E-Pao! Opinion - Self Imposed Povert - Manipur Painful Paradox

Self Imposed Poverty (Manipur's Painful Paradox)

By: Dr. Rajkumar Umesh Singh *

By night, many Manipuris homes have no electricity. By day, the streetlights across the Imphal city are often on such feeble glows in the sunlight. Someone, it seems, forgets to turn off the switch.

The state government runs electricity department has long been derided, its name widely known as "never expect power again". But the daytime illumination of sun drenched streets amounts to a new twist in the long tale of waste that has brought Manipur to its knees.

Manipur India's North East state is a small naturally rich area. It has vast reserves of forest and untapped minerals, beautiful landscapes, fertile land, high literacy rate and many talented with esteem cultural values. But after decades of mismanagement under selfish politicians, it is also marked by sweeping poverty and ethnic tensions.

A senior officer under the state government (name not to be mentioned) said recently that our democratic rule for the last 50 years terms had been satisfactory "to put the state in development march". But the state where self sufficient individual lives has been reduced to mind-bending disorder.

Wires that deliver electricity/telephone dangle all over the place. People in Imphal call them "deadly decoration". Unfinished projects and bad roads dot the rural and urban landscapes, whims of politicians whose days in power epitomized by corruptions are order of the day.

Potholes big enough to swallow small children multiply. Electrical stations, road constructions, Water supplies, health services and everything looks collapsed. Depriving people of light, civic services and running water. Municipal department is so defunct with no substantial services.

"This is a land that lives in self imposed poverty" echoed by the many. People feeling are true. "If we had properly invested some of the central government sanction finds in Infrastructure, Tourism or Agriculture, then we would have provided food and work for the thousands of jobless. Instead, we take rice from outside and people are hungry".

Like many of Manipur's problems, the failure to develop agriculture - which thrived until the 1960's and the move toward total dependence on the central government funds has an explanation that seems to reside in the pockets of the powerful.

Rice, for example, would thrive here but its' good cultivation would end the highly lucrative trade in smuggled rice controlled by coterie of powerful contractors. Similarly, developing factories and industries would halt politicians and bureaucrat's profits from business transactions in essential commodities supply, and the repairing of highways would shave the big profits on engineers.

With official theft on large scale, it is little wonder that the state lacks funds to fix the lights, or to repair schools, or to pay a wage in time for government casual workers/ muster-rolls, who with monthly average in the Rs. 1500/-range, have little incentive to work and overwhelming incentive to procure dash- the bribes that almost universally grease the wheels in Manipur.

The "what do you have for me today"? greeting at police roadblocks often comes close to armed robbery. At market, the small baskets intended to ferry objects like keys or coins or wallets through checking are preferred by officials with a small whispered "dash me something". By western standards the sum involved are usually too small, but by the same standards, these practices are corrupt.

The system in Manipur, from top to bottom, has become based on such behavior, any right, even any notion of redress or the rule of law has disappeared through years of political chauvinism. In their place Manipur has succumbed to a political run system where any contract/job requires a pay off.

"Our political leaders and cronies have been looting public money for years".

People's sentiments are summarized by these few words "They have shown no love of their state and people. Only love of their pockets."

Far from those pockets, and the central government fund & instrument that has continue to power very year into the state sector, lie the tens of thousands of Manipuris with nothing. No one knows how many of them are there. In paper everything sounds so rosy but the realm is to be seen around. These central government funds are meant to be for a few coterie people only.

The one thing everyone knows is that poverty is spreading - per capita income is less than national average and terrorism are order of the day, we are going nowhere to be a self-sufficient state.

The thousands of young people without jobs try any means to get by, often illegal trades. They range forth at any of the staggering "go slows"- bottlenecks, in Imphal area, an army of desperate peddlers darting through the narrow lanes of busy Khwairamband bazaar and offering wrenches, socks, handkerchiefs, corns, cigarettes, pan, even porno magazines , drugs etc.

Do not ask how these here. This is a state intellectual vibrancy where a dingy newspaper store in a run down bus stand will offer copies of playboy beside a café enveloped in the stench of broken toilets and adorned Madonna poster so old they look like sinister waxworks.

Among the desperate are the youths, who are normally unable to find a steady job and mostly drives an auto or maruti vans for living. It is difficult business with many auto's and vans rather than the passengers. It is so hard still as the job has countless drivers who struggle through the lanes of Imphal.

The view from the back seat auto rickshaw drive is instructive vehicle splashes through pools of filth, past mountains of garbage through the thick waft of sewage, into a pall of grit and dust. A bent casual labour man tries to clean a state highway with a dustpan and brush, an act akin to trying to clear the SAHARA of sand with a breach bucket.

Frustrated youths summed up everything in these few words "Our only sin was that we were in a disadvantage position. "It is looting about government funds. All the influential men, all the big men, all the engineers & officers had to have a big house, deluxe cars, prime area lands and more wives. Poor have no meaning and their exploitation is essential to become a "big man".

Still people should continue to fight against corruption "It is a matter of right" and without rights for all, Manipur society has no future. I hope I'll be proven wrong!

Dr. Rajkumar Umesh Singh, a practising doctor lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
He contributes regularly to
This article was written on March 27th 2004

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