Some thoughts about our roads
Tsizelhou ‘Dardu’ Solo
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first time I heard someone described the roads of Kohima being similar to ‘Dry River Beds’ was during a morning assembly by our school principal Sir Huzo Meru …that was some 19 years ago! And almost two decades on I believe we can safely say that comparison is still more or less the same and true. I’m sure there are quite a few other terms to describe the roads of Kohima and Nagaland in general. Terms like ‘ horse riding experience on four wheeled vehicles’, ‘ride to Science College JOLTsoma ( way back when it was horrible), ‘mini fish ponds’ etc easily come to mind. And also who can forget the rice planting movement just last year! And like many things in Nagaland there is a funny side to many of our usual mundane situations, even our road conditions. Allow me to elaborate a bit. For the information of non-residents of Kohima, there is a large writing on the wall near Classic Island junction which reads ‘KOHIMA IS THE MIRROR OF NAGALAND’ and the national highway running adjacent to it had been in such a state of neglect and disrepair for so long that ‘dry river bed ’ seems an appropriate term to describe it, but within the past weeks it has received a healthy dose of temporary T.L.C. (The Roads and Bridges department must have gone into overdrive mode once the P.M’s visit became official). But day in, day out, year after year all the SUV riding big shots of all ministries in power then and now, have driven over it and yet seems to have failed to notice and truly taken in how true that statement really is. Maybe the overly dark tinted shades of their vehicles or their super dark sunglasses or zooming motorcade have prevented those in power to see and read how aptly true and embarrassing it is to have such a description of Kohima boldly written for all to see, especially now that Hornbill Festival beckons and the most coveted and official pride of Nagaland – THE TOURISTS!!! (Yea! Hooray!) will be coming to see what this often advertised jewel of Northeast India (Jewel or Switzerland. I’m not sure which) has to offer.A widely traveled foreigner acquaintance once said that the roads of Nagaland are NOT the worst in the world but in a list of worst roads that he has traveled on, ours is way up somewhere near the top. Perhaps out of courtesy he was trying to put it as delicately as possible. In the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, there is a scene where the cursed undead captain Barbossa says ‘…moonlight shows us what we really are!’ In the case of Nagaland it would have to be ‘MONSOON shows us what we really are!’ Ah! Monsoon… it’s that time of the year when all our infrastructure deficiencies come to light, roads become drains; pedestrians wearing white go out at their own risk,(for that matter ALL pedestrians); uphill residents empty their septic tanks into gushing drains much to the irritation and disgust of downhill residents; a driver searching for the best parking spot to drop off/ pick up his passenger starts off long traffic jams, monsoon rains are the cleansing lotion for our cosmetically blacktopped roads. In our locality potholes the size of basins develops within the span of some weeks. The only person who probably benefits is the corner shopkeeper selling umbrellas…but even he foresees declining umbrella sales judging by the amount of vehicles running on our roads. (Whoa! let me stop there; I am about to throw stones while forgetting I also live in a glass house myself.)
Now its all well and good to be living like how we were 10, 20 years back but with all the efforts that our State Government is trying to modernize a consumer and aid-dependant state like ours to showcase itself as a presentable and dynamic modern day society, I think we are somewhere forgetting some fundamental basics. Of the many factors that hinder development in Nagaland a fair share of the blame would have to be connectivity (other prominent reasons being NPG taxation, corruption, nepotism, etc). Even in ancient and medieval times, farsighted and ambitious rulers saw the importance of roads and connectivity. It is known that successive Roman emperors were able to expand and maintain their empire due to swift connectivity via well maintained roads throughout their dominions which later European powers also adopted. Indian history also documents rulers building good roads for trade and commerce. Bwaaa!! If Ceasar or Akbar could do it centuries back then without the benefits of GPS, JCBs and Google Earth why can’t and aren’t we learning a thing or two from them? I don’t know how it is nowadays but years back during a college trip to Noklak, Ten Rupees was able to buy me just 6 (six) Center Fresh chewing gums, at Tuensang it was 8 (Eight). Now I can only surmise three reasons for that type of cost inflation; 1) The cost of transportation over long and poor roads from source to destination, 2) The same old eternal issue of NPG taxation. 3) Very greedy and corrupt shopkeepers (which is highly unlikely since it would be career suicide). While there is nothing much the state government can/ will do about reason no 2 at least something can be done in the case of the first. For example take the case of N.H 39 between Kohima and Dimapur. To the best of my knowledge we still ply on the exact same road which the British laid way back in the early 1900s, the only significant improvement being that it is now widened and blacktopped. The ass jolting distance is still more or less the same with no significant reduction. The once enthusiastic plans of four laning and rail connection with the state capital seem more like pipe dreams now. Compared to that, the impeccable multi-laned highways of our neighbor Assam just a few minutes from our borders really puts us to shame, and to me seeing was believing. Not trying to sound condescending here but I’ve heard that even the roads in Manipur surpass ours. And now with Hornbill Festival just around the corner we are seeing hurried works going around the capital on road repairing (same old story every year).
Now the B.R.O may be bearing the brunt of the blame but really the heart of the matter lies with the residents of the state which narrows down to those in power to be accountable for their responsibilities to the collective people of Nagaland and those who elected them. To the general populace it is just hollow and even somewhat insulting when we read in the papers about the tall and lofty aims and ambitious plans State politicians and officials make during inaugurals, functions and events. Arre!!! Babus… your esteemed position of office affords you to go abroad on occasions, why not bring home some genuine ideas and techniques (viable, realistic ones at that) for progress and development other than expense bill and postcard pics with the team and family. Seriously, I still just can’t possibly figure out how we can do business with world class elites like Korea and Israel, sure… some short term program will be in the offering but sustained long term investment- NAH!!!(Call me pessimistic, but I stand by that). But here is wishing ‘ALL THE BEST’ to all endeavors of our illustrious leaders from an average Joe of Kohima who, like everyone else, just wishes to live in a normal standard city where roads are well paved and drains are good, where leaders set good examples and the prices of onions and eggs are not raised by the number of potholes per kilometer. Dear Sirs, the next time you win ‘It’ big and formulate ideas for state development just be realistic in your plans and please don’t ignore and neglect the common man’s problems coz these days it sure feels like it.