Attacking Manipur’s lifelines

                THE second attack by gunmen on convoys of petroleum product carriers in less than a fortnight along the National Highway-2, once again brings to the fore that the transport workers not only have to navigate through the potholes-riddled stretches of the so-called national highways but also that these lifelines have literally been graveyards for the driver and their assistants. The latest strike on goods laden trucks near M Changoubung village in the newly created Kangpokpi district, that wounded two drivers, could be assumed as confirmation about the capability of anti-social elements to launch attacks anytime, anywhere on both the highways. The attackers seem unmindful of the fact that such attacks might cause immense loss to human lives and properties in case the highly inflammable fuel tankers explode. Interestingly on April 21, four persons alleged to be cadres of an armed group were arrested in connection with the first attack on April 18, though the outfit concerned rejected the claim by the police. On account of anti-social elements frequently targeting drivers and their assistants for the last many decades, transporters’ associations have been airing their grievances to the government with fervent pleas to provide adequate security along the two national highways that connect Manipur with other parts of the country. Notwithstanding assurances for effective measures to sanitise the highways from criminals, the fact remains that these routes continue to be fraught with danger for the transport operators.

              All unwanted incidents that happen along the highways are normally accompanied by widespread condemnations and steering off agitations by the drivers, which consequently hit the common people the hardest, for Manipur continue to depend on the truckers to bring in essential commodities. Death or suffering caused to the drivers also has the tendency to spark tensions in the state, which has been home to different indigenous communities with varying interests and aspirations. The pain and distress felt by transport workers could also be inferred from the solemn observance of Drivers’ Day every year during which the hundreds of deceased drivers are remembered by their colleagues and families. Moreover, frequent attacks on goods carriers in-spite of consistent appeals by civil society organisations also compel one to wonder whether the drivers are being deliberately targeted, with blessing and active involvement of some omnipotent forces, to drive home the message that the government cannot avert such strikes regardless of engaging and deploying substantial number of security forces for the safe journey of transport operators. Another worrisome fact associated with such attacks is the rationale behind the strong objection raised by some hill-based organisations against the government’s move for setting up and deploying security forces dedicated entirely to protecting the lifelines from the scourge of anti-social elements. As there is strong possibility that the defiance against sanitising the routes may be due to trust deficit between the security forces and the public, securing the highways might entail concerted efforts to convince stakeholders concerned that disruption-free movement of goods and passenger carriers is vital for achieving the goal of uniform development in Manipur.

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