Alarming situation in Manipur
Manipur, one of the seven sister states in the North-East, is going through a crisis due to the economic blockade by Naga rebel groups who are demanding Greater Nagalim. The rebels have closed the highways for the last one-and-a-half months. According to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's own admission in Parliament, nearly 200 vehicles enter the region daily. Since the blockade only 700 vehicles have moved in till date.
The blockade has resulted in prices of essential commodities rising: rice is reportedly sold at Rs 50 per kg; diesel is available at Rs 80 per litre; and prices of all other essential commodities have gone up. The situation is so alarming that essential commodities will soon be out of the reach of the common man, which could lead to starvation deaths and civil unrest. A mountainous state like Manipur can hardly afford to store more than a month's requirement of essential commodities.
The big question is: What is the Centre doing to bring the situation in Manipur back to normal and relieve the common people of their hardship? Amazingly, it was nearly a month before the home secretary met the chief secretary of the state. This indicates the importance, or the lack of it, the Union government attaches to the beleaguered north-eastern state. The home secretary is yet to visit Manipur, though. Further, there seems to be an ego clash between the chief minister and the Naga rebel leaders. For example, the CM calls ANSAM (All Naga Students Association of Manipur) leaders to Imphal for talks. ANSAM leaders, however, refuse to travel to Imphal and, instead, want the chief minister to come to Churachandpur, but the latter too refuses to yield. And the stalemate continues.
NH-39 is blocked by agitating students. There is NH-53 but this highway is facing insurgency problems. Besides, the Border Roads Organisation needs to repair a bridge on this route. Blocking highways is the most common (and also the most effective) method of protest adopted by agitating people in the region. Last year, too, people had become victims of similar blockades which ultimately affects economic growth in the region. The government should seriously consider setting up a National Highway Protection Force not only in Manipur but in the entire North-East region.
Those who are investing in Manipur are already feeling the heat due to poor law and order in the region. ONGC, say representatives of North-East, is slowly withdrawing from the state. NEEPCO and NHPC had to halt their projects because of security reasons. Others may follow suit.
The problems in the North-East states are of a very sensitive nature. In order to maintain law and order in the region it is necessary to keep in mind the sensitivities of the people who belong to various tribes.
[8 August 2005]