SUMMER OF DISCONTENT

Imphal Free Press
Oct 25 2011

The only evidence of something happening in Imphal these days is the cloud of dust and the mud-coated tarmac roads on account of either construction works in progress or abandoned. One of the most vital roads in the city, the one leading to some of the most important health facilities available in the state, including the Regional Institution of Medical Sciences, RIMS, and a number of other private hospitals and diagnostic centres, has been in an unusable and deplorable state for years now, yet nobody seems to be making any effort in earnest to get things moving. Elsewhere, in fact everywhere, there are huge buildings and complexes rising up. The massive conventions centre at the Palace Gate, the Capitol Project at the base of Cheiraoching, the High Court complex a little beyond, the Inter State Bus Terminus on the Stadium Road, the renovation of the Hapta Polo-ground at the Palace Compound... to name just a few. These are grand projects no doubt, and once complete should transform the cityscape of Imphal. Their state of art architecture should also lean the look of the city to a new modern metropolis.
 
But even if the heat and dust can be tolerated as the inevitable price for these construction works, ostensibly meant for public good ultimately, what is making the situation surreal is the absolute lack of evidence of a government in so many other matters of urgent public concern. The state continues to be under a siege for almost three months now and there are no signs of it ending. The misery of the people are visible everywhere. Miles long queues of vehicles outside petrol pumps which start forming a day ahead after evening newspapers announce the designated pumps where the fuel would be distributed, with vehicle owners camping overnight in their vehicles, is just one pathetic example. The siege has also resulted in the skyrocketing of prices, and although the government did announce a compromise wholesale and retail prices of essential commodities, the announcement remain not much more than an official formality, for few, especially in the less monitored local markets outside the Imphal Bazar area, are sticking by the agreement. Why is the government not ensuring its decrees are followed faithfully by those the decrees are meant for?

There is one more thing standing out like a sore thumb. Petrol is supposed to have become extremely scarce with only few petrol pumps open in turn each day and selling petrol on ration, but there is no drop in the traffic congestions on the Imphal streets. This itself is evidence that petrol though not available at officially approved outlets and at official prices is still freely available in the black market. As if this is not enough there are also vendors openly selling petrol at inflated prices on practically every street. What exactly is happening? Can the government explain? Must not the opening and closing stock of petrol at petrol pumps given the permits for rationed sale be checked and scrutinised after every day of sale? If unscrupulous pump owners leave aside two kiloliters of petrol for sale in the black market at 50 percent illegal extra profit, the black money generated would be rupees one lakh. This margin would be too tempting for any businessman, and indeed the continued availability of petrol in the black market in these days of acute shortage can only be explained by such unethical business practices. Something is going terribly wrong in Manipur. The rapidly deteriorating living standard of the people by and large does not seem to count as an index of development. Instead the emphasis has come to be on construction of institutional buildings and complexes. These are very tangible and visible no doubt and can be claimed as achievements. While these are important, they cannot be at the cost of the intangible indexes of public welfare. What is tragic is, this seems to be exactly the case. So while grand Assembly and High Court complexes rise, the ordinary people still do not have adequate piped and safe municipal drinking water. In a similar vein, they are also expected to live with in a perpetual state of siege with the government doing precious little to end their misery.

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