immediate need, we draw the attention of the State Govt that during rainy season (current year) it is not advisable to employ heavy machineries like JCB, Bull-dozer, etc. to construct road. Major earth works done by them caused more inconvenience to the plying vehicles. It is also more expensive. On other hand, manual laborers may be best and effectively employed for spreading and leveling affected portions of the road. Potholes, sunken portions spreading from Ngarian village to Leimatak and from there to old Luwanglong village and a short stretch beyond new Luwanglong village, may be repaired within short time. Manual laborers can provide most serviceable condition of the road. Employment of local laborers can also directly benefit the locals as well. The employment will help the State Govt. spend less with immediate solution to deplorability of the road.

(ii) As for long term measure, it is suggested that possible new realignment be made (at least for some portions of the road) to ensure the reduction of road length and safety. The State Govt should initiate the reviving of the historical road of the State. Remember, the Prime Minister of India has announced to upgrade it to the status of the NH-53 AI some years back.

(iii) It is also suggested that the road be entrusted (at least for initial major construction works) to the BRO. For the State road force does not emit confidence of the people of the State. Change can take place in post-construction period.

The thrills of travelling on old Cachar Road are still in everyone who goes there. It recalls us the days of old. The journey reminds me of the mindlessness of political circle. At the same time journey on the road makes us think for the future of the masses of the region who shall endlessly think that they are born in wrong places in right time. They are waiting for the change in the road as one waits for the recuperation of illness from deadly cancer.

*The article is written by Dr Benjamin Gangmei

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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