Highway of bailey bridges !
Imphal-Jiribam Highway or National Highway-37 sounds more like a misnomer. National Highway Bailey Bridges would sound more apt. The difficult terrain is understandable but it is highly amusing that the 200 km stretch between Imphal and Jiribam is adorned by numerous bailey bridges, underlining the point that ever since Manipur merged into the Union of India back in 1949, bridges which were designed and developed in the early part of 1940s and were used primarily as temporary arrangements, have been the dominant feature of the highway for more than 50 years. This is a shame and to think that India is talking about opening the doors of Manipur to the South East Asian countries under its tom tommed Act East Policy and the joke cannot get more farcical than this. What happened on the Imphal-Jiribam route in the early hours of November 1, 2020, in which a bailey bridge over the River Irang snapped plunging a truck carrying sand should tell the story of this route which exists only on the map of National Highways across the country. Old timers will still recall the days when the then Governor, the late Dr SS Sindhu took a road trip along this route back in 2005. This was in August when the sky usually opens up and story of how the Governor had to switch vehicle after his own vehicle broke down along the way are stories that make up the tale of the Imphal-Jiribam highway. Interesting to note too that present Chief Minister N Biren, who was then the Chairman of the Manipur Pollution Control Board was part of the team which went ahead of the Governor on the road journey from Imphal to Jiribam and had informed The Sangai Express back then that the report of the works which the team had surveyed would be submitted to the Defence Minister, as the route was then under the Border Roads Organisation.
This was more than 15 years ago and in between there have been many stories of the Imphal-Jiribam Highway, a highway dotted with bailey bridges, with the route reduced to the status of water holes for cattle, during the rainy season. Many such stories have hit the front page of The Sangai Express with cows, bulls and buffaloes frolicking in the water that had collected plum in the middle of the highway. This is not a scene lifted from a B Grade Bollywood flick with the village as a throwback, but a scene straight from the second lifeline of Manipur and one wonders what the Government has been doing all these years that have now run into decades. Now this is 2020 and the question is whether situation has improved. The Imphal-Noney stretch covering abut 65 kilometres is reportedly in a much better shape now, but remember one here is talking about a 200 km long highway. Apart from this, the stretch that connects Jiribam and Tamenglong is reportedly in a sorry state and so is the stretch that runs through Sibilong, Makru and Oinamlong. Granted that there could be factors responsible for the shabby state of the highway such as the ongoing railway works and the mountainous terrain through which the highway passes, but this is not how the second lifeline of the State should be maintained. It was in 2016 that Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stones for Barak and Makru bridges on this highway, and fast forward 4 years and the bridges are yet to see the light of day. Verbally criss crossing the entire length and breadth of the State and getting things done at the ground reality are two different things and what happened to the bridge over Irang river should testify this.