60 days of blockade: Manipur’s food, medicine crises deepen

Imphal, June 9 (IANS) Manipur faces an acute shortage of food and medicines with supplies of essentials cut off for the 60th day Wednesday following an indefinite economic blockade by several tribal groups.

‘The food crisis is simply acute and also there is a severe shortage of life saving medicines with the blockade entering the 60th day and still no chance of breaking the deadlock,’ N. Biren Singh, Manipur government spokesperson and a senior minister of the Congress party ruled state, told IANS.

Several Naga groups called an indefinite blockade of National Highway 39, Manipur’s main lifeline, April 11 to protest against the decision of the state government not to allow separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace.

The Manipur government had banned 75-year-old Muivah’s trip to his home village, saying it could stoke unrest.

The non-stop blockade has led to an acute food crisis in the northeastern state with trucks carrying essentials and medicines stranded in the adjoining state of Nagaland as protestors lay siege on National Highway 39.

Landlocked Manipur depends on supplies from outside the region with trucks from the rest of India carrying essentials passing through Nagaland.

‘The entire life support system of Manipur has literally collapsed with many hospitals putting on hold routine surgeries due to lack of oxygen cylinders,’ Babloo Loitongbam, a rights leader representing Human Rights Alert, said.

‘Life is hell for people like us with prices of all essentials shooting up manifold; even if we are ready to pay a price we don’t get what we want,’ said Aruna Devi, a housewife.

A kilogram of rice is selling at Rs.70 (compared to the Rs.20-Rs.24 earlier), a litre of petrol at Rs.200, while a cooking gas cylinder in the black market is priced at Rs.1,000-Rs.1,200.

‘Muivah is holding the state to ransom and it is surprising that New Delhi is silent on the issue. The central government should have intervened long back to break the deadlock,’ Biren Singh said.

‘People are getting restive and there is every reason to be so – when people get hungry they naturally get angry,’ the minister added.

The Manipur government got some supplies by airlifting rice and medicines, besides escorting about 500 trucks through National Highway 53 via the adjoining state of Assam.

‘The road condition of National Highway 53 is deplorable and the supplies that came in from this route were simply not sufficient to meet the requirements,’ Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said.

On May 6, six tribal Naga protestors were killed and up to 70 injured in clashes with police as Muivah tried to defy a ban on him returning to his village.

Muivah, leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), has since deferred his visit.

Muivah’s group signed a ceasefire deal with the Indian government in 1997. Since then, he has held more than 60 rounds of talks to end one of the country’s longest running insurgencies.

The NSCN had been campaigning for a Naga homeland carved from three of India’s seven northeastern states.

Amid the woes of the people of Manipur, Muivah is adamant on visiting his birthplace in Ukhrul district.

‘I have every right to visit my birthplace and I would do so,’ Muivah said.

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