The drivers of the fuel tankers transporting petrol and diesel from Assam have said that they will go on an indefinite strike unless armed militants are booked and punished. This comes close on the heels of firing on some empty tankers in Noney district on Tuesday. One driver said, “The tankers were empty as we were going to Assam along NH 37 to fetch fuel. There would have been massive blasts and several people would have been killed and injured”.
In one incident, unidentified militants pushed over 20 loaded tankers into the deep gorge along the NH 2. For quite some time the drivers have been plying along NH 37 which is relatively safe. But after incidents in which some tankers were perforated with high velocity bullets, it has become clear that the tankers and the lives of drivers and cleaners are in danger.
The Central government has been refusing to provide security forces along the two national highways which are the lifelines for this border State, saying that since the law and order was a State subject the Manipur government should make its own arrangement. The State government had conscripted several personnel of the Indian Reserve Battalion and the Manipur Rifles forces. But in view of the burgeoning insurgency related violence, the State government has been unable to set up highway protection forces but it is escorting about 500 loaded trucks to Imphal from the mountain highway. The drivers and the loaded trucks are stranded for weeks facing various inconveniences in the mountain highways where food and other basic amenities are not available.
Once, a highway blockade is announced or the highways are impassable due to landslips, most of the petrol pumps are shut with the announcement that fuel is out of stock. This is despite the fact that Manipur keeps a fuel reserve for at least 21 days. There is no shortage of fuel for the roadside vendors who do a thriving business in front of the pumps.
It is expected that the strike would last some days since the goods trucks and tankers cannot be given armed escorts even on weekly basis. All these years, insurgents and extortionists have been collecting huge amounts from the vehicles of Manipur as illegal taxes.