TODAY -

Memory of a tragedy : A personal revisit to a failed attempt

Bimol Akoijam *

BT Flyover
BT Flyover



One of the saddest things that have happened in my life is certainly the emergence of BT Road Flyover, a sense of tragedy that was doubled by the destruction of the First Modern Hospital in Manipur in the vicinity and the palpable silence on the matter and the manner in which the people of Manipur in general seemed to have taken these developments as "signs" of their "progress" and "development"… Incidentally, communicating a telling sign of a subaltern sensibility that has been tragically suppressed by the intoxicating arrogance of the shallow glitter, a report on the destruction of the Hospital in The Sangai Express did mention of a police constable lamenting the development as he guarded the crowd as bulldozer brought the structure down!

I will never forget the telling insights into the minds of our people: Far from sensing what the Flyover is going to do to a crucial historical site of the land and people…some fought over the Meitei script (our or their script consisting of this number or that numbers of letters) is written on the foundation stone of the Flyover while quite oblivious of what "Kangla" is, what the status of World Heritage is all about and what it entails under UNESCO, some others demand World Heritage status for the Kangla Fort while looking at the Flyover as a sign of "development" and "progress"!!!!

It has been a critical moment of revelation that will stay all my life on the people's "historical consciousness" and sense of "modernity"…

I remember that American Professor, a friend of mine…his words…when I took him to the place as the walls began to emerge to mark out the space for the construction on the site… looking left and right as he stood at the mouth of Paona Bazar…looking at the Kangla and towards Uripok…his words…"it's madness…you are right…how can you people allow this to happen!"…

Each visit to that site even today…his words come back…so do the memories of those private meetings that I frantically arranged with well-known activists, journalists, intellectuals, student leaders...over a cup of tea, dinner etc and those moments wherein I spoke out in public meetings on many occasions on the issue...desperately hoping that some groups and people will take it up!!!! The last few days bring back those memories once again as I heard people talking about the need to build foot bridges for pedestrians at both ends of the flyover (a by now familiar attribute...episodic reaction to specific episodes) and a strange sense that comes about as I discovered one of the articles that I had written in anguish on the matter was cited in a debate in a far away foreign land years after I wrote that article for another paper…I have managed to recover the article from the online…And I am reading it all over again to see how I feel about it…

Though this article appeared in some years back, we are reproducing it, as we think it is highly relevant to the raging debate over the traffic norms in Imphal. Readers may please read and understand this write-up beyond the question of whether BT Flyover is right or wrong, but look at it from a wider perspective vis-a-vis the traffic chaos in Imphal —Editor

Imphal City : Traffic Congestion and the Wrong Solution

It is not a good life at all to be bogged down by a problem. And when one hopes to get out of that life with a wrong solution, it is to invite a tragedy! Expecting the BT Road Flyover to solve the traffic congestion in Imphal City is a good example of such a situation.

Traffic Congestion : The Causes and the Flyover

The rationale behind the present flyover on BT Road is ostensibly to solve the traffic congestion/problem in Imphal city, particularly in the city area that falls within the radius of 2/3 kilometers from the city centre. However, the question is whether it will solve the traffic congestion or not. One suspects that it will not solve the problem. Because, finding a solution to a problem requires an understanding of the causes of the problem; and the flyover at BT Road does not address the fundamental causes of the traffic congestion in the city. A systematic assessment of the traffic problem in Imphal will indicate that the traffic congestion in the city is essentially caused by—

(a) Mismanagement of the traffic lows/movements, parking spaces (its absence or presence), and road-side bus-stops (intra-state bus originating from and terminating at busy city areas),

(b) Indiscipline driving,

(c) Concentration of all the major offices/schools and colleges and main shopping centres in a space falling within a radius of 2/3 kilometres from the city centre, and

(d) bad roads, lanes and bridges in and around the city which encourage/force people to use the relatively better roads at the centre of the city (such as the main roads in Keishampat, around Kanglapat, BT Road, Nagamapal, RIMS Road, Khuyathong, CM residence/Secretariat roads etc).

Does the present flyover address any of these fundamental causes or factors behind the traffic congestion in the city? Obviously, it does not.

Flyover : A Misplaced "Dream" and a Miscarried Treatment

If the flyover at BT Road does not address these fundamental causes, what makes us believe that it will solve the problem? The answer to this question seems to rest on a psychology of a suffering people. For the people of Manipur, who are under severe economic, political and socio-cultural stresses, the "dream" of Imphal having its "first flyover" seems to promise an illusionary sense of development and progress. Such a misplaced pride in the "first flyover" does not deny, nonetheless, our tragedy as a suffering people.

