Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has asked the delegates of the Naga Students' Federation (NSF) who called on him on Saturday to lift the blockade against Manipur it had imposed from May 3 since the people are put to untold suffering.

The All Naga Students' Association Manipur (ANSAM) had started its own blockade from April 11. Since the Manipur government had tendered an apology regretting the obstruction of the NSF delegates from entering Manipur on May 3, the NSF is sympathetic to lifting the blockade.

On the other hand, there is a counter blockade against Nagaland from the Karbi Along district of Assam.

However, the Transporters and Drivers Council — the apex body of all drivers' and transporters' unions in Manipur — in a meeting decided not to ply along the inter-State highway 39 which passes through Nagaland unless the Centre and the Nagaland government give an assurance that the Nagaland police, officials and rebels shall not extort illegal taxes from Manipur vehicles plying between Khuzuma and Dimapur portion of the highway.

Talking to journalists, the leaders of the transporters and drivers said that for many years they had been plying or off the highway at the behest of the Nagaland rebels and some organisations who whimsically imposed blockades. They also said that the Nagaland police and several government officials had erected “checkposts” between Khuzuma and Dimapur to collect illegal taxes without issuing receipts. Some rebel groups have also been extorting various illegal taxes openly from the vehicles from Manipur such as road tax, goods tax and godown tax.

Looting and rapes

Besides there had been highway lootings every now. Passengers and drivers were beaten up and women molested and raped.

Several drivers had been beaten to death. There had not been a single instance of bringing the culprits to justice.

On the other hand, there were orchestrated suggestions from several organisations saying that the Manipur vehicles should abstain from plying along the highway 39. Though there are signs that the blockade may be lifted in view of the serious observation, the High Court has made it clear that there will be other blockades any time on many flimsy pretexts.

Manipur Works Minister K. Ranjit has rushed to the highway 53 soon after his return to Imphal to supervise the clearance of the highway. There were landslides at several places stranding the loaded trucks. It was also alleged that the debris was not cleared in time with the result that grass, tree sprout on the uncleared debris brought down from the mountains in the landslide. Mr. Ranjit had initiated steps to clear the debris along the highway.

During the meeting with Mr. Chidambaram, the NSF representatives were reported to have urged him to see to it that the order of proclaimed offender and non-bailable warrant of arrest issued against the United Naga Council and the ANSAM acting presidents were withdrawn.

Prices skyrocket

Meanwhile, prices of consumer goods had soared. One kg of potato is sold at Rs. 25 while the price per kg of rice is Rs. 30 and that of sugar Rs. 60.

Milk powder is not available in the market with the result that almost all families are having only black tea. All petrol pumps continue to remain closed and one litre of petrol is sold at Rs. 150 and LPG cylinder at Rs. 2,000 on the black-market.

Indications are that in view of the strong objections from all sections of the people, the drivers may not ply their vehicles along highway 39 even if the blockade is lifted by the Naga bodies.

The Transporters and Drivers Council issued a stern warning to drivers and owners not to ply the vehicles along the highway.