Highwaymen and the highway politics
The November 1 collapse of Irang Bridge was indeed a tragedy and once again certain groups are calling into question the management of the highway. Some voices are even dubbing it as criminal negligence on the part of NHIDCL for not maintaining the highway properly.
Imphal-Dimapur road (NH 2) and Imphal-Jiribam road (NH 37) have always been a rallying point for politics by certain communities doting these national highways and a pressure point for raising of all kinds of demands and grievances. The other two national highways seldom comes in the limelight.
Manipur being a land-locked state highly depends on the highways for ferrying in food and all other goods including essential items, which is exactly why highway blockades have become a bargaining chip for groups who have an axe to grind with the state authorities or holding it to ransom for realisation of their demands howsoever petty it be sometimes. Besides, during the rainy season frequent landslides happens because of the soil conditions in this part of the country. Recently, the Imphal-Mao sector of National Highway No 2 was cut off after a 50 metre long portion sank at Khongnem Thana about 15 kms away from Maram following incessant rains.
We all know, the Imphal-Jiribam road or National Highway 37 could not be trusted for the time being to be an alternative lifeline or for bearing the burden of traffic otherwise handled by NH 2. The latest incident being the collapse of the Bailey bridge over Irang River at Taobam village in Tamenglong district taking down a sand loaded truck along with it leading to the death of the driver. In the past, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in charge of the maintenance of the Jiribam highway then was the villain. Now, National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) has taken over the responsibility of the highway, and at least some changes in highway management and road condition could be seen. But, voices crying foul of the new agency as well are still there. Yet, one must not forget the services rendered by the agencies handling the highway during the extended economic blockades imposed by Naga groups and more recently in bringing home thousands and thousands of state natives from the Jiribam Railway Station, after the Coronavirus pandemic broke out across the country.
Works for construction of Pucca bridges over Barak and Makru has already begun in right earnest even though the construction activities were frequently disrupted over land compensation issues and other reasons. The projected completion of the said bridges was in April 2019, but it has been delayed. But still, the work has been started and nearing completion and one should be able to appreciate it. Bharatiya Infra Project Limited started construction of new Barak and Makru bridges since 2017 as its work agency with NHIDCL as the implementing agency. NHIDCL has already floated a tender for construction of 4-Lane Bridge over Irang River on Imphal-Jiribam Road Section in September last year with an estimated cost of about 31 crores.
The November 1 collapse of Irang Bridge was indeed a tragedy and once again certain groups are calling into question the management of the highway. Some voices are even dubbing it as criminal negligence on the part of NHIDCL for not maintaining the highway properly. They say, Irang Bridge was constructed in 2005 and till 2020 instead of replacing the defective parts, NHIDCL has been repairing it by only welding. If the defective parts were replaced in time during maintenance then the incident could have been avoided. If this allegation is really true, a magisterial inquiry is called for to ascertain the facts. Allegations and counter-allegations aside, the interesting part is the politics with regard to the maintenance of the highway. A particular organisation has been persistently demanding that the work of highway maintenance be handed over to them. On the other hand, some other organisation is lobbying hard with the authorities for making it mandatory for weighing trucks at the Jiribam weighbridge. So much for the love of the Jiribam highway.