Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Manipur: Another economic blockade from tomorrow

Barely out of one economic blockade, militancy-mauled Manipur has landed in another. The United Naga Council (UNC), a frontal organization of Manipur-based Naga tribes, has ignored Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's plea to go ahead with its 20-day economic blockade from 6 am on Wednesday. The blockade designed to choke Manipur's lifelines – national highways 39 and 53 – follows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's "indifference" to an ultimatum the UNC had submitted on July 27. The frontier northeastern State is yet to get over the impact of the 69-day blockade another Naga organization – All Naga Students Association of Manipur – had ‘imposed' from April 11 against the holding of elections to "dummy" autonomous tribal councils. "Blockades on highways can never be a solution to any problem," said Chief Minister Singh."We appeal to UNC to call off the blockade in public interest." Chief Secretary DS Poonia said the blockade was uncalled for since the government "is open to dialogue and willing to provide a forum for a healthy exchange of views to address grievances of all stakeholders".Steps, he added, were being taken to ensure uninterrupted supply of essentials. According to UNC general secretary A Ashohrii, unresponsive governments in New Delhi and Imphal forced his organization to take the highway blockade decision."Our demands are not inconsiderate, and ours is a democratic protest," he said. The UNC's demands include judicial probe into the May 6 firing at Mao Gate (Manipur-Nagaland border) that killed two Naga students, "demilitarization" of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur and declaration of the tribal council polls as null and void. Both NH 39 and NH 53, connecting Imphal to the rest of the country, pass through Naga territory. NH 39 is the better and shorter of the two routes, but it passes through Nagaland before entering Manipur. In Manipur, NH 39 pierces a 60 km stretch of Naga territory while NH 53 snakes through a longer stretch. For the Manipur government, NH 53 is less troublesome. But it is in a pathetic shape, landslide-prone and has several temporary bridges that cannot withstand the weight of a single goods-laden truck. Manipur truckers have continued to avoid NH 39 citing extortion by Naga organizations, but traffic via the "unpredictable" NH 53 has been erratic.Consequently, Manipur's 2.5 million people are still reeling under scarcity of food grains and fuel.

Naga group threatens fresh blockade, invited for talks

The central government on Tuesday invited Naga rebels for talks and urged them not to press the economic blockade against Manipur that the United Naga Council has threatened to enforce for 20 days from Wednesday. "The centre has urged the United Naga Council not to resort to economic blockade of Manipur and participate in the next round of talks. The appeal is in view of the hardship that would be caused to the common people," a home ministry statement said. The appeal was made after a press statement by the United Naga Council threatening to resume the economic blockade of the Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati national highway (NH 39) and the Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar national highway (NH 53). The home ministry statement said a round-table meeting under the chairmanship of Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh was organised Tuesday to discuss matters relating to the autonomous district councils in Manipur.The next round of talks would be convened shortly, the statement said. If the highway blockade is enforced, Manipur will be heading for another round of scarcity of essential goods from Wednesday. The Naga council said the blockade would begin from 6 a.m. if the government-imposed restrictions were not lifted immediately from some hill areas. A crippling 68-day economic blockade of the highways, called by the All-Naga Students Association, was lifted June 18.

Congress MLA beats up Manipur government official

A Congress MLA beat up a Manipur government official for refusing to hand over some equipment to electrify parts of his Assembly constituency, resulting in protest by employees of the electricity department. The police said Congress MLA K Meghachandra thrashed the superintending engineer of the electricity department, S Joy Kumar, on Monday when he refused to part with any equipment without permission of the chief engineer who was away at the time.The employees of the department lodged a strong protest with power minister Phungzathang Tonsing who in turn lodged a complaint with Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh asking for the MLA to tender an apology.They also held a sit-in protest on Tuesday demanding legal action against the legislator.