Frozen street laws and nasty people-grooming up Imphal city

Dr Jiten Konthoujam *

"You know they say that one hand washes the other" – Carol Santana. Perhaps this song makes sense to everybody. But for the Manipur government's uncoordinated and half hearted work cultures it is nonsense. Indian is making a revolutionary movement with the PM Narendra Modi's Swachh Bharat project. The whole country is devoted to primetime neat and cleanliness.

Remarkably the main streets of Imphal city are being swept day and night recently. At the same time, CM Biren has embarked on a rapid action road repairing mission. The pot holes are being taken care of. But how do one conceive dredging a huge crater, next to the Singjubung Leirak Crematorium, at Nagamapal and turning the heart of the city into a stinking transit garbage dumping site.

The prize winning show is however, the gentleman who comes in a car in the wee morning hours and dumps his garbage load right there on the side of the street. And the countless traffic rules violating commuters. The question is who is in charge of these double standard activities? Is it the government's immunity to an orderly society, or the ingenious quality of the denizens to misbehave?

No where in the world, have I come across a country without street vendors. May it be the dazzling Metropolis, or the non-descript shanty little towns. But, street vendors in the heart of Imphal city are a unique breed of despair and lawlessness. The three legendary Ema markets in the heart of the city are a unique showcase of the history, tradition, culture and socio-economy of the Manipuri society.

It's a legacy worthy of attracting tourists. I have seen many similar big and small markets exclusively run by women especially in SE Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, the Ema market's obvious distinction from the others is their filthiness. No wonder why in spite of the endless cleanliness drives conducted by the local Clubs, NGO's, IMC etc. time and time again, Imphal city still holds the reputation of a Dirty city in India.

From the daily activities of the arrogant law defying "who the hell cares" commuters , petty bread earners along the streets to the licensed shops, the message written between the lines is clear and loud- Imphal is freedom. A chaotic city cramped with citizens; who are happy to talk a lot of good sense, happier doing a lot of civic nonsense.

Street vendors are an integral part of economies around the world, offering easy access to a wide range of goods and services in public spaces. For many, it is an elixir to subsistence living and earning. However, they face a common set of problems, ranging from tenuous property rights and harassment from civic authorities. Yet, under this precarious setting, street enterprises have been expanding both in dimension and quality.

Since the early dawn of the Manipuri civilization, street vending existed with normally the 50+ old women and grannies running the market. But over the last 20-30 years, the scene has changed. It is now the younger nail polished pretty women in their early 30's to 40's who steal the show. The earlier start simply tells us that life is getting harder.

A conservative observation of the merchandize hoarded by the street vendor in the streets of Imphal may be within the range of barely Rs.50/- to a few thousands. It is simply pathetic to see a woman with a few bunch of coriander leaves fresh from her backyard on a plastic sheet, bearing the harsh sun among the garbage piled up street side, waiting for her day's sell.

Back home she has a family to be fed and send her children to school. Far from their village homes, occupying a tiny sitting space in the filthy city's street is the challenge and struggle for life. Here in the midst of the city's nasty attraction lies the essence of Manipur's dynamic enterprise and unexplored economic and business mismanagement. There may be nearly 4000+ street vendors and hawkers including vegetable, garments, DVD cassettes, tea and snacks and other household consumable items etc. mostly cramped within the inner circle of the city.

This economic platform is by far the most intricate survival strategy not only for the locals, but also for the migrants. It is creating employments for thousands, benefiting lakhs of customers with both indigenous and non indigenous products, catering to the needy and the poor. Street vendors mess up the environment in their own ways. But the mess in Imphal and other towns is largely a manifestation of the government's short sighted, self defeating and flop systems in practice.

Street vendors are a living human Hydra species. Cut one branch and soon many more regenerate. Attempts to dislocate 100's of street vendor today have only resulted in encouraging 200 more emerging out of the blues the next day, haunting the same place. . Licensing and accommodating street vendor is futile. Chasing them out, spilling their merchandise out on the streets is insane. It has only expanded their domain and gathered more garbage and congested streets. Life of the street vendors is an intricate part and parcel of the socio-economy of the state.

