Sunday, June 28, 2009

Our Untold Sufferings: Need to Re-engage

As we continue to live on, our society continues to degenerate. If there is an example to compare the overall state of things in our State, the disorderly scene around the traffic island located in front of the Raj Bhavan serves as direct manifestation. Every passer-by is quite familiar with the scene at Nityaipat Chuthek traffic island, where one can see the unruly, chaotic, unsystematically systematic character, noise pollution, sound pollution and merging of vehicles from all the direction. And very often Hoi Polloi (Common mass) encounters the wrath of the convoy of the Army, Paramilitary forces and our so called very important and very precious representatives as they try hard to overtake the mass hurriedly amidst congested traffic. The most visible scene is the holding of Lathi with noisy sound of referee shouting hoi, hoi, hoi by the convoy of our own representative who came to the masses ‘with begging bowls’ at the time of election—the biggest festival of the largest democracy in the world. The incident of June 22, 2009 wherein a convoy of an honourable political figure of the State hit a van which caused injuries to three women, did not come as a surprising news to us because such incident was bound to happen and it will continue to happen unless public, convoy of security forces and elected figures maintain a certain level of decency and follow traffic rules.
To many individuals, the scene at the road tells many tales having educative value and clearly manifests the nature of existing realities in Manipur. It reflects the duality of the democratic polity in which we repose our faith; the loud whistle and aggressive sound coming out from the long convoy of elected leaders immediately bring in the notion of hierarchy in status and importance between we, the people and elected leaders. In this case most of the commuters are equally wrong. Let’s ask ourselves how many of us follow/obey traffic rules? How many of us bother not to cross stop line or zebra crossing while traffic is in full force from another direction? We always cross the stop line and halt at the last line from where we cannot advance anymore physically. It seems that we do not notice the line at all; it seems that most of us follow what we like. When I asked to one of my friends about this thing, he sarcastically replied ‘since it (sic the zebra crossing line) is called Zebra Crossing, it is not meant for us, human; it is meant for the animal Zebra to cross’. Being modern or being civilized does not only mean using a modern article or apparatus for instance a luxurious car, one has to show certain modern sensibility and follow modern rules while using the article or apparatus. The point is modern in structure without the psychological readiness and essence of being modern is dangerous. This is the issue that we need to address properly and seriously. One cannot deny the fact that nature of our road, pattern of traffic and increasing number of vehicles contribute a lot in the congestion of traffic and such problems are visible in other cities of India also but the crux of the argument is that we can be systematic and organised even though there is congestion. Against this backdrop we heard that State Government is planning to install electronic mechanism to regulate traffic in order to uplift the face of Imphal City as modern city. How far the plan can be successful is everyone's guess but surely most of us know the result.
Another area that gives much discomfort to common mass is the pollution. Today pollution level is very high particularly in the Imphal City. Manipur today has become the dumping garbage of second hand vehicles both light and heavy which are causing pollution in various ways such as noise and air pollution. We very often encounter the huge dark smoke releasing from dilapidated buses, trucks, jeeps, auto-rickshaws etc. And no one seems to check the decibel level while releasing the sound. Such state of things will surely bring unwanted consequences to people’s health. Yet still we have a Pollution Control Board. But we do not know whether controlling such source of pollution is within the ambit of the board or not. The core area of the city that is Khwairamband Bazaar is filled with various types of vehicles, latest arrival to the scene are the tata magic and diesel autos, but unfortunately without having any parking. This situation is really chaotic and is taking a heavy toll on public health, mentally and physically. Public shall be grateful if Pollution Control Board intervenes to control the level of pollution coming out of such vehicles and other sources.
Imphal City: A Victim
How we see this city? What is Imphal city? I see it as a victim of misguided policy and lack of planning and vision. Imphal city is a city characterised by pollution, littering garbage, stinky air and clogged drains, without any organised form of life. The first mistake is that the successive Governments’ vision of Imphal is smaller than its actual territorial space. For them, Imphal begins from the secretariat building and ends at the Khwai Bazaar circle. It is because of such vision that most of the beautification plan is confined in this area only. Secondly Imphal City is the three-in-one centre. To elaborate the point, Imphal is a centre of political power where important Government offices are located, it is also the biggest commercial centre of the State and a ritual and spiritual centre where you have the Kangla, Tikendrajit Park, Mapal Kangjeibung. How can we dream of a city free from congestion, noise pollution where inhabitants can have a liberating sense when three important centres are merged in a single territorial space? Rather than formulating appropriate policy and planning to change the status quo, what we see is attempt at consolidating the status quo.
Health and Water: Neglected Essence of Common Mass
Exactly these are the crucial things essential for life to sustain, but these sectors continue to remain as one of the most neglected and marginalised arena in the definition of State’s welfare notion and good governance. In spite of having two large hospitals viz RIMS and JN Hospital and PHCs common mass continue to suffer even for petty things like taking X-ray, Ultra Sound etc forget about CT Scan and other sophisticated medical machinery. For the entire test we have to go to other private centres at the more expensive price level. Such things have become essential part of our daily lives. Everyone knows the condition and problem we encounter in the two hospitals. On the other hand there is mushroom growth of private hospitals in the State and common mass are compelled to turn to such private hospitals for treatment at the expense of huge amounts because of the poor service quality and infrastructure at the Government hospitals. Strangely we find many Government doctors being employed in the private hospitals. Besides health care system, we continue to suffer at the front of drinking water facility. In spite of the National Project like Swajaldhara and construction of water reservoirs in different parts of the State, common mass have been facing acute shortage of drinking water. Like health care system, water is also informally privatised in the State. One can have uninterrupted supply of drinking water if you have money. Water meant for the common mass is being sold to the private tankers and they again sold it to the masses with huge profit. It is no secret that water is being traded openly at the site of various water supply reservoirs. Is there any statute which permits such privatisation of public water? Where does the income generated from selling public water go? Many people suffer shortage of drinking water not because of unavailability of drinking water but because of lack of sincere effort and mishandling of the problem by the State authority.
One cannot deny the fact that there are crucial issues coming out of the prevailing conflict in the State that need urgent attention. However it is equally important and necessary to see that due attention is given to the above mentioned aspects which are absolutely essential for decent living. In this regard good road, organised traffic system, systematic supply of drinking water, good health care facility, proper supply of electricity etc are the essential foundations of decent living and are the defining features of a responsible Government. It is important to acknowledge that these aspects are the crucial sites where legitimacy of any regime is sought and sustain. It is the responsibility of the Government to provide/deliver the service essential for a good life by chalking out proper mechanism and policy rather than complaining that people are not cooperative and do not pay taxes. The impact assessment plan for any policy implementation is one crucial step. Last but not the least elected representatives are surely neither servants nor masters of the people, therefore they should not forget the meaning and purpose of constituting a Government by the people.

(posted on The Sangai Express, Sunday, June 28, 2009)

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