If this is not the case, how do we explain the reason for ignoring the deplorable infrastructure in the Capital City, leave alone the remote parts of the State. With worst conceivable conditions of roads and lanes, no proper drinking water (tap-water) or power supply, the dark nights and roads without streets lamps, how do we think that flyover is a sign of "progress", "development" and an "achievement"? Indeed, it cuts a sad picture that in a State that cannot even pay its employees regularly, and whose citizens have to do with deplorable infrastructure and who struggle to meet the ends on a daily basis, think that it is a sign of "development" and take pride in waiting for the "first flyover"!

One seriously wonders whether the belief that the present flyover will solve the problem of traffic congestion in the city is a case of miscarried treatment. It is like a person consistently suffering from acute pain for a long time taking recourse to a regime of analgesic as a cure for his or her ailment! Worst still, the treatment regime seems to have been prescribed without taking the history of the case or trying to find out the etiology. Alternatively, the present treatment could have been prescribed by a physician with the idea of keeping the problem alive or making it worse as a ploy for earning more money!

It might give the person momentary relief but a delayed assessment of the problem and a temporary relief can only promise a fatal prognosis. The present flyover is nothing short of such a prognosis.

The flyover : Its Unhealthy Consequences

It may be difficult to comprehend the subtle aspects of the critique of modernity project, because its assumptions and presumptions as well as its concrete manifestations have been taken for granted and eulogised for some centuries now. Besides, they have also become intimate parts of our day-to-day existence. However, the unhealthy consequences of the present flyover should not be difficult to comprehend. First, flyovers create their own traffic congestions. It should not be difficult to understand the logic that an increased free flow in one area means an increase in the traffic volume at any crossing on the way further down the road. The recent example of the flyovers experience in Delhi's Ring Road can be noted here. In this case, one flyover leads to another and until finally making the whole Ring Road almost a signal free Road. There should not be any doubt that the present flyover will create its own traffic congestion at the Western Kangla Gate, where another flyover will be required to ease the traffic at that point, then may be another flyover at Khuyathong, and so on!

For a small town with a limited space and ample road crossings, if we do not stop this flyover, we will end up with a claustrophobic environment! Moreover, for a poor State like Manipur, not only such a development would be an economic burden but also economically unjustifiable too.

Flyover : A Historical Blunder

Another tragic consequence will be the destruction of significant historical sites. Such flyovers will not only deface some of the city areas but also foreclose their potential for modern incarnations. In the present case of the BT Road flyover, the destruction happens to be unfortunately a historically significant and precious site, which otherwise could have been transformed into its enviable modern incarnation without jeopardising its historical essence as an open space with history written all over its being.

Great monuments and structures are not only built for their utility but they are also built to make a "statement". This fact may not be discernible to those people with poor historical sensibility and those who do not understand that architectural structures do have the dual principles of "utility" and "meaning and spirit".

With a questionable utilitarian value, the flyover (or expected flyovers in and around the Kangla Fort) and the totality of meaning these elevated structures will convey vis-à-vis the Kangla and its intimate spaces around are nothing short of an insult to one's own heritage and intelligence! Once these structures are in place, the enigma of the space behind the moat and wall of the Kangla Fort that one feels as one drives or takes a walk along the Kangla-pat road, will not be the same as it is today. So does the open space of BT Road, which is set to become a faint memory of the souls under siege and trampled past of a claustrophobic future!

City Centre : An Alternative Modern BT Road

It needs to be reminded before it is too late that the present flyover at BT Road is both an indicator of a historical insensitivity and a lack of modern imagination and progressive outlook. The intimacy of space comprising the Khwairamban Keithel, the BT Road, and the Kangla Fort, which is discernible in the present location/arrangement, is not new. The intimacy of these sites is well recorded in the Royal Chronicles (the Cheitharol Kumbaba) and accounts of the Imphal City by the British writers.

It is a rare site that we have inherited, something that we can reinvent with all the modern amenities and architectural features complimented by its enviable historical essence. Just imagine the claustrophobic BT Road with this ill-conceived flyover and the alternative we can have: An open space marked by a wide street with four/five lanes from Shamu Makhong till Western Kangla Gate guarded by, at the most two-storeys high, shopping Malls/Complexes on the sides, which light up in the evenings and nights with neon lights. That would have been a tourist delight, a visual treat and a space for the town dwellers to unwind in the evenings!

Besides, such a modern alternative BT Road would be an open space with an added enviable historical signature that can be used to rejuvenate our collective being and energy. To sense such a possibility, just imagine the psychological impact that can be produced when victorious sport teams of the state take a victory ride with people cheering from the sides in such a modern city center and the electronic media covering it and transporting the event to every household in the State!

Foreclosing such a possibility, this significant historical site and open space will be turned into a tunnel with a dirty under-belly of a flyover and an elevated top from where a proud people will "look down" upon the Kangla! Indeed, it is unfortunate that some people look forward to a flyover that does not guarantee a solution to the traffic congestion in the city, but at best an engineering and "architectural" feat that will deface a rare site and communicate disrespect and contempt for one's own heritage! Perhaps, it is a prospect even the medieval plunderers and modern colonizers would have hung their heads in shame in the face of what we do to ourselves!

