It is good to hear that the Central government had approved in principle the upgradation of seven roads, including Old Cachar Road into National Highway status. Works Minister Govindas Konthoujam recently informed members of the state assembly that the construction of Tongjei Maril had already been completed in 2021 under funding from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and NESRIP. However, after Irang Bridge collapsed in July 2022, most of the heavy goods trucks had to be diverted along Old Cachar Road.
The road became damaged due to over capacity of traffic, and the Central government gave the project to NHIDCL for maintenance of the said road. Now and then, whenever some incident happens on the Imphal-Jiribam highway. On December 21, 20122, the general public woke up to a tragedy on the highway when a bus carrying school children on an annual excursion met an accident at around 11.10 am in which 9 including two adults were killed at Longsai Part 3 on the Old Cachar Road.
The excursion was enroute to the beautiful Khoupum valley which lies on the old highway. Villagers had blamed the government for negligence saying that Longsai village area in Noney district is an accident-prone zone. The state government has been neglecting the construction of the 5–6-kilometre downhill road stretch of Laimaton to Leimatak, which has caused several similar accidents in the past.
The Old Cachar Road has a history of its own and it was Manipur’s gateway to the outside world on the western flank. The route once connected the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur with other princely states. Former kings of Manipur depended on the route for trade and commercial purposes. It was through the Old Cachar Road that disaffected brothers and uncles of Manipur had launched rebellions with Cachar as the sanctuary and also Shantidas Gosain, a Vaishnavite preacher had come from Bengal to Manipur to preach Hinduism in the kingdom.
During British rule in Manipur, many English political agents had come to the state via this route. The last of the English to escape the palace rebellion in 1891 was Rose Grimwood, the wife of the then political agent who was killed during the rebellion. The road which was used to travel on foot or horseback by the king's men was widened by the Chap force in 1942, between July to September. The Chap force included 150 officers and men from the 82 Anti-Tank regiment of the Royal Artillery.
The force was led by Lt Col GP Chapman. With the development of the new Jiribam-Imphal national highway, Tongjei Maril was left abandoned only to be remembered at times of crisis and blockades on the new highway. The old highway which passes through the districts of Bishnupur, Churachandpur, Senapati, Nungba and Tamenglong is only 100 kms while the new Jiribam highway is 220 kms.
However, promises to develop the historic Tongjei Maril had been made in the past and now also. In 2010, the then Congress chief Gaikhangam promised that it would soon be converted into NH-53 (A) through the North-Eastern Council (NEC) and that Rs 86 crore have been earmarked by the Central government for the purpose of developing the Old Cachar Road. It never materialised.
In 2015, officials of the state PWD said a total of Rs 9.25 crore has been sanctioned for development of the 90 kilometers long road out of which 20 kilometer stretch of the same road from Bishnupur district headquarters to Zouzangtek village in Tamenglong district will be developed with the funding of Asian Development Bank.
The remaining 70-kilometre road stretch from Zouzangtek to Rengpang will be developed under the funding of the North Eastern Council. Now, a portion of the road has been completed into a beautiful 2 lane highway with protection railings on the sides. As one cannot say with certainty when the New Cachar Road would be completed, the state government needs to convince the Centre for upgradation of Old Cachar Road soon.