Nagaland’s infamous pothole-ridden roads are facing a common yet bigger in magnitude challenge this year. The growth in number of vehicles in the recent times in tandem with the worsening conditions of roads, which become treacherous in wet conditions, heightens the need for more attention from the government of the day towards maintenance of existing roads, whether it be state or national highway that runs across the state.
Landslides during the monsoon season impact the lives of the people in the state every year, particularly damaging roads, cutting off lifelines to many places besides damage to properties and farmlands. With the year’s monsoon in full swing, reports have been pouring in about landslides having hit several districts. The most affected could be the National Highway-39 between Dimapur and state capital Kohima where intense earth-cutting for a four-lane highway is in progress.
The latest affected area near Peducha, a perennial sinking section of the road, has partially cut off the highway earlier this year in May and vehicles plying the stretch were diverted to small neglected village roads that are otherwise hardly used, making the travel time between the two major towns threefold than the usual 2 hours. The NH-39 is not just a road that leads to the state capital and few districts but it also connects Nagaland with its neighbouring Manipur state and many heavy vehicles transporting essential commodities take this route. On Sunday, it was reported that the sludgy road got washed down due to incessant rains, completely cutting off vehicle passage on the highway and leaving hundreds of vehicles stranded on either sides of the affected area.
Naturally, the Himalayan region is tectonically active and is characterised by steep slopes and high rate of surface erosion. This, combined with heavy precipitation during monsoon, poses a high risk for landslides and flash floods in the region including Nagaland. For the state, this is compounded by various human activities such as stone quarrying and deforestation near existing roads, random dumping of wastes into the few functioning drainages, haphazard discarding of earth dug for various construction purposes on roadsides etc.
The unfortunate part, however, is that the state government continues to play blind to the recurring problems on the hapless roads including the National Highway on grounds that the highway is the lookout of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Although narrow and neglected by the people in power, village roads on the peripheries of the highway which, at times of emergency like the present situation, often come to the rescue and serve as alternative routes however deplorable they may be.
Landslides-caused roadblocks are a threat to all, but more so to those needing emergency medical services. They also impact more harshly on the people in villages and remote areas as their food security is affected due to decreased food produce (when their agricultural lands are hit), and lack of access to essential commodities.
This column has consistently been registering the need for the policy makers to formulate pragmatic plans for the state to face both natural and man-made disasters which the state is prone to, particularly landslides, and the need to strategize resilient measures and policies. And we say it again, it’s time for the powers-that-be to learn from past experiences and prepare us for a safer present and future.
While mitigation strategies to support contingency planning are called for, long-term protection measures of soil instability and erosion, and sustainable programs have to be initiated for affected areas to address and mitigate such disasters.
There may not be any immediate remedy to this farce of connectivity in the state but it is time the authorities rolled up their sleeves and step in to address the present situation while long term measures are formulated.
It is easy to say – build more roads, introduce more convenient public transit based on new technology etc. There are many possible solutions, but none comes easy or cheap. Nevertheless, the moot point here is, the number of vehicles will keep increasing and the roads are not likely to be less travelled in the future.