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Is anyone listening, ask hapless Manipur residents as blockade continues

Sunday October 30, 2011 07:41:06 PM, Azera Rahman, IANS

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Imphal: For some, it has become a way of life. As the economic blockade in Manipur crossed an unprecedented 90 days, its residents continue to wait for a miraculous breakthrough, even as the situation has only become worse - with prices of essential commodities touching the sky and health services worsening.

"The situation has only become worse," said a worried K.H. Phalin, managing director of the Shija hospital in Manipur. "Despite our best efforts, we have had to turn away seriously ill patients because of lack of life saving drugs and oxygen cylinders."

"It's a helpless situation and a real emergency," Phalin, who is a surgeon in one of the state's biggest private hospitals, told IANS.

According to Phalin, Manipur does not have a medical gas plant of its own and relies on the nearby state of Assam. As a result of the stir, the price of oxygen cylinder has therefore gone up - by four-five times.

Ever since the blockade began Aug 1, the price of fuel and household commodities have also shot up. The blockade, activist Madhu Chandra says, has "unleashed" the black market.

"There is a general scarcity of goods, but most of the things are available, but only at higher prices. Fuel for instance - it will be announced that petrol will be available from 7 a.m. tomorrow and from midnight people start queuing up their vehicles outside the fuel station," Chandra said.

"Next morning, you will get the fuel, but after about two hours they will say that it's over. However, if you go to the market, you will get fuel, but at a higher price. It means that the black marketers are getting their supply and exploiting the people," he added.

So, while in other states, the price of petrol is around Rs.67 a litre, in Manipur it is being sold at around Rs.200 in the black market. An LPG cylinder can cost anywhere between Rs.1,800-2,000. Then again, a kilo of potatoes will cost you around Rs.40-50 and onions at Rs.60-70.

"But people have to eat. They can't die of hunger. So they have to buy," said Manisha Singha, a student.

"At my home, we have stopped using gas cylinder because it's just so precious! It's like we have gone back in time and use firewood. We also try and make do with home grown vegetables and fish from the local pond," she added.

"I wonder how long will this continue. I just want my life to go back to normal," added Singha's younger brother aged 10, Raju.

Probably, the only time when the state forgot about their daily struggles, was when Manipur celebrated one of its biggest festivals, Ningol Chakouba, Friday.

While the mood was celebratory - and further complimented by the ready availability of fish, an important ingredient of the festivities - many had to tone down their celebrations because of the steep prices of other items.

The blockade was called by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) in demand that the Sadar Hills sub-division in the Naga-dominated Senapati district in northern Manipur be upgraded as a full-fledged district.

The United Naga Council, the apex body of Nagas in Manipur, has also been organising a counter-road blockade in all Naga-inhabited areas in northern Manipur, demanding that these areas should not be carved out without their consent.

As the people of the state continue to suffer in this tussle, union Home Minister P. Chidambaram is expected to visit the state Nov 2-3. "I hope a breakthrough is achieved soon. People's medical bills have gone up, because hospitals are charging more for treatment, which they too can't help. I constantly pray that my family or friends don't become casualties to this blockade, like others have. Is anyone listening?," said Chandni Jain, a student of Delhi University, who hails from Imphal.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at





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