City planning absent
What Imphal is witnessing today is evidence of how poorly the city is planned, and how devoid of vision city planners have been in all these years. This is probably true of all other rapidly growing urban centres in the state as well, but none would have reached the crisis level that Imphal has today. Nowhere would it have been imagined that just two days of incessant rain and a modern city can be left in knee deep water. One of the reasons is, practically all the drainage systems in Imphal are clogged and non-functional. This cannot be all blamed on city planners, for it has a also lot to do with the public’s lack of civic sense. It is not at all uncommon to see people dumping solid wastes at will into the city drains as if this was something perfectly legitimate. This is indeed also a situation of a city outgrowing the mentality of its denizens, leaving them far behind, stuck to rural agrarian lifestyles of the past, and therefore at a loss adjusting to city life and infrastructures. A campaign to spread awareness in this regard is vital, and the new government must immediately embark on the mission with the long term objective of beating future flash floods such as we are witnessing today.
There are however many other issues that point at myopic city planning. Imphal has virtually been allowed to grow as it pleases its residents. If the population had remained stagnant and therefore sparse as it once would have been say a 100 years ago, when Imphal probably was no better than a large village, things would have been fine with this. Land being plenty, there would hardly have been any need for residents to encroach public spaces. Now such encroachments are rampant which is why lanes and bylanes are getting progressively narrower. Once upon a time, the traditional drainage system, formed by a network of khongban was elaborate. They were like interlinked canals so that if they drained excess water from the habitation areas, they become irrigation water once they flowed out and join the khongban along paddy fields. If not this, then they drained into wetlands, of which there were plenty even in the vicinity of Imphal. Lamphelpat, Porompat, Takyelpat, Keishampat, Sangaipat etc., were some of these. Pat as we know, in Manipuri refers to natural water bodies. All these have now been drained out and reclaimed as real estate or else as land for public infrastructure development. Their natural function as reservoirs, to store rain water during monsoons, and to provide water during dry seasons, is now more or less made defunct. Together with them, so have the khongban disappeared or else shrunk in size unrecognisably.
It would also not be an exaggeration to say that city planning in Imphal has been about building box shops, these too done extremely unimaginatively. The distinctive identity and charm architecture provides good cities anywhere is completely missing in the case of Imphal. No relationship has been tried to be established between the functionality of available space and aesthetics. The larger picture of global concern for the state of nature too seems totally missed and therefore any effort to blend the growth of the city with the natural eco system is also conspicuous by its absence. Had Imphal’s growth been monitored to meet the challenges of the direction of the wind, the sun, the ferocity of the monsoons, the harshness of the dry season, availability of water, all this against the inevitable backdrop of a constantly increasing population etc, probably our crisis would not have been as severe as it seems now.
All is however not lost yet. Things can still be salvaged given the will, and we hope the new government will give its attention to this area too. As for instance, one of the ways to tackle the water-logging problem during monsoon, as well as drought during the dry season, would be, besides unclogging its drainage system, to recreate the water bodies that once were. They cannot be of the same expanse as they were once, but to make up for the loss in area, they can be made artificially deeper. Some portions of Lampelpat, Sangaipat, Porompat etc, can still be left untouched and developed into artificial lakes and reservoirs, serving the additional purpose of beautifying the city, over and above flood and drought control. This is just a suggestion on a way out. There can be plenty more if the authorities are willing to give premium to out of the box thinking.