Tamenglong – Haflong Road Construction – The People’s Road

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In Collaboration with FindingTheVoices.com

Amstrong Pame, an IAS Officer born to Heithung Pame and Ningwangle Pame hailing from Impa Village in Tamenglong district, Manipur, had been working as Sub-divisional Officer in Tousem sub-division in 2012. The post of Sub-divisional Magistrate, which he handled, was responsible to look after the sub-division. His work was by and large observer of various departments and eventually a caretaker to keep the functioning of the various departments in line. He administered on every aspect of development activities of the villages under the sub-division that include education, water, health and sanitation, administration, primary health centre and so on. It was a tough work to collect reports, analyze it and overseeing overall development activities.

“Our government used to sanction huge amount of money for our development. The proper utilization of the sanction money is keenly examined and made sure the work is done.” It is all what Pame did during his service as Sub-divisional Magistrate. The work assigned to him was much tougher as there were no proper motorable road and it was a big challenge. In absence of road, walking on foot for hours from village to village examining the villagers’ condition was very difficult, Pame recounts. But it was his duty and he enjoys doing it. He himself walked to the villages every fortnight to monitor the development activities or sometimes assigned a subordinate to look into the matter. He used to discuss with the Villages Chiefs and elders about the importance of education to the children and gave awareness about the government sponsored projects to the villagers.

He made sure whether school going children got their books and uniforms supply by the government free of cost under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). SSA is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right. The programme seeks to open new schools in those habitations which do not have schooling facilities and strengthen existing school infrastructure through provision of additional class rooms, toilets, drinking water, maintenance grant and school improvement grants. Pame tried his best under his jurisdiction to settle down law and order related problems in Tousem sub-division too. He supervised overall development activities to be done at optimum.

The 100 km long road that Pame wanted to present to the villagers as Christmas gift had been lying broken since time immemorial. And it has been his dream to bring about change so that the people around the village would get a chance to inculcate with world outside. Without good roads for transportation and good communication systems, it was impossible to develop a society, he recounts. In December 2006, before he got government’s service, he set up an education tour in which he took 9 Higher Secondary School kids and toured for 31 days on foot. In that tour, he along with the kids, passed through 31 villages under Tousem sub-division monitoring the challenges faced by the villagers. He even made awareness to the villagers about the need of education and schools to children, if they need development. After analyzing the challenges, Pame came to the point that the areas need nothing more important than a good motorable road.

Tousem sub-division is about 60 km away from Tamenglong, the district Headquarter. Of course there is a motorable road but the condition of the road is extremely bad and that too particularly during rainy season as there is always possibilities of landslide and mudslide. The pathetic condition of road is much more severe in Tousem sub-division’s Tousem to Haflong (Assam) road. The villagers of Tousem prefer the road running through the border area of Assam and Nagaland for their livelihood and business, although they have to travel additional 30 km. If the villagers have to travel from Tousem to Haflong directly, there is an already broken road upto Phoklong; a village in between, at the border area; but there is no more road from Phoklong to Haflong. It was obviously necessary to cut a new road of 30-35 km, Pame said.

The project of construction a 100 km long road with no funding and help from government was not a 2 or 3 lane road; it was just a typical road of 18-20 feet wide. With very limited resources from people, it was pointless to dream for 2 or 3 lane road. What they needed was just a motorable road, wide enough to run a jeep. Before launching the fund raising activity for 100 km long road in the facebook (internet), Pame conveyed the message to government about the 40 years old dream of the people. He went to all the Superior Officers in the district and at Imphal to work out the possible way to construct a road for the survival of the people. Following the procedure in various departments and their sections was not a child’s play. He needed clearance certificate from district Public Works Department; he had to go through State Engineering Cell and so on. And it was not the last thing to do, if there were funds then he needed approval from Superiors to sanction it. The procedure through proper channel would take nearly a year, so Pame looked for another option and he found facebook, as a weapon to raise fund.

He discussed with his elder brother, who was in Delhi, to frame a committee to collect fund. At the beginning he nearly lost his hope, but when he got responses from people around the world in facebook, he was surprised and his hope began prominent. At the first stage of fund drive, the committee got responses as e-mails. An NRI in America mailed that he would send a cheque carrying Rs. 2 lakhs, another fellow, an IT professional from New York told that he would donate $3000. The messages were so overwhelming. In that stage the amount count almost Rs. 3 lakhs. It was only 10% of the total budget he needed but Pame believed in God and hoped that money would come along from people around the world, as everybody were so enthusiastic in his project. He targeted the completion of his project by December 10, 2012 and it would be the best Christmas gift to the villagers, Pame recounts. Further he extended his gratitude to the people for their participation and encouragement which could make the project a grant success.

