Image: NDTV

Source: Imphal Free Press
IMPHAL | Jan 31

The home ministry, worried at the lack of efforts on part of the Okram Ibobi Singh government to end the three-month-old blockade of National Highway-2 in poll-bound Manipur, has sounded out the Election Commission and sought its intervention to get the arterial road cleared of Naga rebels ahead of polling.

State officials however said, it has only 38 central paramilitary companies at its disposal despite the requirement of 110 companies for opening the highways, as per court orders.

“While enough Central forces have been put at the disposal of the Manipur government to have the highway cleared, the state government has been rather reluctant to utilise them. Among the reasons cited by them is that since women are squatting on the highway to enforce the blockade, it cannot risk the use of force,” said a home ministry official.

The home ministry fears that if serious efforts to clear the highway, which runs through Naga-dominated hill districts, are not made soon enough, there may be direct impact on the poll.

“If NH-2 is blocked, how will the candidates conduct their campaign? Also, how will polling personnel and poll material be transported?”

The economic blockade has hit supply of essentials like petrol and diesel. Even voters may find it difficult to access polling booths in the hills, which are due to go to polls in the last phase on March 8,” said an official.

Given that the superintendence of district officers as well as police is currently with EC in view of the ensuing poll, the home ministry has now sensitised the commission on the alleged “failure” on part of the Ibobi government to rein in the Naga rebels, led by United Naga Council (UNC), and asked it to ensure that the Central forces allocated to Manipur are deployed optimally and judiciously to end the blockade ahead of the poll.

“Unless this is done, the arterial highway will continue to be choked by the Naga rebels, making a free and fair election impossible. An assessment says that polls in most hill districts cannot be held if the current situation continues,” said an officer.

The UNC is protesting the carving of new districts out of Naga-dominated areas in Manipur hills. The Ibobi Singh government, however, is not willing to risk a crackdown on those blocking the highway as that would mean loss of lives and thus a misadventure on the eve of poll.

However, contrary to the claims made by the Union home ministry and central leaders that enough central forces has already been sanctioned for opening the blockaded highways only 38 companies of central paramilitary forces have been dispatched so far to the state, over and above the existing deployment.

A full bench of the High Court of Manipur led by Chief Justice Rakesh Ranjan Prasad, after listening to the opinion of all stakeholders including security forces, had on January 25 ordered the central government to dispatch an additional force of 72 more companies of paramilitary forces at the disposal of the state government for clearing the NH 2 and NH 37 during the economic blockade.

When contacted a top ranking state government official said, out of the 38 companies of paramilitary forces dispatched so far 12 companies are deployed on NH 2 Imphal-Dimapur road and the rest on NH 37 Imphal Jiribam road.

He also clarified that every company has been deployed on the highways deflecting allegations that the forces have been withheld.

On the possibility of the Centre in compliance with the High Court’s order of more forces he said, the state government has already asked the Centre for more forces.