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Manipur moots highway protection force

- Centre agrees to raise two IRB battalions to counter blockades that cut off supply

Imphal, March 3: The Centre has agreed in principle to the raising of two more India Reserve Battalions (IRB) in Manipur for deployment along the Imphal-Dimapur and Imphal-Jiribam highways as a dedicated protection force to ensure free movement of trucks.

Deputy chief minister Gaikhangam, who is also the home minister, told the Assembly today that the force would be deployed once the two battalions were raised after getting formal sanction from the Centre under the national highway protection scheme.

He said chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh had been pursuing the matter with the Centre and hoped that Delhi would give its nod very soon.

Manipur already has eight IRBs engaged in the security of VVIPs and dealing with law and order.

Ibobi Singh had first raised the issue of raising a highway protection force before the Centre in 2008 in view of the frequent disruption of supply of essential commodities during bandhs and blockades on the state’s two supply lines. Hill-based organisations frequently call economic blockades along the Imphal-Dimapur (National Highway 2) and Imphal-Jiribam (National Highway 37) roads to press for their demands, disrupting supplies.

The first impact of such blockades is immediately felt on fuel as disruption of supply triggers panic buying and black marketeers exploit the situation. “Inept handling” of the situation by the state’s consumer affairs, food and public distribution department has at times worsened the situation. The recent four-day bandh in Karbi Anglong also affected fuel supply in Manipur.

Gaikhangam admitted that highway blockades and bandhs were a serious problem as NH37 and NH2 were the only supply lines for Manipur. Any bandh or blockade in neighbouring Nagaland or Assam also disrupts supplies to Manipur.

As an immediate measure, the state government provides security escorts for supply trucks during the blockades. However, transporters are unwilling to continue services during the blockades as bandh supporters attack them despite security escorts.

Gaikhangam said CRPF, state police and village defence force personnel were currently deployed along the two national highways.

Trinamul Congress member Th. Shyamkumar Singh demanded that the state government should immediately deploy two battalions of state forces along the two highways.

The Assembly today unanimously passed the Manipur State Commission for the Scheduled Tribes Bill, 2014 without much discussion.

Gaikhangam, who is in-charge of tribal affairs and hills, said once the commission was set up, Scheduled Tribes in any part of the state could approach the commission to get their grievances redressed.

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