Although the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways through National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) had decided in January 2019 to undertake the construction of a 4-lane bridge on the Irang River, 95.5 km from Imphal, the construction of the bridge on the Irang River is still uncertain.
Originally, the estimated cost of the project was Rs. 30.75 crore and the completion of the construction of the bridge was targeted in 650 days.
However, even after almost two years, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways sources say the construction ‘firms are reluctant to participate in the bid and take up the Irang Bridge construction project due to threats it pose the work site, as they are aware of how militants abducted BIPL engineers and officials and demanded ransom’.
Even as tenders had been floated at least three times, very few bidders have responded and those who responded submitted very high rate quotations.
Therefore, the Ministry has increased and sanctioned around Rs. 44 crore during the last financial year for construction of a new bridge on the Irang River with NHIDCL as the implementing agency, the sources added.
BIPL is currently engaged in constructing new Barak and Makru bridges, said the NHIDCL official. Having had the bitter experience of paying ransom every now and then, BIPL stayed away from bidding for construction of Irang Bridge, the NHIDCL officials claimed.
Important bridge but vulnerable yet no srious attention by government
Unfortunately, the fate of the Bailey bridge on the Irang River which is an indispensable part of the one of the only two lifelines of the landlocked state of Manipur always meets difficulties and dead ends.
Barely three days after Imphal-Dimapur Road, National Highway-2 was partially restored; the only alternate route connecting Manipur with the rest of India, Imphal-Jiribam National Highway-37 has been cut off since early morning of November 1 due to the collapse of the Bailey bridge over the Irang River. The 50-metre section of Imphal-Dimapur Road on National Highway-2 or Asian Highway 1 at Khongnem Thana area, about 15 km away north from Maram, which sunk into the gorge below in the evening of October 23 following incessant rains has been restored functionally in the morning of October 29.
Reports said, the Bailey bridge shattered at around 7.25 am as a tipper truck loaded with sand reached the middle while crossing the bridge on the Irang River. The ill-fated truck was heading towards Jiribam from Imphal.
As the truck got slanted to the right side, the helper of the vehicle who was seated inside the truck on the left side of the driver’s cabin managed to jump off and thus he saved himself by a whisker. But the driver Khamba from Hojai in Assam could not be found in and around the Irang Bridge. At last at about 6.30 am of November 4, the body of the driver Khamba was found floating along Irang River near Guigailong village, about 10 kilometres away from the place of the Irang Bridge incident.
The Bailey bridge on the Irang River has always been in danger for decades. Media reports have it that the old Bailey bridge on the Irang River was blown partially up on July 19, 2005 during the economic blockade on the National Highways called by the All Naga Students Association Manipur (ANSAM) in protest against the declaration of June 18 as State Holiday by the Government of Manipur, remembering the Manipur June 18 Uprising in 2001 against the extension of ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and NSCN (IM).
Consequently, blowing up of the bridge on the Irang River along NH-53 by the blockade supporters on the night of July 19 has aggravated the difficulties more, forcing the transporters to suspend the entire traffic ability and communication with the state capital. However, 25 BRTF in consultation with the state works department mobilized resources and completed the repairing works under security cover. Thus, a new Bailey bridge on the Irang River was installed on July 26, 2005.
The President of Transporters and Drivers Council (TDC) H Ranjit said, the Irang Bridge was re-constructed after it was blown apart by a militant group in 2010. The problems of Irang Bridge recur always and Manipur remains cut off frequently.
In 2018 April 28 also this writer had an experience of the Irang Bridge where hundreds of vehicles from both sides of the river remained stranded due to the emergency repairing of the bridge’s steel portions and wooden planks.
Irang Bridge after collapse on November 1
In 2019, movement of trucks along Imphal-Jiribam had ceased from January 22 after the Irang Bridge broke down on January 21. As the bridge has been badly damaged, all goods carriers stopped crossing the bridge.
Again in the same year 2019, on November 21, hundreds of vehicles and loaded trucks were stopped from plying over the bridge for almost a day. Manipur police personnel from Noney and Khongsang were engaged in repairing the bridge. They made the much needed effort to join the shredded wooded parts by hammering new planks over them as temporary measure. The effort went on till night after which hundreds of trucks stranded along National Highway (NH-37) started plying towards Imphal.
Stranded trucks on NH-37 after the collapse
Even last month on October 3, before the November 1 collapse, several transporters and the travelling public along the National Highway including Tamenglong public faced inconveniences as they had to postpone their journey to Imphal and Jiribam owing to the breakdown of the Irang Bridge and the repair work that was being carried out without giving prior information to the public.
Transporters, travellers and villagers who use the Irang Bridge everyday say that these temporary measures of repairing the ramshackle bridge is causing a lot of “fear and stress” along the highway.
Frequent breakdown of old Irang Bridge in Tamenglong district of Manipur connecting the road from Tamenglong to Imphal and Jiribam on National Highway-37 has been causing immense hardships for the people in the region. What troubles the public more is the delay or slow progress in fixing the bridge or lack of prior information of the repair work being conducted that often leaves transporters and travellers stranded on the road, on both sides of the Irang River.
Frequent damages but first-aid approach to dealing with problem
Now, the bigger tragedy is that the Bailey bridge on the Irang River collapsed and Manipur remains cut off through the National Highway-37 from November 1 while the other route National Highway-2 has just been partially functional from October 29.
Even as the landlocked state of Manipur has been cut off, how long will the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways and its agency NHIDCL wait for construction firms, keeping the lives of the people of Manipur at stake when they are already hit hard by the COVID-19 Lockdown?
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics