On the dark deserted Highway
Source: Nikesh Yumlembam/Manipur Mail

Imphal, September 21: Situated in the northeastern corner of India, Manipur is a land-locked state bounded in the east by Myanmar, in the west by Assam, in the north it touches the state of Nagaland and finally its southern border touches Mizoram and Myanmar.

The state itself is surrounded by hill ranges with the valley portion limited to the central part of the state.

With such topography, communication with the outside world has always been a difficult and daunting proposition, and it remains so even in this 21st century.

The absence of a rail head connecting the state capital with the outside world compounds this problem of communication.

Manipur is, by North-East standard quite well linked by air with the rest of the country, but air-fare being what it is, it is beyond the reach of common masses.

This leaves only the road transport as the most readily accessible and affordable means of travel for the common people.

Manipur is connected with the outside world by a network of two National Highways, namely NH-39, and NH-53.These national Highways are literally, the lifeline of Manipur.

Of the two, NH-39, which starts from Numaligarh in Assam and extends Upto the Myanmar border via Kohima and Imphal, is considered the more crucial because of the better condition of the road network and the convenience.

Traveling along this road, is not without travails, be it natural catastrophe like landslides or man-made incidents like looting, extortion, forcible collection of road and vehicle taxes.

Instances of ambushes of the security forces along this Highway are not uncommon, leading to traffic blockade for long hours.

Passengers along this Highway have been bearing the brunt of all such crimes all these years.

They had or have very few options open to them.

The latest incident of Piphema on the 5th of September 2002, is the first one where molestation of women/girls was reported and eventually the persons allegedly responsible were also apprehended by the Nagaland Police.

Here I want to ask why the concerned authorities have turned into a deaf ear in these frequent crimes on the NH.

The Piphema Incident gave the starting point for government, the social organisations and other NGOs to work against the Highway looters.

Before this incident, several crimes were happened but no one is considered to avoid or to eradicate such crimes.

United committee of Manipur (UCM), an apex social organization is launching load blockade movement on this Highway.

UCM is demanding proper security arrangement on this Highway.

All Manipur Women council submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister of Nagaland through an IG of Nagaland Police, the same memorandum was submitted to the Chief Minister of Manipur on the 15thSeptember 2003.Many other women organizations are also demanding proper security arrangement so that they can travel with their dignity intact.

Now the ball is in the court of the two states governments.

Can the governments ensure protection of the travelers along this National Highway 39? The two states governments and also the center need to sit together and discuss the problem and come up with a lasting solution.

Once this is done, NH-39 has the prospect of becoming a truly valuable Highway.

If the central government does not take care of the security need of people traveling and goods transported on this road, the international border trade agreement with Mayanmar will be derailed.

They should not play politics on this Highway as the very survival of the people of Manipur depends on this Highway.