The larger perspective of connectivity

The larger perspective of connectivity
By Ninglun Hanghal, Columnist


Women folk and general public were out on the streets of Singngat and Lamka  ( Manipur) during first week of January  demanding  that the bus fare from Behiang-Singngat - Lamka be reviewed. Not a very happy start of the year , the increased was Rs 30 making it Rs 130 from earlier fare of Rs 100 which was effective from January 1 .    The villagers submitted a Memorandum to the District Deputy Commissioner. Later, after much protest and violence ( many of them were injured) the issue was settled with Rs 115 as bus-fare from Lamka-Singngat- Behiang.

Villagers traveled all the way to Lamka by whatever means they have in their attempt to interface with the District’s Deputy Commissioner.  Reportedly the locals in Lamka provide them with food in the sojourn and stood in solidarity with the villagers.

Behiang is a significant  India – Myanmar border village under Singngat sub division,  in Churachandpur district. The main road that connects the said village and sub division is the Teddim Road that begins from Manipur’s capital Imphal to Behiang till Teddim in Chin State, Myanmar. The distance between Behiang and Lamka is approximately 60 km and Lamka to Imphal, Manipur capital is another 65 km approximate.

There are only two privately owned passenger bus services in this said route, Lamka-Singant-Behiang. It is an important lifeline of the people in this sub division, with more than half of the passengers comprising of villagers coming into towns for work and commercial purpose.   Many protesters, mostly women, also lamented about the difficult situation they faced in travelling to the nearest town ( Lamka) on a daily basis. These existing local buses are over-crowded with villagers literally hanging on to the doors including the roof of the bus.   

Other Important roads in Churachandpur include NH 150 also known as Tipaimukh road connecting Manipur to Mizoram , and Guite road connecting South Manipur to Mizoram across Tuivai river.

General public in Churachandpur  or Manipur at large are usually at the receiving end as transport services are frequently halted due to frequent bandhs and strikes almost every alternate week . One of the most common conversations following a greeting in Churachandpur is whether there is or will be bandh / strikes in the coming days.

It may be mentioned that there is no Government transport facilities in Manipur. Earlier, until the early 80s the MSRT ( manipur state road transport  corporation) have few inter and intra districts passenger buses, but today none of these public transports were found to be in plying on the roads.  An attempt to look for information regarding  these government public transport services and systems in the state government website failed as there is no link available. Whether the department has defunct or closed down is unlikely, but definitely a poor state of affairs.

If insurgency or conflict were the reasons for staying off the roads, that would indeed be unreasonable and unrealistic. Not only from the view point of public service  , where as , numerous private busses, jeeps and Tata Sumos are running on a daily basis , this excuse is  far too flimsy . It would not be wrong to say it is a mere fabrication. Moreover violence have considerably come down and militant groups are under ceasefire and were in the process of dialogue ( most of them if not all) In whatever circumstances public services cannot be halted on mere reason of insurgency.

Meanwhile, in the recent years connectivity has become a catch word in the government’s attempt to push for economic reforms and development. Connecting India , via the North East to the south east Asian countries is one of the key focus areas in the Look East Policy , which is now re-termed as “act east” after Prime Minister Modi made a deliberate mention at the ASEAN summit in Nay Pi Daw in November to signal an action-oriented policy towards ASEAN specifically and East Asia.

Transport - connectivity being a priority , several initiatives have also been taken in the recent years such as the Asian Highways , the railway lines and developing sea ports.

Another important venture is the Imphal ( India ) to Mandalay ( Myanmar ) bus service. It may be mentioned here that a joint survey team of India and Myanmar for the 579-kilometer-long Imphal – Mandalay road have kick started in mid January.  The Government of India had already sent a draft report regarding the bus service to the Myanmar Government, and a response of the same is awaited

It may-be recalled that a comprehensive proposal for Imphal-Mandalay bus service was submitted to the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region ( DoNER) and Ministry of Road Transport and Highway ( MoRTH) in June 2009 after a public demand was passed by the Manipur Legislative Assembly on August 1, 2003.In September 2012, India and Myanmar reviewed the decisions and the text of Memorandum of Understanding. Both sides agreed that the MoU, the protocol and its annexure shall be submitted to competent authorities of both the countries for approval. It was also agreed that both sides would work towards signing the MoU and the protocol at the earliest in order to facilitate early introduction of Imphal-Mandalay passenger bus service.

In terms of physical connectivity  inter state land route and inter districts roads in North East India are in a pathetic condition. Many of the villages in North East are still yet to be connected even with its own state capitals. Considering the poor systems and services of public transport though super highways are in the pipe line , to connect the region with neighbouring countries, it is doubtful whether these connections would be viable if these strategic villages have no proper roads and transport facilities.

In the dream for connecting and opening up the region one need to keep in mind that the inter – village and district roads, transport facilities and systems should also be seriously given equal priority. With no proper inter –intra district roads and public transport services, who will benefit the super highways and cross border connectivity , is a big question.