| Essential commodities being unloaded from an air force cargo plane at Tulihal airport in Imphal on Saturday. (PTI)
Aug. 7: Residents of blockade-weary Manipur may have heaved a collective sigh of relief when Indian Air Force planes brought in 40 tonnes of consignments yesterday, but their wait for a share of the relief materials continued today with the government taking its time to streamline the rationing system.
An official source said the airlifted items would be sent to all nine districts ' five in the hills and four in the valley ' from tomorrow and made available to residents through the public distribution system.
“The exercise will be conducted under the strict supervision of the deputy commissioners. We do not want a single kg of the 20 tonnes of sugar and 10 tonnes each of pulses and edible oil to be misappropriated,” the source said.
As the government contemplated ways to ensure equitable distribution of the airlifted commodities, trucks entered Manipur with supplies from Assam through both the national highways of the state. An official confirmed that 124 trucks came to Imphal through the NH 53 (Imphal-Silchar) and 22 were escorted by police and paramilitary forces through the NH 39 (Imphal-Kohima).
The All Naga Students’ Association of Manipur has been blocking the NH 39, the state’s main supply route, since June 19 to protest the Okram Ibobi Singh government’s decision to declare the anniversary of the 2001 June uprising as “state integrity day”.
Attempts to make the NH 53 an alternative lifeline have not been very successful. Saboteurs destroyed a bailey bridge on that route the very day it was reopened after major renovation.
Delhi is trying to ascertain how saboteurs from the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) managed to damage the bridge after the army claimed to have secured the highway.
Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Calcutta that a search for “new alternatives” was on.
“Whenever there is an agitation in any part of the Northeast, the first casualty is the communication system. They do not understand that this affects the people and not the policy makers,” he said.
In Imphal, speculation was rife about whether the 40 tonnes of food that arrived yesterday would be enough for the state’s 24-lakh population. “We were disappointed when no cargo plane came today,” schoolteacher Bhorot Singh said. Tea stall owner Tellem Sachin echoed him. “Does the Centre think 40 tonnes are enough for the people of Manipur'” he asked.
Officials of the food and civil supplies department said they did not have any information about whether the IAF was planning more sorties.
The United Committee, Manipur (UCM), has set August 13 as the deadline for the Ibobi government to reach an agreement with the Naga student organisation or take a firm stand against it. The UCM spearheaded the 2001 uprising.