Connectivity woes and marvels
Monsoon in the NE is both a boon and a bane. If there are thousands of farmers eagerly waiting for the timely downpour to drench their dry fields, there are thousands more rural households keeping their hands close to their heart and praying, for the rains to show some mercy, come if they may. While it is floods that many people attributed their hardships faced during monsoon, the loss of lives due to deplorable state of connectivity in the region is not new though not reported widely in news. Everyone seems to accept the misery as something natural with no possible remedies. Their despair is not without reason.
Construction of District roads, especially those connecting villages to town, may be the prerogative of the State Governments. However, in a country where we have centralised governance, the existence of a disconnected area should be a reason to worry for any person, more so a ruler who believes in the all-round development of the entire country, for the nation to progress and shine as a one capable of staking claim as a world power. North-East India with its high terrains and peculiar climatic condition of receiving heavier rainfall has the connection of many of its villages left to the mercy of weather God. Natural calamities added woes to the existing hardships.
The people of Tuilangkol area under Nungba sub-division in Noney district, Manipur have endured unimaginable communication adversities, something which is not expected to exist even in third world countries especially in the 21st century. Villages like Twiphai, Longkaiphun, and Sehjang have to cross a river, which takes 2 hour by boat, to reach the nearest town. Boat services are not only expensive but irregular, especially during monsoon, not to mention the plight of the other villages which have deplorable road conditions that are unreliable even during dry seasons. With the rise in water level and current of the river flow, many villages of Tuilangkol area remained cut off from the rest of the world. A bridge is all that is required for the people of these villages.
Henglep is a constituency in Manipur, situated 145 kilometres from the state capital. The condition of the roads connecting Henglep to its district headquarters at Churachandpur is so awful that the locals have plenty of jokes attributed to it; inaccessible and upsetting are few of the many synonyms accredited to Henglep road. People have been wondering for quite a while now, unsure if it is the apathy of Government concerned or the lack of representation of their grievance by the elected representatives of Henglep constituency that has seen no initiative taken whatsoever to improve the road conditionfor the past few decades. Be that as it may, the lack of an all-weather road connecting the area to the nearest town has alienated the area and its people; physically and economically. Many villages in the North-east share the same stories as Henglep and Tuilangkol area.
On the other side, in the same country but thousands of miles away, The Bandra Worli Sea Link is a connectivity marvel, build not to stay safe from landslides and floods but to save traveling time- a concern very different from those in the North East. This beautiful sea link connects the Western Suburb Bandra with Worli in South Mumbai and is said to reduce traveling time to 5 to 10 minutes from 30 minutes. The 5.6 Km long bridge is officially known as Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link. It is indeed a beautiful piece of engineering marvel and worth visiting.
This 290 Million Dollars worth bridge makes me think about the villages, regularly cut off every monsoon just for the lack of basic connectivity. While construction of roads could cost a little higher, building a suspension bridge to connect villages will cost less than 50 lakhs. Thus, with just 1 percent of what was spent on BWSL, we can have 30 villages connected to at least their nearest town. Looking at an investment point of view, the BWSL annually generates 60 to 70 crores as Toll Fees and the said returns cannot be expected from rural connectivity. Also, I realised that issues of villages in the remote corner of North East India and that of a metropolitan city like Mumbai cannot be the same as Mumbai generates thousands of crores, while villages in the North-East has mainly trees and forests that produce just oxygen. And, notwithstanding the fact that they belong to the same country, they fall under separate administration- States. Only if, the life of people matters irrespective of the location and only if we could expect all the state Governments to sincerely commit its role as a welfare state and build many bridges and roads that save lives, if not time!
(The writer is a former Development professional and has served as a consultant to the Ministry of Rural Development. He is author of the book, HILLY DREAMS)