Widening of highways in Mizoram to escalate development and smooth road connectivity is coming at a cost for the residents.
ZR Thahmingliana is a fish farmer in Keifang village, situated about 62 KM from Aizawl, the state capital of Mizoram. The 40-year-old spends sleepless nights panicking, when it rains heavily in the hills.
“My fish farm is located in a remote location around 3 km from the main highway and the road is full of potholes and surrounded by wild shrubs. It is a daunting task to drive and reach the farm because of poor roads. The road connectivity completely cuts off during monsoon when the stretch becomes muddy,” he said.
Thahmingliana added that transporting fish food to the farm during rains becomes difficult, increasing the risk of fish mortality and loss in the business.
ZR Thahmingliana, a fish farmer in Keifang village, situated about 62 km from Aizawl.
According to Thahmingliana, the ongoing work of widening the highways in Mizoram has made the situation worse. The soil extracted from the earth is being dumped on the road without following any norms. This often blocks the passage to his farm.
“We had to shut down the farm for several months last year when the earth spoil blocked the road. The construction workers are not following any norms while dumping the waste and causing problems for us,” he said.
Thahmingliana is not alone. Widening of highways in Mizoram to escalate development and smooth road connectivity with other states has been causing problems to most locals.
The widening of around 736 km of highways is being done in the state since 2019 at an estimated budget of Rs 14,900 crore.
The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), which falls under the central government, is engaged in widening four highways in the state – NH-09 (Ceiling-Zokhawthar), NH-102B (Keifang-Manipur), NH-302 (Lunglei-Tlabung) and NH-54 (Aizawl-Tuipang).
The soil waste dumped on the roadside slides down, polluting and choking streams.
The people of Mizoram, which is a hilly state, depend mostly on natural water bodies for consumption and daily usage.
The state has 12 rivers. Tlawng is the longest river of Mizoram that flows for about 235 KM in south-north direction and joins River Barak in Cachar district of Assam. Tlawng and its tributaries are the major source of water for the people of the state.
Locals say the river is now suffering due to the dumping of the soil waste. Water woes are now evident in several districts, including Aizawl.
Water bodies in the area are suffering due to the dumping of the soil waste.
“The soil waste is being dumped on the side of the road that is sliding down. It polluting the water bodies and damaging agriculture in the hilly terrain. As a result, several streams have become choked or turned dry,” said Laltlankima, a resident of Keifang village in Aizawl district.
Lalchriat Chhungi, 30 years old, a homemaker in Aizawl, said she has been facing water shortage since the widening of the highways began in 2019.
“Earlier, we used to get regular water supply every day from the local administration. Over the past four years, that has reduced to just twice a week or even less. We are a family of 10 and have to shell out at least Rs 4,000 per month to buy water jars.”
Lalchriat Chhungi, a homemaker in Aizawl.
Even farmers say that their crops are getting destroyed due to the dumping of soil waste.
“We grow vegetables but the dust has been adversely affecting our crops and damaging our fields. We have complained to the administrative officials several times and organised protests but to no avail,” complained Lalremruata, 40 years old, a farmer from Keifang village.
Around 2,000 locals had staged a protest in July 2022. It was the first ever youth-led environment rally in Aizawl that addressed and questioned the environment degradation being caused due to the ongoing construction work. The protest was led by the Youth for Environment Justice Mizoram and Aizawl City College Students’ Union.
Soil extracted from the earth is being dumped on the road, often blocking passage to farms.
Even former bureaucrats agree that the rules are being flouted in the road widening work.
“The biodiversity is suffering major damage as rules are being ignored. The drying of streams and rivers can have a major impact on the state that relies heavily on nature to quench its water requirements. The government should look into the issue,” said Lalnunmawia Chuaungo, former chief secretary to the state government and founder of the Save Mizoram Rivers campaign.
NHIDCL, however, says the issue has been looked into.
“We had received some complaints when the work had started but that problems were sorted out,” said Brahmanandam, general manager, land acquisition, NHIDCL.
Attribution: This story is part of a series in collaboration with Village Square to highlight inspiring stories from rural India focusing on women, health, climate, and culture.