Over 300 loaded trucks bound for Imphal are stranded at Jiribam, bordering Assam, along the 225-km-long National Highway 37 for five days due to the absence of armed Manipur paramilitary personnel to escort them. The Jiribam police said the trucks were being provided protection in the interim.

A number of militant groups extort illegal taxes while highwaymen loot passengers occasionally. Some drivers, who had plied in small numbers without armed paramilitary personnel, were waylaid, beaten up on the charge that the owners had not paid various taxes, and their vehicles torched.

As the trucks transport goods regularly, a blockade-like situation prevails in Manipur. Last year, there were blockades for 123 days as the Kuki and the Naga tribals made demands over the formation of a new district. However, the blockade was suspended on December 1 to facilitate a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on December 3 to inaugurate a slew of new constructions.

Goods rot

Talking to The Hindu, some traders said perishable items in the stranded trucks were rotting. Besides, the transporters were charging more for the inordinate delay. As a result, the traders had to jack up the prices.

Prices of all consumer items and construction materials remain exorbitant. Till recently, fuel was strictly rationed with most of the oil pumps remaining closed. However, at the direction of the Election Commission, the pumps were opened. Sources say that soon after the March 6 counting for the Assembly polls, fuel will become scarce since the trucks and oil tankers cannot be provided armed escorts along the highways on a daily basis.

The other lifeline is National Highway 39 that snakes through Nagaland. Many trucks and oil tankers avoid it fearing extortions and manhandling of the drivers, though the road condition is better.

Raising a highway protection force to prevent blockades by some tribal groups was one of the main election issues of the political parties contesting the January 28 Assembly polls.