The most challenging part in his project was right from the beginning. The month was July of 2012, he was sitting in front of his laptop for a week, working over the budget, fund collection and flow, hiring of machines, man power, oil consumption, food for labours and labours’ charges etc and it was going a haywire, Pame recounts. By the next week he planned to approach to probable persons from whom he may get helps. So he decided to meet some of the villagers, who were very intimate to him when he was posted in Senapati District. He went to the Senapati with his uncle and met the villagers, and stayed the night over there. By the next morning they had their lunch together and with a prayer in his heart, Pame requested to the village Chairman to lend their machine (JCB), that too free of cost for 2 months. The Chairman statued himself for a moment as the demand was an impossible demand and needed to think over thousands time. After a thorough conversation the Chairman asked him to discuss the matter with the village elders. He was so worried that what would be their response but after a week the Chairman responded positively and they were pleased to help him. Their response took away half of his worried.

He again asked to a contractor to lend Bull dozer, which was very expensive that the machine charge about Rs. 3000 per hour. The contractor was not ready to lend it free of cost and so they began bargaining the rate. At first, the contractor was ready to reduce the rate by Rs. 200 and the negotiation continued. The charge came down to Rs. 2500 per hour and that was too much to Pame, so he asked for his best rate at Rs. 2000. At that stage the contractor was worried that he would run into loss. Pame said him let the machine go run into loss for about 2 months for that the God will bless him to earn better in future. Finally the contractor agreed at almost half the market rate. After the challenges of machine part gone, the biggest challenge has gone. Pame strongly believed in himself that the oil part would be working out even though his budget in it went to Rs. 20 lakhs. He was having full confident that once the machine part was over, oil problem would be handy.

Another challenge was rain. In the month of June and July, the torrential rain brought suffers so much in his area that no other areas in Manipur suffered so. It washed away 7 suspension foot-bridges and one motorable bridge; flooded lots of fields, water level of the river was so high and strong current made stagnant the machine at the bank of the river for two weeks. Pame asked the God, in his mind, why such inalienable trouble was brought down to him. Whether it was testing or persevering, tears rolled down from his eyes again when he recalls the days, that after great effort he got the machines and the rain let stop the project. At last, after the raining was over, villagers along with the workers made the machine cross the river and began the work.

The best parts during his project were of two incidents as far as Pame concerned. The first was fund raising by a 90 years old villager. The elderly person stepped forward to raise fund by offering his 5 months’ salary (Old Age Pension), a sum of Rs. 1000. Another incident was about volunteer workers, counted about 250 including 100 women with spade and dow on the next day. When Pame saw the folk, he asked them where they were going to with those tools and what they were going to do. They replied that it was their road and they were doing it. The reply brought pleasure and satisfaction to Pame’s heart for their devotion and it was the best fruit for his hard toil.

Even though the road construction could not be completed before the Christmas of 2012; after a long hard works from those who involved in the construction of the people’s road was finally inaugurated on February 17, 2013 witnessed by 1000s of people.

“THE PEOPLE’S ROAD – Dedicated unto the glory of God with the celebration of the people’s endeavour by Armstrong Pame, IAS (SDO, Tousem) in the august presence of all the donors, volunteers and well-wishers. May the present and the future generations remember every single drop of sweat, tear and contribution rendered for the construction of this road from all over the world. Dated: 17 February 2013, Katangnam Village.”

As for the economic impact of people’s road to the villages are ever changing since the completion of the Tamenglong-Haflong people’s road. People of these villages are connected well with the Assam site as the road on the Manipur side is bad shape during this rainy season and for many it is too far to come to the Tamenglong side. Earlier the people of these villages used to cultivate mainly rice using the Zoom cultivation. The present trend is that people would cultivate rice that would suffice for the family for a year and rest of the fields would be cultivated with ginger, banana, umorok which could be planted even in the last year’s used fields. All the villages at the vicinity of this road are directly affected in terms ease of transportation and economic impact.

Pame is very concern about the maintenance of the road which will be deteriorated every monsoon season. Pame also dreams that this road becomes two lane black top road one day. However, the process might take 10 to 15 years if it has to be taken up by the government.

Jeremiah Pame (Armstrong Pame’s brother) wrote on the Tamenglong-Haflong Road Construction Facebook group 

“INAUGURATION OF THE PEOPLE’S ROAD

It was a wonderful day of celebration

I wish I could tell the world how happy we were

But words are not enough…

I wish you were there too…

We started from Tamenglong with a prayer by Dr. Adui

People of Tamenglong had never seen such a long line

Of bikes and vehicles with flags flying with different colors…

Joy and victorious smile could be seen on every face

Every village we crossed was filled with celebration..

By the time we reached Makhru River,

We were greeted with special indigenous tea in bamboo cups

We had lots of fun… swimming and fishing….

We went till Laisong, Assam. And came back

Together with the team from Assam.

It was drizzling… it was a shower of blessing

The inaugural program was held in the rain…

It was another history in the making…

Around 1000 (one thousand) people witnessed the

Inauguration of the People’s Road.

It was one of the happiest days of my life.”

As a final note “Live life beyond yourself and enjoy the happiness that comes along with it” Amstrong Pame.

Please refer to the facebook group Tamenglong – Haflong Road Construction for more details

Link to Part I of the story – Journey from Tamenlong to becoming an IAS officer

Original Podcast is available at Finding the Voices by Monica Ingudam Episode 11 

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