Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Bad roads reflect bad governance Barely a month ago, while taking up a suo moto PIL, the Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court had maintained that good roads not only facilitate development at a quicker pace but also bring people together “which helps in building and strengthening national integration”. It also saves vehicles from wear and tear, saves time, fuel and health of the people “but this simple truth seems to have missed the consideration of people who are in charge of the same”, it had remarked. Strictly speaking, the Court’s observations were in relation to the condition of NH-2 connecting Nagaland with Manipur. But the essence of its message could be applied to any road/highway in Nagaland or elsewhere. The accepted wisdom is that infrastructure development provides a framework containing all other development variables. Hence, Governments prioritise and focus on infrastructure development ~ both in its physical and social aspects. Transportation infrastructure, especially the network of roads, constitutes the basic development arteries through which ~ like human arteries and blood ~ development activities must be circulated. But as the Court had observed, the neglect by the authorities with regard to our roads, not just the highways, is self-evident. The few days of rainfall in the State have laid bare the authorities’ ~ State as well as local ~ failure to uphold the most basic tenet of development: build and maintain good transportation infrastructure, including roads. For as long as one can remember, roads in Nagaland have always been a cause for public ire. Whatever system that has been followed for decades, and now sadly entrenched, has failed to deliver in respect of road infrastructure in Nagaland. It calls for new and novel initiatives to address the challenge. At the same time, it is wise to bear in mind that there are no quick-fix solutions or approaches. Perhaps a Court-monitored review of road construction efforts in the State could represent a sincere, first step towards a new model of road development in Nagaland. Without some intervention of this kind, the existing hierarchy and model will keep producing what it has now been configured to manufacture: terrible roads that cannot withstand the elements. And the elements will always have something to say in a land like ours, with the kind of topography we have. Every other development objectives will remain a distant dream unless our roads are up to the task. This includes not just construction of good roads but also its maintenance. In March 2018, marking his first day in office for yet another innings as Chief Minister, Neiphiu Rio had announced some of his Government’s (then known as PDA) 100-day and 60-day targets to transform certain sectors and governance in Nagaland. Ambitious even by Naga politicians’ standard, the list included a 60-day deadline to repair and renovate roads in the State. Much has changed since then ~ the 60-day promise was altered and repackaged as 60-working days ~ and now even the PDA is no more, swallowed as it is by the UDA. Regardless of the nomenclature or identity of the Government, the targets announced so loudly and publicly have now been exposed for what they are: moves intended to enhance the politician’s public profile instead of public welfare. Thus, there is no point asking the Government to spell out a policy or chart a roadmap. It is already a past master at making a pageant out of spelling out policies. But there is a desperate need for a mechanism that ensures sincere monitoring of the works and insists on standards that will serve the interest of the people. Viewed from another window, this also reflects the state of governance in Nagaland. If road infrastructure is indeed at the heart of all development activities, then by this parameter, Nagaland Government is struggling to pave its way out of the bottom.