From our Special Correspondent
IMPHAL, July 8: Prices of various commodities in general and consumer items in particular have been jacked up taking undue advantage of the indefinite blockade of the Highway 37 that snakes through Nagaland. The South Angami Youth Organization (SAYO) had imposed the blockade along the highway, demanding arrest of four culprits who had stolen a mini truck after drugging a Naga tribal driver and his cleaner at Maram on June 21. The blockade was imposed from Thursday night.
Police are making an explanation that the owner of the car in which the culprits had travelled had been arrested. After being produced in the law court, he was released on bail. However, the main culprits have not been arrested since they are absconding. The police explanation is not simply acceptable to the SAYO. Suspecting police protection to these criminals, it had served an ultimatum. Since the culprits could not be arrested within the deadline, the blockade was called. This blockade simply means that all vehicles of Manipur will not be allowed to ply along the highway at the SAYO controlled areas. There is no obstruction to the vehicles of Nagaland or other States.
Home Minister G Gaikhangam has not explained why the police are unable to arrest the culprits whose identity is known from the statement of the car owner. The blockade has hit the people of Manipur below the belt and yet the Home Minister is not pulling up the police for the failure to arrest just four common criminals. Hundreds of trucks and other vehicles leaving Imphal are stranded at Mao, Manipur’s border town. Those coming from other parts of India are held up at Lalmati, Chumukedima and Dimapur. The drivers, cleaners and persons who had hitched a ride are facing starvation in the mountain areas.
The women also face various inconveniences including lack of privacy. The government is yet to wake up and despatch armed paramilitary personnel to escort these stranded vehicles to Imphal.
The government plan was that before the onset of the monsoon, the PDS items would be lifted from the FCI godown at Dimapur. This will help tide over the shortages during the rainy season. From this consideration, the Transporters and Driver’s Council, which had called for a boycott of the highway 37, protesting against the strange order of the regional manager of FCI, Dimapur is relaxing it. Now that the trucks have not been able to lift the PDS items from Dimapur, the stock position is depleting. It is not known when the stock could be replenished.
But then, the traders have taken undue advantage. A few days back, a plate of eggs was sold at Rs 120. However, it has been increased to Rs 160 after the blockade. Prices of lentil, potato, onion and other consumer items had been hiked unreasonably. Heavy demand items have vanished from the market.
The traders had also hiked the prices of rice. But the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister, Moirangthem Okendro said that there is more than enough stock and as such, hiking the price of rice is unwarranted. He had ordered sale of rice at Rs 9 a kg to different places. Though the people are grateful, the sale is at very few places and far between. Besides, he has not explained to the people why there is complete failure of the PDS in Manipur and why the government is not booking the traders who are fleecing the people in this manner.
Though for the time being, it is the consumer items which had gone scarce, the persons who enjoy protection from powerful sections have given final touches to sell petrol and diesel in the blackmarket. One litre of petrol is sold at Rs 250 during the blockade days. All petrol pumps are closed down saying that the stock is nil. There is no authority to arrest the vendors who sell petrol at roadside under the nose of the police and fire service personnel.
These blackmarketeers had hoarded petrol and diesel worth hundreds of thousands of rupees well in advance, since they know that any time there will be highway blockade. In Manipur, various groups impose the highway blockade to achieve their narrow and localized demands.
Now, there is already a shortage of LPG cylinders. While the agents say there is no stock, blackmarketing is thriving and one cylinder is sold at Rs 1,200 now. Past experience has shown that the government remains as a silent spectator while the people flounder in artificial scarcity of various items. People will not be surprised if this time too, the government fiddles while Manipur burns.