When Neiphiu Rio took over as chief minister of the Naga People&’s Front-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government humbling veteran Congress leader SC Jamir&’s regime in the 2003 assembly election, many wondered how he would run the state with problems like huge financial deficit, growing unemployment, unsolved inter-state border disputes and fights among rebel factions. (Rio, incidentally, was the home minister in the Jamir cabinet and quit just six months before the assembly election).
Rio, however, was fortunate enough to have a friendly BJP government at the Centre under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. He sanctioned a one-time grant of Rs 365 crore to wipe out the deficit. This “unprecedented generosity” towards a non-BJP government, however, did not come that easy. It was in return for the inclusion of seven elected BJP legislators in the government. Rio had appointed TM Lotha home minister while former chief minister and governor of Himachal Pradesh Hokishe Sema was made chairman of the DAN, an honourable position in the ruling alliance.
There was more to come. Vajpayee visited Nagaland in October 2003 and announced a Rs 1,053-crore economic package, a large chunk (Rs 400 crore) of which was for the four-laning of the Dimapur-Kohima National Highway 39 (now 29). Later, Vajpayee told a gathering that he was pleased to sanction the amount because he had to travel the 70-km bumpy road as his helicopter could take off for Kohima due to bad weather. He even remarked, “I wonder, if this road is the best in Nagaland one can simply imagine what could be the conditions of the others.”
Unfortunately, the Vajpayee “gift” did not please the people of Nagaland as nothing was done to implement the project. Twelve years after, on 3 November, 2015, Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation of the project.
The public was unhappy over the delay. All this came after the people resorted to the blocking of highways to vent their anger over the government&’s delay and apathy.
At the press conference in Raj Bhavan, Kohima, on that day, when I asked the minister whether he was aware of the court judgment directing his ministry to do the needful in a month&’s time, he said he was aware of it. He, however, added that they had no intention of going against the judgment. Yet the ministry did not abide by the court ruling.
Even after the court&’s order and its appointment of an independent commissioner with the direction to submit a detailed report to it (court) after site inspections, the ministry was still indifferent.
For the first time, the five tribal organisations — Phom People&’s Council, Sumi Hoho, Chakhesang Public Organisation, Ao Senden and Konyak Union — came out openly and shot off a “joint memorandum” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June seeking his intervention. They mentioned that the construction of the two-laning of roads from Mon-Tamlu-Merangkong, Longleng-Changtongya, Phek-Pfutsero and Chakabama-Zunheboto under SARDP (NE) for 329 km was sanctioned by the Union ministry and the work was allotted to a Hyderabad-based company, Maytas-Gayatri (JV) and they started construction but abruptly stopped it from June 2012 on the “pretext of non-approval of revised estimate by the ministry concerned”. The half-construction, the memorandum added, has merely blocked the “lifeline of five districts”.
The writer is editor, North-East Press Service.