Traffic Congestion : Alternatives to the Wrong Solution

If this historical blunder called the Flyover at BT Road is not going to solve the traffic congestion in the city, what are the other alternatives to manage our chaotic traffic? The alternatives ways of tackling our chaotic traffic should be informed by our understanding of the causes of the problem mentioned at the beginning of the article. Based on that understanding, there are certain steps that can be taken up immediately, while some have to be part of a long-term strategy to tackle the problem.

The following steps can be taken immediately to reduce the traffic problem in the city.

  1. Rearrange different timings for the schools/colleges (say at 7.30 am) and offices (say, 9 am).
  2. Restrict the entry of heavy duty/goods vehicles inside the city from 7 am till 6 pm.
  3. Organise the parking spaces on the roadside with properly marked/demarcated spaces with colour (including Bazaar areas like the BT Road, Paona Bazaar and Thangal Bazaar).
  4. Provide specific and proper bus stops along the roads in (at least in some of the inner) Imphal Municipality areas (which will avoid buses from stopping wherever and whenever they want hampering the traffic movement).
  5. Relocate all the intra-State bus parking at one place from where the buses from various parts of the state can meet and connect (may be at Khuman Lampak Bus stop; one should mention that mismanagement of Thoubal parking and indiscipline driving where both the incoming and outgoing buses cut right in the middle of the road disturbs the traffic flows along the Keishampat Bridge and Governors gate should be taken care of).
  6. Employ proper one ways and diversions at rush hours.
  7. Remove some of the traffic stands (say at Keishampat) and roundabout (eg at the Western Kangla gate and Governor's gate) as these structures reduce the space for traffic maneuverability/mobility.
  8. Post traffic police officials beyond the Bazaar areas (such as at places like the AOC at Yaiskul connecting Yaiskul Police lane with Indo-Burma Road, also at Singjamei, Kwakeithel etc).
  9. Specify/restrict areas that can be operated by paddle three-wheelers; their operational areas should be localised.
  10. Form a committee with the SP (Traffic) as the Chairperson and representatives from the central security forces to enforce disciplines amongst their staffs (these supposed to be disciplined men in uniform are one of the contributors to traffic problems because they hardly follow rules and park their vehicles wherever they want to and disturb the traffic.
  11. Enforce traffic rules strictly and impose fines on violators (which will give the city police or Municipality a source of revenue to effectively run the city).
Besides these, there are steps that can be implemented within a time frame (but not more than 6-8 months). These are:

(1) Create/improve space for the pedestrian and marked all crossing with proper stop-lines and Zebra crossing.

(2) Introduce city bus services (this will ensure or compliment the localised operation of the paddle three-wheelers), and

(3) Carry out a scientific study of traffic volumes in the city and introduce a systematic and electronically regulated traffic signals/regulation. These electronically control signals are based on scientifically calculated volume of traffic at a given period at a particular crossing and correspondingly these signals regulate the stoppage time for each road, preventing avoidable traffic build-up along the roads. These electronically regulated traffic signals make traffic much smoother than human judgments standing in the sun or winter for hours, especially during rush hours. These signals, which are computerised, can be run on localised solar power so that these instruments do not depend upon the dismal power condition of the State. Moreover, these are cheaper to maintain than the flyovers.

We have tried this traffic signal-system some two decades ago. It did not serve the purpose then. Because, unlike today, those days the traffic volumes were less and often waiting for one's turn even while the road was empty induced a temptation to jump the signals. In any case, it takes time for people to adapt to a new system.

Finally, we should think of some long-term plans (may be in a year or two). First, improve all the roads and lanes in and around the city and their connectivity so that people are encouraged to use these connecting roads, instead of relying on the road in the bazaar/city centre areas.

Second, spread out the city limits and relocate all the important Government offices and schools at the periphery of the city (say not less than 5/6 kilometers). In addition, we need to develop/enhance the shopping areas at the periphery such as Singjamei and Kwakeithel.

We need to bring modern scientific and progressive steps to manage our traffic, not an ill-conceived flyover based on a misplaced pride that promises to commit a historical blunder. We need to take pride in a city which is small but neat and clean, spaciously arranged/organised, greenery around, and properly preserved/maintained historical sites. Let us not forget that Imphal is not only the heart of the State but also one of the oldest Capitals in the world!

Only the people of the State, particularly the denizens of Imphal, will be solely responsible if Imphal is condemned to be a badly managed and claustrophobic city. Before it is too late, people should act to reinvent Imphal as one of those rare cities in the world with an old world charm complemented by a touch of the best of modernity.


* Bimol Akoijam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on July 30, 2011.



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