Trucks set ablaze; Drivers on strike mode

IMPHAL, Sep 10 : A total of about 13 loaded trucks have been set onfire at Sadar Hills and Ukhrul district areas since yesterday night as the ongoing economic block-ade took a violent turn even as truck operators refused toply on the National Hig-hway 53 to protest alleged security inadequacy on the route.
On the otherhand, nearly 40 people have been injured in Assam Rifles action to drive away blockade supporters at Keithelmanbi along NH 39 while nine houses and a church have also been vandalised.
Contrary to initial report on the Keithelmanbi incident, number of trucks set ablaze by blockade suppor-ters is informed to be eight.
An army convoy escorting 12 loaded trucks from Nagaland to Imphal were stopped by blockadesupporters at Keithelmanbi last night. The convoy was led by the CO of 43 Assam Rifles.
There, the blockade supporters confronted the AR personnel resulting in a stand-off between the two for long hours.
At about 8.20 pm, blockade supporters set afire the eight loaded trucks one after another.
This led to a pitch battle of stone projectiles between the two sides.
Then the AR team allegedly vandalised nine hous- es and the Keithelmanbi Centre Baptist Church brea-king and tearing its windows and GI sheets .
They also smashed the windshield and window panes ofa Mahindra jeep.
Around 40 people including 37 women were in- jured in the AR action.
While those seriously in-jured have been brought to KCC Hospitalhere, the others were treated at Kang- pokpi CHC and Mission Hospital.
The eight trucks which were set ablaze were carrying fish, potato, green chilly, tomato, eggs and onion.
Out of the 12 trucks which were travelling with the army convoy, three trucks belong to Army Supply Corps.
The blockade supporters let off these trucks un- harmed after the relevant documents were produced.
The AR team could save one truck just as it started burning.
SHDDC general secretary Tonghen Kipgen said that they tried to allow the trucks go back. But the AR team's insistence to take alongthe trucks enraged the women agitators and this led to the arson.
Blockade supporters have been checking all passenger vehicles travelling across Sadar Hills whether they are carrying goods or not.
A check-gate has been already opened at Kang-pokpi, Tonghen informed.
In another development, five loaded trucks have reportedly been torched by unidentified persons at an Ukhurl district village, about 15 kilometres from the district headquarters, at around 7.30 pm today.
It is informed that personnel of district police and fire brigade have reached the incident spot and trying to douse the blaze. All five trucks were loaded with urea, said a source.
Meanwhile, drivers and handymen of about 1000 trucks today staged impro-mptu sit-in-protest at New Keithelmanbi junction in denunciation of alleged security inadequacy to truc- kers plying on the Imphal-Jiribam section of National Highway 53.
With the transporters declining tooperate on this route if the Government fails to initiate appropriate security measures, it is informed that a decision on whether to ply or not will be decided tomorrow.
As the drivers and their assistants blocked the hig-hway to air their grievances, top police officials along with president of Transporters and Drivers' Council (TDC)
Th Ranjit arrived at the spot to pacify the agitated truckers but tonot avail, initially.
Sticking to their decision of not plying without sufficient security cover, the drivers contended that the escort party provided to them have no concern for the safety of the transporters.
In addition to leaving the transporters to their own fate all along the treacherous route, the escort party on most occasion assault drivers and handymen whenever there is technical breakdown rather than wait while repairing work is on, they alleged while highlighting that besides serving the entire people of Manipur they too have to ensure well-being of their own families.
Acknowledging sentiment of the agitated drivers, TDC president Ranjit said drivers of petroleum products too have expressed reluctance to continue service as transport fuel such as petrol and diesel along with kerosine are notcovered by insurance policy.
In the aftermath of the recent attack by unidentified armed persons wherein four trucks have been set ablaze at Khambiron area and destruction caused to other esential commodities have led to the refusal of the petroleumproduct operators to cease service, he informed.
Further claiming that the DGP and authorities of para-military forceshave been apprised on the plight of the truckers subsequently evoking positive response from security force authorities to provide adequate security cover including deployment of para-military force personnel along the route, Ranjit also speculated that today's wildcat protest by the trcukers might have been due to some misunderstanding or communication gap.
General secretary of All Manipur Raod Transport Drivers and Motor Workers' Union H Kulamani, who arrived at the spot expressed strong resentment that Government policy on compensation differs between petroleum product carriers and other vehicles transporting essential commodities.
Reminding that both petroleum product carriers and transporters of food items are in the service of the people, he expressed the Union's support to any decision taken by the drivers.
Claiming threats as well as attacks by unidentified armed persons in addition to stoning of vehicles by suspected bandh/blockade supporters, Kulamani suggested that the StateGovernment take concrete measures for ensuring safety of both the drivers and the goods being transported.
After patiently noting the complaints, a police officer informing the agitated drivers that blocking the road should not be sustained, reminded the drivers that on numerous occasion escort parties waited forhours in case of technical breakdown of vehicles.
He, however, suggested that vehicles not fit for plying on the Imphal-Jiribam route should be properly repaired before joining the convoy.
Inspite of the police officer's contention, the drivers claimed high-handedness of security personnel accompanying the good carriers on many occasions.
The drivers also criticised the government of Manipur for its inept handling of road development works on the National Highway-53 and demanded that the work agenciesbe asked to expidite the same.
They also accused security personnel manning check-post in Jiribam sub-divisional headquarters of allowing over-loaded vehicles to pass through if there is exchange of money in the range of Rs 800 for cement load.
During the impromptu protest of the drivers, atleast three four-wheelers were damaged which led the police to detain some persons reportedly involvedin the act of arson. (The Sangai Express)

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