The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blockade off after healthcare alarm

Imphal, March 31: Tribal students enforcing a blockade on Manipur’s supply lines since midnight on Saturday called off their agitation hours after the state’s premier hospital, the Imphal-based Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, war-ned that stocks of oxygen and lifesaving drugs were running out and all operations would have to be suspended within a week.

The All Tribal Students Union of Manipur had begun the blockade on the Imphal-Kohima and Imphal-Silchar highways to press the government for improvement of education infrastructure in the hills, a reservation policy and better functioning of the tribal development department.

The Okram Ibobi Singh government signed a 10-point pact with the student leadership this afternoon, agreeing to fill all vacant posts of schoolteachers, set up a separate school education directorate for the hilly districts, extend pension benefits to employees of the autonomous district council, formulate service rules and set up a committee to look into conversion of government-aided schools into full-fledged government institutions.

The economic blockade had not only cut off the food supply chain, but also triggered a healthcare crisis.

“We will be forced to stop all sorts of operations in a week’s time due to non-availability of oxygen. The supply has been blocked by the tribal students-sponsored economic blockade. The stock of life-saving drugs will last only for one month. Restoration of fresh supply is urgently required,” Prof. Y. Mohen Singh, medical superintendent of the RIMS, told the media before the tribal student leadership announced that the agitation had ended.

Apart from RIMS, the state’s other major hospital, Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, and all district hospitals were reportedly running out of oxygen cylinders. Fuel stocks at government depots were also depleting fast.

The RIMS superintendent made an impassioned appeal to the tribal student leaders to exempt trucks carrying medicines and oxygen cylinders from the purview of the blockade. He said the healthcare institute was trying to procure a truckload of oxygen cylinders from Guwahati .

With organisations of students from different tribal groups extending support to the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur, supply trucks had not been able to ply on the two national highways ever since the blockade began.

Reports reaching here said about 130 loaded trucks remained stranded for the past few days at Manipur’s Mao gate, bordering Nagaland, while 30 other loaded trucks were stuck at Jiribam, along the state’s border with Cachar district of Assam.

The truckers declined to resume their journey without armed escorts.

Ibobi Singh held the first round of talks with an 18-member delegation of the tribal students’ body on Wednesday, but the meeting ended in a deadlock. After the talks, the student delegation said they would discuss the proposals made by the government before taking a decision.

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