It is not their preferred choice, but a hard compulsion. Besides, they have the potential to encourage unskilled entrepreneurship and divert attention away from any skilled labor and enterprise. Such enterprise can only assure a big vacuum in the state's GDP growth. Manipur is a job and revenue deficit state; basically with agriculture and petty trade still the only hope.

The secret lies in creating an atmosphere and space, where it will not be necessary for the street vendors to come out helter skelter and risk their daily lives in the busy city streets. Other than well planned city expansion and law enforcement, attention needs to be focused in upgrading the agricultural value chain mechanism in Manipur.

Expanding Manipur's agro-based domestic product markets beyond the state can only alleviate the misery of the cash deficit and hungry state. The National Food Security Act has already started to rot in the clumsy hands of MLA's and make-believe politicians. The National Food Security Mission (NFSM) handled by the Dept. of Agriculture, Manipur, at the District levels, cannot be acceptable and dependable to address hunger and food security in the state. Talk about "liquor vendors" and Nisa band.

The success story is exclusively limited to photo session publicities of mass cremation of the traditional spirit in the local TV channels and newspapers? It is simply a waste of resource and income. The local morale of- booze is always the bad guy, western music is drug and sin, is simply not sync with the Wi-Fi world. Preserve local values and tradition. Say- Yes to Sekmai, Phayeng and Andro!! Let them go world wide and see how the world follows Manipur, of course with pocket full of dollars.

The Sangai Festival needs to be upgraded with more enticing local values and tradition of sight, sound and pallete to meet the discerning tourists. Give the taste of Manipuri fusion music and R&Blues to rock the young hearts from far and wide. Explore fun, do not exploit with customized VIP cult.

Regulated and organized Flea markets and Night Markets are found everywhere. They serve as a good accommodative policy of "Live and Let Live". A visit to the Flea Market in downtown Athens, Greece, still beats my poor man's mind of a rich man's expensive shopping spree. One among the top 50 clean states in India Gangtok's MG Marg, looked like any small up-teemed and trendy European town. Take a closer look and you will find that Gangktok is clean, because the people are disciplined.

Can Imphal climb higher from its current 122nd position beating the other clean cities in India? Beautification and creating an orderly city is not for the sole purpose to deliver aesthetic values. It is to deliver a sense of responsibilities, belonging, discipline and respect to fellow citizens. But are the people ready to quit their nasty habits for the big event?

And above all; is the government ready to take the promising role of a die hard Crusader's – "don't fool around with me". Or suck as destined Avatars of corruption and defaulters. Imphal is asking for a grand face lift. MAHUD Minister Mr. Th. Shyamkumar has already ventured to challenge an age old saga of unorganized living with the stink. He is not the first one of his kind to enter the inevitable "Chakrabihu" of the city's dirty reputation. But Can he emerge out of the garbage and the mess- a clean promising leader? If the Congress has failed, will the BJP follow suit.

Nonetheless – will the frozen street laws ever come to life? The Imphal Municipality is not dependable. The police are unreliable; and the local men are privileged with the liberty to be civic uncivilized. We have a situation at hand. The Pundits repeated prophecy that the govt. alone cannot achieve the task ahead and that people's cooperation is necessary- is stale meat.

Everyone knows it, nobody cares to bite it. Imphal city and the towns are our pride and honor. It reflects our personalities and our determinations. Can we unite to save it from the gross civic humiliation? Take it or leave it, with few exceptions, average Manipuris are born critics, defiant and individually stubborn.

But they are fiercely united and cooperative when it comes to a common cause, especially in defending the pride and honor of the state. For the MAHUD Minister, perhaps this is the time to recollect the wisdom of Lord Krishna who advised Arjun to kill Bhisma his revered and worshipped Godfather, because the grave situation demands it.

Being kind with the culprits, will only be rewarded with shame and disappointments. Strike the defaulters hard where it hurts to get the deserving results. It's the ultimate strategy and the only mantra to a well disciplined, clean and tidy Imphal city life.

* Dr Jiten Konthoujam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 21, 2017.

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