Blockade chokes Manipur, fuel outlets run dry

Manipur is now relying on a temporary road route through Assam to get fuel supplies.

Zeenews Bureau

Imphal: An economic blockade imposed by United Naga Council in Manipur entered its 99th day on Monday, resulting in an acute shortage of fuel.

Manipur is now relying on a temporary road route through Assam to get fuel supplies as both the major highways in the state have been blocked by agitating Nagas.

"Around 100 trucks, including 32 trucks of petrol and 42 trucks of diesel have started moving towards Imphal from 5 am today. The Assam government has allowed a temporary bypass arrangement," a news channel quoted N Biren Singh, spokesperson for the state government of Manipur, as saying. "When the trucks reach Imphal, there will be improvement, I think. The trucks will be reaching Imphal by today late evening or early morning", he added.

Media reports said over 200 oil tankers are stranded, leaving fuel outlets dry. This has triggered a 25 to 30 percent increase in fuel prices. Petrol is being sold at Rs 240 per litre in the black market.

Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has reportedly appealed to the United Naga Council and the All Naga Students Association Manipur, both of whom are responsible for the blockade, to end the deadlock.

Television channel reports said that fuel outlets in Manipur have stopped giving fuel from Sunday morning after running out of stock.

The crisis, though, has more to do with the collapse of a bridge on National Highway 53 last week at Sadarghat near Silchar in southern Assam than the highway blockade imposed by the United Naga Council and All Naga Students Association Manipur since August 21 against the creation of a Sadar Hills district.

"Some 200 oil tankers are stranded near Silchar due to the damage to the bridge. If the bridge is not repaired soon, we will be facing acute scarcity of fuel," a government spokesman said.

People, however, have been queuing their vehicles outside oil outlets in the hope that the government would make some kind of arrangement.

Those not willing to waste time have been buying petrol at Rs 180-240 a litre and diesel at Rs 80-100 per litre from vendors. Liquefied petroleum gas prices too have gone up from Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,200 per cylinder in the black market.

The Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) had launched the economic blockade on August 01 on two national highways -- Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati (NH 39) and Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar (NH53) -- to press their demand for conversion of the Kuki tribal majority Sadar Hills area into a full-fledged district.

However, tribal Nagas inhabiting the area are opposed to the creation of a Sadar Hills district. The Nagas have since August 21 launched a counter-blockade on the two highways. This protest is spearheaded by the United Naga Council (UNC).

The turf war between the two warring tribal groups has literally held the majority of Manipur`s 2.7 million people to ransom with the landlocked state depending on supplies from outside the region -- trucks from the rest of India carry essentials to it.

There was a ray of hope when the SHDDC last week announced lifting of the blockade following a written assurance from the state government, agreeing to concede their demand for creating a new hill district.

But the Naga groups led by the UNC are adamant on their stand and have continued with their agitation - so the blockade continues.

"I feel very sad when I see people queuing up in front of fuel pumps for the whole day to purchase petrol or diesel, and that too may be just one or two litres, as stocks are limited," said Manipur government spokesperson and senior minister Biren Singh.

Common people are getting restive by the day.

"A time might come when people like us might be forced to take guns into our hands to protest such blockades. What a shame to find the state and the central governments surrendering before a handful of agitators," an angry college student Nanda Singh said.

Nalini Singh, a woman activist, said: "Can you ever imagine such a blockade continuing for the 99th day in mainland India? It may sound cliched but it`s true - who cares for the northeast? How does it matter to New Delhi even if people die of starvation in Manipur."

Not just food and petroleum products, even life saving drugs and oxygen cylinders are becoming scarce.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram made a two-day visit to Manipur last week - but his mission failed, with his assurance failing to cut much ice among the Naga groups.

"It`s the faulty policies of the government that lead to such agitations at frequent intervals. Obviously if you agree to one group secretly without consulting a rival group, there is bound to be trouble," said AR Singh, a student leader.

Manipur has a long history of economic blockades - mostly between the Nagas and the Kukis, and Nagas and the majority Meiteis.

Given the deep tribal, geographical and historical divisions in Manipur, however, few expect it to end.

"We are like a football, tossed from one end to another, with groups with no humanitarian concerns enforcing strikes and the government literally impotent," said Sharat C Singh, a community elder.

(With Agency inputs)

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