Lessons from Sisen and Laptap

[ Tongam Rina ]
2014 state legislative election, Sisen village in Siang district refused to vote. The election commission deputed officials and voting machines but 140 villagers did not vote; a first in the state where voters turn out any election have been more than 80 percent.
The decision not to vote was a harsh reflection on the inability of the state and central government to provide something as basic as road connectivity.
Following Sisen, on Saturday, 24 villages under Kangku circle in Likabali Assembly Constituency have also decided that they will not vote unless the circle is provided with road connectivity.
Likabali Constituency will vote soon after the passing of Jomde Kena, the local representative and Health Minister of the state in September.
The elections notification is not yet out so perhaps the state government as well as the centre has sometime to placate the angry citizens. It remains to be seen whether the message of the people have reached the centre or the state though Pema Khandu government seems very sincere about connectivity.
Road connectivity remains a big issue in the state even after partial implementation of Trans Arunachal Highway and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.
Out of total 2,570 km length of national highway in Arunachal, 653 km have been completed while 1917 km of NH are under progress, according to central govt figure.
According to the website of state Rural Works Department, the road connectivity in the State is around 36%. The state has a road density of 22 km per 100 sq.km road network including earthen roads and tracks. These figures are damning indictment of the decades of failure of the respective governments.
For an important border state like Arunachal, the statistics are appalling and a telling evidence of centre’s lack of interest in the development of a state with the biggest begging bowl in the entire country. Mere rhetoric will only result in more Sisen and Kangku like situations.
Vijayanagar in Changlang is one classic example. Seven decades into India’s independence, the entire area, bordering China is not reachable by road. The centre and state should be grateful that no one has sued so far for the unforgivable human casualties for want of medical attention.
The 2,000-kilometre-long Arunachal Frontier Highway connecting Mago-Thingbu-Vijaynagar remains a non starter. Ambitious and untenable project if we consider the damage on the ecology of the state. As seen in the state, massive road building activities severely impact the ecology, which is a cause of concern. Build roads; forget the aftermath has been the mantra so far, totally disregarding the fragile nature of the state.
The state needs road connectivity and it also need engineering skills to build roads in a hilly state like ours. While building roads, it is important that one look at the hills that are being unmindfully chopped down. The hills will come down someday to reclaim whatever is left of it. The end results are killing landslides.
Laptap tragedy where 14 people lost their lives in July following earth cutting for construction of road is still fresh in the collective memory of the state.
With road connectivity at just 36 percent, Arunachal desperately need roads without major damage to environment. Not because we are a state that guards India but because people deserve basic facility like road. And it is a challenge to the centre to improve the road connectivity. Blaming earlier government for their failure to build roads is not the answer even though the favorite time pass seems to be exactly that. Learn from earlier mistakes, make it better and move on. While Kangku has given its decision, four-lane highway construction has started in Itanagar. People have been patient so far even as they struggle with dust, and accompanying allergies and stressful traffic jams. But if work is not stepped up, congested and dusty Itanagar should gear up for more landslides. Rains will be here in few months time and at the rate the construction is going, it is very unlikely that TK engineering will be able to beat the deadline to complete the sections that have already been dug up including the State Secretariat area which is landslide prone. We need to remember Laptap each time a centimeter of earth is dug up to make roads.