After several years, I finally have the chance to go home. I set out on my sojourn in the early morning of 30th May, 2008. Being rather unexcited about it, I try to keep it as simple as going home to meet my aged parents. However, once on the ground my thought tends to veer around the many things that confronts the people in and around my village.
Finally, I landed up at Lamka about 13.30 hrs. of the day. After the ordeals and depression I have gone through till recently, I have nothing much to talk about with my relatives. Nor was there the excitement in meeting them. It was tasteless. As if to jolt me out of my slumber, my cousin’s phone rang and broke the silence with an unexpected news. Lo and behold, yet another accident again occurred in the Behiang – Singngat Sector at 11.30 am earlier in the day. The news left me gasping for my breath fearing some near relative might be amongst the dead. Fortunately, none of my immediate relatives were there. Yet, the accident itself and the death of some well-known people left a bad taste in the mouth. It left four dead and 32 persons injured. Several of them will require prolong treatment. Considering the fragile economy the victims are besotted with, one’s mind could easily fathom the problem they will be facing in the very near future and thereafter. “Living on prayer” sings Bon Jovi, but these are people who are practically living on prayer. The accident was the second such fatal incident within the span of a few months. During my presence, several organizations were engaged in reaching a compromise between the victim’s families and vehicle owner, which later reached and done as per customary practice in which the vehicle owner pays some amount to the victim as compensation. One thing that cross my mind is: will that small/token amount compensate the family of the victims? What about the victim who is the lone bread earner of the family? Indeed, no monetary benefit can compensate for the loss of a family member. Traditional practices are fine; it settles disputes without the necessity of court intervention. However, since modern amenities have provided more security to such frailties of life it may be worth exploring. There might be ways and means to ensure that minimum damage is caused to the owner of the vehicle in such situation while the victims are compensated better. Here lies the necessity of insurance. In the instant case, it is hard to say whether the vehicle is insured or not. Insurance of vehicles used for public transport are mandatory by law. It would be more beneficial that the same is also enforced in our part of the country.
While residing in our locality, one could never fathom the problem in its entirety. However, after several years of stay in other place with better transport facilities, I felt sorry that the people in Behiang area have to be dependent on a road constructed for plying of military vehicles during war. The first thing that comes to the mind is; whether the road is worthy for bus services? If I were the bus owner I would have many thoughts before permitting my bus to ply on the road. I could only appreciate the dare devilry of the under-paid and hardworking Drivers who thus far safely steer the bus on its way up and down in this narrow road through the gorges and hills.
The story of transportation problem in Behiang area is as old as the oak trees that adorn the hills in the village’s suburb. Let’s first dwell on the road before we could come to any programme initiated by the Government of Manipur for its improvisation. But it will have to be punctuated with a big clause ‘if any’.
The stretch between Singngat – Behiang was initially constructed by the British Army in the early 40s. This was practically meant for war (Japan gal) purposes, which might do not necessarily take into account the plying of public transportation services. After the war, after India gained independence no construction or improvisation in the existing road was made. The general public use it out of necessity.
Until the late 90s, the road was used by small vehicles such as jeeps and the likes all throughout the seasons. Heavier vehicles such as trucks ply only in dry seasons when agricultural produces were ready for sale. This was the period when the economy of the village and its surrounding was agrarian. The fragile economy was blown to pieces by the problem erupting in the District in 1997 and its aftermath. Many residents of the area were forced to run hither-thither in search of safety from the raging madness. Economy and prosperity was not first in the mind at that point of time. Finally, when life took some semblance of normalcy, they have to start from scratch.
Under the given condition, burning of trees for charcoal becomes the easiest means of getting two square meals a day. Since the products have to be sold at the district or state capital, this necessitates the use of heavy transportation. Until such turnaround in the economy, transportation problem in the area do not really concern the people. What was in existence could serve the necessity of the people. This is the brief story of the famous Tedim Road in the stretch between Singngat – Behiang.
From the grapevines, one heard that the road to Behiang is recorded as already black topped as per record of the Government of Manipur. It is hard to say about the correctness of this rumour unless it is confirmed from the Government’s record. The only improvisation that happens as per my understanding is that, sometime in 1977/78, an alternative road was constructed. I recall that as a child I and my friends were watching the working of the bulldozer in great amazement and admiration. However, beyond making a raw road, no other improvisation happened. During my visit, I heard many rumours about construction of Behiang road. If not recorded so far, the road to Behiang should now be finally recorded as black topped in the record of the Government of Manipur. But on the ground the reality is something else. I cannot say about the many things I hear, but I am sure of one thing: that we are besotted with greed far beyond our imagination which was compounded by the naivety of the Village Headmen in the area which was further exploited by the fox like cunning politicians and their friendly contractors. I hear that the area MLA had raised a Question in the Legislative house on the issue of construction of the Behiang road. Still, I am not sure of his intent whether it is for the good of the populace or just to pin down an uncooperative contractor. The people of the area certainly deserve a better road and I just pray that God granted them a better road.
As I move uneasily towards Behiang, I happen to have an unexpected chat with a junior officer of the Armed forces at a check-point as his staffs were engaged in their duties. I ask him how he found the area. Though I was asking about the generality, he gave me a clear and unabashed view of what he thought about the whole of Churachandpur District. He told me there are three aspects/problems which have to be taken care-of if the people really want development for the District. The problems as outlined by him are:
2. Transportation and Communication
I gave immediate ‘Amen’ the last two points, while the first one needs serious thought. The Chief’s role in public life has been a big question since quite some time. To me it appears, generalization of the issue might be somewhat harsh. I have a nagging feeling that the existence of Chiefship in Zo villages is a distinct characteristic of Zomism. To that extent it appears good. However, on developmental aspects their role has to be scrutinized more exhaustively. As the adage goes, action speaks louder than voice; they will have to be judged on the basis of their performance. If the news reports relating to implementation of the well intended programme of the Government of India called NREGS are to be taken as a base, it left much to be desired. In many cases, it reflects very poorly on some Chiefs though there are some who did exceptionally well. I will leave the judgment to the conscience of each individual. In my personal opinion, it is time to make the Chief titular head while administration is democratised.
Does the news on the filing of FIR against the Chief of Behiang(?) surprise you?
“20% commission was being pocketed from the ex-gratia amount granted to the accident victims in the Ngasuan Bridge tragedy”.