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Residents navigate rough waters as vital highway lies in ruin

Aizawl: In the face of a dilapidated National Highway 302, residents of Tlabung and surrounding villages near the Bangladesh border have found themselves with limited and challenging transportation options. Despite the high costs and inherent risks, locally-made small boats have become the sole recourse for various communities in the region.

NH-302, which remains in an extremely deplorable condition, has forced locals to turn to these makeshift boats as their primary mode of transport. Regarded as both expensive and perilous, this alternative means of travel is not only financially burdensome but also exceptionally time-consuming. Covering a distance of 97 kilometers between Tlabung and Lunglei now takes more than a day.

The ordeal is even more pronounced for those traveling from Tlabung to Aizawl, where the journey now extends beyond two days and costs more than Rs 10,000, a stark contrast to the previous 1000-rupee fare.

“This is somehow very ironic. While 9000 rupees is sufficient to reach Delhi from Aizawl, the same cannot be said for the journey between Tlabung and Aizawl, which are just 250 kilometers apart. Here, one must have at least 20,000 rupees,” a resident of Tlabung said.

Compounding the issue, public transport ceased operations on the route in July of this year. Maxi cabs, in particular, have been severely impacted, as their livelihoods depend on this highway, leaving them without income to support their families.

The deplorable state of the highway has rendered nearly 70 percent of it impassable for heavy motor vehicles, posing a dire threat to the residents of over 60 villages who now face the prospect of food scarcity.

Despite numerous attempts to spur action and repair the highway, NH-302, which connects more than 60 villages along the Indo-Bangladesh border to the centre of the state, remains in a state of disrepair.

NH-302, owned by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, serves as the lifeline for the state’s oldest town, Tlabung (formerly known as Demagiri), Lungsen, and over a hundred villages. This road was part of the Bharatmala Pariyojana, a high-profile project undertaken by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL). Although the project was slated for completion by the end of 2022, shockingly, only 18 percent of the work has been accomplished after a two-year lapse.

“We understand the challenges faced by both the NHIDCL and the contractor due to adverse weather conditions. However, we don’t expect a perfectly smooth road at this stage. What we do expect and demand is a road that is motorable,” stated B Lalhuthanga, Secretary of the Khawthlangtuipui group Young Mizo Association, echoing the sentiments of the affected communities.

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