From physical inspection to RS Completion target of 2024

From the physical inspection on January 25 this year by Ukhrul Assembly Constituency MLA Ram Muivah and Phungyar AC MLA Leishiyo Keishing to now featuring in the Rajya Sabha and eliciting a response from Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, and clearly the story of the upgradation and expansion work of National Highway 202, or the Imphal-Ukhrul stretch of the Highway will not end here. It is to the credit of Nitin Gadkari that a realistic time frame of ‘may take another year’ was given for the completion of the highway work qualified by the word ‘may’. Started in 2020, the Yaingangpokpi to Finch Corner stretch is 35 kilometres long and while it stands that this stretch of 35 kms should be understood within the parameters of its topography and terrain, taking more than three years to complete the exercise will not exactly make a good progress report. Stand off over land acquisition is one point that comes to mind for the unduly long time it has taken to see the expansion and upgradation work coming anywhere near completion, but these are works which the people would have expected the Government to finalise before the cutting and blasting start. That this has not happened is there for all to see and any journey that one undertakes from Imphal to Ukhrul now would be a story of Uphul, Waiphul (dust) when it is the dry season and Leikhom, Leinang (mud and slush) when it rains. This experience will continue for another year, if one goes by what the Union Minister of Road Transport had to say while answering a query raised by Rajya Sabha MP Leishemba Sanajaoba the other day. Anyone who has travelled along the dusty stretch of the road would say that the target of the Union Minister comes close to the understanding of a realistic calculation and not the target of ‘before the Shirui Lily Festival, which may be held sometime in May 2023’, reportedly set by officials of the National Highway and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). Imphal-Ukhrul road is a busy stretch and go to Khuman Lampak anyday and this can be known from the number of packed taxis (Tata Winger) and buses plying on the said stretch everyday. It is under this present condition that hundreds of people have been travelling along this road stretch since 2020 and this is 2023. Add another year, that is till 2024 and one can understand the deep sentiments of angst and helplessness amongst the people.   
The traffic will only get heavier during the Summer break, when hundreds, if not thousands of students, return home from other parts of the country. It is the same when it is Christmas time or the Winter break when an equal number of students and others return home at Ukhrul to spend time with their family. Other than this, remember the Shirui Lily Festival will also be staged anytime next month, that is May, and that will be when Ukhrul town and Shirui village (which is just a few kilometres away Ukhrul town) will be the destination of thousands more. Many more will be drawn from outside Manipur and the said road stretch will not come anywhere near the understanding of ‘Manipur rolling out the red carpet’ for tourists to participate in the Shirui Lily Festival. A realistic time frame has been given, though qualified by the term ‘likely’  and this is where no efforts should be spared to ensure that the road expansion and upgradation work meets the 2024 deadline. Though taken up by the NHIDCL, this should be no reason for the State Government not to supervise the progress of the road work. Ukhrul is one of the most important district headquarters of Manipur and there is no reason why the road stretch connecting it with Imphal should be in such a shabby condition. This is 2023 and there is no reason why travelling along this stretch should remind one of the days of the 1970s or 1980s and even 1990s, when reaching Ukhrul from Imphal took the entire day.