Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Night scene at Imphal's BT Road before the flyover came up. (Pic: Pradip Phanjoubam)

The Interesting History Behind How Imphal Came to Have Its First and Only Flyover

On my return from Asian Institute of Management, Manila in the Philippines after completing a course on Master in Development Management (MDM) in May, 2002, I was given posting of Commissioner in charge of Municipal Administration, Housing and Urban Development (MAHUD). Okram Ibobi Singh was the Chief Minister of a coalition government led by Indian National Congress, which got the maximum number of seats in the election to the State Assembly held in February, 2002. I was, perhaps, considered suitable to work in MAHUD as I had the experience of having worked as Director of MAHUD from August, 1992 to December, 1994. MAHUD was not the most sought-after glamorous department unlike engineering departments. Minister in charge of MAHUD at that time was Laishram Nandakumar Singh, a senior lawyer by profession, who migrated to politics to serve the people by contesting election and being at the helm of affairs for the state. I was, indeed, really fortunate to work under him, for he was not only a minister, but also a father-figure for me. We had excellent working relationship.
The ever-increasing vehicular traffic in Imphal city resulted in traffic jams mainly at cross-sections. The state PWD had identified three junctions, namely, Keishampat junction, Raj Bhawan round-about and BT Road for construction of flyovers to decongest the traffic. They had prepared preliminary project report for construction of these flyovers. However, due to non-availability of adequate fund with the PWD at that time, the proposals remained on paper only. The then Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh asked us to explore the possibility of getting the funding for the flyover from the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India.
Immediately, a meeting was convened with the engineers of the PWD to understand the financial implication of the flyover and prioritization among the three proposed flyovers. Finally, the flyover over the BT Road joining Uripok with the western gate of Kangla and spanning over the busy junction of three Ima Markets, then known as Purana Bazar, New Market and Laxmi Bazar, was chosen for funding. Well, it will be the first flyover ever in Manipur. People had seen flyovers in Delhi and other cities, but not in Manipur. Initially, flyovers in Delhi too used to be about one kilometer or so. If it extended longer over the road offering a second passage of conveyance of traffic, such flyovers were referred to as elevated roads. In India, flyovers started to be constructed during the hosting of Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. In other metropolitan cities in other parts of the world, flyovers came in existence several decades before 1982.
Around 2001-2, National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), a public enterprise of the Ministry of Housing & Urban Development, Government of India ran into financial hardships. The parent Ministry decided to generate enough works for NBCC so that the revenue stream of the latter was good enough to sustain it. Therefore, the Ministry of Housing & Urban Development laid a condition while sanctioning project proposals from the state that NBCC should be the implementing agency. We came in contact with NBCC directly. At that time, Arup Roy Choudhury was the chairman of NBCC. He was trying to improve the performance of NBCC. He was also cooperative and positive while considering the proposals from Manipur. After discussing our proposal for BT Road flyover, NBCC agreed to prepare the Detailed Project Report by engaging their own staff/consultants. The cost of preparation of DPR is included in the total cost of project. The flyover project proposal of about Rs.25.00 crores was submitted to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in the latter part of 2002. It was sanctioned without much delay. It may be mentioned here that the political party in power at the Union Government at that time was of BJP with (late) Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister while the state government in Manipur was a coalition government led by Indian National Congress with Okram Ibobi Singh as Chief Minister. The immediate sanction of the project by BJP-led Government, which was submitted by the state run by Congress, proves that difference in political parties makes no difference in consideration of a project. Officials at the Government of India examine the proposal on merit. No political tag is attached to any project.
With excitement, planning for the ceremony of laying foundation for the new flyover on the BT Road was started. It was decided to name the flyover after the state hero, Bir Tikendrajit. It was also decided to engrave the stone slab of foundation in both English and Manipuri (Meitei) script. The then Minister of MAHUD consulted late Ningthoukongjam Khelchandra Singh, a well-known scholar of Manipur to give the manuscript to be engraved on the foundation stone in Manipuri script. At that time, I did not realize that there were two schools of Manipuri script – one close to number of Bengali alphabets and another considered to be authentic old Manipuri scripts with lesser number of alphabets. We also did not know that there was a strong dispute between two groups who asserted their claims to the authenticity of either of the alphabets system they espoused. Khelchandra Singh gave us the manuscript of the words in Manipuri alphabets having more alphabets, which was engraved on the foundation stone slab.
The foundation stone laying ceremony was held with Okram Ibobi Singh, the then Chief Minister as Chief Guest. It came to our knowledge on the next morning that the foundation stone slab with support structure were broken into pieces by the supporters of the Manipuri script with less alphabets in protest against the use of the what they considered as wrong Manipuri scripts, suggested by late Khelchandra Singh. The incident infuriated the state government especially the then Chief Minister. A meeting was called at the chamber of Chief Minister to discuss the issues surrounding the dispute over Manipuri script and consequent breaking of the engraved stone slab. Some members of the group supporting the Manipuri script with less alphabets spoke in emotional and excited tones at the meeting. They went to the extent of saying patriotic words like, “I am ready to lay down my life for the sake of Mayek”. People of Manipur are really emotional. Rational thinking was perhaps their weakness. The meeting ended inconclusively.
The challenge of acquisition of land on either side of the road to accommodate the flyover, where highly sought-after shops with advantageous position and sales, was tactfully handled by L. Nandakumar Singh, the then Minister of MAHUD. Even though I was not involved in the process of land acquisition, Minister, MAHUD would have used all persuasive means to convince the shop owners. When actual construction of the flyover was to commence, I had gone on central deputation to Central government. However, in spite of disturbances and objections from various quarters, which were quite common in those days, NBCC was able to complete the construction of BT Road flyover, which eased a major traffic congestion on the road crossings of Paona Bazar and BT Road, and Thangal Bazar and BT Road. I am happy to have been a member of the team, which constructed a flyover for the first time in Manipur. No more flyovers have been attempted though traffic congestion continued to mount at some junctions. This is probably also because the finance of the state government alone does not permit execution of major projects with its own funding. One has to look at funding from the Central Government, which obviously is much better endowed financially. We however hope to see more infrastructural projects in future in Manipur.

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