Residents of Manipur have heaved a sigh of relief after hundreds of trucks which were stranded at the town of Jiribam some 200 km away from the state capital finally made their way to Imphal under heavy police escort.
The trucks laden with goods, including petroleum products and medicines, are likely to ease the crippling scarcity of essential items in the state in the wake of the ongoing blockade of two national highways since November 1.
But the relief could just be temporary. The blockade of NH2 and NH37 – the two lifelines of the state – by the United Naga Council (UNC) in protest against the creation of several new districts is still in place. The supplies brought in by the trucks are likely to ease the situation for a few days, but there is widespread fear that Manipur will slide back into hard times again.
“Scarcity of essentials has become a way of life,” said a resident of Manipur, witnesses to protracted blockades enforced by different outfits even in the past.
Manipur relies on other states for supply of most of its essential needs. But due to the blockade, no trucks had reached the state since December 12.
“I was stranded at Jiribam over seven days. There was nothing to do and we were uncertain what to do because of the blockade,” said Tapas Nath, who brought a truckload of potatoes from West Bengal.
Usually it takes just three days for him to cover the distance from Dhupguri in West Bengal to Manipur’s capital. This time it took him 10 days. He hopes to return back safely soon, with police escort.
The blockade by the UNC against the creation of new districts which it alleges benefits other communities at the cost of Nagas has seen residents scurrying for essentials such as petrol and vegetables. Prices of most items in short supply have skyrocketed.
Petrol pumps across the capital have been closed for weeks. The scarcity has spawned a thriving backmarket. The going rate of one litre of petrol, which had reached nearly Rs 300 few days back, is Rs 140 these days.
“We received our last supply of fuel several weeks ago. There was such a huge rush of customers that we ran out of petrol and diesel in a couple of hours,” said Bikash Thapa of United Brothers filling station at Chinmeirong West.
To fill the demand and supply gap ,there’s ‘jugaad’. Women with plastic drinking water bottles filled with petrol and diesel can be seen doing brisk business on the streets.
“Most of the petrol available in black market is adulterated. One needs to have good contacts to get pure petrol or diesel, but the price could be a bit higher that the market rates,” said Norendra Singh, a taxi driver.
Some residents say due to the ongoing scarcity, petrol and diesel are also being smuggled in from Myanmar through the Moreh border, located 110 km away from Imphal.
“The petrol and diesel coming from Myanmar has a lighter tinge than the ones we usually get in petrol pumps here. We buy whatever we get as there’s no choice,” said L. Bikram, an auto-rickshaw owner.
While petrol and diesel can be purchased at premium, the bigger problem many households are facing is due to the non-availability of LPG cylinders to run kitchens.
“One LPG cylinder can cost Rs 2000 and more on the black market. It has become difficult to manage day to day affairs at home because of the blockade,” complained Sarojini Devi, a housewife at Chinmeirong East.
Prices of vegetables like potatoes and onions and cereals and pulses have more than doubled since the blockade began, forcing many households to cut down on their expenses.
Travelling both inside and outside the state have also turned into an ordeal. Passenger buses from Imphal to other important towns in Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland have stopped operating from November 29 due to the blockade.
“Nearly 20 buses carrying passengers to other states used to leave Imphal daily, prior to the blockade. Our business has been the worst hit,” said Romeo Singh, an Imphal agent of Guwahati-based Network Travels.
The situation is expected to ease for the next few days with the arrival of the trucks filled with goods. But with UNC not in a mood to lift the blockade soon, it seems like a temporary respite for residents.